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

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

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

 

#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

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

 

#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

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

 

 

#18: So Done by Paula Chase

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

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

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

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

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

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

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

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

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

 

#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

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

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

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

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

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

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

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

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

 

#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

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

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

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

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

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

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

 

Closing

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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

 

 

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

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Topic – Top 25 Middle Grade Novels of 2018

#25: Granted by John David Anderson

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

 

#24: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

#20: The Frame Up by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

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

 

#19: Everything I Know About You by Barbara Dee

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

 

 

#18: So Done by Paula Chase

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

#17: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

#14: Takedown by Laura Shovan

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

#13: Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

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

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

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

#11: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

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

 

#10: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

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

#9: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

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

#8: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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

#7: Blended by Sharon Draper

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

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

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

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

#4: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

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

#3: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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

#2: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

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

#1: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

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

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

 

Closing

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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

 

 

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

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

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

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

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

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

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

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

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

Jarrett Lerner & David Marsh – Interview Outline

 

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

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

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

 

Links:

Jarrett Lerner on Twitter – @Jarrett_Lerner

David Marsh on Twitter – @Davidmarsh80

The Harry Potter books

Pottermore website

Tight (by Torrey Maldonado)

The Bicycle Spy (Yona Zeldis McDonough)

Skylark and Wallcreeper (Anne O’Brien Carelli)

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

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

We’re Not From Here (Geoff Rodkey)

Closing

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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

 

 

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#HappyPottermas Part 1, A Conversation Across the Pond: Books Between, Episode 63

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

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

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two tweens, a 5th grade teacher, a Ravenclaw, and celebrating all things Harry Potter this month! I believe in the power of stories to give us the language and situations to help us identify and make sense of what is wonderful in our world. And give us the words and the way to fight against the injustices we see. And few books do that better than Harry Potter. Across generations parents and educators who grew up inspired by Rowling’s stories are sharing the books with the children in their lives.

In today’s episode you’ll hear some short clips from a variety of librarians, and parents, and educators, and authors about how much the series has meant to them.  And the special moments in their lives that were made a little more magical by Harry Potter.Ds2bST1XcAABnFm

And then I’ll share with you a lenghtier conversation from across the pond where I chat with two of the founders of #HappyPottermas – Annaliese Avery from Suffolk in the UK and Lorie Barber from Chicago in the U.S.

Defintely check out #HappyPottermas on Twitter and all the Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And I really would love to hear YOUR thoughts about Harry Potter as well So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast later in December, just check out the link posted in the show notes, which includes very quick and easy instructions on to submit an audio clip to me. And I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – #HappyPottermas Audio Submissions

 

 

Funk Harry Potter Wedding Cake
Josh Funk’s Harry Potter wedding cake!

Annaliese Avery & Lorie Barber – Interview Outline

Our special guests this week are Annaliese Avery and Lorie Barber – two of the founders of #HappyPottermas!  We talk about Harry Potter inspired advocacy, the challenges of friendship trios, and the our thoughts about the new Fantastic Beast movies.

Take a listen…

Topics we chatted about

  • Introductions
  • How Harry Potter first came into our lives
  • The origins of #HappyPottermas
  • Harry Potter ushering in a golden age of children’s books
  • Harry Potter fueled activism
  • Flawed characters & friendship trios
  • Teaching Harry Potter
  • Complicated characters in Harry Potter
  • The Crimes of Grindlewold / The Fantastic Beast movies
  • The Harry Potter books vs. the movies
  • The Cursed Child
  • Sorting in Schools
  • Harry Potter in the UK vs. Harry Potter in the U.S
  • Looking at Harry Potter through a critical lens

Some pics from Lorie’s classroom!

Links:

Annaliese Avery on Twitter – @AnnalieseAvery

Lorie Barber on Twitter – @BarberChicago

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 12.27.54 AM.png

Jess Lifshitz on Twitter – @Jess5th

The Harry Potter Alliance

A Monster Calls

The Harry Potter books

The Cursed Child

Pottermore website

Closing

Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  Remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun and remember to send in your own audio submission for a future episode.

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

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

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.

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

 

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Launching a Community Book Club & a Conversation with Harper and Maggie: Books Between, Episode 62

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 incredible stories. I believe in the power of books to bring communities together. And my goal is to help you connect your children and your community with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the people who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and glad to be back with you after a short hiatus to focus on school and supporting some local candidates in the mid-term elections! Before this year, I had NEVER done any phone banking or canvassing, but after being inspired by so many of YOU – I knew I had to get off my bum and get to work.

