Tag Archives: Middle Grade

And Baby Makes…

The age-old adage is, of course, “And Baby makes three.”

But in middle grade fiction, the addition of a baby often makes for more. Much more.

Full disclosure here: I’ve got babies on my brain. And for the first time in decades, I’ve got diapers in my shopping cart and onesies in my closet, and a portable crib in my guestroom. As I write this, I’m days (maybe hours???) away from becoming a first-time grandmamma, and I’m just a little way, way too excited about it.

So, when I saw my next Mixed-Up Files post was due at the same time as our next family member, I knew right away what my topic would be. Babies. Babies. MIDDLE GRADE BABIES!

There are loads of middle-grade characters dealing with the addition of a new sibling. Some handle it better than others, but one common thread weaves throughout: Babies change everything!

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

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In this, the fifth installment in the Alvin Ho series, Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham deliver (ha,ha!) with great hilarity a story that many older brothers can relate to – what if that thing in mom’s belly is a …. girl?!  Alvin’s always-entertaining tales are great for younger middle-graders and middle-graders struggling with reading.

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary

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By the time this book came out in 1984, Beverly Cleary had already won two Newbery Honors and a National Book Award, and Romona had already faced challenges both big and small. When her mother announces she’s pregnant, Ramona realizes she’ll be taking on a role she’s never played before-BIG sister.

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee

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Third-grade Clementine is surrounded by changes. When a family meeting is called to announce the pending arrival of a new baby, Clementine isn’t sure what to expect. At school, changes are happening as well. Her best friend is acting differently, and Clementine has to face the fact that nothing stays exactly the same.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

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In a way that only Jack Gantos can, this final book in the Joey Pigza saga blends humor and wackiness with the very serious reality of postpartum depression. When Joey’s mother decides she should enter the hospital, Joey has to step up and care for his newborn baby brother.

Sometimes, babies appear in middle grade tales and they grow up to be the main character. Think of how Harry Potter began. A dark street, streetlights go out, and figure is seen leaving something on a doorstep. Number 4, Privet Drive.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhillgirl-who-drank-the-moon

This new book, from the author of The Witch’s Boy, centers around a community who believes they must sacrifice a baby each year to appease the evil witch who resides in the forest. But the witch isn’t evil at all, and she cares for the babies until she can place them in a deserving home far away. When an unfortunate mishap forces her to keep one of the babies as her own, everything changes. This one is being called a “new classic.”

And sometimes, it’s the middle-grade main character who finds an abandoned baby…

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan

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Sophie is a baby left by her mother and found by twelve-year-old Larkin. Larkin’s family has lost a newborn boy and finds healing and hope in the arrival of Sophie. But the note left by Sophie’s mother promises she’ll return someday. How can they love if they know they’ll have to let go? Touching and timeless. True MacLachlan.

And finally, sometimes the middle grade main character is not the finder, but the seeker…

Winterfrost by Michelle Houts

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Yes, this one’s my own, and I hesitated to mention it, because we writers are great at singing others’ praises, but it always feel a little uncomfortable to shout about our own work. But, Winterfrost fits the criteria for this post, so I’ll go ahead and share it. When twelve-year-old Bettina is left home alone to care for her not-quite-one-year-old baby sister, the unthinkable happens. Baby Pia disappears into the white wilderness, and Bettina is forced to  enter a magical world she’d only heard about from her grandfather. Based on Danish folklore.

So, what can you add?  Comment below with a middle-grade story featuring a baby. And stay tuned for more baby news! I promise to update this blog post when my first grandbaby is here!

Michelle Houts is the author of five books for young readers. She lives on a farm where babies of the animal kind are a common occurrence. She absolutely cannot wait to hold her first grandbaby in a few days. That’s all she can think to write about, baby.

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.

pb separate never equal

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

pb marvelous cornelius

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.