Finishing Strong & A Conversation with Tina Athaide: Books Between, Episode 73

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hello and welcome to 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 – 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls (10 and 12), and muddling through some allergies. So if you are wondering why I sound “off” – we can blame all those plants trying to have babies!  A quick reminder before we get started that you can find transcripts and interview outlines of every episode – along with lots of other great middle great content over at MGBookVillage.org.

This is episode #73 and today’s show starts off with a discussion about strong endings to the school year and then I share with you a conversation with Tina Athaide- author of Orange for the Sunsets.

Main Topic – Finishing the Year Strong

Our main topic today is ending the school year with your students with strength and purpose. And wrapping up those final weeks together in a way that allows for both reflection on their reading lives and a way to step forward into a summer that builds on the successes of the previous year.

It’s like the school year is the runway and the summer is the solo flight after take-off! If you haven’t been building those reading habits all year long, then… well that lift off is going to fall flat.  But – there are some things that we can do to plan for a strong transition from that supportive classroom reading community to a strong independent reading life. For me, my school year up here in New York doesn’t end for another five weeks but lots of my friends are already wrapping up their school year so I thought it would be a good time to discuss this topic. And whether you are a parent, or a librarian, or a teacher there will be something in today’s show that you will find useful.

First, we’ll talk building in time for reflection and what that can look like. Then, I’ll discuss some ways for students to celebrate and share the reading they’ve enjoyed during the past school year. And finally, I’ll chat about how to usher them into summer with a solid reading plan and hopefully some books in their hands.

Reflection

One of the most effective ways to cap off your school year is with some time for reflection and feedback. And there are a few options for you to consider.

  1. A student survey for YOU to grow as a teacher. So this would involve asking your students questions to help get feedback to help you improve. These  questions might be – What was your favorite read aloud this year?  What strategies helped you grow the most as a reader? Did you prefer partner reading or book clubs and why? What types of reading responses helped you get the most of your reading?  Should we read more nonfiction? What books should we get for our classroom library? Pernille Ripp uses these types of surveys exceptionally well, and I’ll link to her website to get some ideas for you to try and to tweak.
  2. It’s also really important that students get the opportunity to write about and discuss their own reading habits and growth – for their own self-reflection. In that case, since the purposes are very different, the questions you ask your students will be different. And if you’ve helped them build that habit of keeping good track of their reading, this will be a thousand times easier. These questions might be along the lines of – How many books did you read this year? How does that compare to last year?  Of the books you’ve read, how many were non-fiction? How many were graphic novels? Written by a person of color? Written by a man? Were historical fiction? What was your favorite book you’ve read? How many books did you abandon and why? Those questions that dig a bit deeper are so powerful – especially when given the opportunity to share those thoughts with others.
  3. Another way that you can have your students doing some powerful thinking and reflection about the books they are offered is by guiding them through a diversity audit of your classroom collection or library. If you want details about this, I’ve discussed it in more depth in episode 28 (which I will link to in the show notes), but I highly recommend you try this at least one time with your class. And it doesn’t have to be an analysis of all the books in your library. Maybe it’s just a 15 minute check of the biographies together with two or three guiding questions.  At the end of the year -it’s all about using the time you have flexibly and well.BB28Banner2
  4. A great self-reflection method I just bumped into again recently was Pernille Ripp’s post (called “On Reading Rewards”) about having students create an award for themselves to celebrate their own achievement – whether that’s reading 35 books, or discovering a new genre, or just finding one book they really liked. I’ll link to her post with the full description and to the site where you can get those free Reading Certificate templates for students.  

Celebration & Sharing

Along with opportunities for self-reflection and thinking about their own reading accomplishments during the previous year, I think it’s also so important to give students a chance to show off those accomplishments!