This is episode #62 and Today’s show is all about promoting literacy in your community.  First, I’ll share some advice about launching a community book club based on my experience starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. And then I’ll share a conversation with Harper & Maggie, two young girls who’ve launched Books & a Blanket – an organization to promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Before we get started, I have a BIG announcement that I am delighted to tell you about!  For the whole month of December, Annaliese Avery and Jarrett Lerner and myself fromDs2bST1XcAABnFm MGBookVillage are teaming up with Lorie Barber and Erin Varley to bring you #HappyPottermas – a month-long celebration of all things Harry Potter! There will be daily Twitter prompts and all the 9pm EST Monday night #MGBookChat topics throughout December will be all about Harry Potter! And…. I’ve got some special guests lined up for the December episodes of the podcast to talk about the Wizarding World.  And I would love to feature YOU on the show as well. So if you have THOUGHTS about Hogwarts, Snape, the books vs. the movies. If you have OPINIONS you want to share – I really, really want to hear what you have to say!  So, if you are interested in being featured on this podcast, just check out the link posted in the show notes, and I can’t wait to hear from you!

Main Topic – Launching a Community Book Club

This week I’m sharing some things I’ve learned about launching a community book club based on my experiences starting a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school. But whatever type of book club you might already have going or are considering starting – whether that’s a ProjectLIT club or not – I think you’ll get some good ideas from today’s discussion.  And – just know that every document I mention (flyers, surveys, discussion guides, etc…) are all available for you to download right in the show notes and on this episode’s post at MGBookVillage.org. And all of them are editable so you can download and adjust them however you need.

Today I’ll be talking about the difference between ProjectLIT and other traditional community book clubs, including the pros and cons of each. Then I’ll share some ideas about how to prepare to launch your club, some ideas about how to decide what books to read and how to get copies of those books, how to get students and the wider community involved and excited, and then I’ll get into some specifics about planning meetings and hosting a community-wide book celebration.

That’s a lot to cover! So let’s dig right in!

What is the difference between a traditional book club with community involvement and a ProjectLIT Community Book Club – and what are the pros and cons of each?

ProjectLIT is a grassroots literacy movement with community book club chapters all over the country. As of this week, there are now 592 chapters. Their goal is to increase access to culturally relevant books and promote a love of reading in our schools and communities. Each spring the ProjectLIT team consults with chapter leaders and announces a list of 20 books from middle grade to YA that include topics that will generate lots of discussion and bring awareness to issues in our society. Since this is the second year, there are now 40 books to choose from. The books feature characters from a wide variety of backgrounds and are usually #ownvoices – written by authors who share the marginalized identity of the main character. For example, some ProjectLIT books are Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Some of the YA choices are Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. ProjectLIT is all about bringing together a community to discuss the big ideas put forth in these booksand to encourage students to take a leadership role in planning community meetings and doing community service projects to promote literacy. It’s beyond just a book club that might meet to read and discuss books.  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT, their founder, Jarred Amato was a guest on this podcast on episode 54. So, if you are bb54featureconsidering whether or not to launch a more traditional book club in your school or to be a ProjectLIT chapter, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind.

Cons:

  • The book choices are more limited. There are about 20 middle grade titles to choose from and about 20 YA, but I found that the middle grade titles weren’t all the best fit for my club which is geared toward 4th and 5th graders. For example, the March graphic novels are listed as middle grade but I decided to not offer that as one of our choices since it seemed more like a middle school fit.  I’m really hoping that the book options next year will include some lower middle grade titles to expand the choices for elementary kids and to include a variety of reading levels for older students, too.
  • Many of the titles are newer so they are only available as hardcover which makes it financially challenging. And students are less familiar with them so you might need to do some book talks and sampling to get them really pumped about reading them.
  • If you advertise an event as ProjectLIT, it does need to be one of the approved titles. You can mix things up but it does make it more complicated. And if you are trying to make your book club ALSO connect with other things like Battle of the Books or March Book Madness, it is a little bit limiting in that way.

