HEIDI: Happy National Sisters Day! In honor of this made-up but still absolutely valid holiday, Kati and I thought we’d chat a little about what it’s like to write with your sister. And if you stick around, we’ll be giving away a few books at the end. 😉
KATI: Most people are surprised when I tell them I cowrite with my sister. Usually they want to know how that works, and how we don’t kill each other by the end of the book.
HEIDI: I can’t say we never have any heated . . . um, discussions.
KATI: That’s one of our writing rules. They’re never fights, they’re always “discussions.”
HEIDI: Exactly. 😉 And since we both liked most of the same books and shows growing up, and are interested in a lot of the same themes, writing together has worked out really well. Our brains overlap quite a bit.
KATI: That is a terrifying image.
HEIDI: A little bit! As kids, Kati and I used to play pretend together all the time, so writing a story together felt almost like that. It was really fun. And then somewhere along the way, we realized that we actually thought our story had the potential to make it. So once we finished our first extremely rough draft, we decided to take it more seriously.
KATI: And we’ve been serious ever since!
HEIDI: So serious. ;D
KATI: Our third and final book in the Mystic Cooking Chronicles, A Pinch of Phoenix, just came out last month, but we’re already working on a new series together. This one will have aliens and ghosts and other supernatural creepiness. So it’s very fun to write.
HEIDI: Speaking of fun, here’s a fun fact in honor of National Sister’s Day: one of the villains in our Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy is loosely inspired by our older sister.
KATI: We love you, Rosi! But maybe you should have been nicer to us when we were little. ;D
HEIDI: We haven’t actually written any sisters books . . . yet. But we both love stories where those relationships are portrayed. One of my recent middle grade favorites is Prisoners of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren. Valor purposely gets herself sent to an impossible-to-escape prison in order to try to break her sister Sasha out. It’s a wonderful fantasy adventure, very action-packed, and I loved the relationship between sisters Valor and Sasha. I tore through this book in a day.
KATI: One of my recent favorites is actually young adult . . . Stephanie Garber’s Caraval. In it, sisters Scarlett and Tella would do anything to help each other, which is the driving force behind the whole story. At the same time, their relationship is a little complicated, just like most sisters. Plus there’s the fantastic world building, romance, and excitement.
HEIDI: So today, Kati and I want to give away a “sisters bundle” of a signed copy of our complete Mystic Cooking Chronicles trilogy, plus a hardcover copy of Ruth Lauren’s Prisoner of Ice and Snow, and a signed hardcover copy of Caraval.
KATI: And since we’re always looking for more good sister stories, please comment and tell us any you’d recommend so we can check them out!
A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks! Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang!
Recipient of FIVE starred reviews!
“Pie in the Sky is like enjoying a decadent cake . . . heartwarming and rib-tickling.” ―Terri Libenson, bestselling author of Invisible Emmie
When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.
A Junior Library Guild selection!
The Middle Grade @ Heart newsletter will go out on August 19th, with the Twitter chat to follow on August 27th!
When I began writing the first book in the DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS series, including a science element came organically. After all, my main character is a princess whose entire family has magical weather powers. You can’t have weather without science! As the book started coming together, I realized I had been given a fantastic opportunity to counter stereotypes about girls and STEM.
As an engineer and a longtime science-lover, I remember
having a hard time reconciling the many facets of my identity as I was growing
up. Society and mass media often sends girls messages that STEM is only open to
people who look a certain way, dress a certain way, and enjoy “typical” STEM
stuff. I remember suppressing my femininity when I was younger because I didn’t
want to be perceived as weak or “too girly” to excel in the STEM activities I
enjoyed. The reality is that STEM is for everyone – including children who love
dress-up and tea parties.
We know that girls begin dropping out of the STEM pipeline
around middle school. It’s not because they aren’t good at it. If girls believe
that pursuing STEM conflicts with their identity and vision of their future
selves, they are more likely to leave STEM behind.
With DIARY OF AN ICE PRINCESS, I wanted to write characters who are unabashedly awesome at STEM and also enjoy all the trappings of “traditionally feminine” pursuits. The characters came naturally because they are modeled off many girls I know in real life (including my own daughters!). These girls enjoy and excel at so many different things – including STEM.
