(Some of the) Best Middle Grade Books of 2018: Books Between, Episode 66

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! This is Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying my extra reading time over the holiday break and the chance to relax.

This is episode #66 and today we are celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2018.

I’m a bit of a data nerd, and I have always been into tracking my reading – from my color-coded index card system in high school to my alphabatized Excel Spreadsheet in the early 2000s to now where I do a mix of Goodreads and a bullet journal. So looking back over the last couple of years since I started doing this show, in 2016 I read 60 middle grade books with 31 of those published in 2016. And my top three books of that year were Booked, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, and The Wild Robot. (You can find that list here.)

Last year, I read 79 middle grade with 55 of those published in 2017. A jump I will totally attribute to the intensity of being on the CYBILS committee. And my top three books of 2017 were Posted, Refugee, and Orphan Island and my top three graphic novels last year were Real Friends, Pashmina, and All’s Faire in Middle School.  (You can find the full list here.)

This year, I read 59 middle grade books with 41 of those released in 2018.

Before I start – a quick caveat. Selecting ONLY 25 titles was almost impossible.  I enjoyed just about every book I read this year, and I know each one will find it’s reader.  So how to choose the top twenty-five? I have two criteria – the writing is immersive (a book I couldn’t put down) and the story has that something special – unique character, an intriguing plot twist, or a thought-provoking theme (a book I can’t forget).  

And again this year, I decided to separate out the graphic novels so be on the lookout for another best of podcast soon featuring just the middle grade graphic novels.   

Okay, let’s get to it!  Here are my Top 25 middle grade novels of 2018:

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

41hpsm-ci0l._sx321_bo1,204,203,200_From the author of the soon-to-be movie, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and last year’s amazing
Posted is this story about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets – one of the few remaining fairies entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. Ophelia’s increasingly difficult quest to grant a little girl her wish of a purple bike will keep you turning the pages. And her reluctant friendship with the slobbery dog Sam – along with some other hilarious touches like Ophelia’s special song – will make this novel one you won’t forget.

 

#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

511OD4J9dbL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book – better than any I’ve read – captures the heat and the swelter of a scorching-hot drought-ridden summer. Our protagonist, Della, is feeling the weight of that and also the burdon of her mother’s re-emerging schizophrenia. But this novel is also laced with the sweetness of friendship and watermelon and hope and a touch of maybe magical honey.  

 

 

#23: Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison

Unknown-2.jpegThis dual narrative novel is about Lauren and Sierra.  The two girls end up living next to each other and becoming friends when Lauren’s neighbors become Sierra’s foster parents.  As Lauren starts to become more aware of her priviledge, she comes up with a – shall we say “ill-advised” Robin Hood scheme that quickly starts to spiral out of control.  Watching Lauren and Sierra get deeper and deeper and deeper into that pit and wondering how on earth they were going to dig themselves out is what kept me turning those pages. And what makes this book unique and fresh was the strength of the two perspectives – Lauren’s chapters in prose and Sierra’s in verse.

#22: The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

51rHsGVmYkL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBelieve. Give. Trust. With those three magical rules passed on to her from her grandmother, Kate tries to grapple with the changes in her life. Divorce, faltering friendship, and her grandmother’s worsening dementia. Along with the typical difficulties of a 12 year old! I loved this book for its blend of beautiful prose and realism.

 

 

#21: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

512OEqiZhIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis middle grade coming of age novel tells the story of 8th grader Marcus Vega who ends up traveling to Puerto Rico with his mom and younger brother in search of the father who seemed to abandon them years ago. And yes, his journey is about discovering family, but it’s also about discovering his culture. This book is a beautiful homage to Puerto Rico and a story that captures the experiences of many kids with family connections that represent multiple languages and backgrounds.  It reminds me a bit of the graphic novel Crush with a twist of Torrey Maldonado’s Tight.

 

#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

61+M5Z1q23L.jpgThis novel was not only unforgettable but it utterly changed the way I experience walking into a musuem forever. And to me – that is the mark of an excellent book. It makes you see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Frame-up is set in a real-life place – the Beaverbrook Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. And the art director’s son soon discovers that the paintings are…. alive. And they can travel into other paintings – which is completely fascinating when you consider that this museum includes art from different eras. And multiple paintings of the same person.  What the author does in this world is spell-binding. But things start to get dicey when suddenly the art director’s son and Mona, a young girl in one of the museum’s prized paintings, find themselves desperately trying to stop both an art heist and a plot to destroy their community forever.

 

#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

51zpTkmHcLL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was a fun mix of humor and history intermixed with realistic depictions of issues that young people are coping with – like body shaming and eating disorders and figuring out that whole friendship thing while staying true to yourself and your values.  What made this book stay with me long after that last page was read was the main character, Tally, whose self-confidence and style and body positivity are inspiring.

 

 

#18: So Done by Paula Chase

41LCRf2z+AL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis upper middle grade coming of age story centers around friends Mila and Tai.  The girls have spent the summer apart and as fall starts, it has become more and more clear that their friendship is sputtering out. And yes, part of that is typical things like finding new interests and more focus on boys, but there is this one massive secret hanging over both girls’ heads that threatens to not only destroy that friendship, but could destroy families, too.The slow, shocking reveal of what that secret really IS kept me turning the pages and what made this book stick with me so long afterward are the voices of the characters that are so fresh and unique and real!  During the first chapter, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other – and don’t think any adult is within earshot. Chase has this incredible knack for voice, and I cannot wait to see what other middle grade books she has coming our way!

