Tag Archives: resources

Digging Deep into History: Sources for Historical Research

I love getting random notifications from our county library system. Yesterday’s was an invitation to a free lecture on the local impact of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. My writer’s wheels started turning right away and I added the event to the calendar. Though I have no plans to start drafting a flu epidemic middle grade novel anytime soon, I think it’s safe to say that the more your writer-head knows about a historical time period–and history in general–the more inclined (read: less terrified) you become toward actually drafting a historical.

Historical research can be daunting, even for lovers of history, even for lovers of research and research paper writing. We have so much info available to us now…and yet, sometimes a seemingly easy answer eludes us. And then there’s the very real trust issues we writers have with the online world, and justifiably so; though the internet has certainly made it easier to quickly access reading material, it has also made it crucially necessary to question, check and double check, confirm and re-confirm sources. Random Googling can be appropriate for a brief overview of a historical event, person, or time period in MG historical writing; for example, clicking around for short, valid articles is great when you are still in the throes of a new crazy idea and are exploring the topic to gauge your own interest in it. The question “Is this something I want to learn more about?” is just as important as “Is this idea any ‘good’ for an MG novel?” at this stage of the game, and quick search engine results can help you start to answer these basic questions.

But once you’ve decided to dig in and try your hand at a new historical middle grade, to what types of resources do you turn?

I thought I’d share here some of the more interesting and trusted sources of historical info I’ve used in recent years. This is, of course, just to get your own wheels turning, the way that library notification did mine, and to hopefully start some comments from you all with other source ideas to inspire our whole community here at The Mixed-Up Files.

Go local:

Your local library might surprise you, and have a great resource on hand all about the preparations for a medieval feast, or The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, or the first-ever passenger rail car (England, 1825). If your own library doesn’t, search your county or statewide library system, and enjoy the benefits of interlibrary loan (free, real books, delivered to your local library, just for you!).

Local museums, local historical societies, local college and university libraries. Librarians, docents, and historical society volunteers share your passion for info and history, and chances are, they will be eager to help a writer towards historical accuracy.

Go online:

Don’t forget to try your public, state, or university library’s online aggregated content databases of articles and reference books. As a card-holding library patron, you should have access to these databases, often a mix of academic and popular culture resources. For example, my town library is part of Pennsylvania’s electronic library system (called PowerLibrary), which I can access from my home computer by inputting the patron number on my library card. This morning I found a recent Smithsonian article through PowerLibrary perfect for my WIP.

Primary source documents, like digitized newspapers, magazines, and periodicals—some from centuries ago–are amazing pieces of actual history that convey the aesthetics, attitudes, and atmosphere of the time period as well as info.

Online digital libraries. Digitized libraries can be huge aggregates of centuries’ worth of books and serials, many of them full-text… or they can be an individual’s personal web site of images of the local ferry service’s crossing schedules from 1955. And depending on your book idea, either of these or any in between might be equally helpful.  Try your luck with Hathi Trust Digital Library for out-of-print books and resources, Project Gutenberg for works in the public domain, or this site…when you have a few hours free:   http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/250-plus-killer-digital-libraries-and-archives/ I liked how these were organized by state (alphabetically) with multi-state resources listed at the end.

Photographs, of course. I like the search results I get (and the amount of info for citations) from the Photo Archive at the Getty Institute: http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/photo/

Here, for inspiration, are Life magazine historical photos by decade hosted by Google: http://images.google.com/hosted/life

Don’t forget the daily details in all your hard-core historical info. Food, footwear, furniture…depending on your setting, a sales resource like a digitized Sears and Roebuck catalog might be helpful (not to mention fascinating). Today I looked at this  one on Hathi from 1918. Middle-grade-aged girls’ clothes start on the third page, with prices and descriptions.

Grocery store ads with prices, movie posters, war propaganda literature…all telling signs of the times. From a special collections library at Emory University, here’s a 1947  ad for women’s high heels for $5.99 (!!).  How interesting that the ad utilizes the fun, adventurous lifestyle of circus performers to catch the consumer’s attention.

Specific to American history research, try the National Archives (great educator section here, by the way!): https://www.archives.gov/  and the site of the American Antiquarian Society: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/  (for info and primary sources through 1876).

The Library of Congress has an abundance of free reference materials, including an International Collections section as well an American Folklife Center: http://www.loc.gov/rr/ .