Happily, more books for young readers are now being published that celebrate STEM heroines who are multi-faceted and complex – just like the actual girls who will read them. Here are some of my favorite chapter books and middle grade novels that feature STEM-loving girl characters:
Little Robot by Ben Hatke – This graphic novel is nearly wordless, but tells a full and stirring story of friendship and perseverance. A little girl who seems very much on-her-own stumbles upon an adorable robot whom she must protect from other sinister robots. Even though the girl is quite small, she is also resourceful and knows her way around a wrench set. To save her new friend, the heroine employs all the ingenuity and problem-solving of a top-notch engineer.
Jada Jones, Rockstar by Kelly Starling Lyons– This is the first book in a wonderful series about a fourth-grade girl navigating relatable challenges with friends, school, and family. Jada loves rocks – but she loves her best friend even more. When the book starts out, Jada’s BFF has moved away and she has to find a whole new group. Jada’s interest in STEM feels reflective of real kids I know. Yes, she loves geology, but that’s just one facet of her total personality. By the end of the book, she finds a creative way to include everyone in the class in her rock appreciation.
Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray by Jess Keating – Nikki Tesla is a genius. I love that this is stated matter-of-factly and unapologetically right off the bat! But even though Nikki never downplays her supreme smarts, she has a hilarious self-deprecating sense of humor about all the conundrums she gets into. Author Jess Keating has an infectious love of science and curiosity about the world, which shines through in her videos and web resources for kids. It’s great to see another series from her that’s sure to inspire more girls to follow in her STEM footsteps.
Lights, Music, Code! by Jo Whittemore – This third book in the Girls Who Code series reminds me of the Babysitters Club with a STEM twist. The main characters are friends who are working together to code the music and lights for their school’s winter dance. I love that the book shows both the challenges and triumphs of a group of girls working together on a project. Many stereotypes of people who work in STEM is that they’re loners, toiling away in a lab. In reality, one of STEM’s greatest perks is getting to collaborate with awesome people!
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi – This middle grade novel counters the stereotype that people who love STEM are purely analytical. Ebony has an imagination so vivid that the lines often blur between reality and her make-believe worlds (as someone who spent most of third grade imagining she had been kidnapped to an alternate dimension, I can relate). Ebony loves science fiction, a passion shared by her grandfather, who was one of NASA’s first Black engineers. When Ebony moves to Harlem for the summer, others try to push her to fit in this or that box, but she stays true to her unique and awesome self.
Christina Soontornvat grew up behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant in a small Texas town with her nose stuck in a book. She is very proud of both her Thai and her Texan roots, and makes regular trips to both Weatherford and Bangkok to see her beloved family members (and eat lots and lots of Thai food!). In addition to being an author, Christina holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in Science Education. She spent a decade working in the science museum field, where she designed programs and exhibits to get kids excited about science. She is passionate about STEM (science, technology engineering, and math), and loves learning new things. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two young children, and one old cat.
Hello, Jess! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village during your debut week! We’re very excited to have you here to chat about THE MIRACULOUS!
Thank you so much for
having me! I love MG Book Village, and I’m so pleased to be here.
You’ve been here
before — last month, when you shared the teaching guide for THE MIRACULOUS, as
well as some how-to tips for authors interested in creating their own guides –
but I don’t believe you shared much about YOU. Would you care to tell our
readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I was raised in a
house of readers, and I am a lifelong book nerd. I’m married to an English
teacher, who is considerably better at grammar than I am, and we have two
wonderful young children.
also a therapist and an adjunct professor of psychology, although I’ve stepped
back in both of these roles. As a therapist, I’ve worked with kids in the
foster care system, in community mental health centers, and in private practice
with girls and young women.
Has your work as a
therapist and psychology teacher influenced your writing or the stories that
I think so. When I was
first getting started as a therapist, I had a position as an intake counselor
at a mental health center. In that position, I got to sit with literally
hundreds of people in crisis and listen to their stories. That was pretty much my
whole job—meet someone new and find out what brought them to us, what their life
was like, how they were feeling, what they needed. Then I would go and think
about that story and write up a report.
The hard thing about
that position was that I didn’t get to spend much time with each person—sometimes
just that initial visit. But the wonderful thing was that I was able to meet so
many people and hear so many, many stories.
Recently, I’ve been
talking with groups of therapists about the power of stories and literature,
and it’s a topic I’m very passionate about. Therapy is about story just as much
as literature—the story the client is telling in that moment, and the movement
toward the story they want to tell.
