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Happy Clerihew Day!

What is a Clerihew, you ask?

It’s a comical poem made of four lines – two couplets and a specific rhyming scheme, aabb. It was created by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) at the age of 16 and duly named after him. In a Clerihew poem, the first line names a person with the end of the second line rhyming with the person’s name. Most often, these poems make light of or take the serious out of the person being focused on. They’re funny and light-hearted.

If you’re unfamiliar with rhyming scheme and all the differences, here’s an informative video for you to peek at.

How does Clerihew poetry play into middle schoolers reading and writing? Just that – play. And it can actually play into more than the R and W of school, too. Clerihew poems are all about being silly and causing giggles. They’re all about fun and seeing things in a different way.

Everyone is probably familiar with Garfield the cat. He’s lazy, overweight, has an aloof attitude about life and pretty much everything. His constant picking on Odie in the comic strips is presented in a silly or funny way, even though some of Garfield’s actions really aren’t funny.

That’s what a Clerihew poem does. It takes a person (most of the time famous or well-known) and sheds them in silly or humorous shadows, presenting them in an altered way. It makes light of who they are and shows the flip-side of that person in a nice way. By doing this, it forces the writer to see more than is visibly there, plugging into their creative mind and exploring possibilities. What a great exercise to have middle grade readers/writers do. And they can be silly to boot!

Here’s an example:

Garfield the cat
On his rear he sat.
Eating lasagna galore
All about the decor.

Copyright © 2000 James & Marie Summers

Here are a couple videos about the art of Clerihew poems I think you might find helpful. Here & Here. Take a view and then try an exercise with your students or kids. I remember doing exercises like this with my kids to pass the time as we traveled to yet another of their travel hockey or soccer games.

Have you ever written a Clerihew poem? Why not give it a try in the comments and share? We’d love to read!

SPY ON HISTORY Book – Interview with Workman Publishing’s Editor Daniel Nayeri and a Giveaway!

Looking for an innovative way to experience history? Give this new series a try. It is AWESOME! I read the first book and loved it! Not only do you learn, but you get to solve mysteries as you read. Very interactive reading and totally fun. I’m thrilled to be able to introduce this book to you today and also give you a behind-the-scenes interview with the editor  behind this new series!


Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring introduces an exciting interactive series for middle grade readers Spy on History, where the reader gets to experience history in a whole new way.

Meet Mary Bowser, an African American spy who was able to infiltrate the Confederate leadership at the highest level. Enigma Alberti dramatizes Mary Bowser’s suspenseful story how she pretended to be illiterate, how she masterfully evaded detection, how she used her photographic memory to copy critical documents.

Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope inside the book, a canny reader will be able to discover and unravel clues embedded in the text and illustrations, and solve the book’s ultimate mystery: Where did Mary hide her secret diary?



What people are saying about this book:

“A gripping story that offers a window into a pivotal time in U.S. history and puts a face to a little-known figure.” — Publishers Weekly

“Alongside it being a great story, this will rise to the challenge to any curious-minded wannabe spies.” — Black Girl Nerds

“Sometimes, a very special book comes along that allows your mind, and the kids’ minds, to actively exercise and expand while tromping through a story and learning some history. Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring…is one such book.” — Geek Dad

The cool thing, or maybe I should say, the mysterious thing about this book, is that the author is unknown. This is done on purpose, to add to the intrigue of the book and also well, it’s just cool! So instead of interviewing the author, the editor of this amazing series has agreed to speak with us.

 

Meet Daniel Nayeri, Director of Children’s Books at Workman Publishing, editor, and author.

 

Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the author of How to Tell a Story, and Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow, a collection of four novellas. Daniel is the director of children’s books at Workman Publishing. Before entering children’s publishing, he was a pastry chef.

 

Daniel, thanks for joining us today. We are so excited to learn about this book. Let’s jump right in!

1. How did you come up with this unique format?

Books like THE ELEVENTH HOUR by Graeme Base have always been enthralling to me. Escape Rooms, of course, are extremely popular. We wondered, what if there was a book series where a kid could read about little-known figures in history while also engaging with a larger puzzle? The puzzle could be contextually relevant to the story, using primary texts, and methods contemporary to the narrative. The only thing cooler than reading about Mary Bowser and her incredible spy craft would be employing some of your own to complete your own mission. It just seemed like the kind of book we would have all devoured as kids.