  1. One educator that I follow on Twitter (Cassie Thomas – @mrs_cmt1489), had her students gather a stack of every book they’ve read during the year and took a picture of them with that book stack! What  powerful way to see how what a year’s worth of reading looks like!Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 12.15.35 AM
  2. Another popular (and powerful) way to have students both reflect on their reading and share it, is to have them create a top ten (or so) list. I’ve absolutely modified that to a Top 5 or Top 3 list for those kiddos who were rather daunted by coming up with ten titles.  It could be something as simple as the Top 10 Books I’ve Read This Year. Or maybe Top 5 Sports Books, 7 Books To Make You Laugh, Top 8 Books That Made Me Cry, Top 10 Books If You Like History – really the options are endless! And lend themselves well to having those quick finishers make a couple of them. In a recent video by Colby Sharp, he mentioned that he has his class share the lists with him in a Google doc where he complies them, prints out all the lists, and then sends the lists home with the kids for the summer!  So if they are ever looking for a book suggestion, they have a ton of options from their classmates right on hand. I’m definitely doing that this year! (I’ll link to Colby’s video so you can check out his other ideas.)
  3. A third way to celebrate and share their reading? One-pagers! If you have not tried these yet – the end of the year is the perfect time!  Essentially, students go into greater depth with one of their favorite books by creating a one-page presentation. Typically they are very colorful and include strong visual elements to illuminate aspects of the book like drawings of symbols, characters, or represeScreen Shot 2019-05-28 at 12.18.35 AMntations of the book cover.  And the sections depend on your goals – often things like a character analysis, favorite quote, rating, or summary. My students really loved doing these and even had the idea of hanging some in our local public library. And I recently came across a great episode of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast with guest Betsy Potash that offers some great tips and templates to use. I’ll also include a link directly to Betsy’s site if you want to see those great examples and snag those templates.
  4. One other idea to help students celebrate and share their reading is to harness the technology skills they’ve already practiced during the year for that purpose. For example, if your students are already using Flipgrid, have them use that tool to do a book talk for a favorite book, share their top ten list, or discuss patterns they noticed about their reading during the past year. If the kids are more comfortable with SeeSaw, they could do similar things with the video tool or do some annotating of their favorite books and make booksnaps about favorite books or characters.  Powerpoint or Google Slides has some cool features – especially to make charts and graphs. One piece of advice here – use technology that they are already familiar with and can work independently on. That way, while they are working, you can take care of those important, time-consuming end-of-the-year tasks like conducting final running records on each student or wrapping up some final scoring on assignments.  

A Plan & Books in Their Hands

A summer reading plan:

Let’s talk about the plan first. This could be a formal, written plan – but honestly, at the end of the year that might be just a little too structured for summer. Instead, I like to share various ideas and options for kids to boost their reading life over the summer. And then have us all share with each other how to overcome some common obstacles. So here’s what that will look like for our class over the next couple of weeks before school ends:

  • Creating their summer TBR list. Maybe this is based on the Top 10 Lists your class presented or maybe they build a TBR list during a trip to the library, but having that piece of paper is really helpful.
  • Invite our wonderful children’s librarian from our local public library to come in and share with our class the awesome summer programs they have planned.  If the timing doesn’t work out for them to travel, a virtual Google Hangout visit or Skype could work, too. Our local library also used to allow for off-site library card sign-ups so check into that as well.
  • Give the kids a list of any summer reading programs or activities you can find in your community.  Does your local bookstore have any cool book signings or summer events planned? Is there a Children’s Book Festival happening?  Does your community have a traveling library? Is there a summer book club offered at your school? Where are the locations of the Little Free Libraries in your  area? Will the local library have a booth at the Pride Festival this June? (Mine will!!!!)
  • Introduce them to some virtual spaces where they can get reading ideas and share their reading life.  If they are old enough for social media (13 years old) – perhaps share some accounts to follow. Or encourage them to sign up for a Goodreads account. But honestly – they are most likely going to be on YouTube. So a list of great YouTubers to follow would probably be the most appreciated and actually used by your students.
  • And if you think your students would use it, you could set up a summer reading Fligrid or SeeSaw or other digical space to them to share. I tried this last year and it was a bit of a bust, but maybe I’ll give it another go.

Alright, so…. Ideally, I’ll have those resources and ideas compiled into one document for students to take home at the end of the year. And then we’ll have a quick discussion together about which ones they want to participate in, and what are going to be obstacles.   Perhaps they can share a brief and flexible plan in their reading journal or on SeeSaw or Flipgrid.

Getting books in their hands:

And finally – the all important getting books in their hands before they leave for the summer! There are a few ways to do this.

  • Have your end-of-the-year gift be a book. Right now I am in a self-contained class and have 21 students. So I can swing this by saving up Scholastic points and entering a lot of giveaways on Twitter and Goodreads.  Next year I’ll be teaching all the 5th graders, so this option might be less doable.
  • One idea I’ve considered instead of selecting a new book for each child based on what I know of their reading life, is to let them pick out one book from our classroom library to take home to keep.
  • Another option is to suggest your PTO/PTA give the graduating class a book as they leave the school. My PTO has done this for the last few years. And it sends a powerful message about what is important and what is valued in our school. Last year is was 365 Days of Wonder and this year will either be New Kid or a picture book like Rock What Ya Got.
  • Another idea that I have seen be very successful is to have a book swap by encouraging families to bring in gently used books for kids to exchange. Our middle school kept them all in a brightly colored kiddie pool with a beach chair next to it.
  • More and more libraries are doing summer check out – which I LOVE!!  So if your school is not yet one of those, maybe arm yourself with some great research and start putting a bug in the ear of the powers-that-be to make that change.
  • Allow kids to check out books from your classroom library is another way to get books in their hands for the summer. My 5th graders are leaving to a new school. So instead, at the end of the year we had an opportunity to meet our incoming 4th grade class. And after some quick introductions, I let each child pick 2-3 books they wanted to take home and read over the summer.  Before they left, I just took a quick picture of them with their stack so I knew which books were out. But other than that, there was no check-out procedure. I like this for a few reasons. One, it shows them right away that our classroom library is the heart of our class and that I want to get to know them as people and as readers. And that whatever book they picked was fine by me. It’s all reading. Also – we’re starting from a place of trust. I trust them to take those books home and return them.  And sure, some didn’t come back. But as Donalyn Miller has so often said, “I’d rather lose a book than lose a reader.”