Truthfully, I was
drawn to the therapy field because I was already someone who was interested in
emotions and big questions. But being a therapist has, hopefully, helped me
understand those emotions and questions a little better, and that, also
hopefully, shows up in my writing.
THE MIRACULOUS is your
debut. Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
Reading and writing
were my only hobbies when I was a kid, and I was fully devoted to them. I wanted,
with all my heart, to be an author when I grew up, and I filled up notebook
after notebook with stories.
From teenagerhood on, I
assumed that I would end up writing Very Serious Adult Literature. But then I
found myself working on a middle-grade fantasy while I was pregnant with my
first child. And it became clear to me, very quickly, that middle-grade was
where my heart was.
Then there was
querying which brought much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but
finally I queried something that agents wanted, and I signed with my
extraordinary agent, Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.
The story that Sara
signed me on, however, did not sell right away (although I have high hopes for
it in the future). So while I was waiting and biting my nails and bemoaning my
fate, I wrote another book and that was THE MIRACULOUS.
Sara loved THE
MIRACULOUS, and after two weeks of submission, I was on the phone with editors,
and shortly after MIRACULOUS found a home with FSG/Macmillan. I was very lucky
to end up with my editor, Janine O’Malley, who connected with the story and
brought much-needed clarity and new perspective.
And that is the
nutshell story of how my biggest dream became a reality!
Do you have any tips
for authors debuting either later this year, in 2020, or just generally in the
There is so much that
you can do as a debuting author, and the vast majority of it is optional. I
think debut year is like starting a really awesome new job—you will make
mistakes and feel confused and uncertain, but you’ll also learn so much and
feel exhilarated and wonderful.
Just know that there
is a learning curve, like any new venture, and do the things that you know
you’ll enjoy. Like, if you’re me, make three book trailers! Why not?
Also, join a debut
group! My debut group, the Novel Nineteens, has been an incredible resource for
me. I ask questions—where did you get those gorgeous stickers? Are you doing a
cover reveal? What should I even be doing right now?—all the time.
Now, let’s get to the
book itself. Can you give us a brief summary of THE MIRACULOUS?
THE MIRACULOUS is the story of a
miracle-collecting boy named Wunder and a cape-wearing girl named Faye—two kids
who have recently experienced great losses. Both are drawn to the mysterious
DoorWay House in the woods where an old woman has recently appeared. The old
woman—who Faye is convinced is a witch—sends the two new friends on a series of
sometimes-magical quests. These quests take them through graveyards and
forests, to police stations and town halls, by bike and by train. It’s a journey
filled with friendship, healing, magic, and miracles. This book trailer that I
created introduces with the cut-outs from the incredible cover illustration by
THE MIRACULOUS is the story of my heart. It’s
a story about grief and belief, about friendship and community and searching
for truth and about how there is brightness to be found no matter how dark the
The book’s central
character, Wunder, keeps a journal, and is an observer and recorder of the
world around him. Setting aside plot-related reasons, were there any other
reasons you included this element in the book?
I kept a lot of
journals as a child, although I threw away most of them in my late teens. I was
a pretty intense kid, and my journals definitely reflected that, and I was always
petrified that someone would read them.
I did salvage a few
recently, and it showed me how much I have always used writing and reading to
understand the world and myself. Writing, to me, is so closely tied to the
search for goodness and truth. I would love for readers to be inspired by
Wunder and to journal, to observe, to search on their own.
Why do you think it’s
important for kids’ books to tackle tough topics?
The truth is that kids
are already tackling these topics, even if adults like to imagine they’re not. During
those middle-grade years, kids are interested in absolutely everything. They
are just starting to look out and beyond themselves. What children’s books can
do is provide language and new perspective for these explorations that are already
beginning to happen.
I don’t think that
kids need to be exposed to everything, of course. I’m very careful about what
my young children read and watch. But stories can be opportunities. Stories can
begin conversations. Stories can frame some of the realities of the world in a
way that can give kids confidence and tools, in ways that can promote healthy
coping and grow empathy.
Another author, Marcie
Colleen, once told me during an interview that she typically doesn’t read books
for audiences older than MG, because she prefers books that end with at least
some note of hope. I’m curious to hear what you make of that.
