Tag Archives: nonfiction

Avian Flights of Fancy: MG Books That Feature Birds and Birdwatchers

I am a self-confessed bird brain. My Mom got me hooked as a bird watcher in the 4th grade. Something about watching birds go about their daily lives outside my window, and in the larger world, has always inspired me and made me want to know more about this amazing array of cretures.

They jockey for position in a hierarchy I can’t quite understand, persist against all odds, strut and preen and relax and fight, and it’s all before my eyes if only I will slow down and look. They’re beautiful and funny and puzzling.

Here are some Middle Grade reads that have something to do with birds. Some feature people as the main characters. Some feature birds as the main characters, or perhaps birds are important in some way for helping the characters to make connections. Some feature bird brains like me, kids obsessed with their binoculars or bird guides.  One nonfiction book and one picture book round out the collection, providing the reader with a broad look at the ways birds are shared in story, and the ways our actions affect their eistence on the planet.

All synopses from IndieBound.

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

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A book for young readers. It involves new kids, bullies, alligators, eco-warriors, pancakes, and pint-sized owls. A hilarious
Floridian adventure!

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

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For fans of Jennifer Holm (“Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise”), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

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Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.
Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man–the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp–is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.
And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.
The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, by Jane Kelley

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An orphaned African grey parrot who can speak 127 words. A girl so sick she has forgotten what it means to try. Fate and a banana nut muffin bring them together. Will their shared encounter help them journey through storms inside and out? Will they lose their way, or will they find what really matters?

Here is a story that will remind readers how navigating so many of life’s desperate adventures requires friendship and, above all, hope.

Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis

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When Callum spots crazy Iona McNair on his family’s sprawling property, she’s catching a fish with her bare hands. She won’t share the fish, but does share something else: a secret.

She’s discovered a rare endangered bird, an Osprey, and it’s clear to both her and Callum that if anyone finds out about the bird, it, and its species, is likely doomed. Poachers, egg thieves, and wild weather are just some of the threats, so Iona and Callum vow to keep track of the bird and check her migratory progress using the code a preservationist tagged on her ankle, no matter what.

But when one of them can no longer keep the promise, it’s up to the other to do it for them both. No matter what. Set against the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and West Africa, this is a story of unlikely friendships, the wonders of the wild—and the everyday leaps of faith that set our souls to flight.

Sparrow Girl, by Sara Pennypacker

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Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.
As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something–even if she couldn’t stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one…

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake

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A Newbery Honor Book
An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book
Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly.
But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn’t, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of “pigeoners” trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body wearing Agatha’s blue-green ball gown everyone assumes the worst.Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.

Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli

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Palmer LaRue is running out of birthdays. For as long as he can remember, he’s dreaded the day he turns ten — the day he’ll take his place beside all the other ten-year-old boys in town, the day he’ll be a wringer. But Palmer doesn’t want to be a wringer. It’s one of the first things he learned about himself and it’s one of the biggest things he has to hide. In Palmer’s town being a wringer is an honor, a tradition passed down from father to son. Palmer can’t stop himself from being a wringer just like he can’t stop himself from growing one year older, just like he can’t stand up to a whole town — right? Newbery Medal winner Jerry Spinelli’s most powerful novel yet is a gripping tale of how one boy learns how not to be afraid.

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

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For fans of The Chronicles of Narnia comes the first book in the Wildwood Chronicles, the New York Times bestselling fantasy adventure series by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.

Supports the Common Core State Standards.

The Guardians of Ga’hoole, by Kathryn Lasky

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Ga’Hoole is a classic hero mythology about the fight between good and evil. This new version of The Capture will feature art from the movie, due out in September 2010!

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family’s nest by his older brother, he’s plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. When Soren arrives at St. Aggie’s, he suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie’s is actually a training camp where the school’s leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal–to rule the entire owl kingdom.

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, by Phillip Hoose

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The tragedy of extinction is explained through the dramatic story of a legendary bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and of those who tried to possess it, paint it, shoot it, sell it, and, in a last-ditch effort, save it. A powerful saga that sweeps through two hundred years of history, it introduces artists like John James Audubon, bird collectors like William Brewster, and finally a new breed of scientist in Cornell’s Arthur A. “Doc” Allen and his young ornithology student, James Tanner, whose quest to save the Ivory-bill culminates in one of the first great conservation showdowns in U.S. history, an early round in what is now a worldwide effort to save species. As hope for the Ivory-bill fades in the United States, the bird is last spotted in Cuba in 1987, and Cuban scientists join in the race to save it….

“The Race to Save the Lord God Bird” is the winner of the 2005 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2005 Bank Street – Flora Stieglitz Award.

If all these these books about birds and birdwatchers sparked your curiosity, maybe you’d be interested, as I have been, in participating in citizen science that involves watching birds. There are great opportunities to be a part of real science through your binoculars.

