Tag Archives: nonfiction

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?

Giveaway 1

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.

Giveaway 3

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

giveaway 4

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


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…

giveaway 5

Congratulations, Dee!

Growing Up with Biographies ~ Biographies Have Grown Up

old bios 2

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.

amelia lost

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!


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.

most dangerous

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.


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.

Kammie Cover

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…


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.

A Mixed Up Files Book Birthday for Jennifer Swanson

Jennifer Swanson Author Photo We love book launches here at the Mixed Up Files and especially when it is one of our own bloggers. It was my great pleasure to read Jen Swanson’s new book Brain Games this weekend. It’s colorful and packed with great information in an accessible format. I have a confession to make, I’m a total brain anatomy nerd. So right off the bat I have to know which is your favorite lobe? Mine is the temporal lobe, always has been. I’m a musician.
HumanBrainI have to say that mine is probably the frontal lobe. I’m a scientist which makes me think and approach life logically all the time — sometimes whether I want to or not! Ha.
This book is so visually dynamic. National Geographic does a great job of making books that really jump off the shelf and into kids hearts. We sell lots of them at the bookstore because they are so vivid. So which comes first in the book making process, words? Images? A little bit of both?Brain Games_Cvr_FINAL (1)-small
Let me start by saying that this book was a huge undertaking. I was tasked with taking a very popular, heavily video-enhanced TV show and turning it into a 2-dimensional book, but without losing any of the excitement and interactiveness of the show. My first task was to watch all of the episodes of the TV show, Brain Games. Yep, all about 24 hours of them. Then, I had to figure out which challenges from the show would translate easily into a book. I did that by searching for images on the internet. When I submitted my first draft, it was full of images of the brain, images of challenges, and of course, all of the words to explain everything. I guess you could say that I worked with images and words simultaneously. That is not always how it happens with an NGKids book, but in this case, it was the only way to handle this one. 
One of the things I really appreciated about the book is that it wasn’t just an ad for the tv show. Which is great because lots of kids who will love this book may not have access to the show.
How did you got into the field of writing science for kids. Were you a total science nerd as a kid? Did you study science in college?
I have been a science geek since birth, I think. I started a science club in my garage when I was about 7. My mom gave me a microscope which was my prized possesion. We used to look at flowers, grass, trees, even water samples from our creek under it. I have carried my love of science with me ever since. I studied chemistry in college at the U.S. Naval Academy, and went on to earn my M.S. Ed in K-8 science from Walden University. My “day” job is as a middle school science instructor for John’s Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth, where I get to work with gifted students from all around the world. Yep, I’m a science geek extraordinare!!  
Did you have a science teacher that really inspired you?
UnknownAs for a teacher that inspired me, the one that comes to mind is my 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Roth. You see, back when I was in school there weren’t many female science teachers. And she was the BEST!  It showed me that women could do science, too. Couple that with very supportive parents and I was destined to love science my whole life. After all, SCIENCE ROCKS! 
Speaking of science nerds, Hank Green did the forward for this book. How did that come about? Did you get a chance to talk to him? 
No, I actually didn’t get to meet Hank Green. My NGKids editor knows him. Although I do love the Crash Course videos. My daughter who is in high school has to watch some of them for her classes, which is very cool.
What’s up next for you?
SUPER GEAR FC_finalI have a book coming out with Charlesbridge in June 2016 titled SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up!  It is an exciting look into the world of sports and how the microscopic of science is helping athletes to perform better than ever before. Want to hit a golf ball farther, swing a tennis racket with more oomph, or even swim faster? Nanotechnology can help with that!
51DbfLkvsRL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Plus, I have two more books releasing next year. NGKids Everything Robotics takes the reader on a peek inside the world of robotics and how it is changing our world as we know it. Forces and Motion by Nomad Press comes out in 2016 as well. It’s an interactive book full of experiments and activities to help kids learn more about the basics of physics.
Robotics book
Sounds like you’ve got no end of fascinating projects to work on. Blog readers if you’d like to win a copy of Jennifer’s newest title Brain Games, please leave us a comment below and we’ll pick a winner in one week. Jennifer will be glad to answer your questions in the comments section all day today. Thanks Jennifer for sharing this really fun book.