I love this! For me, this speaks to what makes middle-grade literature so
special. There are tough topics addressed in middle-grade, to be sure. But
there is also wonder and hope and a belief in the goodness and creativity of
humanity. When I read and write middle-grade, I do feel like I am the best
version of myself, and it is easier for me to love this world and the people in
I think it also speaks to knowing yourself. Here’s a little story: When I
was around 10, I got my hands on LORD OF THE FLIES. I felt very grown up
reading it—until the “hunt” got out of hand and they almost killed poor Robert.
I was horrified and sick to my stomach, and I took the book to the basement and
buried it at the bottom of a hamper of dirty clothes. Who knows, maybe it’s still
there to this day.
I wasn’t ready for that book.
I think that kind of self-monitoring can come naturally, but I also think
it’s something we can help teach kids. When you’re 10 years old, you don’t
always know what you need or what you’re ready for. I think that’s where
parents and teachers and librarians and other adults who know and care about
the reader can help.
Where can readers find
you, and how can they learn more about you and your work?
My website http://www.jessredman.com
is a great place to learn more about me, THE MIRACULOUS, and my next book,
QUINTESSENCE. The teaching/discussion guide, book trailers, and pre-order
campaign info (just a few more days left!) are all there.
I’m also on Twitter quite a bit at @Jess__Red and on Instagram less often at that same handle. I love hearing from readers!
Jess Redman has wanted to be an author since age six, when her poem “I Read and Read and Read All Day” appeared in a local anthology. It took a little while though. First, she did things like survive middle school, travel around the world, become a therapist, and have two kids.
But then finally, her childhood dream came true! Her middle-grade debut, THE MIRACULOUS, will be published by FSG/Macmillan on July 30, 2019. Her second middle-grade novel, QUINTESSENCE, will be out on July 28, 2020. You can find her at www.JessRedman.com.
In the tradition of heartwrenching and hopeful middle grade novels such as Bridge to Terabithia comes Jess Redman’s stunning debut about a young boy who must regain his faith in miracles after a tragedy changes his world.
Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracle-collector. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. And he believes every single one. But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles can’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. He stops believing.
Then he meets Faye―a
cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an
abandoned house by the cemetery and a mysterious old woman who just might be a
witch. The old woman asks them for their help. She asks them to believe. And
they go on a journey that leads to friendship, to adventure, to healing―and to
The Miraculous is Jess Redman’s sparkling debut novel about facing grief, trusting the unknown, and finding brightness in the darkest moments.
Praise for THE MIRACULOUS
“Redman explores faith, the intertwined nature of sorrow and
joy, and the transformative process of grief through Wunder’s eyes in a
part-fantasy, part-realistic adventure with genuinely humorous moments…Layered,
engaging, and emotionally true.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Redman’s gorgeous debut uses a cozy world of bright
characters to tackle themes of death, grief, and doubt with gentle
compassion and a light touch…a moving lesson for young people
learning to cope with both the good and the bad that life has to offer.”
“A stunning story expressing the complexities and mysteries of love and
death in all of its light and darkness. A beautifully rendered and meaningful
read for young readers asking deep questions.” —Veera Hiranandani, author
of Newbery Honor-winning THE NIGHT DIARY
“Filled with longing,
love, hope, and wisdom, THE MIRACULOUS is a small miracle of a book.” —Alison
McGhee, author of SHADOW BABY and the NYT Bestseller SOMEDAY
serious, yet woven through with wry humor, this story’s miracles are its fierce
and tender characters. I loved this extraordinary debut.” —Leslie Connor,
author of the National Book Award Finalist THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE
Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle grade books! My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads because I believe that a book can change the trajectory of a child’s life. And I want to help you introduce kids to those amazing, life-shaping books and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.
I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two tweens, a 5th grade teacher, and just back from an awe-inspiring visit with my family to Niagara Falls. If you have ever have the opportunity to go, there is nothing quite like standing on a rocking boat within the mist of the roaring horseshoe falls and gazing up 170 feet at over 3,000 tons of water thundering over those cliffs every second. Do go you if you can – it’s impressive, we learned a TON, and it’s one of those things that should be experienced at least once in your life.
A quick reminder to help out your future self and set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you can catch the #MGBookChat Twitter chat – we have scheduled some great topics and hosts later on this summer and fall. So I will see you there.
This is episode #75 and today’s show starts with a discussion about the benefits of rereading and then I bring you a conversation with Scholastic librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey.