I hope that no matter if you are a teacher, a librarian, or parent that you have found something useful in today’s discussion that will help you foster more independent readers. And no matter what time of year you may stumble across this episode, building in time for reflection, celebrating and sharing our reading lives, and making plans to read more on our own is always a great idea.  

And as always, we are learning together so please share with us your ideas and successes for ending the year strong. You can connect with me on Twitter or Instagram – our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to share your ideas.

Tina Athaide – Interview Outline

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This week I am thrilled to bring you an interview with debut author Tina Athaide! We chat about her research process, the novels that influenced her as a child, writing tips to pass along to the young authors in your life, and of course – her debut historical novel set in 1970s Uganda –  Orange for the Sunsets.

Take a listen…

Orange for the Sunsets

Welcome! I’d like to start by giving you an opportunity to introduce yourself to our listeners…

I’m an educator by day and writer by night. When I started teaching in Southern CA, I was 51JRwk61JeL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_amazed how little information my students had about other cultures and ethnic groups and always thought they could learn so much from books. Thankfully these days we are seeing an increase in books written about marginalized groups by marginalized writers.

What is Orange for the Sunsets about?

It set in 1972 and tells the story of Asha-an Asian Indian girl and her best friend Yesofu a Ugandan boy and how their lives are turned upside down when President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country.  Asha comes from a life of privilege, but even then it isn’t as privileged as the Europeans. Yesofu’s family works for Asha’s parents. They are servants in their own country. Idi’ Amin’s expulsion means different things for these two characters, which creates a conflict that threatens to tear apart their friendship.  This was a period in history that very few people knew about, especially here in North America and I felt it was important to share this story.

What was your research process like to make sure you were getting not only the history correct, but the 1970’s details accurate?

Without dating myself, I have to confess that I have personal connections to this story. I was born in Entebbe, but my family left just before the expulsion.. Growing up I heard many stories about life in Uganda and subsequently the horrors of the expulsion. Early drafts were solely from Asha’s point of view. Yesofu had a role in the book, but I never delved into what the expulsion meant for him. An editor that was interested in the story actually recommended that I write the book from both Asha and Yesofu’s POV.

BACK TO THE DRAWING board and revisions. Actually…rewriting the entire book!

I was Asian, writing about the Asian Indian experience. I had some knowledge about the Uganda experiences, but not enough to really give Yesofu an authentic and honesty voice. That involved research.

I spoke to Indians and Ugandans about their experiences during that period of history, beyond just family and friends. I wanted to know their opinions about Idi Amin’s expulsion, how their lives were affected.  I travelled to Kenya and spoke to Kenyan and Ugandan Africans about this time period.

What was also very helpful wasI read articles written during those ninety days from newspapers around the world. When Idi Amin originally expelled Asians, he kicked out those Indians holding British passports and citizenship.  But when he ordered all Asian Indians out of the country, the UN asked countries to open their borders and accept refugees….That included the United States.

Although your story is set over 40 years ago and in a country across the globe, it has so many parallels to what’s happening in America now with the rise of populist anti-immigrant sentiment that veers in violence. Did you intentionally want to capture some of those similar sentiments?  

It saddens me that in this day and age there are such close parallels between the story in Orange For the Sunset and the strong rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the globe.  It wasn’t intentional on my part to capture those similarities, but that period of history with Idi Amin and the brutality toward Indians unfortunately mirrors current sentiments.

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 38:12 mark.

How has this book changed from your earlier drafts to this final version?

Were there parts that you loved but you had to edit out?

Your Writing Life

What are you working on now?

I have a picture book coming out in 2020 about a young child, Sita and her grandfather, Gandhi. She is spirited and full of vigor and he teaches her to give how slowing down opens you up to see and appreciate so much more in life.

I am working on a MG fantasy book about a young boy who is destined to be keeper of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota–the five great elements of nature. It weaves in elements of Hindu mythology with flying garuda and naga cobras. What is most exciting is the character travels through time to real places in India so readers will get to visit these spectacular sites.

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked along the way that has helped your writing?

When I finish writing the rough draft, I go through the manuscript and use different colors to highlight emotional points, plot points, dialogue.  Then I will read through the story focusing on each color and it give me a narrow and wide lens as I revise.