PROS:

  • The book choices ARE amazing! Long Way Down, Amal Unbound, The First Rule of Punk, Ghost, The Parker Inheritance – truly – these are fabulous reads!!
  • Yes, they are new. But that also means that most kids haven’t already read them. I know when I’ve attempted book clubs with really popular books that have been out for awhile, some kids didn’t come because well – if they were interested in the book, they’d already read it. Newer books pull in those readers who will be literacy DhM7H6RV4AAXvH0-1leaders. Those kids who want to be on the cutting edge and draw in the rest of their peers and community with their excitement.
  • You have an amazing supportive community who are all working toward the same goals and really eager to help make your life easier by sharing ideas and resources. If you need discussion questions for Towers Falling – they are already done! There’s a wonderful Facebook group, a Sunday Twitter chat, and a weekly newsletter emailed to you. So, you are not in it alone. And because of that, there are great opportunities for clubs to collaborate and maybe Skype with other groups reading the same book to discuss beyond their community and to get ideas from each other.

How can I prepare my launch to make the book club successful?

Doing some work ahead of time can really help get your book club started off on the right foot and get some community behind you from the very beginning. One of the first things I did was to decide who I might strong-arm into, I mean…. invite to partner with me. In most schools there are at least a couple book lovers who would be down with helping out. At my school – that would be the amazing Kelly. So I emailed Kelly – who was totally excited about launching a club at our school!  Sometimes you just have to ask people. Then I emailed our local public librarian, the PTO, our principal, and let them know about the awesome new club for kids that was coming soon.

Then, I needed to decide how often we would meet, when, and where.  And that really depends on two main factors – time available at your school or library. And YOU!  Because honestly – you are the one who needs to be the main force in making this work. So just…decide and promote the heck out of it!  Since our school day starts early, a before school time was not going to work. So I decided to offer the club to 4th and 5th graders after school from 2:10 to 3:15. The reason I went with 3:15?  Because that’s the time that Drama Club and the Book Cooks let out so I decided to be consistent with them so parents wouldn’t be confused about pick-up times. I also decided to go with Thursdays to avoid those other club days as well.  Now, I will say – I’ve had to do some push back against getting sucked into meetings on Thursdays. But I am holding firm. I don’t want the job to get in the way of my actual work – expanding literacy and love of reading in my school. So if there is a meeting on a Thursday? I’m not going. I’m with the kids doing THAT important work.

The next thing to decide is how many books you want to read throughout the year and when you want to hold a community-wide celebration of those books. Again – this all depends on YOUR availability and how many books you think you can get.  Maybe you start small with just 4 books and 4 events. Maybe every other month works for you. Since I have no chill whatsoever, I decided to go for once a month but to use our first month of school to let everyone get settled and start promoting it, and then officially launch in October.  Kudos to ANYONE who can jump start something the first month of school – I just can’t quite manage the logistics of that. So – cut yourself some slack and give yourself a month head start.

After looking at the calendar and our school schedule, I decided that our community-wide celebrations would be the first Saturday of every month from 10am to 11:30am. I went with this for a few reasons –

  • Everyone seems to already have things in the evenings and I really wanted parents and adults to be able to come. Our school gets out at 2:10 – very few adults can make it at that time if we had after school events.
  • Sundays are often tough for some people in our community because of religious observances in the morning so I wanted to avoid any conflict there.
  • I wanted it to be early enough in the day so that it didn’t wreck people’s entire day. They can come, enjoy, and then have all the rest of Saturday do whatever they want.
  • The first weekend of the month tends to avoid most major holidays.

That being said – there is absolutely no possible way you can accommodate everyone’s schedule and avoid hockey tournaments and dance recitals and the plethora of other obligations people have. So – no worries!  If kids can’t come to the Thursday after school meetings, they are always welcome to just attend the celebration event! And if they can’t attend the community celebration, they are still welcomed wholeheartedly to the after school meetings. And if November doesn’t work out – come join us when your schedule frees up in the spring!  I really try to make it as socially and emotionally easy to join us as possible – whenever they can.

Okay – so once you’ve decided the meeting days and when your community book club celebrations will be – figure out a place to meet.  We meet in my classroom after school because I know that location will be available and I am not inconveniencing anyone else. And we meet in the school library for those Saturday celebrations. I had considered meeting at the local public library, but opted for the school library for a couple reasons – one, I am familiar with that space and have access to it so I can set up the night before. Perhaps you are noticing a theme here – make it as easy as possible for YOU. Also, I want the school and our library to be a literacy hub for the community.  And I wanted access to the technology in that space – Promethean Board and Chromebooks. And the public library didn’t have those options and the students and I were comfortable with our school’s space and technology.

