Interview: Kester Nucum of LILbooKlovers

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Today I am extremely excited to welcome Kester Nucum to the #MGBookVillage. He’s here to share a bit about himself with the MG community, and also to celebrate his two-year blogoversary (more about the blog below!).

Kester is an extraordinarily — and I mean EXTRAORDINARILY — impressive young person. He’s a talented and devoted student, and yet, on top of all his AP classes and extracurricular activities, he somehow finds the time to devour Middle Grade and Young Adult literature AND run an active — and downright awesome — blog about it all. I encourage you to explore his archives, especially his author interviews and absolutely wonderful LILbooKtalks, which are “online discussion panels in which two (or more) authors talk about a theme that is related to both of their books” — a format which Kester himself created.

Kester and I connected last year, when he reached out to me about his growing interest in, and appreciation for, MG books (until then, he’d been primarily interested in YA). Since then, we’ve had a great ongoing conversation, and have swapped plenty of titles (he is responsible for a sizable portion of my TBR pile!). Kester’s interest in MG lit recently culminated in a paper he wrote for his AP Language & Composition class, titled “The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers.” Kester’s passion, involvement, and relentless energy is breathtaking — and all of this when he’s just on the cusp of officially becoming an “adult” himself!

I’m so very grateful to have Kester as part my book life — he has enriched it in many ways. Getting a chance to sit down with Kester and talk not just about books, but about his background and his hopes and plans for the future, was a real treat. Check out the interview below, and find additional links to his research paper and the rest of his site below!

~ Jarrett

First off, thank you again, Kester, for stopping by the Village to chat! It’s an honor to have you here.

Now, on to the questions. Here’s something I’ve been eager to know: Have you always been an avid reader? Where do you think your love of books and reading came from?

I was a very avid reader in elementary school, but because I felt “forced” to read at a middle school or high school level, I became less fond of books when I entered 6th grade. I still read, but not as much as before. Though I did enjoy classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and And Then There Were None, I felt restricted to novels that were written either with difficult and archaic language or before the early 20th century.

When I discovered the Infinity Ring series in 8th grade, my love for reading rekindled. A newfound confidence built up inside me as I realized I could finish a book in just a few days. As I entered my freshman year of high school, my school librarian pushed me to read more by providing me many amazing recommendations and discussing books and life to me. Eventually I ended up in the YA universe and later the MG community, and LILbooKlovers came into fruition.

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Why did you start your site? How did you go about contacting authors?

After I discovered the existence of book blogs, I had a strong desire to start one myself. I was very obsessed with books that I wanted to share my love with the whole world. After I presented my idea to one of my classmates, we both decided to start one up, and LILbooKlovers was born!

During the spring semester of my freshman year, I was originally slated to go to the first ever Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival (which all readers and authors must attend at least once) as a field trip, but my school cancelled our visit last minute. It was very heartbreaking, especially since I could not get my books signed. To make up for it, I decided to email the authors of those books for signed bookplates to paste in my copies. From there, I began to amass a giant collection of book swag by emailing authors.

My first ever author connections actually started from that, including the first ever writer I interviewed, Jennifer DiGiovanni. After the blog went up, I connected with a few indie authors through Goodreads. But Twitter has helped me meet so many novelists online, and I’ve become introduced to so many authors—from debuts to New York Times bestsellers—ever since.

You’ve recently developed a strong interest in Middle Grade literature. Can you tell us a bit about the “reading” journey that led you to here?

To be honest, before I became an avid bibliophile, I had always dissed Middle Grade as “light and fluffy.” I gladly grew out of this misconception as I learned more about the wonders of this amazing literary culture. The novel that first introduced me to Middle Grade was Just Like Me by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. I started off with very low expectations for Nancy’s novel, but the storyline connected with me in such a personal way that I finished the book with so many feels. Although I did not read any more MG for a year (I pretty much experimented with various genres and age groups at this time), in the fall of my sophomore year, I received signed copies of Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz and Eden’s Wish by M. Tara Crowl from my school librarian and the author, respectively. I fell in love with both novels, and I began to build up even more respect for Middle Grade.

The Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival in March 2017 introduced me to many writers in the #kidlit community, many who are now some of my biggest supporters, including Monika Schröder, Andrew Maraniss, Jenn Bishop, Kym Brunner, and Kathryn Ormsbee. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2017—in which I met the wonderful Jarrett Lerner on Twitter along with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Linda Williams Jackson at the Southern Festival of Books—when I decided to take on a more active role in the MG community. I was astonished at how much power The War That I Finally Won and Midnight without a Moon possessed, which inspired me to delve deeper into Middle Grade. My love for MG has become so great that I have an entire shelf devoted solely to the literary culture and that I wrote an entire 22-page essay on why adults should read Middle Grade.

Okay, I’m going to ask that annoying question that ALL adults seem to ask teenagers, and that always got me groaning a bit when I got asked as a teen… What are your plans for the future? Do you have any thoughts as to what you might want to do? Will it involve books and reading?

Honestly, I actually like answering this question! With graduation less than a year away, college is about to become an actual reality for me. After I graduate from high school, I plan on pursuing computer engineering as my major with a minor in music and possibly another one in marketing. I intend on attending a university that will give me the best deal, which is the best engineering program for the best price. I want to graduate without any debt! I will also join my college’s orchestra and choir, and I hope to continue blogging and reading as much as I can.

After college, I don’t imagine myself ever leaving my home state of Tennessee. I would like to enter the workforce as a computer engineer somewhere around Nashville, and I wish to be a professional musician as a part-time job. (My dream is to play for the Nashville Symphony, or any symphony orchestra.) My future endeavors may include marketing, entrepreneurship, and even writing! Wherever God wants to take me, I will follow.

What other activities do you do when you are not reading or blogging?

My life’s passions can be summed up in four words: “God, Books, Music, Marketing.”

Music has been and will always be a huge part of my life. I sing as well as play the violin and the piano, though I can’t do all three at once. (I am trying to learn the guitar and ukulele at the moment.) I am a member of multiple ensembles, including my church’s contemporary choir and the Murray State University Symphony Orchestra. During my junior year, I sang with the Henry County High School Madrigals, my high school’s internationally acclaimed choir.

I am in multiple clubs at school, including DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), NHS (National Honors Society), and Leo Club. I serve as my high school’s DECA President and FBLA Vice President. I am the most active in DECA, which focuses mainly on marketing, and one thing that I love about being a part of this organization is that the lessons that I am learning can be applied virtually anywhere, especially blogging.

Thank you again for stopping by and sharing so much about yourself, Kester. I, along with the rest of the #MGBookVillage crew, wish you all the best in future endeavors. We can’t wait to follow along on your journey and see where you go!

. . .


LILbooKlovers Homepage

LILbooKlovers Archives

LILbooKlovers Author Interviews

LILbooKlovers LILbooKtalks

Kester’s AP Language & Composition paper, “The Importance of Middle Grade Literature for Adult Readers”

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Tux ProfileStanding at a mighty 5′ 3″, Kester Nucum may be small, but he has a big personality. He is the founder and head blogger at LILbooKlovers, a book blog devoted mainly to MG and YA literature. Kester is currently enrolled as a senior at Henry County High School, where he serves as the President of his local DECA chapter and the Vice President of his county’s FBLA chapter. He also sings and plays the violin and piano, though not all three at the same time. He has played for the Murray State University Symphony Orchestra for five years, and he sang with the internationally acclaimed HCHS Madrigals in his junior year. He loves to connect with readers and authors online, and you can find him on social media at @kesternucum or @lilbooklovers.

About the LILbooKlovers blog:

Founded in May of 2016, LILbooKlovers is a Young Adult and Middle Grade book blog headed and designed by Kester Nucum. Through the blog, Kester aims to “Unite Book Lovers, Both Big and Li’l” from all around world. He interviews and works with authors on a frequent basis, including New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, Newbery Honor awardees, debut novelists, and indie authors. LILbooKlovers takes on active roles in both the MG and YA community, and it is the home of the LILbooKtalk, a monthly online author panel where two authors discuss a single topic. Up to date, the blog has received over 18,000 views and nearly 9,700 visitors with an average of 980 views per month for the 2017 calendar year. Kester loves to connect with authors and readers online through email, the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Imagined Conversations to Draw Character Relationships

The Middle Grade at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our June pick, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras.