Your Reading Life

What are some books or authors that influenced you as a child?

Growing up, there were no books in the local library or school library with people of color, so l went on adventures with Trixie Belden, Anne of Green Gables, and Anastacia Krupnik. Each in their own way those writers influenced me, even if it was to show me how books took you places different from your own world.  I loved the Narnia series by CS Lewis and Harriet the Spy and the Outsiders.

What are some books that you’ve read lately that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krisnaswami

The Bridge Home by PadmaVenkatraman

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

 

Thank You!

LINKS:

Tina on Twitter – @tathaide

Mae on Instagram – @tinaathaide

 

Closing

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 booksbetween@gmail.com 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!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

 

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Middle Grade at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: The Evocative Use of White Space in THE MOON WITHIN by Aida Salazar

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Our May book club pick for Middle Grade at Heart is Aida Salazar’s beautiful debut, The Moon Within. Here’s a bit about the book:

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

The Moon Within is a dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar, and it received four starred reviews.

We’re so excited to feature this lovely, empowering book! The Moon Within is a novel in verse, which means the narrative is composed of free verse poems that join together to create scenes. Verse novelists can use all sorts of evocative poetic techniques. One technique that Aida Salazar employs is playing around with white space. Let’s take a look at a poem that makes especially effective use of white space.

In this poem-scene, the main character, Celi, is at the movies with Iván, an older boy she likes. He begins to ask her a question and stops himself, and she wonders if he wanted to ask if she would be allowed to have a boyfriend. Then the thought that goes through Celi’s head is, “What would it be like to be his girlfriend?” But take a look at how that thought is set out on the page:

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What occurs to you as you look at the shape of that thought?

Does it mimic the shape and feel of “tumbling like weeds?” Do you have to stop and linger on the words, spending extra time to puzzle out what they say? Does that extra time give the thought extra weight? Does the white space mirror Celi’s emotions in some way? Does anything else occur to you?

Which other poems throughout the novel use white space in striking ways? Be on the lookout as you read, and Tweet us @mgatheart to let us know what you find!

And if you’d like to learn more about how verse novelists can use white space and other poetic techniques, check out this fabulous, comprehensive post by verse novelist Cordelia Jensen.

Our newsletter about The Moon Within will go out on Monday, May 20th, and mark your calendars for our Twitter chat about the book: Tuesday, May 28th at 8pm EST, using the hashtag #mgbookclub!

A Conversation with Mae Respicio: Books Between, Episode 72

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’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – 5th grade teacher currently enjoying Spring Break, a mom of two tween daughters, and part of the MGBookVillage team.  And MGBookVillage.org where you can find transcripts and interview outlines of all of our episodes and links to every book and topic we mention today.

This is episode #72 and today’s show features three novels that will get your students talking, and a conversation with Mae Respicio – author of The House That Lou Built.

Book Talk 

In this segment, I share with you three books and discuss three things to love about each. All three books today have a couple things in common – questions of identity and an element of mystery.  Two involve recovered memories, two of them have a bit of magic, and two of them include rather helpful birds. The three books featured this week are Restart by Gordan Korman, The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu, and The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark.

Restart

Let’s start with Restart.  This novel, by Gordon Korman, was one that people kept pushing me to read. Teachers, students, librarians – everyone kept saying, “But have you read 413SDvBqZNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Restart yet??”  So how can you say no to that kind of pressure? And – they were right! First of all the premise is incredible – the school bully (Chase Ambrose) falls off his roof, gets amnesia, and forgets everything about his previous life. And doesn’t get why certain kids are terrified of him, why others treat him like some big hero, and others, well… do things like dump a cup of frozen yogurt over his head. Plus, it’s not just told from Chase’s point of view – we get to hear from lots of the other kids as Chase’s past (and present) are slowly revealed. Restart is incredibly crafted. Aside from how well this novel is paced and pieced together, here are three other things I really loved about Restart:

  1. Brendan Espinoza’s videos! Like lots of kids we know, he loves YouTube! Brendan is one of the first kids in the school to – if not accept the “new Chase” – at least offer him a little empathy. And that’s a powerful thing to do considering that Brendan was one of Chase’s biggest targets. He’s one of the video club kids and desperately wants one of his YouTube videos to go viral. So of course, he stages these increasingly over-the-top stunts to film.  It’s hard to describe a funny video in a way that also makes you, the reader, laugh and cringe – but Gordon Korman pulls it off! And I’ll never go through a car-wash again without thinking of Brendan….
  2. Mr. Solway! He’s this crotchety, hilarious, Medal-of-Honor-winning veteran living at the nursing home where Chase and his crew are serving out their community service.  And somehow he is the spark, the center, the fulcrum of the story.
  3. That it works really powerfully as a read-aloud with tons of big ideas to discuss. Restart was our most recent bedtime book for my family, and whoa did we have a ton of deep conversations. Like…. When should you forgive someone?  Is it possible to make amends for your past bad actions? And the whole situation with Joel and the video club and Shoshanna and Chase’s dad and football!