Alright, so your prep phase should include the Who, When, and Where. Who – figuring out who will help you and who you will reach out to to let them know the amazingness that is coming. When you will meet with students and when you and those students will host the community book club celebration. And where -the location of these meetings.

How do you decide which books to read?

Picking awesome and interesting books are what’s really going to get people excited.  And I recommend letting kids have some ownership of that process. Kelly and I decided to pick the first book ourselves so we could do some work ahead of time to get copies and then have the kids vote on the other middle grade ProjectLIT choices.  You might decide to have the students pick from a list you provide or have them pick every other month so there is some variety but also honors student choice. We launched our book club with Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. For us, this seemed like a good start for a few reasons. It was one of the books with an easier reading level and being in New York, our families have many personal stories about 9/11 that this book club would give them an opportunity to share. So I’d recommend picking a really high interest book to start that will get a lot of support in your community.

During our first after school meeting, I had the students do a book tasting of 15 ProjectLIT books that I thought would be a good fit for our 4th and 5th graders – Ghost Boys, The Wild Robot, Amal Unbound, Wonder, The Crossover, Rebound, Booked, Ghost, Patina, Sunny, The Parker Inheritance, The First Rule of Punk, Wishtree, and Refugee.  Perhaps you could give some choices that align with your goals and that ensure a variety of perspectives.  So – I had scrounged up multiple copies of each book and printed out evaluation forms. (Those are available to download right in the show notes!) Kids sat in groups of about 4 and examined and previewed about 3 books at a time.  Just like any other book tasting, I encouraged them to look at the cover, read the teaser material on the back cover or inside flaps, and read the first page. And I framed this for them as – don’t JUST think about what YOU like. Think about what books you like and what titles you think would be important and interesting for our community to discuss.  So – then they voted on their top choices. I had intended this to be done on a Google Form (which I will share with you) but our internet went down so we went old school and they wrote down their lists and we tallied them up. The seven books that got the most votes were The Wild Robot, Wonder, Amal Unbound, Ghost, Sunny, Wishtree, and The First Rule of Punk. And… I’m not gonna lie. I was a tad heartbroken that a certain book I really, really wanted to read with them didn’t quite make the cut. BUT – I had committed to honoring their choices. Also – Sunny was chosen but NOT book 2 of that series (Patina), so I just decided to go with it since each book can really stand on their own.

After that, I matched each book to a month – putting the two Jason Reynolds books (Ghost then Sunny after each other later in the year since their reading levels were more challenging) and timing Wishtree so our celebration would fall close to May 1st since that date plays a big part in the novel. So, as you schedule the books, think about what seasonal connections you might make and consider putting those more challenging books later on in the year. Also – some books will be available in softcover later in the year, so you might want to schedule those then to reduce costs.  Speaking of costs….

How do you get copies of the books?

This is the big challenge. Ideally, you want to gather enough copies for each student who wants to participate AND some extras for those in the community to borrow as well. (But that’s not always possible.) So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask students to purchase the books themselves if they are able (I have this listed on our permission slip for each month’s club and having families that are willing and able to purchase books for their child helps free up funds to get books for other kids)
  2. Ask the PTO/PTA for funding – our PTO actually approached ME to attend a meeting and share the goals of the club.  Not only did I get more families interested in joining by talking to their folks, they gave us $250 for books! So definitely seek out your PTO!
  3. Take advantage of Scholastic points and perhaps ask teachers in your building to donate some copies. Not all of our books were available through Scholastic, but we had several members of the staff donate copies of Towers Falling because it was only $4!
  4. Try doing a Donors Choose project!
  5. Apply for grants! Right now, Kelly and I have a grant submitted that would totally cover the cost of the remaining books – so cross your fingers for us!
  6. Ask local businesses and organizations for support! Our local Lions Club is really receptive to opportunities to support the schools. And those local businesses and organizations might be EVEN MORE into it when you invite them to read the books with you and come to the book celebrations. I also make sure to thank all our donors by name during the meeting and you can also have a few “Sponsored by” flyers around as well.
  7. Collaborate with your school library and the local public library. They can often gather copies for you that kids and the community can check out.  The library right down the street from our school has a special display for our book club with our monthly flyer and the books stacked right underneath it available to check out.
  8. Start an Amazon Wishlist and share that link EVERYWHERE – in your email signature – in a newsletter – on social media… Ask friends to share it with their friends and family who might be looking for an opportunity to support a great cause.