2. Why use an actual nonfiction fact as the focus point for the book?

There are so many unexplored nooks and crannies of history that are full of drama. We couldn’t imagine anything else. The series was always about these moments that read like thriller novels, but have the added import of being true.

3. How do the clues work to solve the mystery (without giving anything away of course)

Once we had the manuscript, our Art Director—Colleen AF Venable—and the illustrator, Tony Cliff, began an incredible process of layering clues and encrypting messages throughout the illustrations. There are several “threads” of clues that can lead a reader to the final solution, which is the codeword you need to decrypt Mary Bowser’s letter at the end of the book. Some of these threads are easy…they’re just a few steps…solve some Morse code here, compare it to a map there, and voila. Some are incredibly hard. My favorite—spoiler alert—is the thread that uses the language of flowers. Early in the book, Mary is told that some flowers means different things, and there is an illustration that gives the reader some examples. One flower, the snapdragon, means deceit. So on all the pages that have snapdragons on them (as border illustrations), all the clues are lies.

4. Was editing this book the same as editing any other book or were there more challenges?

Outside of the usual challenges in editing a nonfiction narrative story, we had lots of added issues with the hidden codes. I had to become fluent in Vigenere ciphers, but Colleen had to become a downright cryptologist by the end. You could say the puzzles were like a third layer of discourse (alongside the text and imagery). We had several vetters going through to make sure the puzzles worked and weren’t too deeply embedded.

5. Why is there a secret cadre of authors writing these books? Is that part of the mystery, too?

Mysteries upon mysteries!
The nature of a secret cadre of authors is that they are like any other cadre of authors: murderous if you give up their secrets. I wish I could tell you everything.

6. Can you tell us about the next book in the series?

This, I can do. The next book is called VICTOR DOWD AND THE WORLD WAR II GHOST ARMY. It follows an amazing unit of soldiers made up of painters, composers, and other artists whose job was to create decoys to fool the Nazis. They painted inflatable tanks to look life-like and trick the German spy planes. There are moments in the story where a tiny group of sound engineers hide in a forest and project the sounds of an entire battalion marching through. If the Nazis only knew, they could have walked right into the forest and captured them.

7. Workman creates such neat and interesting books. Many of them are interactive. Can you tell us why you feel this is a great thing for your readers?

The editorial mandate I have for the group is to make “Art Objects for Great and Terrible Children.” To us, this means a great number of things. First and foremost, it means we take our work seriously enough to call it art. Of course, we’re not too precious about it. We know a good fart joke is an art form to kids. And we call them objects because we care about the “thingness” of books, the format, the interactive possibility of a book that wants to speak, but also wants to listen. In other words, a book that asks for input, a book that wants kids to learn, certainly, but also make and do. Those are all perfectly synchronous behaviors as far as we’re concerned. A book as an act of play is no less a literary endeavor than a book as a lecture. To us, the interaction is even more compelling when trying to inform a child on a nonfiction topic.

8. What future Workman titles should our middle grade readers be aware of?

We have so many exciting titles in the works. Of course, we just launched WHO WINS, which is an interactive book with 100 biographies of historical figures. We’ve also got the third book in our DOODLE ADVENTURES series, which is like a visual Mad Libs where kids draw in parts of the story. One title on the same list as SPY ON HISTORY 2 is a history of archery called THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK: ARCHERY. It tells the history of archery in war, in battles like Agincourt, and in folklore. It shows bow designs from all over the world, and explains the physics of arrow in flight. The book also turns into an actual bow. It shoots paper ammunition (included in the book) at papercraft hay bales, and a William Tell apple (papercraft targets also included). I can’t wait to see the grown-ups’ faces when that one launches.

Sounds fantastic, Daniel! Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at this awesome book.

Since we already offered a giveaway of this amazing book last week, we are offering a different book as a giveaway. Daniel mentioned it above, it is called, Who Wins and is a fantastic book for spurring discussion in the classroom.

Simply enter a comment below for a chance to win.