If you are looking for a great book club novel, one that will offer a lot of fodder for discussion, then Restart is a fantastic option. It’s both hilarious and deep. Which to me, is that hard-to-achieve but perfect when it happens combination.  

The Lost Girl

Next up is The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. A story about inseparable twins Iris and Lark. Well, inseparable until 5th grade when they are each placed into different classes with 81A7k-3zFPLteachers who might not be the best fit for their distinctive personalities. Iris is analytical, outspoken, conscientious – a girl who always knows when her library books are due.  Lark is sensitive, brilliantly creative, dreamy – a girl who always knows what library books she wants to check out next. If Iris is Hermione then Lark is more Luna. But the winds of change are in the air – new school arrangements, new after-school clubs, and a new shop opening up that might not be what it seems. Here are three reasons to love The Lost Girl:

  1. The Treasure Hunters antique shop that suddenly opens up in their Minneapolis neighborhood with the slogan We Can Find Anything. Run by mysterious mashed-potato faced man, the shop is soon frequented by one of the twins. For what purpose and why I will leave you to discover.  But the shop reminded me a bit of the Stephen King novel Needful Needs.
  2. I just couldn’t get enough of the fairy tale motif of this story – from the first pages when Lark is described as knowing all the consequences for stealing in various fairy tales, to the recurring comparisons of threats as monsters and ogres, to one of my favorite scenes. It’s when Iris is attending Camp Awesome – one those Girl Power-type camps and the counselor, Abigail, has asked them all which fairy-tale character they identify with.  And it goes on, and other positive points are made about women in fairy tales, but I loved that conversation so so much.
  3. I love how for most of the book I thought I knew which girl the title was referring to. But now I am not so sure…. and I think that would make a really fabulous conversation.

Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl is an incredible novel that is utterly deserving of all the hype that it’s received.  If you have a kid who enjoys realistic fiction with a bit of magical adventure than slide this book their way.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast

And the third book on my mind this week is  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by debut author Samantha Clark.  This novel starts with a mysterious boy washed up on a beach. Where he is, why he’s on this beach, and even who he is are all questions the boy can’t 51BKYfUj9OL._AC_SY400_answer. And so he sets off to find to find answers and discover who he is.  My husband, who is a book critic, like to say that every book is really a “journey of self-discovery” but this novel is exactly that. And brilliantly done. As the boy ventures beyond the beach, snippets of his memories return and slowly weave together a picture of what happened. It’s fantastic – and here are three reasons why:

  1. Breath-taking to read. Samantha Clark is the Picasso of personification. I got chills reading this novel!  Let me read you a few lines: 

                    The leaves in the trees purred in the slight breeze.

                    Greedy waves tugged at his ankles.

                    The sun squatted in the sky.

  1. The second thing that this book does so well is to capture that inner, critical, self-bullying voice that well have to overcome.  Throughout the the story, the boy is confronted by this voice that is less-than-encouraging. He can run away from some threats, but he can’t run away from this, so how he confronts it is a powerful moment in the book.
  2. The third aspect of this reading experience that made it so good was that your understanding of the three words in the title (boy, beast, boat) change over the course of the novel. And I won’t say more but…..ahhh!!

This novel reminded me of Orphan Island, and one other book that I love. But – if I tell you what book that is – it’s going to give away a big plot twist. But if you’d read this book, message me!

Mae Respicio – Interview Outline

This week’s interview is featuring debut author Mae Respicio! Julie Artz and I hopped on Skype to chat with her about tiny houses, her writing life and of course – her debut novel The House That Lou Built.

Take a listen…

The House That Lou Built

For our listeners who haven’t yet read The House That Lou Built, what is this story about?

What inspired you to write about a tool-toting middle schooler?

What sort of research did you do to write this book?  Did you visit Tiny Houses?

Your Writing Life

What was Hedgebrook like?

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

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

What are you reading now?

Thank You!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 35:04 mark.

LINKS:

Mae’s website – https://www.maerespicio.com

Mae on Twitter – @maerespicio

Mae on Instagram – @maerespiciobooks

Hedgebrook

BOOKS WE CHATTED ABOUT

Harry Potter series

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)

Self-Help (Lorrie Moore)

Closing

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 have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

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

Talk with 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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STEM Tuesday Spin Off: The Science of Social Studies

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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.

The STEM Tuesday team has brought you lunchroom science and recess science, so continuing in our schoolyard science theme, I present–The science of Social Studies!

 

That’s right, we often talk about integrating science and math or science and technology. But there’s a lot of science in social studies. Let’s take a tour of some fun ways to look at STEM–social studies connections.