Books on historical topics that are especially cool for writers:

The Writer’s Guide to… Series. The Wild West, Prohibition through WWII, the 1800’s, Colonial America, Renaissance England, and more.

If you have kids, you probably know the DK Eyewitness series of books. Written for elementary through middle graders as visual encyclopedias, these books present great overviews on a wealth of topics and time periods. They contain the perfect amount of info if you are just getting started on a research topic—enough to catch your interest and start notetaking, but not so much as to overwhelm.

An illustrated costume history text. You can page through possibilities at bookstores on university campuses with theatre departments, or try a book like What People Wore: 1,800 Illustrations from Ancient Times to the Early Twentieth Century by Douglas Gorsline.

I hope you found this to be a fun and possibilities-ripe list!  Please chime in with comments on what creative and helpful sources you’ve used in the past. Thanks for reading and good luck with your future research!

May 2017: New Releases

April showers bring May blossoms, barbecues, & books! This is a great time to start compiling that summer middle grade reading list. You can read one on your porch, sunning by the pool, or even in the car – Well, as long as you’re not the one driving. And what better way to read a book then together? Take a peek at some of these new tales just waiting for you to welcome them along your summer journey.

Mia Measures UpMia Measures UP by Coco Simon

Mia is being cyber-bullied, and she’s determined to find out who is responsible in the latest addition to the Cupcake Diaries series.

Mia is upset when her parents tell her she’s too young to go to a concert without adult supervision. She’s old enough to help run a cupcake business! Why can’t her parents see that she’s also responsible enough to do whatever she wants? And just when she’s reached a compromise with her parents (her older brother Dan will go to the concert with her), Mia finds out she’s being cyber-bullied on social media. It’s the Cupcake Club to the rescue as they all help Mia solve her online bullying mystery!

Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink

Fifth grade was the worst year of Marc’s life. He stunk at gym class, math was too hard for him, the school lunch was horrible, and his class field trip was ruined because he couldn’t swim. But what was most awful thing about fifth grade? Kenny Williamson, the class bully, who calls himself the “King of the Jungle.”

When Marc’s mother tells him that his Uncle Jake is coming to stay for the whole summer, Marc can’t wait. Uncle Jake is a for real, super-cool Navy SEAL. And Uncle Jake has a plan.

He’s going to turn Marc into a warrior.

Becoming a warrior isn’t easy. It means a lot of pull ups, sit ups, pushups, squats, swimming, eating right, and studying harder than ever before! Can Marc transform himself into a warrior before school starts in the fall – and finally stand up to the King of the Jungle himself?

Ages of Oz: A Fiery Friendship by Gabriel Gale; Lisa Fiedler 

Lions, and tigers, and bears, not quite Travel down the red brick road with the world’s most iconic Good Witch, Glinda, as she embarks on a brave adventure in Oz in this start to a brand-new series from Gabriel Gale and Lisa Fiedler.
On her Declaration Day, a day meant for celebration and happiness, Glinda’s peaceful life in Oz is shattered when her mother is imprisoned for practicing forbidden Magic. As she is ripped from her home by a fearsome bounty hunter sent by Aphidina, the Witch of the South, Glinda soon uncovers a startling truth: the Oz she’s always know is not good and right–it’s a world governed by the wickedest of the wicked, overrun with tyranny, corruption, and dark power. And Glinda’s mother? She is actually a high-ranking member of a secret society whose mission is to overthrow the four Wicked Witches and set the stage for the return of the rightful ruler of Oz.
With the help of a feisty, purple-haired girl named Locasta, Glinda sets across the unforgiving landscape to rescue her mother. They are soon joined by Ben, a revolutionary New Yorker, and a mysterious girl called Shade. Armed with their individual gifts, these unlikely heroes mount an epic attack on Aphidina to free Glinda’s mother…and save the future of Oz from the Wickeds before it’s too late.

Hamster Princes: Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

A magical beanstalk leads to a GIANT surprise in book four of the series that’s chock-full of girl power and perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse.

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone doesn’t go looking for trouble. She prefers to think of it as looking for adventure. But when she climbs to the top of an enormous beanstalk and sneaks into the castle at the top, Harriet finds plenty of both. The castle is home to one very poetically challenged giant rabbit with two unusual prisoners—a girl who is half harp, half hamster, and an extremely large goose. This calls for a heroic rescue, and Harriet is just the hamster for the job.