The Great Backyard Bird Count , coming February 12-15, 2016, is a great way to get out and see some of your  own neighborhood birds. Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is another good way to become a bird brain yourself! It’s great for just about anyone who has a window; everyone can participate, kids and adults alike. It’s not too late to join in this year’s watch season, either. Still hungry for more? Check out the Cornell Lab’s Education page for a wide range of information and activities.

Whatever you do, the world of birds is right outside your window, AND btween the pages of a book. Check it out!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People 

 

It’s No Mystery. The Winner is….

Last Friday’s post about Middle-Grade Biographies included a GIVEAWAY of the newly-released Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini.  Nineteen people commented by the deadline, so tonight, nineteen sticky notes went up on the goat gate. Because that’s how every giveaway works, right?

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Picking the goat who would pick the winner was the hardest part! They all wanted to be part of the action.

Giveaway 2

I chose Kristoff because he’s the youngest. And he loves to read mysteries.

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After tasting a few, Kristoff took this name off the gate and proceeded to chew.

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My daughter had homework up to her ears, so I was left to attempt this all by my selfie.

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Next time, maybe I’ll choose a barn animal who will sit still for photographs.

But, for now, Kristoff and I are happy to announce that the WINNER of a *signed* copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist by Julie K. Rubini is…

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Congratulations, Dee!

Growing Up with Biographies ~ Biographies Have Grown Up

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Remember these? I do. I was in 3rd or 4th grade when I discovered the section of the school library that housed all the books labeled with a capital B on the spine. Biographies. Martha Washington. Dolly Madison. Mark Twain. Clara Barton. These are a few I remember reading from the shelves of that wonderful basement library that doubled as the music room.

When my young son, a dyed-in-the-wool farmer even at age ten, seemed to lose interest in reading anything not part of a class assignment, I found a biography of John Deere. Suddenly, my little reader was back!

A few years ago, I submitted a picture book biography to a publisher who contacted me with the best kind of rejection. “This isn’t right for our list, but…”  The “but” was a great one. They were very interested in launching a new series of biographies for middle-grade readers, and since I had previously published books for middle-graders, would I be interested in writing the first book in the series? Now that’s a rejection I could handle!

This middle-grade series was a new venture for the publisher, and the editors and designers were more than willing to lend an ear to my suggestions about what a middle-grade bio should look like. Immediately, I went back to that row of “B” books in my elementary library. Yes, they had grabbed my attention, but not every elementary reader was as enamored as I was. I took a more critical look at the biographies of my youth. They were text-heavy and sparsely-illustrated, usually with some pen and ink line drawings smattered here and there.

And then, I thought about the most recent biography I’d purchased for my youngest daughter. It was Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming.

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Filled with photographs, text boxes, diary entries, and varied fonts, this is how an engaging middle-grade biography should look, feel, and read. Luckily, others agree. Today’s biographies are a far cry from the those bios of old (beloved though they may have been!)

Below are some recently-released biographies for the middle-grade crowd.  Stick with me to the end. There’s a GIVEAWAY hiding there!

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Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long – Bayard Rustin was a civil rights leader who believed in nonviolent action as means of achieving social reform. The organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, Bayard Rustin’s story will inspire young readers to stand up in the face of injustice.

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Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin was recently named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015.  Sheinkin’s confidence his middle-grade audience is evident as he tackles the political life of government whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg during a tumultuous time in recent history.

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Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist  by Julie K. Rubini 

Hot off the presses is this biography of Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series. Rubini takes readers on a journey through Millie Benson’s life as a journalist and as the very uncelebrated author of  many books in history’s most celebrated juvenile series. Why did it take years to discover the identity of the writer we’ve always known as “Carolyn Keene?” Follow the clues to solve the mystery of Millie Benson.

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Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek by Michelle Houts

Here is the initial installment in the new Biographies for Young Readers series I mentioned earlier. Dorothy Kamenshek was a teenager from Cincinnati, Ohio when a man named Philip Wrigley sent scouts to find women who could play baseball as well as the men on his Chicago Cubs (men who were rapidly leaving the ball field for the battlefield at the start of World War II.)  Made famous by the movie A League of Their Own, Kammie and her Rockford Peaches inspire girls to “throw like a girl” and be proud of it.

And now, since you stuck with me…

THE GIVEAWAY!

Author Julie Rubini has generously provided The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors a signed paperback copy of Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist. To enter, please comment below. Maybe you’d like to add the title and author of a noteworthy biography for middle-grade readers. Maybe you’d rather reminisce and tell us about your favorite biography.

Just leave a comment below by midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. 

The lucky winner will be announced on Thursday, November 12, 2015!

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She’s still a fan of biographies and good old-fashioned letter-writing. She created The 52-Letter Challenge for those who are up to writing a letter a week for an entire year.   Find Michelle at www.michellehouts.com. On Twitter and Instagram @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.