Exceptional Nonfiction Reads & A Conversation w/ Wendy MacKnight: Books Between, Episode 51

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher, a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, and struggling with some kind of rogue pollen in the air. So if I suddenly sound like the Albino from the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride – that is why.

This is Episode #51 and today I’m discussing some exceptional nonfiction reads and sharing a conversation with Wendy MacKnight, author of The Frame-up!  

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is sponsored by MoxieReader – a literacy app that’s like a fitness tracker for your reading life. It gives educators insights unnamedinto their students’ reading lives, customized recommendations, and a way for kids to set and work toward their own reading goals in a way that is engaging and fun. My 5th graders and I have been trying it out over the past couple of weeks and they have been really been pumped up about hitting their own goals AND they’ve really liked sharing recommendations with each other.

I feel like the summer is, for me anyway, the perfect time to explore something new so head over to MoxieReader.com and the use the code welovereading and try it out!

A few announcements to pass along! This month’s Middle Grade at Heart book club pick is The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. We’ll have author Diane Magras on the show soon so watch out for that! In July we are reading, Just Under the Clouds and Where the Watermelons Grow is the August pick.

In other news, we at MGBookVillage had SUCH as fabulous response to the #MGBookChat  Twitter chats that we’ve decided to continue them!

So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST  and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter for great conversations between educators, librarians, and authors about how to get great books into the hands of middle grade readers!    We have some great guest hosts lined up so far, but If you have an idea for a topic centered around supporting children’s reading lives and celebrating MG books and would like to co-host an upcoming chat, please contact us. (I’ll drop a link to more information and our upcoming schedule in the show notes.)

Book Talk – Exceptional Nonfiction Reads

This week’s book talk is all about nonfiction!! And I will admit, I do tend to read and book talk more fiction than nonfiction. (And I have heard from some of you about that.) But, my students and I are just coming off of a great Unit of Study all about informational texts and I wanted to share with you some of the books that have really hooked us. And as I started this list, I soon realized it’s too much for one episode. So consider this part one, and on the next show you’ll get more great recommendations!

Let’s get into it with the hot reads with my fifth graders this year. All of these books had long waiting lists and complicated exchange arrangements with my kids – if you work in a classroom or library, you know what I mean.

First up… the Science Comics series!! Oh my word – have these books taken off in my class!  They are graphic novel-style books that feature a character (like an animal) introducing you to their world and telling you everything you need to know about it.  For example, a favorite one in our class is Science Comics Dogs: From Predator to Protector by Andy Hirsch and it starts with an introduction by two canine scientists and then we meet Rudy, who talks directly to the reader about things like domestication, Punnett Squares, and evolution, and breeds, and the meanings of various howls and wags. We have another one called Coral Reefs: Cities of the Oceans which is told by a little yellow fish and is all about coral formation and water runoff and the effects of climate change. I will say – they are complicated and do contain sophisticated vocabulary like alleles and numerical dating vs relative dating and, well – lots of other words I can’t pronounce! But the support of the illustrations really helps, and I have found that readers will pick up what they can and skim the rest – and that’s okay. They next time they come across the term allele, they’ll be more likely to pick up that meaning.  There are a TON more in the series, Bats, Plague, Flying Machines, Volcanoes, Robots & Drones with new titles coming like Polar Bears and Wild Weather!! I definitely need to get more of these next year – they are bright and colorful – and just COOL!

Another hot nonfiction read for us this year is Don’t Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True Stories by Anna Claybourne. This is a National Geographic Kids book published by Scholastic and how it’s set up is each topic has a two page spread with a big title, an introduction and then 4 or 5 text features like a timeline or picture, or fact box. It really lends itself to bite-sized reading and with each flip of the page you get a new topic like “Island of the Dolls” or “Buried Alive” or “Eerie Everest”. And there are six quizzes throughout the book like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” or “Spot the Fake Photos!” so I liked that it also included some debunking and skepticism. This is book that some of your kids are going to look at and say, “No thank you!” but you know there are a lot you are going to go “Oh yeah! Let me at it!”

