Tag Archives: Middle Grade

In Praise of Grandparents

There are many relationships I’ve treasured through my life, and high on that list lives the bond I had with my grandparents. I was a late baby, and all my grandparents were elderly or gone by the time I came along, so I always felt I missed many special years of growing up with them, while I appreciated the time I did have. I’m so grateful that our own daughter, now grown, got to spend many wonderful hours with her grandparents.

On hunting down a title I know I’ve recently read that features a grandparent, I stumbled upon an eye-opening article written by the author of one such book here. Who knew that the comfortable role of grandparents I grew up with in my family dynamic and in the books I read as a middle grade kid has changed so drastically?

The following booklist is by no means comprehensive, and it’s quite diverse in style, content and approach to grandparents. Some of these books were childhood favorites that I read and re-read, like Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.

Our daughter introduced me to A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck, when she was in 4th grade. That grandma has such a strong voice.


The Hello, Goodbye Window,  by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka, may be a picture book but it is also an homage to grandparents and their relationship with grandchildren. It also proves how cool they can be. Students of all ages loved this vibrant book in my library.

Another book that features  a “cool” grandparent is our own MUF member, Barbara Dee’s Trauma Queen.


Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, proves that we aren’t always right when it comes to thinking we’re going to be spending a boring summer at the grandparents’ house…


I’m eager to read the tender story many are talking about in Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne M. LaFleur.


Who wouldn’t love The Summer Book Tove Jannson?


Another book I read countless times was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. The relationship Charlie had with his grandparents has stuck with me since I read it at 10 years old.


Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, a magical book featuring a beloved grandmother, is a lovely journey into this relationship.


A grandmother is not the character I think of when I remember the powerful The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, but one of many blog posts I read about grandparents in books mentioned this relationship in particular. I think it’s time for a re-read.


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming, was another childhood favorite of mine, one I read when sick in bed, feeling blue, or otherwise at loose ends.  Do you remember them saving the grandfather? I remember more about the quirky things. Guess it’s time for a re-read of this one, too.

 

We’ve got talented members her at The Mixed Up Files! Two of our own  Rosanne Parry’s novels, Heart of a Shepherd and Written in Stone, feature grandparents in prominent roles.

   

It’s fantastic when a grandparent works to solve the problem, as in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Chris Raschka.

I was captivated by the description of Bird, by Crystal Chan, and can’t wait to read this story about a girl whose grandfather does not speak since he is blamed for a family tragedy.

And what about a grandparent you’ve never met, but your mom refuses to talk about it? Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, by Sundee T. Frazier was a real hit with my students.

 

And last but not least, there are too many wonderful reads to list individually here, so I’ll send you over to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog for this list of books featuring grandparents (you should just all read her blog regularly).

I’ve had this post on my mind for a long time without writing it, partly because I was afraid of missing some stand-out titles featuring grandparents. Do you have any to add?

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

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Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

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The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

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To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

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Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

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Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

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The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

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The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

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Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

pb maybe something beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.

Exploring a word that sometimes gets a rotten rep: middle

1114537406586n57I thought I would explore the word middle just a bit. After all, this is a blog about middle grade books. There’s a lot of stuff middle that just gets a bum rap or just seems, by its very essence, problematic.

You know, like middle school. Middle children. The Middle Ages.

Let’s first get to the origin of the word middle. According to the website membean.com, the word comes from the Latin root word medi. And medi has given birth to loads of words like mediocre, medium, and medieval.

In my opinion, all words with some bad associations.

Mediocre—This means not bad not good. Pretty blah. And according to the Oxford Dictionaries comes from the “Latin mediocris ‘of middle height or degree’.”

Medium—Which means the center of things. And medium isn’t one of those words that’s all bad. But it does seem kind of boring. You don’t want you steak rare, or well done but medium. It seems very sensible but blah. But then there’s psychic mediums who get into the center of spiritual spaces and relay messages. Kind of cool. And there’s medium as an instrument, like words. Hey, I’m liking medium—how about you?

Medieval—No forks during this time a pest problem, and it was known as the Dark Ages. But today, historians are less bleak about this period. In fact, historians want to call it the medieval period versus the Middle Ages since they don’t want to imply that it was something not so impressive wedged between two more impressive eras. However, this seems like a silly PR job to me as medieval basically just means the Middle Ages! Why the fear over the word middle, folks? Really. It’s not all that bad.

Personally, I’m enjoying the wisdom and the self-confidence of being middle aged. I’m not longer so young that I don’t know who I am, but I’m not closed off to new experiences. I no longer care so much what others think. I’m not longer working so hard at being impressive. When I was younger, I used to never go anywhere without popping in my contacts. And I’d wear them forever, even if it meant a corneal abrasion. These days I’m perfectly content with my glasses, thank you very much. I’m myopic and if someone doesn’t want to befriend me because I’m bespectacled then it’s his or her loss.

You see, the space between is perfect; it’s not too high or too low, neither hot nor cool. I mean there’s a reason why Goldilocks liked Baby Bear’s soup the best!

And a mediator is someone who is in the middle of a conflict yet helps to solve it.

Don’t we value someone who jumps right into the middle of things and takes action? You know they take immediate action.

So maybe that’s why I love reading and writing middle grade fiction. It’s that space between younger forms of fiction and young adult. It’s a transitional place, and that implies dynamic change, a place of learning. And yes, sometimes the middle zone gets overlooked or disparaged. But these days, I’ve got thick skin, and don’t worry about it.

To me the between place is a place of magic, a space to pause to try something new, a place that invites the imagination. A place where a child’s sense of selfhood expands, where true independence begins.

I’m so glad to be a middle-aged woman, writing middle grade books. But I must confess to being happy that I’m not living in the Middle Ages!

How do you feel about the word middle?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the newly released Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.