Main Topic – The Benefits of Rereading
Let’s start with the top 20 books that my 5th grade students loved and recommended this school year. Because it’s one thing for an adult to enjoy a book, but for it to really make an impact, it has to connect with its intended audience. There have been plenty of books that I loved, but for some reason didn’t seem to resonate with middle grade readers. Honestly, I think THIS list is way more valuable than ANY list that any adult puts out.
Our main topic today is a discussion around rereading books. Over the years, my own thinking in this area has evolved a lot. As a young teacher who wanted to make the most out of absolutely every precious second of classroom time, I had a rather negative view of students reading a book for pleasure that they had already read before. If a kid was picking a novel for a book club or a book report, I wouldn’t let them select a book they had previously read. Thinking back, that really did seem to be the norm among my colleagues. Like them, I viewed it as cheating a little bit! As if they wouldn’t be as engaged in the text a second time around or they weren’t challenging themselves enough. Basically – I considered rereading a book in school as a waste of a learning opportunity.
It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that a friend had a conversation with me that changed my mind. We weren’t even debating the merits of allowing kids to reread books, we were just chatting. She asked me, “Corrina, what’s your favorite movie?” And I said, “Oh! The Princess Bride! I’ve watched it like 50 times…..” Oh. Ohhhhh…….
And that’s when it hit me. It was that one friendly person inadvertently holding up a mirror to myself that made me reconsider the misconceptions I held and start to realize there are huge benefits to experiencing a text, a film, multiple times.
I mean – if you think about it – watching a movie or tv series over and over again – is a commonly shared and even celebrated social phenomenon. I hear lots of people talking about how many times they’ve watched The Office or Black Panther or Star Wars. In my house, it’s a running joke how many times my husband’s Facebook status is “watching Casino Royale”
So today, I’d like to explore with you some reasons why rereading is so satisfying, some academic benefits, and a few ways to enhance the rereading experience for the kids you work with.
Why Rereading is so Satisfying
Let’s start with why rereading is so satisfying.
First – it’s fun! If you love a book, you get to spend more time with favorite characters and relive those climactic moments in the story. It’s like going on your favorite roller-coaster again. Yeah, you already know when the twists are turns are, but also – here come those twists and turns and I can’t wait for them!
Another way that rereading can be satisfying is that there’s less pressure to finish the book. Maybe you just want to skim it or reread your favorite scenes. It’s a lower commitment situation than starting a new book.
Having books around that you enjoy rereading or reading parts of, can enhance your overall reading life. Because dipping in to a favorite book when you are in between other reads or you don’t have have a big chunk of time to start something new is a good way to keep reading momentum going through those tricky times in your life. Or when kids are struggling to find that next book they really want to read. Often, my students will pull out those tried and true favorites like Sunny Side Up or Guiness Book of World Records or the Minecraft Handbooks when nothing else had really hooked them yet.
Another excellent reason to reread a book is to prepare for the next book coming out in the series. A parallel to that is the binge-watching that happens when a new season of a favorite TV show starts. When season three of Stranger Things dropped on July 4th, my family spent a few weeks prior rewatching the previous seasons to catch us up to speed on the plot. And also because being familiar with the back stories of the characters made watching season three so much better.
And finally, when I consider why a child may be rereading a book again – or maybe over and over again – I have to think that there may be something comforting in that text. It might be providing a sense of stability and order and a sense of knowing what’s coming next during a time in their life when they need that.
Aside from simply making you happy, rereading texts multiple times does have academic benefits that can boost reading skills. For example –
Reading a text a second or third or fourth time can really increase one’s fluency. Even if that rereading is just in your head and not out loud, you’ll start to have a smoother experience without halting on tricky vocabulary or getting lost in complex sentence structures. You might start to mentally add more expression and read with tone in mind now that you aren’t spending mental energy figuring out who the characters are and what’s happening. Last year, I read Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always out loud to my class, which was about the fourth read for me – and it had taken me that long to start to pick apart the different speech patterns and personalities and emotions of the characters in order to even start to read that out loud well.
Another huge benefit to children when they reread is that they will notice far more on the second or third time through the text. I’ve already mentioned picking up more vocabulary, but catching on to the author’s foreshadowing or their use of symbolism or how they are developing a theme across chapters is one of the joys of rereading. And it’s also fun to pick up those little clues along the way of character development. To use a common example, when you reread Harry Potter a second time, you realize – Oh! Harry could talk to and understand the snake in the zoo – that comes up later when they realize he’s a parseltongue. And knowing the motivations and backstory of Snape makes for such a rich reread of those earlier books. Aspects of the story that you are never going to appreciate or even understand unless you reread it. To throw in an adult example, I recently rewatched The Good Place with my husband and whoa – knowing what you know now and going back and watching the interactions between the characters and picking up on all the references and appreciating that Yogurt word play is just… perfection.