Jennifer Swanson is a huge nonfiction nerd and loves all things science and history. Throw in a mystery and she is hooked! You can read more about Jennifer at her website  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com 

 

October New Releases

Did you happen to see recent headlines about how independent book stores aren’t just surviving, they’re actually thriving? The Week magazine summarizes findings and offers its own spin on why book stores are vital, including the fact that they “curate and recommend in a human way.” That point is crucial for middle grade readers who depend (often unknowingly) on parents, librarians, teachers, and booksellers to help them find the right book at the right time. We here at the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors take the privilege of being able to curate and recommend quite seriously — and joyfully. And with that, we happily present you with fifteen choice middle grade books heading to book store and library shelves this month:

house arrestHouse Arrest by K.A. Holt (Oct. 6)
Probation is a strange word, something that happens to other kids, to delinquents, not to kids like Timothy. And yet that’s exactly where he is: under house arrest, checking in weekly with a probation officer and a therapist, forced to keep a journal AND keep out of trouble for an  entire year.  When he needs to take drastic measures to help his struggling family, staying out of trouble proves more difficult than Timothy ever thought it would be. Touching and funny, this is a novel in verse about a boy navigating his world with a sick brother, a grieving mother, and one tough probation officer.

the restThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel,  illustrations by Jon Klassen (Oct. 6)
For some kids summer is a sun-soaked season of fun. But for Steve, it’s just another season of worries. Worries about his sick newborn baby brother who is fighting to survive, worries about his parents who are struggling to cope, even worries about the wasp’s nest looming ominously from the eaves. So when a mysterious wasp queen invades his dreams, offering to “fix” the baby, Steve thinks his prayers have been answered. This is a haunting gothic tale for fans of Coraline, with illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen.

highly unusual magicA Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou (Oct. 6)
Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined. From the author of Confectionately Yours. 

dream on amberDream On, Amber by Emma Shevah (Oct. 6)
As a half-Japanese, half-Italian girl who thinks her name is ridiculously long, Amber Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto is not feeling molto bene (very good) about making friends at her new school. But the hardest thing about being Amber is that a part of her is missing. Her dad. He left when she was little and he isn’t coming back. Not for her first day of middle school and not for her little sister’s birthday. So Amber will have to dream up a way for the Miyamoto sisters to make it on their own..

 

tournament of gorlanThe Tournament at Gorlan by John A. Flanagan (Oct. 6)
The first in a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, this one features one ofour favorite Rangers, Halt.  When Halt and Crowley discover that the ambitious Morgarath has been infiltrating the Rangers in order to corrupt the Corps, the young Rangers travel north to find Prince Duncan, seeking a royal warrant to stop Morgarath before it is too late. This origin story brings readers to a time before Will was an apprentice, and lays the groundwork for the epic battles that will culminate with The Ruins of Gorlan and The Burning Bridge, Books 1 and 2 of the Ranger’s Apprentice series.


bubble wrap boyThe Bubble Wrap Boy
by Phil Earle (Oct. 13)
Charlie Han’s troubles are much bigger than he is. At school he’s branded an outsider, a loser … the tiny kid from the Chinese takeout. His only ally is Sinus Sedgely, a kid with a lower-level reputation than Charlie himself. Life at home isn’t much better. His dad is more skilled with a wok than he is with words, and his mom is suffocating the life out of Charlie, worried about his every move. But when a new passion leads Charlie to the mother of all confrontations, he finds his real mom has been hiding a massive secret. A secret that might actually lead Charlie to feeling ten feet tall. From a Kirkus review: “In the fast-growing bullying genre, Charlie’s story stands out. This isn’t a kid who will do anything to join the cool clique. This is a story about staying true to yourself and following your passion.”

big gameBig Game by Stuart Gibbs (Oct. 13)
Teddy Fitzroy returns as FunJungle’s resident zoo sleuth when a rhinoceros is at risk in this companion to Belly Up and Poached. When someone takes aim at Rhonda Rhino, FunJungle’s pregnant (and endangered) Asian greater one-horned rhinoceros, the zoo steps up security measures in order to protect this rare animal and her baby. But the extra security isn’t enough–someone is still getting too close for comfort. Teddy and company start to suspect that whoever is after Rhonda is really after her horn, which is worth a lot of money on the black market.