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

51NbyoNb6SL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJohnson has expertly woven together multiple storylines across two different eras that are beautifully fused together in the final chapters.  The main character, modern-day Candice, discovers a decades old mystery that takes her and the quiet bookworm boy across the street on a quest for a long-lost treasure. But to figure out the clues, they have to delve into some long buried town history that some folks would rather keep hidden. This book is rich with details and touches on topics that are not common in middle grade – like the end of segregation and its impact on black schools and the concept of passing. It’s beautifully written and if you have older middle grade kids who loved The Westing Game and who love mysteries, this is a great book to put in their hands.

#16: You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

41B5C2bSAUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAlex Gino’s second novel for middle grade readers is a sweet story about Jilly, White and hearing, who befriends a Deaf Black ASL user on a fandom website where they connect over their mutual love of a fantasy series. When Jilly’s new baby sister is born Deaf,  she and her parents struggle with which expert advice to follow and everyone makes some missteps along the way. Based on reviews from those in the Deaf community, Gino does seem to get that representation right. To me this book is one to have in your classroom or library because it shows one character’s pathway through learning about incredibly important but tricky topics like white priviledge, racism, micro-agressions, and abelism. And done in a way with warmth and heart.

#15: Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

515Byj+ku+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’ll admit – this one almost got past me!  I was at school and had forgotten my book at home. And so on a whim, I picked up this book from my classroom library and promptly forgot that any other book existed and promptly fell for Stella’s sweetness and charm. Stella is a third grader, born in Mexico, but now living in Chicago with her mom and older brother. She’s struggling with being in a different class than her best friend, Jenny,  and dealing with the accompanying worries that Jenny might be forming a closer relationship with another girl. Stella is also figuring out where she fits in with her outgoing family since she is more quiet and is working through some speech difficulties. Three things stand out to me about this book – its utter realness, the excellent illustrations sprinkled throughout, and also the fact that this novel intersperses Spanish in the most organic and well-executed way that I’ve ever encountered before. They pop up frequently and naturally, and yet I feel confident that most non-Spanish speaking readers can fairly easily figure out what those words mean from the context.

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

51lhPg+K-oL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI LOVE books that immerse me in a subculture – like Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, and the Irish dancing in Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish. I was fascinated to learn about wrestling moves and the tournament process in this novel. And of course it doesn’t hurt that the two main characters – Mikayla (known as Mickey) and Lev are written so vividly and honestly. Told in alternating point of view chapters, Mickey and Lev are each dealing with their own middle school difficulties of faltering friendships and dicey family dynamics. When they both wind up wrestling for the same elite traveling team, Lev needs to cope with having a new wreslting partner (a girl), and Mickey has to deal with a wrestling culture that isn’t exactly keen to accept her. How these two characters grow and how their stories intertwine have stayed on my mind – months later.

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

51nG51FFIIL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother incredible story from a favorite author of so many of my students. Good Dog is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our sweet, noble Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him.  I love this book for so many reasons – but mostly for how it quietly but powerfully connects with Gemeinhardt’s previous novel, The Honest Truth.  I don’t want to say more, but…. if you have a kid who has read and loved that book – give them Good Dog right after.

#12: Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

51Qo0bV-oNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is another novel that snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go of my heart. For the last couple of years, my 5th graders and I have read Home of the Brave together as the first read aloud. This year I decided to have their book clubs centered around refugee and immigrant stories – with a focus on #ownvoices novels. And Escape from Aleppo was the only book club choice I hadn’t yet read – and so I read along with the kids in that club and followed their reading schedule and joined their discussions. And I completely agree with their assessment – this book is fabulous. It’s about 14-year-old Nadia, who we meet as her family is evacuating their home in Syria in an attempt to flee to Turkey. But in the carnage, Nadia ends up separated from her family and has to make her way through the city of Aleppo in a dangerous effort to reunite with them and to figure out who in the war-torn city she should trust to help her. What stands out to me most is the searing depiction of modern-day war and how much my students saw themselves in Nadia’s flashbacks to pre-Arab Spring Aleppo. Scenes were everything seems stable and Nadia is all about the latest episode of her favorite reality TV singing show and what color she should paint her nails. If you are looking for a companion book to Alan Gratz’s Refugee, this is an excellent choice. And one that will stay with you for a long, long time.

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

41bpl0Wp5jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the much-awaited prequel to the much-loved and much-awarded, novel-in-verse The Crossover. This book is all about Josh & Jordan’s father – Chuck “Da Man” Bell. But – this is an origin story. So when we first meet him, he is just Charlie – an 80’s kid reeling from a family tragedy and trying to find his way forward and trying to find his smile again. When home becomes tense, he is involuntarily shipped off to his grandparent’s house for the summer where he starts to find that path forward. I loved this book for it’s awesome illustratations and all those great 80s references.