The other noticing that can happen on a reread – is that you start to pick out problematic aspects of a book that might not have been in your realm of awareness the first time you read it. For example, when I reread Harry Potter with my class last year, I noticed those early chapters were full of offensive references to character’s weight. In a way where fatness was used to elicit disgust with certain characters. Lately, in order to get a better grasp on the society we live in and the challenges we’re facing, I’ve been reading some adult nonfiction books that have impacted the lens with which I view all stories and well, life! Just to name two – first, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne, and I just finished Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (which is amazing and please, please go read that book next if you have not.) What I’m getting at is that your perspective and what you notice in rereading a text is influenced by the learning you’re doing in other areas of your life.
Another way that rereading can have the power to improve a child’s reading is that those skills and observations they are honing during their 3rd read of New Kid or Front Desk transfer to other new books. Once they’ve started to notice what foreshadowing looks like or how the author uses language to set up a certain mood, or the way infographics in that shark book give you more information, they’ll catch on to those maneuvers as they work toward comprehending more unfamiliar or complicated books.
And – of course – reread can boost their own writing. When they start to notice and identify more of those author’s techniques through multiple rereading of a text, students can try out those writerly maneuvers in their own writing. This reminds me of when Kate DiCamillo was on the show last year and she mentioned (as she has elsewhere) that she rereads Charlotte’s Web every year. Both as a fan and also to orient herself to how that story is constructed.
How to Enhance Rereading for Children
Clearly, there are some huge benefits when children reread, and I think with the right approach we can enhance that experience for them.
One way to do that is to simply ask them about that book they are reading over and over again! Acknowledge it, let them know you get it, and let them talk about why they love it so much. Honestly, most of the time, people love to be asked about the TV shows and films and books and fandoms they are into. Right now, I am slightly obsessed with Good Omens and I would love for someone to say, “Corrina, why are you so into that show?” and have an excuse to talk about Aziraphale and Crowley and how their relationship evolved over 6,000 years. So – just start by asking them about it.
And then… go a little further and angle some questions toward those deeper elements. Some of the questions I like to ask when a child is reading a book for the second time are: What are you noticing that someone reading this book for the first time might not catch? What characters have you changed your mind about? When you reread that first chapter again, what do you notice the author doing that sets up something later on in the book?
Another thing that I like to do when I notice a student reading a book over again is to introduce them to other similar media. For example, if they like Wings of Fire, I’ll share with them the graphic novels based on that series or we might explore an author’s website, or I’ll share some fan art with them or some fan fiction pieces. (Although a quick caveat there – I would not let a child loose on a fan fiction site because things can take some unexpected turns.)
However, if possible – connect them to other fans either in person or online and encourage them to create some fan art or fan fiction. And if you are looking for a safe place to publish that, MGBookVillage does have a Kids’ Corner where we share book reviews and fan art and fan fiction created by children.
As I wrap up my summer and think ahead to how I want to support readers this school year, embracing rereading and helping students harness the power of experiencing a text more than one time is going to be a larger part of that.
“Nobody complains when musicians play the same songs over and over or when basketball players run the same plays over and over. So why do we complain when children read the same books multiple times?”
Deimosa Webber-Bey – Interview Outline
Our special guest this week is Scholastic Librarian Deimosa Webber-Bey! We chat about encouraging kids to read more over the summer, what books she’s been loving lately, and what Scholastic is doing through their Summer Read-a-Palooza challenge to get more books in more kids’ hands. And there is absolutely still time for you and the kids in your life to help out with that. I will drop a link to the 2019 Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza in our show notes and right on the MGBookVillage website so you can check that out. Also – a big part of the conversation that I have with Deimosa is around the results of the latest Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report and the link to that is right there as well and definitely worth your time to explore.
Take a listen…
How did you come to work for Scholastic?
Something that has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrapped up the school year with my students is the knowledge that if they don’t read over the summer, they are going to lose so much of the progress they’ve gained this past year. And what has helped me articulate that “Summer Slide” research to our parents is the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report. Could you tell us a little bit about that report and share some of the findings that really stood out to you?