red shoesThe Red Shoes and Other Tales by Metaphrog  (Oct. 13)
A collection of tales in a graphic novel format that also includes The Little Match Girl. In the title story, Karen, the child of peasants, grew up with a pair of red shoes. Then, when her parents died, Karen was adopted by a rich old woman who gave Karen a new pair of red shoes that would make princesses green with envy. This newfound wealth causes Karen to forget her humble origins and grow up to become a cruel and vain adult. Then, one day, the red shoes that sparked her greed come to life and steer Karen down a path she never would have imagined in her wildest dreams.

sandriderSandRider by Angie Sage (Oct. 13)
Book Two in the TodHunter Moon trilogy, a spinoff of the popular Septimus Heap series. Taking place seven years after the events of the original Septimus Heap series, TodHunter Moon tells the story of Alice TodHunter Moon, a young PathFinder who comes to the Castle with a Magyk all her own. In this second book, Tod sets out for the Desert of the Singing Sands to retrieve the Egg of the Orm—a journey that will test not only her Magykal and PathFinding skills but her friendships, too.

blind guide to stinkville A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel (Oct. 13)
Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville. Now she finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.

sliver of stardustA Sliver of Stardust by Marissa Burt (Oct. 20)
Wren Matthews thought she’d outgrown nursery rhymes a long time ago. But that was before she knew that songs of twinkling little stars and four-and-twenty blackbirds were the key to an ancient, hidden magic. Wren’s discovery catapults her into a world of buried secrets, strange dreams, and a mountain fortress under an aurora-filled sky. But just as she starts to master her unique abilities, her new world begins to crumble around her . . . and only she can save it.

The Secrets of the Pied Piper 1: The Peddler’s peddler's roadRoad by Matthew Cody (Oct. 27)
It is said that in the thirteenth century, in a village called Hamelin, a piper lured all of the children away with his magical flute, and none of them were ever seen again. Today, pink-haired Max and her little brother, Carter, are stuck in modern-day Hamelin with their father . . . until they are also led away by the Piper to a place called the Summer Isle. There they meet the original stolen children, who haven’t aged a day and who have formed their own village, vigilantly guarded from the many nightmarish beings that roam the land. No one knows why the Piper stole them, but Max and Carter’s appearance may be the key to returning the lost children of Hamelin and to going home themselves. But to discover the secrets of the Piper, Max and Carter will have to set out on a mysterious quest down the dangerous Peddler’s Road.

league of unexeptional childrenThe League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari (Oct. 20)
Just what is The League of Unexceptional Children? You may not have heard of the actual organization (it’s undercover) but this is a series you’ll remember. This covert network uses the nation’s most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or over achievers? Or the jocks?  It’s simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now. A humorous start to a new mystery series.

odds of getting evenThe Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage (Oct. 6)
The trial of the century has come to Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.  Mo and Dale, aka Desperado Detectives, head to court as star witnesses against Dale’s daddy–confessed kidnapper Macon Johnson. Dale’s nerves are jangled, but Mo, who doesn’t mind getting even with Mr. Macon for hurting her loved ones, looks forward to a slam dunk conviction–if everything goes as expected. Of course nothing goes as expected. Macon Johnson sees to that. In no time flat, Macon’s on the run, Tupelo Landing’s in lockdown, and Dale’s brother’s life hangs in the balance. With Harm Crenshaw, newly appointed intern, Desperado Detectives are on the case. But it means they have to take on a tough client–one they’d never want in a million years. This is the second follow up to the Newbery honor book Three Times Lucky. 

lightning queenThe Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (Oct 27)
Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico in the 1950s. There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cars — just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, eleven-year-old Teo’s life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan’s Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat, and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles to fulfill their impossible destiny. Inspired by true stories derived from rural Mexico, The Lightning Queen offers a glimpse of the encounter between two fascinating but marginalized cultures–the Rom and the Mixtec Indians.

class dismissedClass Dismissed by Allan Woodrow (Oc.t 27)
What could possibly go wrong in a teacher-free classroom? Class 507 is the worst class Ms. Bryce has ever taught. And she would know — she’s been teaching forever. They are so terrible that when a science experiment goes disastrously wrong (again), Ms. Bryce has had it and quits in the middle of the lesson. But through a mix-up, the school office never finds out. Which means … Class 507 is teacher-free! The students figure that if they don’t tell anyone, it’ll be one big holiday. Will it?

(Note: Book descriptions here are modified from summaries provided by publishers.)