 

#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

51NmZ2v2BdL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEsteban, Tiago, Holly, Amari, Ashton, Haley – these six kids are brought to an abandoned art room each Friday, left on their own, and allowed to simply talk. And eventually – their stories unfold. Stories of deportation, of harassment, of parent death and incarceration. Of hope and of despair.  And by the end of that year, they have formed a bond and a vow to harbor each other. It’s Jacqueline Woodson so you know it’s gorgeously written, but it also speaks to a great need for empathy in our country right now. And I can attest that it’s not just one of those “important” books that kids don’t really like. It was one of the top requested book club selections and currently has a huge waiting list in my room, so I can vouch for it’s kid appeal.

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

51s4JmcDnDL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOkay – this book creeped me the heck out! And it was glorious! This paranormal horror story is about a young girl named Ollie whose mom tragically died last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and rather raw.  One fall day, Ollie disovers this strange book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly battle to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. This book is so immersive and atmospheric and has one brilliant twist at the end that has me shuddering just thinking about it! Oh – and if you’re the type of person that isn’t at all freaked out by scarecrows – read this book and that will change.

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Unknown-3.jpegThere has been sooo much love for this book this year – and if you haven’t yet read it, I will add my voice to all the others telling you…. it’s incredible.  This novel is about a young Pakistani girl whose dream is to finish her education and to become a teacher. But when her mother is struggling with depression after having her fifth baby – another girl – Amal ends up staying home to take of the household. And then, to make matters far worse, she ends up insulting a poweful man in her village and be forced into indentured servitude to work off her family’s debt to him. It was this section of the book and Amal’s complicated relationship with man’s family and other servants that was the most compelling to me.  Amal Unbound was the  middle grade pick for the 2018 Global Read Aloud and is worthy of a spot in any middle grade collection.

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

41ddtlH41+L._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAs 2018 came to a close, I started scouring the social media feeds of readers whose taste I rely on to see what books from the previous year I may have missed. And by far the one that I kept bumping into… was Blended. And oh were they right to push me to read it! And…confession time – this is the first Sharon Draper book I have read! You may already know her work from Out of My Mind or Copper Sun.  This novel is about an 11-year-old girl – Izzy to her mom but Isabella to her Dad.  Her parents are divorced and every week Isabella has to switch – switch households, switch bedrooms, switch backpacks, switch expectations…. and sometimes feels like she has to switch identities. Her father is black and and lives a far more swanky lifestyle now and Isabella’s mother is white and their home definitely has a more casual vibe. I loved this book because I know how many students can relate to Izzy’s frustrations with parental tug-of-war and that awkwardness with people coming into their lives. But this book had so many more themes that will definitely strike a chord with kids today – racial profiling, school threats, micro-agressions, police shootings, and the myriad other things that make up children’s day-to-day experiences.

#6: The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

41l+Ug74d7L._SY346_.jpgAhhh – this book!  I just…. Okay – plot first. This is the story of Zoey – a seventh-grader whose primary goals in life are to keep her two young siblings quiet and out of the way of her mom’s boyfriend and his father, to scrounge up enough for them to eat, and to stay completely invisible at school. But all of those things become tricky when her teacher pushes her to join the Debate Club after school. This book is about rural poverty, the nuances of the gun debate, domestic vioience… but the way those threads play out are not at all what I had expected – and so much better. This is the novel I wish I had read as a young middle school teacher when I thought that giving an hour’s worth of homework that required colored pencils, a ruler, and internet access was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.  

#5: Front Desk by Kelly Yang
51HQ7BPwFaL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother stand-out debut! And every time I see another starred review or another reader gush about this book, it just makes me heart a little more happy. Front Desk is about Mia Tang whose family – recent immigrants from China – wind up running a motel under less than ideal circumstances. Mia’s expectations of life in America – juicy burgers, a pet dog, a yard, and big pool – differ A LOT from her true life, which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Her life is tough. But once she starts to harness the power of her writing, Mia starts to realize that even the big injustices in life can start to change. Front Desk was another fall favorite of my students and a perfect book club book.  And the last time I checked, it was offered through Scholastic for a great price.

#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Unknown-4.jpegWhen a sequel comes out to a book that you adored – characters who have found a home in your heart – it’s with trepidation that you crack open that cover and start a new journey with them. Oh but thank you Peter Brown because you did not disappoint and in fact…. I may love this story even more than the first. It’s hard to say anything without giving away the first book if you haven’t read it yet. (And if that’s the case – get on that!) But I will say that this sequel has more action, more human interactions, and therefore – more personal connections that kids can latch onto. And it deals with some big moral and ethical questions!  It’a a brilliant story with a touch of the Iron Giant, a sprinkle of The Odyssey, and a little dash of The Good Place.  

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

51OH1565NkL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is the story of Jermone – a young black boy playing outside his home with a small toy gun. A black boy who gets shot and killed by a police officer in the first pages and whose presence haunts the rest of the pages – and whose story – along with the other boys – haunts me still.  And I can see in my classroom the impact it makes on the young kids who read it. There are instantly caught by that first title page – “Dead” – and those first words – “How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching the ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.”  Jerome is the first ghost boy we meet, but later there will be Emmett Till and others who get to tell parts of their stories. This book was both completely immersive and has that quality of staying with you long after you’ve read it. And it’s a rare book that deals honestly with racism and police violence in a way that is age appropriate and clear.  And so many people have said, “This is an important book.” It IS – but don’t get it just because of that – get it and read it with kids because it’s an excellent book.