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If you haven’t already read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, get thee to a library! I really couldn’t put this one down, tearing through Drest’s enchanting story in the wee hours of the night.

This story has the feel of the classic medieval fantasies I loved as a child and still devour today. Set in Great Britain, the story follows the adventures of Drest, the youngest child of the infamous Scot known across the land as The Mad Wolf, as she tries desperately to save her family from imprisonment and execution.

Since it happens in the first twenty pages, I’ll give you a little spoiler to set the stage. Late one night, Drest wakes from her place by the fire with her brothers and father. She’s heard a noise and tries to warn the others, but they ignore her. Soon after, they are surprised by a nearby kingdom’s soldiers, who capture Drest’s father and all her brothers, leaving her alone with only a wounded knight they left behind during the attack.

The reader only gets to meet Grimbol (the Mad Wolf) and Drest’s brothers for a few brief scenes during the battle and ensuing capture. And yet, Magras needed a way for us to understand how a young girl could love her family enough to risk a terrifying journey and terrible odds to save them. The way she did this was one of my favorite aspects of the story—a series of ongoing imaginary conversations between Drest and her family members.

Even though we know right off that these are imagined conversations (not ESP or some sort of magical communication), the conversations are so natural that the reader gets a chance to get to know Drest’s beloved family and to understand their family dynamic even though her family is miles away in prison.

“Uwen’s voice in her mind let out a snort of disgust. Go along and hide, then. Be the sniveling, grub-spotted barnacle you are. But when Drest rose, she didn’t’ go hide; she began to run.” P17

The brilliance of lines like these is that they not only show us the hilarious curse-filled banter that is normal in Drest’s family, but they begin to draw both Drest’s brothers and her own character. Because of course, even though the words are delivered in her brother’s voices, they are actually a product of Drest’s own mind. So in the example above, she’s goading herself to action even when she’s cold, and tired, and terrified. Such is her strength and tenacity throughout the story.


These conversations with her brothers also allow us to understand more about what Drest’s life was like before her family was captured. Since we don’t get to see more than a few moments of “regular life” before the action begins, this gives the reader much-needed context and makes us care about the stakes: If Drest fails, her entire family will hang.

Eventually, real-life conversation with Drest’s traveling companions pulls her away from these in-depth conversations with her brothers. But by the time that happens, we know what we need to know about how she feels about her family, what the rules of their world are, and how the brothers treated their beloved—but never coddled—younger sister. All without meeting them in person. That’s some great storytelling, if you ask me.

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Read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then join us for our #MGBookClub Twitter chat on July 3 at 8pm EST. Also check us out on FlipGrid:  (password: themadwolfsdaughter). And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by June 25 to get recipes, activities, discussion questions, and other resources on The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: 


Interview: Jennifer Swanson on STEM Tuesday


Today we welcome Jennifer Swanson to the Village! Jennifer is an award-winning author of over 35 (!!!) nonfiction books, and also the creator of, and a regular contributor to, STEM Tuesday, a weekly feature hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Learn more about Jennifer and STEM Tuesday below, then head over to the site to catch up on old posts — and make sure you don’t miss future STEM awesomeness every Tuesday at From the Mixed-Up Files!

~ Jarrett

. . .

Welcome to the MG Book Village, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by to tell us about STEM Tuesday. Before we get started, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers who don’t already know you?

I’d be happy to, Jarrett.  I have loved science my whole life, which makes sense when you know that I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. I studied chemistry in college and have my masters degree in science education. When I decided to try my hand at writing, it only made sense that I start with something I know. Eight years later, I’m the author of over 35 books for kids–mostly about science, with a few history books thrown in, too.  What I hope to do with my STEM and STEAM books is to share my passion for the topics and get kids excited about all aspects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. That’s why I focus on exciting, interesting, and unique subjects. Helping to inspire a new bunch of future scientists and engineers is ultimately what all of us STEM writers hope to do.