Maps and Map-making

Map-making is a STEM bonanza. Latitude and Longitude? Pure geometry. Mountains and Oceans and deserts? Geology. And making the maps themselves? Technology and engineering.

Check out National Geographic Education’s fun simulation of mapping Mars.

Read Soundings: The remarkable woman who mapped the ocean floor by Hali Felt  (Henry Holt, 2012).

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OR Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor 
by Robert Burleigh and Illustrated by Raúl Colón (Paula Wiseman Books)

Watch The Science of Everything Podcast to see how map projections alter our understanding of the world.

 

 

History

Scientific discoveries have impacted the trajectory of historical events, and historical realities affect how and when science is done. Several STEM Tuesday reading lists have looked at the history of science and technology.

Try the Women in Science History List or this botany list on #STEMTuesday  (you may be surprised how interwoven botany and world exploration are).

Want to learn about the importance of seeds and plants and how that relates to feeding the world’s population? Check out The Story of Seeds by Nancy Castaldo (HMH BFYR) Or take a look at The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth by Anita Silvey ( Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

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In  Castaldo’s book, learn how something as small as a seed can have a worldwide impact. Did you know there are top-secret seed vaults hidden throughout the world? And once a seed disappears, that’s it—it’s gone forever? This important book sheds a light on the impact one seed can have on the world.

Silvey’s book takes us on a great adventure as early plant hunters traveled around the world, facing challenges at every turn: tropical illnesses, extreme terrain, and dangerous animals to find and collect new and unusual specimens, no matter what the cost.

Geography

Geography is essentially geology with people on top. For a technology twist, try this National Geographic lesson on the geography of a pencil.

 

Check out Geology Lab for Kids by Garrett Romaine (Quarry Books)  for fun hands-on activities. Or The Rock and Gem Book: And Other Treasures of the Natural World by the Smithsonian.

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See how people’s water use can lead to sinkholes and check out satellite imagery of Florida on Google Maps–all of those circular lakes are old sinkholes!

 

 

Government

Of course, conservation is deeply tied to government and laws. This STEM Tuesday list will give students a whole host of ideas for conservation, and what better way to engage them in the political process than with cool science?

Try Jennifer Swanson’s Geoengineering Earth’s Climate (21st Century Books) or Whale Quest: Working Together to Save Endangered Species by Karen Romano Young to see how decisions we make in our world affect the species that live within it.

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Finally, with the out sized role of the electoral college in the last few elections and the age of gerrymandering, apportionment has been a big civics issue. I have long been fascinated by the mathematics that shows that it is mathematically impossible to perfectly apportion representation. This activity illustrates why (it’s for a high school math or higher, but still, this topic is so cool!).

So check out these resources and go wild with the science of social studies!

 

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download  Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a STEM Tuesday blogger, science author, and educator with 10+ books for children and teachers from National Geographic Kids, Capstone, and NSTA Press. Recent children’s books include Dog Science Unleashed: fun activities to do with your canine companion (a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize), Edible Science: Experiments you Can Eat (a Junior Library Guild Selection) and, as a co-author, Recycled Science (a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize).…

MG at Heart Book Club’s Writer’s Toolbox: What the First Chapters of The Benefits of Being an Octopus and Everlasting Nora Have in Common

This month, the Middle Grade at Heart team is trying something new: our first ever book club double-feature, spotlighting The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden and Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz!

We love how both of these authors explore the theme of poverty in such an authentic, unflinching way. We also love how they have both crafted brave, resilient main characters, and how their books depict difficult situations while offering lots of hope and empowerment for young readers.

These are the best kinds of window and mirror books. For readers who have never dealt with poverty, The Benefits of Being an Octopus and Everlasting Nora will help them develop compassion and understanding. And those who have lived in poverty will feel seen and validated.

Both books have terrific first chapters that introduce readers to these two strong, memorable main charactersZoey and Nora. And an interesting parallel is that both first chapters reveal the characters’ relationships to school. Let’s take a closer look at how both books touch on the characters’ experiences with something very relatable: their education.

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In The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Zoey has a very rare, very short-lived moment of quiet in her mom’s boyfriend’s trailer, where she lives with her mom and younger siblings. She thinks she might have a chance to work on her debate packet and explains why that would be unusual:

I’m not a kid who does homework. And I definitely don’t do big projects, which usually require glitter and markers and poster board and all sorts of things. None of which I have. Plus, last year in sixth grade, when I actually turned in a poster project, Kaylee Vine announced to the whole class, “Everyone! Alert the authorities! Zoey Albro turned in a project. The world must be ending.” Then she made that ahgn ahgn ahgn sound like a fire drill, and did it every time she passed me in the hall for the whole next week.