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

51DkEFaFGRL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is, I believe, the first sequel that Kate DiCamillo has ever written. And if this is the quality of a DiCamillo sequel then I hope she writes a TON more – because this book ripped me apart and put me back together again. And I mean that in the best possible way! This book is the follow-up to Raymie Nightingale and focuses on Raymie’s quirky friend – Louisiana Elefante. Lousiana’s grandmother wakes her up in the middle of the night, piles her into the car, and is off to face her reckoning with the curse that has hung over their family’s head. Well, they end up in a Georgia Motel run by a cranky lady – where Louisiana has to take on more than anyone her age should have to.  But also learns a lot about grace and the goodness of humankind as well. Raymie Nightingale was a book I liked pretty well, but nothing compared to this. It’s like this story sat in a rock tumbler until all the extra grit fell away and this sparkling gem emerged at the end.  

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

51uRYls0EcL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis book was fast-paced, fresh, and had such a…. bite to it!  It’s the story of 6th grader, Bryan, who loves comics, who loves drawing superheroes, and who loves his mother and a life of no drama. His dad brings enough of that into their life. Money in their family is… tight. So he worries about that and worries about being perceived as “soft” – not tough enough. But then his parents, sort of… set him up with a friend – this neighborhood kid named Mike. And at first, Bryan resists. He gets  weird vibe from this kid. But then the boys bond over comics and Netflix shows and spend more and more time together. They’re tight. But that friendship turns toxic when Mike starts luring Bryan into skipping school, hopping the turnstiles in the subway…and worse. Tight is an exceptional books – raw and real. If you have kids who like Jason Reynold’s Ghost and who liked the Miles Morales Spiderman – this is the book for them!

Alright – those are my top 25 middle grades books of 2018. Now – I want to hear from YOU! What were your favorite reads of the last year and which ones should I make sure to read in the year ahead?

 

Closing

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 Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features 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!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

 

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#HappyPottermas Part 2, Bridging the Gap: Books Between, Episode 64

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone! And welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love for a lifetime.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a teacher, and recently – staying up way too late wrapping presents and watching cheesy Netflix holiday specials like The Princess Switch and The Holiday Calendar. And apparently losing my voice a bit – it seems a tad scratchy tonight.

I believe in the power of the right story at the right time to transform you into a different kind of reader. And a different kind of person. And Harry Potter is that one series that seems to have accomplished that for so many.

In today’s special #HappyPottermas episode you’ll hear some clips from a variety of kids, parents, educators, and authors about what Harry Potter has meant to them.

And then I’ll share with you a conversation with one of the founders of #HappyPottermas and the MGBookVillage website, author Jarrett Lerner and – David Marsh – and educator and the creative force behind the LEGO Batman Book Talks on YouTube.

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

  • Katelynn Giordano (@Mrs_Giordano), 6th Grade English Teacher
  • Stephanie Lucianovic (@grubreport) –  author of The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral  and Hello Star
  • Rajani LaRocca (@rajanilarocca) – author of Midsummer’s Mayhem and 7 Golden Rings
  • Jazz Anders (@snazzsinclair) – student, Kid YouTuber Snazzy Reads
  • Amber Stivers Anders – library aid, Jazz’s mom
  • Karen Chow (@KChowrites) – author, contributor at MG @ Heart

Jarrett Lerner & David Marsh – Interview Outline

 

Our special guests this week are author Jarrett Lerner and educator David Marsh. We talk about the influence of Harry Potter, our favorite books, the movie adaptations – among lots and lots of other things!

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • Growing up with Harry Potter
  • Skipping the beginning chapters of The Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Favorite characters
  • Pottermore
  • Favorite book
  • Movies vs. Books
  • Adult appeal of Harry Potter
  • Harry Potter merch
  • Harry Potter sorting
  • Prizoner of Azkaban movie
  • DtqAMiAVAAAoyAY.jpg-large
    David’s Harry Potter swag!

 

Links:

Jarrett Lerner on Twitter – @Jarrett_Lerner

David Marsh on Twitter – @Davidmarsh80

The Harry Potter books

Pottermore website

Tight (by Torrey Maldonado)

The Bicycle Spy (Yona Zeldis McDonough)

Skylark and Wallcreeper (Anne O’Brien Carelli)

Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

We’re Not From Here (Geoff Rodkey)

Closing

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 Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features 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!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

 

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Between a Reader and a Writer: What Happens When You Don’t Enjoy a Book

Kathie: I want to thank you so much for doing this post with me. I really feel like we’re part of an amazing, supportive kitlit community, but I wanted to find a way to discuss some topics with candor that I really think will help others who might have these questions, but are afraid to talk about them.

Jarrett: Thank you for proposing it and for inviting me to be a part of it. I love the idea behind it, and agree that it could be really beneficial — for us, and for the community at large. Let’s get to it!

Kathie: You and I frequently discuss how not every book is meant for every reader. We encourage kids to read what they love, and abandon books when they don’t enjoy them. Both of us do that on a regular basis.