STEM Tuesday is hosted by the From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors blog. Can you tell us a bit about that site?

The Mixed-Up Files blog has been around for eight years. It was started by Elissa Cruz and is still going strong. We focus on all things middle grade: book topics, new release middle grade books, teacher tips, diverse books, and even writing tips for aspiring writers. With almost 30 published middle grade authors contributing, we aim to get the word out to teachers and librarians about fabulous middle grade books and also throw in some info about what’s going on in the publishing world with regard to middle grade books. As I said, all things middle grade.

Now, STEM Tuesday. What is it?

STEM Tuesday was an idea that I had for quite awhile.  You see, every time that I spoke about STEM middle grade books, teachers and librarians were asking me how they could find them. There is a lot of information about STEM picture books out there, but not a lot about middle grade ones. Then I read a post that librarian extraordinaire Betsy Bird wrote for her Fuse #8 blog. She talked about what would go into a great STEM blog that would be most helpful to teachers and librarians. I used her list as my blueprint for STEM Tuesday. Two years, and a lot of hard work and planning, and STEM Tuesday was born.

The official description is: STEM books ENGAGE. EXCITE. and INSPIRE! Join us each week as a group of dedicated STEM authors highlight FUN topics, interesting resources, and make real-life connections to STEM in ways that may surprise you. #STEMRocks!

Whose behind STEM Tuesday? Is there a team of contributors?

While I was the creator, I could not do any of this without my amazing team of contributors. I have gathered some of the top middle grade STEM authors in the business and asked them to help. They are: Nancy Castaldo, Heather Montgomery, Mary Kay Carson, Patricia Newman, Michelle Houts, Carolyn DeCristofano, and Mike Hays. We work together as a team to keep STEM Tuesday relevant and up-to-date with the newest books and activities. This team is really fantastic!

What are your goals for the weekly feature?

The goal of this blog is to highlight middle grade and YA STEM books. To help teachers not only find them, but learn how to use them in their classroom by providing actual activities for them to follow. We want to shine the light on the amazing and exciting STEM books that are being created for middle grade readers right now. They are truly amazing and unique and deserve attention!

What can readers expect from the posts?

We start with a monthly topic, say for example: space and exploration. The first Tuesday of the month is a list of middle grade STEM books about that topic.  We try to have a mix of new and old books, because sometimes it’s tough for teacher to get brand new books. The second week is called “In the Classroom,” which features actual activities that teachers can do with these books in their ELA classrooms. Yes, STEM books CAN and DO work in an ELA class! The third week is called “Writing Craft & Resources.” It’s sort of a mash-up of techniques that STEM authors use to write their books, STEM topics in the news, and also an Out of Left Field section. You never know what will end up there, but be sure it’s some unique bit of information about STEM. The last week includes an interview with a middle grade STEM author and a free giveaway of one copy of their book.

Why is it important for young readers to have books about STEM?

Love of science starts at an early age. Neil deGrasse Tyson said it best: “Every kid is a born scientist.” YES! Kids are curious and want to know how things work. By giving them a STEM book, you will extend that curiosity, feed it with fun facts, and allow it to grow into a passion for all things STEM in the future. A STEM book invites readers to open their minds to the world around them, encourages them to embrace diversity of thought and culture, and allows them to figure out how they can help take care of our home, the Earth.

There has been a profusion of wonderful and exciting non-fiction MG books coming out in recent years, and it seems like more and more authors are using their talents to tell true stories. What do you attribute this to? What can non-fiction offer readers that fiction can’t? 

Nonfiction offers FACTS. And while that may seem boring, understanding facts is anything but that. One of the most popular TV shows is Jeopardy, which is all about trivia–fun facts. One of the best-selling kids books of all time is still the Guinness Book of World Records–also facts. I do love fiction and it definitely has its place, but nonfiction, for me, allows me to explore the possibilities of real-world things. It helps those kids who have a burning desire to know how things work and how they are made, and how they interact, to get the answers they need. It encourages deep-thinking, collaboration, and inclusion of many different backgrounds, but most of all, ACTION. That is how scientists and engineers learn–by doing things. And that is one thing that this world needs right now.