But this project doesn’t need any glitter. And everyone else won’t have fancy poster boards with foam letters that make my flimsy piece of newsprint that the teacher gave me look like gray toilet paper. All I need is to know something—and I do.

And maybe, just maybe, if I do this—and if I can rock it—all the other kids will have their minds blown, and it’ll be completely satisfying to watch. “Who would have guessed,” they’ll say, “that Zoey knew so much cool stuff? I had no idea! I thought I knew who she was, but clearly I didn’t at all.” Maybe Kaylee Vine would even stop holding her nose and switching seats on the bus to get away from me.

This passage is powerful for a few reasons. First, it’s a bit surprising. From the first page, Zoey comes across as extremely smart, capable, and responsible. So that sentence, “I’m not a kid who does homework” will catch some readers off-guard. It might make readers pause and ask, “Wait a minute. Why not?” And then, immediately, Zoey’s narration reveals that there are often financial barriers to completing projectsbarriers some kids will recognize and other kids (and adults) might have to stop to consider for the first time.

The passage also establishes Zoey as a character we can’t help but root for. Zoey reveals some upsetting thingsKaylee Vine’s cruelty and the fact that other kids underestimate herbut she doesn’t pity herself. She has a fire inside her and remains determined and hopeful that she can make things better. That makes her very easy to love and cheer on.

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Now let’s turn to Everlasting Nora. On the first pages of the book, Nora reveals that she does not have a traditional home—instead, she and her mom, along with several other people, live in their families’ grave houses in a cemetery in the Philippines. The first paragraphs of the book are quite poignant, revealing Nora’s nostalgia for the kind of home she used to have. But despite Nora’s sorrows, she’s also very joyful. Her capacity for joy comes across when she spots a teacher who sometimes comes to the cemetery:

Up ahead, I saw Efren Pena and his pushcart classroom on the corner. He waved a book in the air when he saw me. A wide smile dimpled his cheek. He called out, “Nora, join us! We’re doing math today.”

I waved back a him. A surge of excitement filled me. […] Working on math would be fun. Papa had always said I was good with numbers.”

Like Zoey, Nora is not defeated; she has a great deal of passion and truly wants to learn. But also like Zoey, Nora has many responsibilities and worries that get in the way of her schooling. In fact, she isn’t able to go to school at all. After Nora sees Efren Pena, she decides she can join the math lesson for a bit. She thinks to herself, “Yes, it would be nice to sit a while and pretend I was back in school.” This is such a powerful line. Nora matter-of-factly shares that school work is a relaxing break from the type of work she usually has to do. Readers who manage challenging circumstances at home will likely relate to this sentiment. Meanwhile, others who haven’t felt this way will understand a lot about Nora’s life from the fact that she considers schoolwork a break. Readers also get to see how determined Nora is when she reflects on her desire to be back in school:

I missed going to a real school. I missed the smell of chalk. Most of all, I missed my best friend. If I saved enough money I could buy a couple of secondhand uniforms, some notebooks, and pencils. I would go back to school next year. I’d have to repeat sixth grade, but that was okay.

For some readers, school might be something they take for granted or even dislike, but school is something Nora longs for. Readers who think of school as an obligation will be very moved by Nora’s desire to have the opportunity to go back. And we see here in this passage that, like Zoey, Nora is resilient and full of hope that she can make things bettertraits that make her an endearing and admirable character.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that both books address the protagonists’ complicated relationships with education in the first chapter. But even if it is, we can learn a lot from the way Ann Braden and Marie Miranda Cruz do this. They both use something that almost all readers have experience with as a touchstone to reveal a lot about where their characters are coming from. This choice helps some readers quickly identify with Zoey and Nora, and it helps others to understand and feel compassion for them.

What other parallels can you spot between these two books? We hope you’ll join us this month to read The Benefits of Being an Octopus and Everlasting Nora…or to read one of them, if you’ve already read the other. Our newsletter will go out on Monday, April 22nd, and our #mgbookclub Twitter chat will be at 8pm EST on Tuesday, April 30th. We hope you can discuss these books and their similarities and differences with us then!

MG at Heart Book Club’s April Picks: Marie Miranda Cruz’s EVERLASTING NORA and Ann Braden’s THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS

This month, we’re trying something brand-new at Middle Grade @ Heart: a double feature! We’ll be spotlighting BOTH Marie Miranda Cruz’s EVERLASTING NORA and Ann Braden’s THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS. Each one focuses on different experiences of poverty—one in the United States, one in the Philippines—and we think they will make for an interesting comparison and contrast!

We will have a variety of content about both books, and we hope that if you’ve already read one, this will give you a chance to track down the other and focus on that.

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Information on EVERLASTING NORA:

An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shantytown of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

“Heartwarming!”―#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Melissa de la Cruz

“A story of friendship and unrelenting hope.”―Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly

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Information on THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS:

An NPR Best Book of 2018!