Jarrett: Yes — and I think that’s an important thing for kids to not only intellectually understand, but also have the confidence to practice. Something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately is the fact that many (if not most) kids aren’t always going to have other “book people” in their lives to thoughtfully, caringly point them in the direction of their next book (or even physically put that book in their hands!). The goal of so much of education is independence. How is a kid supposed to be able to navigate a bookstore or library if we haven’t encouraged them to develop their reading identity, to embrace and spend time reading what they love and to not to feel badly if something isn’t right for them? Forcing or otherwise compelling kids to read books they have no interest in or actively dislike can permanently turn them off from reading. What should be a joyful, productive experience gets tainted by boredom, frustration, and even shame.

Kathie: That’s an excellent point. Many middle and high school kids are turned off reading because they are forced to read books that don’t speak to them, and then analyze them to death. I’d really like to see them encouraged to independently choose books, and to do writing projects based more on themes than on a certain book. I also think they need to be introduced to more of the wonderful YA books that are out there right now, with their timely content, than just the classics. But that’s a whole different topic for another time.

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Kathie’s fondest book-related memory from her childhood is curling up in a chair with her mom reading alternate pages of Anne of Green Gables.
She runs the children’s department in a rural public library in Manitoba, Canada, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards (MYRCA) Committee, and is passionate about sharing her love for middle grade literature.
Find her on Twitter @kmcmac74 and on Instagram  @the_neverending_stack.

Jarrett: Yes! That’s such an exciting idea. Imagine how much more productive and beneficial it would be if a student were allowed to write a report on a book of their choosing. I know that might not always be practical in a classroom setting. But maybe there’s a happy medium. Maybe instead of assigning a single book, an educator could present, say, a dozen choices, and let students decide which one to dive deeply into. I am sympathetic to the pressures and constraints educators face, and know that many large-scale changes need to be made so they can have the freedom to be more creative in their assignments. It’s one of the reasons I’m so appreciative and in awe of those educators who, despite these pressures and constraints, strive to make every day in the classroom enjoyably, excitingly productive.

And yeah — let’s definitely save that “classics” discussion for another one of these chats! I think it’d be a good one!

Kathie: I also want to say that there are many reasons that a reader might not like a book, and sometimes they have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of writing. For example, I read an eARC of a novel in verse by an author I love, but there are often many issues with the formatting in eARCs. This greatly affected the flow and negatively impacted my experience with the book, but had nothing to do with the writing in any way. The reader’s mood can also affect whether or not they enjoyed a book. I set aside a book I abandoned this summer when I just couldn’t get it to it, but I loved it when I picked it up again this fall. So many factors affect how a reader feels about a book.

Jarrett: And think about all the things that could get in the way of a kid’s enjoyment of a book! Childhood and adolescence are marked by periods of such rapid development, and that development is so often accompanied by emotional turmoil. It can be like riding a roller coaster! Concentrating on a book can be a monumental task when you’re riding that roller coaster. (Which, by the way, is all the more reason we should have kids reading books that actually interest them — it’ll increase the chances they put in the effort to concentrate on them!) As adults, we have much more practice and skill when it comes to setting aside whatever else is going on in our lives or heads and focusing on a book, and even then we can’t always do it!

Kathie: As a reviewer, authors often know that I have an ARC of their book, and I’m never sure how to respond when I haven’t enjoyed their book. I usually stay silent, but I still want to support the author. What are some ways that reviewers can support the person, but not that particular book? (Do you retweet or share their news?)

Jarrett: I think this also comes down to the difference between intellectually understanding something and actually, in practice, being okay with it. We all know that not every book is for every reader, and I think we all know that’s a good thing. But obviously, when feelings get involved, when it’s your book that you’ve spent years working on, it can be difficult to remember that.

I think the key here is to distinguish between a book that isn’t for you and a book that, more objectively, isn’t good. For instance, a book that perpetuates stereotypes — that’s something that you clearly don’t want to support in any manner. But how about a book that is, say, a little too science fiction-y for your personal taste? It might not be for you, but if you can imagine another reader — a science fiction fan — really enjoying it, then I think there are ways to promote and celebrate it. I do my best to read widely, to be as knowledgeable as possible about the books already out there, and to stay aware of what’s coming soon. If I’m at a school visit, it’s important to me to be able to recommend books for every kind of reader.

Lerner_author photo
Thanks to a pair of bookish parents and older siblings, Jarrett discovered the wonders and delights of reading and writing at an early age. He hasn’t stopped doing either ever since. His first-ever book project was a comic book about a family of ducks, titled “The Ducks.” Now he writes about farting robots, belching knights, and other very serious matters. You can find his first book, EngiNerds, wherever books are sold. That book’s sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, hits shelves February 19, 2019.
Find him online at www.jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter @Jarrett_Lerner.

Kathie: Yes! I frequently recommend books at the library that I don’t personally enjoy, but that I know a certain reader will like. I can appreciate a good book even if I’m not the right reader for it.

Jarrett: Exactly. And not every book review has to be about loving or being moved by or connecting deeply with a book. A review can say, more simply, “This book is (a), (b), and (c), and it would be great for fans of (x), (y), and (z).” That is a hugely valuable review. I’d even argue that it might be more valuable than a review that focuses more on the reviewer’s personal love for a book.