Before you go, can you share a few past STEM Tuesday posts so readers can get a taste?

I would be happy to. I’m including the link here, but you can find STEM Tuesday at

A great place to start is a Highlights of STEM Tuesday blog that I just wrote. It sums up all of the topics that we’ve covered so far and shows the book of the month:

This month’s topic is Shining the Light on Technology, Engineering, and Math. You can find the book list here:

We invite everyone to stop by STEM Tuesday and check it out. We’d love to hear from you, too. If you have suggestions for topics or comments or even kudos to pass on, just email us at

Awesome! Thanks again for stopping by, Jennifer!

Thanks so much for having me, Jarrett!  Go STEM/STEAM books!

Jen Author Photo-2017.jpgScience Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017 and an NSTA Outstanding Trade Book 2017. Jennifer’s book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner Books) received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. She has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, and also the World Science Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website

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 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 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 –

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 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

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 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.



MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: EVERY SHINY THING by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison

Jensen and Morrison Every Shiny Thing Cover

In May, the Middle Grade @ Heart book club had the absolute delight of reading EVERY SHINY THING by Cordelia Jensen and our very own contributor, Laurie Morrison! EVERY SHINY THING is an engaging and emotional story told half in prose and half in verse from the perspectives of Lauren and Sierra, two very different girls who are brought together after they both experience the pain of being separated from a loved one.

In EVERY SHINY THING, one of the teachers, Mr. Ellis, teaches Sierra how to structure an essay. He tells her that she must choose a thesis statement and then take examples from the test to prove it. So for this review, I will start with a thesis statement: EVERY SHINY THING is a beautifully told, important novel that teaches valuable lessons about justice, friendship, and brokenness (as well as essay structure!)

EVERY SHINY THING raises important questions about what it means to fight for justice. Lauren is an empathic character from a wealthy family who has always been a helpful sister. When her brother moves to a boarding school for children with autism, she decides to direct her empathic instincts toward raising money for people less fortunate than herself. She begins by selling things she doesn’t need, but her Robin Hood plan spirals out of control when she starts to take things that don’t belong to her. Lauren brings Sierra into her schemes, declaring that they are “partners in justice,” rather than crime, which leads the reader to ask themselves: are good intentions enough to justify the things we say and do in the name of justice? For readers interested in the things kids can do to join the fight for justice and equality, the Simplicity-A-Thon hosted by Lauren’s school provides a welcome alternative to her misguided schemes.

EVERY SHINY THING also does a wonderful job at portraying middle grade friendships. The relationships in EVERY SHINY THING are at times heartwarming, at times troubled and complex, and always realistic. The emotional ups and downs of Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, measured in kaleidoscope-colored days, will keep readers of all ages engaged and hoping that our two protagonists find lucky green days. One of my favorite parts of the novel is the sleepover the two girls have together, giggling and asking a Magic 8 ball silly questions–it’s an experience that many readers will find relatable. And yet, their friendship is complicated both by Lauren’s schemes and Sierra’s need to take care of someone the way she used to take care of her mother, who was sent to prison. It is at times difficult to read about the way Sierra hides her true feelings in order to care for Lauren. In a heartbreaking moment, Sierra turns to her beloved kaleidoscope for help:

When I got home,

I looked into my kaleidoscope

and this time shook and shook

for green to

rise up

not for Mom,


for Lauren.

(I did say this story was beautifully told, didn’t I?) Although EVERY SHINY THING covers difficult and painful subjects, readers will be left with a sense of hope for Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, and perhaps for some of their own relationships too, as they learn that sometimes relationships need to change in order to grow.

This leads to my last point: EVERY SHINY THING demonstrates the beautiful ways in which things that are broken can be put back together. Both Lauren and Sierra come from families that have been taken apart in some way. Lauren and her parents struggle to relate to each other without the presence of Lauren’s brother, Ryan, and Sierra is placed in foster care after her mother is imprisoned. Sierra’s foster mother, Anne, makes jewelry out of found objects and broken glass. She states, “Sometimes, the best thing we can do for anyone is to let them fall.” Relationships and families may permanently change, but readers will take comfort in the fact that “broken things can be repurposed to make something beautiful,” and that healing does not come from going right back to the way things were, but from creating something new with people we care about. I like to think that creating something new often starts with picking up a story like this one (and who can resist that shiny cover?!).