The fourth installment of the critically acclaimed Hamster Princess series turns the story of Jack and the Beanstalk upside down, with plenty of laughs along the way.

How to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry

Victor Spoil comes from a long line of famous supervillains and he’s fully expected to join their ranks one day. But to his family’s utter disappointment, Victor doesn’t have a single bad-guy bone in his body. He won’t run with scissors, he always finishes his peas, and he can’t stand to be messy. Hopeless!

As a last-ditch effort before they give up and let him be a–gasp!–civilian, Victor’s exasperated parents send him to apprentice under a disgraced supervillain called The Smear. This matchup starts off as a complete disaster, but Victor and The Smear eventually find that they have a lot to learn from each other. When the stakes get high as Victor is forced to choose between his mentor and his family morals (or lack thereof)…what will the world’s nicest bad guy do?

In this rollicking middle-grade adventure, Michael Fry’s witty text and hysterical artwork combines superhero action with classic fish-out-of-water humor.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Love You Like a Sister by Robin Palmer

Four soon-to-be-stepsisters must learn to work together as they try to make their parents’ wedding day a day to remember in this witty M!X novel in the tradition of Bridesmaids.

When Avery was two, her parents divorced, and it’s just been Avery and her mom ever since—the Two Musketeers. Until Avery opens her email—on a non-holiday and not her birthday—and receives a bombshell announcement from her father. Not only is he moving back to the New York area, he is remarrying—and his soon-to-be wife has three daughters. Avery’s future stepsisters. Holy. Moly.

Avery’s father is determined to make them all one happy family, so he and his fiancée ask the girls to be the bridesmaids in the upcoming wedding. And they want the girls to help with the something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Meaning that Avery and the girls—who clearly want nothing to do with her—are going to be forced to spend time together.

It’s one (hilarious) disaster after another as Avery tries to help and get to know her future stepsisters—who are all dealing with their own issues with the wedding. From spilling a chocolate-y drink on a very expensive dress when they go dress shopping, to turning her future step-mother’s hair bright blue days before the wedding. Can they all manage to make the wedding a day to remember—or will it be memorable for all the wrong reasons?

Science Comics Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus

Take to the skies with Flying Machines!

Follow the famous aviators from their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, to the fields of North Carolina where they were to make their famous flights. In an era of dirigibles and hot air balloons, the Wright Brothers were among the first innovators of heavier than air flight. But in the hotly competitive international race toward flight, Orville and Wilbur were up against a lot more than bad weather. Mechanical failures, lack of information, and even other aviators complicated the Wright Brothers’ journey. Though they weren’t as wealthy as their European counterparts, their impressive achievements demanded attention on the international stage. Thanks to their carefully recorded experiments and a healthy dash of bravery, the Wright Brothers’ flying machines took off.

5 Worlds Book I by Mark Siegel; Alexis Siegel

The #1 New York Times bestselling creator of Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi, hails this first book in this groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy adventure series as -a magical journey, as fun as it is beautiful – Think Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves–and more to their worlds–than meets the eye. . . .
– The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
– A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
– Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?
When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

“A wondrous book, wise and wild and deeply true.” —Kelly Barnhill, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

For readers who loved Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Lois Lowry’s The Giver comes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

Hero: Hurricane Rescue by Jennifer Li Shotz

The action-packed follow-up to Hero, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Li Shotz.

When a dangerous hurricane strikes town and Jack and his puppy, Scout, go missing, retired search-and-rescue dog Hero is the only one who can track them down.

Hero and his human, Ben, set off into the woods, but when the storm surges out of control, the group is suddenly trapped with no way out. Now it’s up to Hero to get everyone home safe and sound. Together, Hero and Ben fight for their lives—but can Hero battle his way past alligators, mudslides, and raging floods?

Join Hero for another epic adventure and discover what a dog will do to save his best friend. This edition is a paper-over-board hardcover.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

In the newest novel by beloved National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff, kids have turned the tables on their parents, and all the rules have been tossed out the window. But does Winnie have what it takes to hold her ground and keep everyone happy?

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by AVI

In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery—and London might be the most dangerous place of all.

In the tradition of his Newbery Honor book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi mixes high adventure and short, page-turning chapters with a vivid historical setting featuring a cast of highwaymen, pickpockets, and villainous criminal masterminds.