And as you mentioned, there are ways to support a person and what they have to offer readers, even if you don’t personally love their books. In my mind, retweets and shares don’t imply the latter. If a person is doing good work, you can give them a boost without, say, telling everyone to run out and get their book.

Kathie: That’s very helpful, thanks for the perspective. Now, can we talk about the fact that a 3 star review is NOT a bad review?

Jarrett: Hahaha, you really want to open this can of worms with an AUTHOR?!

Kathie: Yes! If there’s one thing as a reviewer I’d like an author to understand, it’s that a ⅗ rating still means I liked the book. I don’t publicly discuss any book less than 3 stars, and I don’t even give it a Goodreads rating, but a 3 is still a positive review in the eyes of many reviewers I know.

Jarrett: I get it! And I agree! My own reviewing has changed substantially in the past few years. I think I review less personally these days. I used to focus much more on what a book did for me, and now I tend to focus on what a book can do for other readers — in particular, obviously, the kids the books are (or should be) intended for. Because of that, I tend to give lots and lots of 5-star reviews — because I believe that the book, in the right reader’s hands, could be their everything. I tend to share my personal reactions for social media. If I’m going wild about a book on Twitter and/or Instagram, then you’ll know it resonated with me in a more personal, subjective way.

It’s a strange and exciting time we live in, where, thanks to things like Goodreads and Twitter and Instagram, we can see what everyone’s reading and what they think of it and how many stars they gave it. This, combined with the fact that the kid lit community is, for the most part, overwhelmingly warm and supportive and positive, makes any review that isn’t a 5-star rave seem sort of negative. Things are complicated further when there’s so much interaction between book creators and book consumers. I also sort of think the 5-star system detracts from some of reviews’ nuance. Those stars, however many they are, can become the focus, when really it should be a reader’s thoughts and reflections and recommendations that should be.

I also think that authors shouldn’t be reading their reviews. And if they can’t help it — and I understand that! — they should do their best not to obsess over it. It’s not productive, and there’s nothing they can do about it. And, I mean, they signed up for this! We all know that once we put a book out there in the world, it ceases to become only ours. It’s just as much our readers’ book.

Maybe to help add some of the nuance back to the 5-star system, we can share what these ratings mean to us?

Kathie: Sure! Here is the rating system that I use:

5 stars: This book is absolutely amazing, I loved it!

4 stars: This was a really great read

3 stars: I liked this book

2 stars: This book was OK

1 star: This book was pretty awful

I carefully curate my TBR pile, so many of the books I read I’ve chosen because I know I’ll like them. I give a lot of 4 and 5 stars ratings; it seems like I enjoy everything I read, but that’s not the case. I only publicly share anything above 3 stars, so you’re only seeing the positive side of my reading life. It’s not a realistic look at what I read, and many reviewers are like that. Like we said earlier, I abandon books on a regular basis. I have a 60 page rule, and if you haven’t hooked me by that point, I’m usually on to the next book.

Jarrett: Do you get nervous when you post a review that isn’t 5-stars and/or a rave? Has worry about an author’s potential reaction ever kept you from sharing?

Kathie: Yes, it absolutely makes me uncomfortable, especially if it’s a book I’ve been really excited to read and I only gave it 4 stars. I do worry about author reactions, which is why I only focus on the positive aspects of the book, and don’t write an actual objective review. I realize I’m much more comfortable as a book cheerleader than a book reviewer because of the many connections I have with authors through the Village. I would rather support authors than analyze their books, so I’m still developing a role that works for me.

Jarrett: This is all so fascinating, and I’m so grateful that you, and other people like you, put so much care and thought into the sharing of books with others. As an author, I’m always so grateful that someone has even chosen to spend a chunk of their time reading my book. Anything they do beyond that is like icing on an already-awesome cake — even if all they do is say what the book is about and that it wasn’t for them. I try to keep that in mind when I happen to see a review that isn’t so great.

The only reviews that authors really have a right to be upset about, in my opinion, are those negative ones from people who clearly (at times even admittedly) haven’t read the book. I’ve seen some 1 star reviews that say, “What a stupid title,” or, “This looks bad.” THAT is a bummer. But if someone has taken the time to read your book and put in the effort to give some honest feedback — that’s awesome.

And speaking of awesome — “only” 4 stars, Kathie?! 4 stars is GREAT! That means you thought a book was “a really great read!” I hope any authors out there who might initially get upset about anything less than 5 stars on a review might reflect on all of what you’ve shared here. Thank you for sharing it all.

Kathie: Good point, and THANK YOU! I’m so glad we did this post, it was really thought-provoking and helped me see things from a different perspective. I look forward to doing this again with you soon!

Shoes…and Thoughts on Point of View

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about shoes. Not as in, those cute fringed boots I bought this past fall, but as in, can we truly ever walk around in another person’s shoes? Is it actually possible to experience and view a situation through someone else’s eyes? I have to admit, with so much divisiveness and disagreement in our country right now, I fear the answer is no, not really.

And this worries me. Sometimes keeps me up at night. I reason with myself in the dark as I toss and turn: well, if we aren’t able to be in another person’s shoes, feel what they feel, we can at least listen, and try to empathize as best we can, right? But not only have many people stopped listening to each other these days, more importantly, it seems we’ve forgotten how to compromise. And what worries me most is that our kids are witnessing this. What kind of example are we setting?