Mr. Ellis says you must restate your introduction in your conclusion, so I’ll say it again: EVERY SHINY THING is a wonderful and important story that will help young readers understand justice, friendship, and how to make something beautiful out of broken pieces.

The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for June is THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and join us for our Twitter chat on July 3!

JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS and The Shifting Meaning of Home


Home. The concept conjures a lot of images for me.

I think of the way I have “home” programmed in my phone. It is not the number of the house I live in. It’s the number of the house I grew up in. And, though my parents still live there, I don’t call the number anymore because we all carry phones in our pockets. Still, this is how I’ve labelled “home” for years and the thought of re-labelling it doesn’t sit well.

I think of the various apartments I’ve lived in over the years. The first place I lived in, outside of my parent’s house and university dorms, was a collegetown two-bedroom I rented for $400 a month with my best friend. The couch puffed up in memories of smoke whenever I plopped down on it. It’s where we proudly rolled an ancient television set outside on warm days, which earned us respect from classmates and passersby. The lease ended upon graduation and, *poof*, an entire 4-year experience and, the person I was during that time, gone. I remember it, sometimes, a life untethered. One without any responsibility, it seemed, not to children, mortgages, or jobs.

I think of the home I live in now, the first place I have ever “owned”. It’s a weathered Cape that surprises people, when they walk inside, with its efficient Mary-Poppins-bag layout; the way it appears larger and more spacious than they imagined when they first looked at its tiny frame.

I think of the people inside these spaces. My mother, before we talked into cordless phones, how she sat curled up in a dining room chair, the telephone chord stretching across the floor plan. My red-haired son, now four years old, crawling across the hardwood floor of a cramped Brooklyn apartment while my husband pushed around sweet-smelling onions in a non-stick pan.

I remember leaving many of these four walls, these roofs, to step outside and breathe fresh air, head and heart dizzy with bad news. A heart attack. A cancer diagnosis. A death I hadn’t expected. How unmoored I could become, the ground beneath my feet no longer solid. With loss imminent, the spaces inside me, became empty. And the places I occupied felt cold.

When I sat down to write the first draft of what would become my first published novel, Just Under the Clouds, I was a new mother. I wore the identity like a scratchy, ill-fitting coat. My office, where I wrote and worked, had turned into a nursery. I had a corner of the couch I could write at. It smelled of spit-up and there was an imprint in the cushion where I had sat and nursed an infant for hours. I wondered how to be. Who to be. I turned toward the part of my identity I could keep in this new phase of life. Writer. 

I didn’t know, when I first started this book, that I would be writing about homelessness. I wanted to write about a 12 year old girl named Cora who loved surveying and climbing all the trees in Brooklyn. I knew she was searching for something, but, for what? As I explored her search, as she climbed sturdy trees, and sought out seeds and roots, I realized she was searching for stability, a feeling of being grounded and whole. It sounded a lot like what I was looking for. A way to feel at home. 

So began Cora’s search. And my own. As I thought about home, I thought of the many places I lived. But I also thought of the person I was in those spaces. The people who crossed the same floorboards with me. The experiences and feelings I left behind when I moved on.

I realized that home can be a place. But it can also be a person. Or a feeling. And it shifts as our lives do.


Melissa Sarno is a children’s writer based in the lower Hudson Valley where she lives with her husband and two children. Just Under the Clouds, her debut novel for middle grade readers, is out now.

The only thing she loves more than writing books is reading them. She celebrates middle grade and picture books on the B&N Kids Blog and she’s the YA and Children’s Book Reviews Editor for Cleaver Magazine. She also loves to hike, run, bake cakes, and take photos.



Learning to Look Beyond What You Think You See: How Middle Grade Fiction Can Entice Children to Explore the World Around Them

I’m thrilled to be visiting MG Book Village on the birthday of my latest novel, The Frame-Up, which is my love letter to art and art galleries/museums!