A Trio of Tolerable Tales by Margaret Atwood

In Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, Ramsay runs away from his revolting relatives and makes a new friend with more refined tastes.

The second tale, Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, features Bob, who was raised by dogs, and Dorinda, who does housework for relatives who don’t like her. It is only when they become friends that they realize they can change their lives for the better.

And finally, to get her parents back, Wenda and her woodchuck companion have to outsmart Widow Wallop in Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery.

Young readers will become lifelong fans of Margaret Atwood’s work and the kind of wordplay that makes these tales such rich fare, whether they are read aloud or enjoyed independently. These compelling stories of resourceful children are a lively introduction to alliteration.

There you have’em! Hope you enjoy your reading time during the month of May!

120 Ways to Get a Character Moving

Some writers write quickly, their keyboards rattling like machine guns. Others take a more plodding, deliberate approach, weighing each word before allowing it to ooze from their brains and crawl onto the page. Regardless, the objective for both types of writers remains the same—to move words beyond their minds and muses.

When I write, not only must my words move, but my characters have to get going, too. That’s what led me to create the “120 Ways to Get a Character Moving” list, which I keep close at hand when I’m searching for a just-right verb that will do more than simply take a character from one place to another.

No Running

Of course, as both a writer and a teacher, I have to keep in mind that a well-chosen verb can pull double-duty. It can move a character around while simultaneously showing other facets of the character’s personality or mood. So the sad character trudges while the happy character skips. The graceful character glides while the cocky one swaggers.

If you’re a writer in need of a little inspiration to get a character on the move, feel free to tap into the list below. Or if you’re a teacher, use the list to challenge your students to explore descriptive verb choices.

There’s only ONE rule:

No running or walking allowed.

  1. Ambled
  2. Approached
  3. Barged
  4. Barreled
  5. Blazed
  6. Bolted
  7. Bounced
  8. Bounded
  9. Breezed
  10. Burst
  11. Bustled
  12. Cantered
  13. Charged
  14. Chugged
  15. Climbed
  16. Coasted
  17. Crawled
  18. Crept
  19. Cruised
  20. Danced
  21. Darted
  22. Dashed
  23. Dove
  24. Dragged
  25. Drifted
  26. Eased
  27. Escaped
  28. Fell
  29. Flopped
  30. Fled
  31. Flew
  32. Flitted
  33. Floated
  34. Galloped
  35. Glided
  36. Hobbled
  37. Hopped
  38. Hurdled
  39. Hurried
  40. Hustled
  41. Inched
  42. Jogged
  43. Jumped
  44. Knifed
  45. Launched
  46. Leapt
  47. Limped
  48. Loped
  49. Lumbered
  50. Lunged
  51. Lurched
  52. Marched
  53. Meandered
  54. Moseyed
  55. Muscled
  56. Nosed
  57. Paced
  58. Paraded
  59. Pirouetted
  60. Plodded
  61. Pranced
  62. Pushed
  63. Raced
  64. Rambled
  65. Reeled
  66. Retreated
  67. Roamed
  68. Rocketed
  69. Rode
  70. Rolled
  71. Rumbled
  72. Rushed
  73. Sailed
  74. Scampered
  75. Scurried
  76. Scuttled
  77. Shifted
  78. Shimmied
  79. Shot
  80. Shuffled
  81. Sidled
  82. Skidded
  83. Skipped
  84. Skittered
  85. Slid
  86. Slipped
  87. Slithered
  88. Sped
  89. Sprang
  90. Sprinted
  91. Staggered
  92. Stalked
  93. Stepped
  94. Stomped
  95. Straggled
  96. Strayed
  97. Strode
  98. Strutted
  99. Stumbled
  100. Swaggered
  101. Swayed
  102. Swept
  103. Tiptoed
  104. Tottered
  105. Tramped
  106. Trampled
  107. Trekked
  108. Tripped
  109. Trotted
  110. Trudged
  111. Tumbled
  112. Vaulted
  113. Veered
  114. Waddled
  115. Waltzed
  116. Wandered
  117. Wobbled
  118. Wriggled
  119. Zipped
  120. Zoomed

Have another character-moving verb to add to the list? Wander, waltz, or wobble down to the comments . . . and share it!


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.