Several years ago, I got an idea for a middle grade novel that would eventually become Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin 2017). A super-fidgety boy who’s fed up with sitting in school all day (he gets Sponge Bob butt) attempts to invent a device so kids can stand at their classroom desks. He’s never invented anything, and that’s not his skill set, but he’s determined and perseveres in spite of numerous fails. The idea was initially sparked when I was helping my son review for a science test. He needed to jog around our family room while answering questions because, as he told me, his brain works better when he’s moving.

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Anyway, I dove right in and started writing. In the first ten or so drafts, I narrated the story solely from the main character Ethan’s point of view. But draft after draft, something was missing, and I couldn’t figure out how to make it right.

I grew frustrated. I tried everything I could think of to fix the story, and almost abandoned the project. But one day, while procrastinating on social media, I got caught up in reading people’s argumentative back and forth comments on a particularly volatile post. It struck me how strongly, how vehemently, each person had interpreted the exact same situation in a completely different way. And sadly, no one was even attempting to understand anyone else. Their way, their opinion, was the way it was. I felt utterly disheartened. This is what we’ve become. Everyone firmly in their own shoes.

But then I remembered one of my favorite passages from To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s when Atticus says to Scout:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

Talk about words of wisdom. That sat with me for a while, and then – lightning bolt. Not to make the leap from To Kill A Mockingbird to my measly little middle grade novel draft, but I suddenly knew what was missing. Shoes. Skin. Ethan shouldn’t tell the whole story, because he can’t. Each character needed to interpret situations from their own lens, and I realized I wanted this to be a pivotal theme of the story.

I put aside every previous draft and started fresh, writing the novel with five alternating points of view, sometimes with several or even all of them in one chapter. I drew from the back and forth commentary on social media posts (without the nastiness), having each character give his or her take on the same events and experiences.

In the first chapter, Ethan stands up during language arts and protests the agonizing constant sitting because, “It felt like if I didn’t get up that very second, I was going to explode. I thought about trying to explain (to Mr. Delman but) I knew my reasons wouldn’t matter to him. Stuff like that doesn’t matter to a row kind of guy.”

Ethan’s sister Erin (in the same class) has a completely different analysis “My brother’s gone insane. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. Out of nowhere, Ethan stood up and started arguing with Mr. Delman, saying something about a protest. I almost dropped my mechanical pencil. Let me clarify here that Ethan got a C-minus in social studies last year. I’m willing to bet that he never read the chapter on the famous demonstrations in history, so how could he even know what a protest is?”

Their friends Brian and Zoe have different takes on the experience, too. Through the book, one of the most interesting aspects is how everyone assumes mysterious Wesley is a bully. Rumors abound about his past, he looks mean and gives off a menacing vibe, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He has secrets. All the kids do. But they see what they think they see in each other, and make judgements based on that.

I knew I wanted to illustrate that part of each character’s journey would be to realize, understand, and finally, appreciate that not everyone draws the same conclusions, even if they were in the same place together, watching the exact same scene unfold.

I carried this theme further in the sequel, Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark, released last month (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). I added narration from Marlon, a genius and also on the spectrum. His literal, black and white observations are simply how he makes sense of the world around him, but they are misinterpreted by Erin, and she fumes every time he’s near. He told her that boys are better than girls at science because at the previous year’s school invention day, three boys won. He was referring to one instance, but she took it as a blanket statement. Marlon and Erin. Those dang shoes again.

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Throughout the first, and more completely the second book, both Ethan and Erin, as well as the other characters, learn to accept each other’s opposing outlooks and thrive because of them, eventually realizing they have way more similarities than differences. At the end of the second book, that’s what helps the kids finally succeed at making their invention.

I couldn’t help but include some shoe references in both books. Erin wears her mom’s too-big heels to an invention camp, believing she’ll look more professional, but then she trips and falls, smashing into Marlon and creating a huge, embarrassing scene. Another character, Connor, has a giant hole in the toe of his sneaker, which Erin is initially annoyed by, but Connor’s the one who calmly gathers the group and mediates their disagreements.

In this season of giving, my wish is that we all learn to better understand and appreciate each other’s different viewpoints. It may be difficult to truly experience the world from another person’s shoes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying. I have a new pair of cute, fringed boots if anyone would like to give it a try.

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Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (both Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books), Ethan Marcus Stands Up, and Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark (both Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). Find her on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz, and on Instagram @micheleweberhurwitz. Her website is micheleweberhurwitz.com. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and three children. Ice cream is always welcome.

STEM Tuesday Spin Off: Recess Edition

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Today we continue the  STEM Tuesday Spin-Off guest blogger addition to the MG Book Village blog. As you will recall, members of the STEM Tuesday group at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors will share a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) post that ties middle grade STEM books, resources, and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders.

We’ll look at the things in life we often take for granted. We’ll peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing will be the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the spokes making up our wheel of discovery. As  STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources contributor, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

For this second post, we will take a closer look at something that hopefully every middle grader gets to experience once a day and why it’s important:

Recess!