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As children, we are born with the love of creation. Sadly, for many of us, this unfettered joy gives way to abandonment when we realize that some of us have natural talent and some of us do not. Often, this feeling is only exaggerated by visits to where real art hangs. We wander gallery after gallery, seeing, but not seeing.

I’ve always loved art, though I didn’t always have a vocabulary to express why or how I was drawn to certain pieces of art. And if I am being truthful, at a certain point in my life, I sometimes felt intimidated when I visited art galleries, especially smaller ones, afraid I wouldn’t say or think the “right” thing. Because when I looked at the paintings or sculptures, I was imagining all kinds of things, none of which involved who the artist was or whether the medium was oil or watercolor or mixed media. I was imagining stories.

How to bring the love of art alive? I pondered this very question in the fall of 2015, sitting in my living room. I’m fortunate: I have artist friends, my great-grandmother was an amateur painter, and I have collected some nice pieces over the years. And I was always drawn to stories and movies that feature art: The Portrait of Dorian Gray, creepy movies where the eyes in the portrait follow the hapless victim from room to room, and of course, Harry Potter, where the paintings have lives of their own behind the frame. As I stared at an old oil painting of a cow on my wall, I wondered if it ever wandered over into the other paintings in my house. Were there brouhahas when I left the room or went to bed at night?

And then it hit me: what if all original art is alive, infused with the creative energy of their creators, and they don’t want us to know?

Much as I love the artwork in my home, I knew it wasn’t the proper setting for my book. But there was a place only a few miles away filled with world-class art who were just dying to share their stories: The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. From there it was simply a matter of “casting” my characters from paintings and developing a compelling story of two worlds — one behind the frame, one in front of it — that exist side-by-side but can never intersect, at least not physically.

In the story, the gallery director’s son, an appropriately named Sargent Singer, discovers the secret of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery when he catches the book’s heroine, Mona Dunn, sticking out her tongue at a couple of obnoxious visitors. Add in some kids attending summer camp, a creepy art restorer, and a fractured father-son relationship, and I had my story.

But central to that story was encouraging children to look at art differently. In the book, the campers don’t just look at the art on the walls; they create copies using different mediums: crayons, graphic novels, collage. And readers get to step into the world behind the frame, encouraged to imagine what it was like the day the portrait or landscape was created, what’s been happening since, and the results of the artist’s choices (one can’t help but be sympathetic to the sketch of W. Somerset Maugham’s head in the story, forever dependent on the kindness of the gallery’s other residents to get him out and about.)

I also loved the idea of setting the book in a real place. Starting in June, people visiting The Beaverbrook Art Gallery can actually take The Frame-Up tour and see the characters in the book for themselves! And those who can’t go in person can visit the gallery virtually if they want to learn more about the paintings (after they’ve looked at the full color insert Greenwillow Books included in the novel!). If they visit the Beaverbrook, they’ll discover that the Mona Dunn portrait is every bit as mysterious and glorious as the Mona Lisa, which is why we’ve come up with #TheOtherMona.

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Mona Dunn, William Orpen, 1915, Oil on Canvas

One of my favourite things is when middle grade novels are set in real places that I can visit afterwards: The Anne of Green Gables House on Prince Edward Island, The Metropolitan Museum of Art after Percy Jackson, Betsy and Tacy’s houses in Mankato, Minnesota, Harriet the Spy’s house on the Upper East side of New York City, or all the locations in Michael Scott’s Alchemist books, for example. And if the reader can’t visit them in person, they can research them online.

But readers of The Frame-Up don’t have to travel to New Brunswick to experience art. My hope is that when they finish the book, they’ll ask their parents and teachers to take them to their local art galleries or museums. And when they do, I hope they stop and stare and wonder, just like I do. And realize that when you start to think of paintings as living things, they’ll come alive for you.

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Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town and wrote her first novel at age nine. Her first middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was published by Sky Pony Press in 2017. She’s been known to wander through art galleries and converse with the paintings — mostly in her head, though sometimes not. She lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her husband, and feeds raccoons, even though she knows she shouldn’t!