Scholastic has done so much research in this area! From your point of view, what do you see as the main things that educators and families can do to keep kids reading over the summer?
I love that Scholastic always has a fresh reading campaign for kids every summer – and I love that this year the campaign is supporting a great cause. Can you tell us about the Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza?
What are you reading right now? And what are some titles that are on your TBR list for the summer?
Alright – that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.
Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find 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 help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.
Talk with you soon! Bye!
Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.
This July, the Middle Grade at Heart team is excited to feature a perfect summer read: Just South of Home by Karen Strong. Karen Strong’s middle grade debut is fun, suspenseful, spooky, and thought-provoking. It will entertain readers, and it will also give them a whole lot to think and talk about. We love the way it weaves together present and historical storylines, and lighthearted and serious moments.
Here’s a bit more about the book:
Cousins Sarah and Janie unearth a tragic event in their small Southern town’s history in this witty middle grade debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Stella by Starlight, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and As Brave as You.
Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.
Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to Creek Church: a landmark of their small town that she heard was haunted. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers lead Sarah, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper, to uncover a deep-seated part of the town’s past. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.
Just South of Home received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist. It will transport you to a memorable summer in Warrenville, Georgia, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy your stay there! It’s also part of our MG@Heart summer reading BINGO game, along with many other fabulous summer reads. Let us know if you get BINGO…or if you complete the whole board!
Look out for our newsletter about Just South of Home on Monday, July 22 and join us for our Twitter chat about the book on Tuesday, July 30 at 8pm EST with the hashtag #mgbookclub!
Hey there, Tanya! Welcome to the MG Book Village! We’re thrilled to be hosting your cover reveal, and are grateful you chose us to host it! Before we get to all of that, though, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, everyone! I’m Tanya Guerrero, an MG author based in the Philippines. In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home. Don’t ask me how many cats and dogs I have—though, I’m sure my 9-year old daughter would love to tell each and every one of you!
The book whose cover you’re here to reveal – HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA – is your debut, right? Can you tell us about your journey to the printed page?
it is my debut. Though, I have shelved a couple of YA books before it.
Initially, I wanted to write stories for teens, but after an editor commented
that my voice seemed more suited for a younger audience, I got to thinking. Why
Growing up, books were a huge part of my childhood, particularly MG books like Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume. These stories were of solace to me, something I could escape to when times were tough. I was pretty much THAT kid who read way past her bedtime with a flashlight under the covers.
about those anxiety-filled middle school years, and how much I relied on those
books for comfort, convinced me to shift my storytelling to focus on the
upper-MG market. After all, I seemed to have a younger voice, anyway. So,
that’s how I came to write, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, which thankfully,
was acquired by FSG BYR/Macmillan very early into submissions.
Thank you for sharing all that. It’s great for others to hear about the road to publication — it’s almost never a quick or easy one! Now, let’s get to the book itself. What is HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA all about?
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is about a 12-year old boy named Pablo who finds himself moving from country to country with his single mom after his parents go through a messy divorce. With each move, his anxiety—more specifically, his aversion to dirt and germs, his obsessive behaviors, and his fear of the sea—are exacerbated.
When they move to the Philippines, where his mom is
hired as a zoologist for a local wildlife refuge, things get way worse. His mom
is too busy saving animals to notice that maybe Pablo needs saving, too. Then,
unexpectedly, Chiqui, an orphaned Filipino girl with a cleft lip comes to live
with them. At first, Pablo’s life is turned upside down. But as he gets to know
Chiqui, he realizes that through being strong for her, maybe his own fears
don’t seem quite as scary.
He might even find the courage to face his biggest
fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.
Is there anything about your own childhood
that inspired HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?
Definitely! In many ways, what Pablo goes through reflects a lot of the emotions I had as a child. When my parents separated, my sister and me moved to Spain to live with our grandparents. Although I’d been to Spain before on family vacations, it was a completely different story living and going to school there. I barely knew any Spanish, and had to learn quickly. And then there was all the anxiety related to missing my parents and my extended family and friends. After a few years in Spain, it was decided that we’d move to New York City. We had to start all over again. New place, new schools, new friends. Although I knew how to speak English, the American culture was quite new to me, other than what I’d already seen on TV. Even after I managed to assimilate, that feeling of being an outsider—an immigrant—never really disappeared. Then, several years later, when I was twelve going on thirteen, I moved back to the Philippines. A new start. Again. It was a strange time for me. I had been away for so long that I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though I’m half-Filipino.