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

Our newsletter will go out on April 22nd, and our Twitter chat will be April 30th!

Interview: Jo Knowles

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Hello, Jo! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate the release of Where the Heart Is and to chat about the book. You write both Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. How early on in your process do you know which category a story idea will fit into? Do you think about it at all before or while writing? 

Thanks for having me! I do think about how old my character is when I first start writing, mainly because age is often how I introduce my characters. But… I admit that often after I’ve written several chapters I realize the voice sounds either too young or too old for the original age I thought they were. At that point, I need to decide which is stronger: the voice, or the need to have my character be a certain age to tell a particular story. But I don’t think in terms of, “My next book needs to be middle grade.” It’s the story idea that comes first. Then, I starting writing and let the story tell me what the book will be. 

Is there anything about the Middle Grade age range that you especially enjoy or appreciate?

I love writing about 12-13 year olds because it’s fun to straddle childhood and adolescence. I realize I may be the only one who feels this way! But I think it’s such an emotional and exciting time of life to write about. Kids are on the cusp of gaining independence and developing their own identities, and I love going through that growing-up experience with them. It can be both hysterical and heartbreaking. 

Okay, let’s get to the new book. Can you tell us a little bit about Where the Heart Is?

It’s about a girl named Rachel who just turned 13 and is looking forward to a fun summer with her best friend, Micah. But her parents are going through a financial crisis, and it’s causing lots of stress at home. In addition, she’s questioning her sexual identity and it’s causing a rift between her and Micah, who has had a crush on her since they were little. 

One thing I especially love and admire about your writing is your use of humor – in this latest book and your previous ones. You tackle some seriously heavy, tough topics, yet still manage to infuse humor into your stories. Does this come naturally? Is it something you are conscious about including?

Thank you! I try really hard to keep my stories “real” in that they reflect every day stuff as well as the bigger, looming issues in their lives. I don’t think about it in the sense of, say, “OK, you just wrote a sad scene now you need to balance it with something funny.” I guess I think of it more in terms of a necessary part of character and world building. When I walk my characters through their worlds, there’s just naturally some funny stuff that plays out. And maybe as a writer, I need comic relief just as much as my readers. 

I know there are both large and small elements of Where the Heart Is that were inspired by your own life experiences. Did you set out to write about these? Can you talk about what it’s like to transform such “facts” into fiction?

The book emerged from a writing prompt a friend of mine gave at a pop-up lecture. He said to think of an object that held a strong memory, and I thought of a sweater of my dad’s that I used to wear. As soon as I started writing, the memory of losing our home came to me very clearly and powerfully. I shared what I wrote with my friend, and he encouraged me to keep going. The problem was, I didn’t want to write a memoir. I decided to select some of the most important things that happened to me during that time, and try to weave them into a story that would work as a middle grade novel. Turning “facts” into fiction is a challenge for sure, because it’s hard to let go of what really happened. But once you do let go, you can see that by allowing yourself to create the emotion of what happened rather than the thing itself, you’re still essentially telling the same story, just in a way that’s hopefully more accessible to more people. 

Before they even pick up Where the Heart Is, readers will notice that the word home has been “taken away” from the title. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that word. Home. What does it mean to you? How do you define it? Has your understanding of it changed over time?

I’m glad you noticed! The process of writing this story, and further back, losing my own home, led me to rethink about how I define home. So often when we meet people they ask, “Where do you call home?” What if we changed it to “Who do you call home?” The lesson for me, in all of this, is that it’s the people in your life that give you a sense of belonging. Home is something deep inside us. It’s more than walls, it’s the invisible structure of love we create through the people we care about, and who care about us.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add Where the Heart Is to their classrooms and libraries?

Some teachers who have read advanced copies have said they are excited to use the book to open up discussions about poverty and identity with their students, which I love. I also have a discussion guide available on my Web site: https://www.joknowles.com/where-the-heart-is

Where can readers find more information about you and your work?

http://www.joknowles.com lists all of my books and information about school and library visits. Thank you!

Jo-Heart.jpgJo Knowles is the author of several young adult and middle grade books including See You At Harry’s, Still a Work In Progress, and Read Between The Lines. Her newest book, Where The Heart Is, has been called “an immensely appealing, hard-to-put-down story about friendship and love, heartache and bravery” by Newbery Award-winner, Rebecca Stead. Jo’s awards include a New York Times Editor’s Choice and Notable, the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award, an ALA Notable, Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children, YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, and two SCBWI Crystal Kites. Jo’s books have also appeared on numerous state award lists. She teaches writing at the Mountainview MFA program through Southern New Hampshire University.

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Tomorrow, April 2nd, is also the publication day of the paperback edition of Jo’s Still A Work In Progress, the cover of which is above!