In a similar vein is a book called Beasties in My Backyard which also includes a two-page spread for common backyard (or household) bugs like centipedes and cicadas and cockroaches and lightning bugs! Each page has an intro and a HUGE super close-up photo (like see every hair on their legs photo) with the features labeled and explained. And then a fact file with its size and diet and location. And a few text features. Actually, even though the title is Beasties in my Backyard – our classroom has had its share of ants, and moths, and stink bugs, and centipedes recently. Just yesterday my teammate, Cindy, had to snag a spider out of my hair during lunch!  A couple other nonfiction books that my biology-loving students are getting into are 101 Hidden Animals (all about creatures who camouflage), Life As We Know It (about everything from the beginnings of life on earth to species and ecosystems and survival) and Ocean Animals: Who’s Who in the Deep Blue (another gorgeous National Geographic Kids book).

Another super popular book this year is one called… Drones. It’s one of those short, wide books with 96 pages chock full of information. There’s a four page intro and then each spread is about a different drone – military drones and then civilian drones. I liked that the pictures are large and the text is large and well spaced so it’s really readable. Also – for each drone they include a “How Big Is It”  box with the silhouette of that drone with either a person or a bus or something to help you picture it.


Two other books that have become very popular this year in the wake of student activist movements are Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge which tells the story of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 with a particular focus on the voices of the children who participated. Another book called Kids on Strike! tells the stories of children who organized in the early 1900s for better working conditions. Each chapter is about a different strike – from mill workers and coal miners and garment workers, It was a fascinating and timely read. I think it would be really interesting to have students compare a chapter from each these books to current news stories about student walkouts and the marches demanding gun control.

My students are also really loving those Scholastic “A True Book” series – especially the one called Cybercriminals which is all about hacking and identity theft – topics they hear about in the news and want to know more about. I really, really love this series and they have a plethora of titles that can connect to just about any content area so you can make your reading time also hit some science and social studies.

And – I probably don’t need to tell you this, but any of the Almanac / World Record-type books are hugely popular with my kiddos. They were with me too when I was their age! But boy have they changed! My tattered copy of the 19somethingsomething Guinness Book of World Records is black and white, teensy-tiny print, and maybe a picture or two? These books are chock full of color and images with bold words and color coded sections.  I don’t get a new one EVERY year but honestly I probably should they are so popular. Guinness has a great one every year and so does Scholastic.  And the National Geographic Kids Almanacs are also great. And there are also books like The Year in Sports and even ones specific to baseball or football.

And I’m starting to realize that this list is pretty heavily loaded with Scholastic titles. Honestly, it’s because they are affordable and I can save up my points to get some of the more pricey ones. But I do realize that limits the selection, so next year I’m going to look for ways to fund some other titles, too.

Alright – I hope this has encouraged you to pick up some new nonfiction titles for your children and students. And if you have a suggestion about a great nonfiction book we should all know about, email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or connect on Twitter at @Books_Between.


Wendy McLeod Macknight – Interview Outline


Our special guest this week is Wendy McLeod MacKnight.  We chat about art, her biggest
influences as a child, and her inspirations behind her newest middle grade novel,
The Frame-Up.

Take a listen…


Your newest novel is due to be released into the world on June 5th! What is Frame-up all about?

What kind of research did you do for this book and did you collaborate at all with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery?

What were some of the challenges you encountered when setting up the “rules” of the paintings?

If you could go visit any painting you wished, which one would you pick?

If you knew a painting could really come alive, would you want one painted of yourself?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Wendy and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 47:30 mark.

Your Writing Life

What are you working on next?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books. Did you have a teacher or librarian in your life who helped you

What are some books you’ve been reading lately?


Wendy’s website – http://wendymcleodmacknight.com

Wendy on Twitter and Facebook

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

It’s a Mystery Pigface (Wendy MacKnight)

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanna Birdsall)

You Go First (Erin Entrada Kelly)

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter (Diane Magras)

The Science of Unbreakable Things (Tae Keller)

The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody (Matthew Landis)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



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