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The Hub: Recess

Spoke #1:  Get Outside/See the World

School is a great place to learn all kinds of interesting things about STEM. Topics might include how earthquakes occur and how mountains are made (plate tectonics), information about the newest Mars Lander, and even a peek into the world of nanotechnology. But sometimes the best type of learning for STEM is hands on. Recess is a great way to experience science up close and personal.

Take a look at the ecosystem around your school. How would you classify it? Is it a forest? A grassland? A swamp?

Here is a great resource to check what you find:

Type of Environmental Ecosystems by Sciencing.com

Check out this book for information, too.

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The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth by Rachel Ignotofsky

To get more info about the science outside that is all around you (and above you), maybe try one of these books:

Spoke #2: Being Healthy

Being active means being healthy. Moving about and exercising is a great way to stay active. Recess is the perfect time to run, jump rope, do cartwheels, or just walk around. When we exercise, our heart rates increase and blood pumps just a little faster throughout our body, giving us energy and increasing our lung power. Movement allows your muscles to stretch and bend, keeping them toned and fit. Exercise creates lots of chemical interactions within your body, which of course, is part of life science.

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Website resource:  The Many Benefits of Exercise on KidsHealth.org

Other books that might inform/inspire you to exercise:

 

Spoke #3: Sports and Games

Let’s face it, recess is all about the games! Whether you play soccer, volleyball, or even tag, you are moving about and having fun.  Studies show that many kids love playing sports. Sports teach us a lot about how to interact with others. It helps with coordination and fitness, and sports are just plain fun. What is your favorite sport to play?

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Website resource: Sports Illustration Kids

Sports books that will fascinate you with fun facts and cool kid athletes

 

 

Spoke #4: Olympics

If you want to take the sports topic even further, take a look at one of the ultimate worldwide sporting competitions: The Olympics! These athletes spend their entire days training for their specific event. It might be running, skiing, sledding, or even table tennis. Working hard to meet and athletic goal is a great quality. And you’d be surprised how much science goes into all that training (or maybe not. After all, you probably understand by now that science is ALL around you!)

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Here’s a great resource for those interested in the science behind the Olympics

Science of the Olympic Winter Games by NBC Learn

Check out these books for more about the science and the people behind the Olympics:

Spoke #5: Helps You Relax

Even if you can’t get outside for recess, because of the weather, it’s still good to take a break during the day. I find myself writing for hours at the computer. Then when I get up, it’s hard to move because my muscles have been still for so long. Moving about, even if you aren’t running or jumping, is still a good thing. But recess, is not just good for your muscles, it’s also good for your brain to take a break. Maybe you just stretch in place. Or perhaps you do some yoga poses. Give it a try.  Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take a deep breath and let it out. Do you feel yourself relaxing? You should.

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Website resource: Science Shows the Meditation Helps Children’s Brains and Behaviors 

Spoke #6:  Physics/Forces and Motion

Movement at recess is related to one of the most basic ideas in the universe: physics. Physics, specifically forces and motion, comes into play every time we move. Remember Newton’s Laws? Those three statements that tell you how every object behaves? They totally apply to recess. You get on the swing and start moving your legs back and forth. That causes your body to go forward and backwards. Yep. That’s Newton’s Law #3, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Why do you keep swinging when you stop moving your legs? Newton’s First Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.  I told you, science, is EVERYWHERE.

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Website Resource: A whole host of blog pages on how Forces and Motion work by Physics4Kids.com 

A fun look at physics and how it affects us:

Wrap-Up

As we can see by taking a closer look at an everyday event like recess, STEM is ALL around us. Next time you go outside, walk down the hallway, or just sit in your classroom take a look at your surroundings. I bet you will find TONS of science, technology, engineering and math in your sight. You are even sitting on an object created by STEM right now (hint: your chair!)

So Be Curious.. and observe… and you will see that STEM is EVERYWHERE! Don’t forget to check out STEM Tuesday for more great STEM book and activities ideas!

Jen Author Photo-2017 Jennifer Swanson is the creator and administrator of STEM Tuesday blog. She is also the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for kids. When not writing, she spends her day at the beach, chasing her dog in the waves and looking for science amidst the sand. You find more information about Jennifer and her books on her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

 

Happy Birthday to the MG Book Village!

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Can you believe it?! It’s our first birthday! The MG Book Village has been around for one full year!

The site has grown in ways we never could’ve imagined, thanks in large part to the input, feedback, and contributions of YOU — the members of this wonderful kid lit community. We just wanted to take this opportunity to thank every one of you, and to once again encourage you to get involved. You can send thoughts, suggestions, and ideas to us at mgbookvillage@gmail.com or on social media. We look forward to continuing to celebrate and discuss all things Middle Grade in the coming months and years.

The Electric Eighteens’ 2018 Mega Year-End Giveaways

As 2018 draws to a close, this year’s MG and YA debuts wish to thank the teachers and librarians who have been such important friends during our debut journey. We’re giving away a full set of 25 middle grade debuts and 44 young adult ones, each to a lucky classroom or school library. All you have to do is follow the requirements for the giveaway you’d like to enter (no purchase necessary, just social media stuff). Thank you for being there with us!

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Click here for more information about the MG giveaway!

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Click here for more information about the YA giveaway!