All these experiences inspired what Pablo goes through. I made his character half-Spanish and half-American to reflect my mom’s side of the family and the many years I lived in the US. The fact that he feels disconnected to his life in the Philippines mirrors the same feelings I had when I moved back. Through his character, I show what it was like to learn, to discover, to appreciate the Filipino culture, especially the Filipino people.
I felt it necessary to write about the experience of being an immigrant, and a third culture kid, because I’d never really seen any children’s books that reflected my own experience. And although not all kids will see themselves in Pablo’s story, I’m quite sure that there are many who will.
Though some of my childhood experiences were difficult, at the end, I think all the moving around definitely made me into a better person. That’s the kind of ending I want for Pablo, too. And I think, ultimately, readers will feel a lot of hope for Pablo’s future after they finish the book.
Were there any challenges associated with writing a story set in another country for a book primarily aimed at American readers?
Sure, there were some challenges, namely making sure that the foreign words and phrases (Tagalog and Spanish) would somehow not get lost in translation (or rather in non-translation). There were several instances where I didn’t want to offer many hints as to what was being said, because that’s a big part of being a foreigner in a foreign land. Not understanding the language can create a lot of anxiety and barriers for a child trying to fit in. Although, as an educational reference, we did decide to include a glossary of Tagalog words and phrases at the back of the book.
The other challenge was making sure that the place—the Philippines—would also be a character of its own. I felt it was important to describe everything as vividly as possible, to infuse as much of the culture as I could, through a variety of settings, food references, and especially Filipino humor, which is such an important part of everyday life in the Philippines.
those challenges, I found it relatively easy to make my characters and story
appealing to American readers. Having lived in the US for a large chunk of my
childhood and adult years, I knew how to make certain aspects more relatable. I
found the key was really in presenting universal themes that anyone could
understand no matter where they came from.
What do you hope your readers—particularly the
young ones—will take away from HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA?
For me what’s most important is that children, especially American children, open up their eyes to the world outside of their own country. I think now, more than ever, is the time for us, as humans, to try and connect, to find those universal themes of love, family, friendship, and home in one another, despite the borders and seas that separate us. It’s only then that we’ll realize that perhaps our similarities outweigh our differences.
Beautifully put. Now, let’s get to what you’re here to do – reveal your cover! Were you involved in the process at all?
Yay! To be honest, I wasn’t too involved in creating the artwork. I have a lot of faith in my editors Joy Peskin and Trisha de Guzman, especially since Trisha was born in the Philippines and only moved to the US when she was seven—so culturally, we had that connection. When they hired a talented artist, Christine Almeda, who is also Filipino-American, I knew that I had nothing to worry about. So I just let the professionals do their jobs and did my best to trust the process!
did you think when you first saw the art?
What struck me the most at first glance were the
colors! It was so spot on, because so much of the scenery in the Philippines is
full of color, from the verdant foliage, to the bright tropical flowers, to the
blues of the sea and the sky. I also loved how Christine made the plants so
lush and distinctly tropical. It’s really obvious that it’s not a beach scene
in the US.
I also thought that the body language was just
right. Pablo holding his knees against his chest, his face without a smile,
looking off into the distance, shows his fear and anxiety perfectly. His back
is facing Chiqui, which says a lot about how he first feels when she enters his
I think the cover will really appeal to both girls
and boys—a definite plus in my opinion, since I’m a huge advocate of gender
neutral media for children.
I couldn’t be happier with the artwork and stellar book design by Aram Kim.
Okay – let’s see it!
Tanya! It’s FANTASTIC! Not that I’m surprised, with Christine and Aram behind it — but WOW. I can’t imagine anyone walking by this book and not picking it up to learn more.
Speaking of which — when can readers get their hands on HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, and where can they learn more about you and your work?
TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Book
Depository and other outlets, but will release on March 31st, 2020.
Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but spent her childhood living in three continents—Asia, Europe and North America. Upon graduating from high school, she moved to Boston and attended Boston University, where she studied screenwriting. Over the course of eleven years, she’s worked as photo editor in children’s educational publishing, operated her own photo studio and freelanced as a writer.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, her debut middle-grade novel will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan on March 31st, 2020. Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, her daughter, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time, she grows her own food, bakes sourdough bread and reads lots of books.