How do you get students and the community to join your book club?

Alright – now that you’ve built something amazing and have everything organized and have a plan to get those books – you need to build that excitement so kids will come and continue coming!  And the community will read the books with you and come to the celebrations. Let’s start with the kids:

  • I think the single most effective thing we did was at the beginning of the year, Kelly and I went into all the 4th and 5th grade classrooms with a stack of the book options and gave a quick book talk of each one and passed them around for the kids to look at. And then we passed out the permission forms.  After that, I make a quick visit at the beginning of each month to do a quick chat about the upcoming book and pass out those permission slips so you know who is coming and if they need a copy of the book. (And an editable copy of that slip is right in the show notes for you to download.)
  • Wherever your school promotes events – on the morning announcements, in a newsletter, on a school calendar… get the club mentioned!  About once a week, I make an announcement reminding the kids to come to our weekly meeting AND reminding folks to come to the upcoming Saturday celebration. Our school also has a weekly news show – The Minoa Morning Messages – and some of our members made an appearance to promote the club and announce the next book.
  • Be visible! Last year I spent a lot more time in my classroom whenever I could but this year I am making more of an effort to hang out by the buses at dismissal and say hello to kids not in my class during lunch. I have been surprised by how many kids approach me during those casual times and ask about the book club or see me and suddenly remember their permission slip! If out of sight means out of mind, then you‘ve got to literally be in their sights. And each of those encounters builds interest and awareness among the other kids (and staff) who observe those conversations!

So – how about getting the staff and community to come to your celebrations?  That can be a bit trickier, but I do have some ideas for you:

  • Have the students invite them!  Each month, students help design an invitation and I print off a bunch of copies. Then we get some envelopes and personally invite every single member of the staff – not just classroom teachers, but secretaries, TAs, custodial staff, lunch monitors, the superintendent – everyone!  One student even Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.57.50 PM.pngsnagged the mail carrier on his way in and handed him an invitation! I also give students multiple copies of the invitation – and the digital version for them to invite family members. We also branch out and invite folks at the town hall, the mayor, the fire chief. And based on their suggestions, I drive around and post flyers in areas they think would be a good idea – like the post office or the fire department or the local pizza shop.
  • Another way to get the staff involved is to email them and ask them to read the book and come to the celebration. And last month, we had some extra copies of Towers Falling, so some of the kids just walked around after school and asked the staff if they wanted to borrow the book and talked up how good it was. And of course, included an invitation tucked into the front cover.
  • Harness the power of social media! Our club has both a Twitter account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and an Instagram account (@ProjectLITMinoa) and are both nice places to showcase what the students are doing and share those awesome pictures of your events. And if you are on the social media platforms that parents and kids already use, it makes it easier for them to tag you and start to build awareness among the community. Have a social media presence also makes your club Google-able. You could also make a website, but that’s definitely an in-the-future step for us.
  • Make a display and put it in a high traffic area in your school! Last month, I finally realized I needed to make a display of some kind because people kept asking when the next book club was and what books we were reading next. So having one place they can look is really helpful both to be informative and to also serve as an advertisement!DsJMe6UVsAAH56p.jpg

How do you run the student book club meetings?

One thing that I did on a whim was to start our very first meeting with a quick get-to-know-you activity. I definitely didn’t know all the students and I’m certain they didn’t know each others’ names, so we did a quick round of “When the Cold Wind Blows”. Basically each kid takes a turn standing in the center of the circle and says their name and something about themselves. Like, “My name is Corrina and I like Harry Potter!” And if that applies to you, you stand up and move like the wind to another seat.  That went over so well, that each month, when we have a new mix of students, we start with a new ice breaker. During that first meeting, I pass out the reading schedule (and yup – that’s right online for you!), and we start reading together! Sometimes we listen to the audio book and sometimes Kelly and I take turns reading it out loud. For the meetings after that first one, we take the first 10-15 minutes to discuss the reading we did last week – talking about any confusing parts, big ideas, connections, questions, favorite parts, or favorite quotes… and then I read aloud or we listen to the audio book for the next 20 or so minutes. And the last 20-30 minutes is planning time. This is when the kids take care of invitations, come up with discussion questions, trivia questions, brainstorm new ideas together – and basically take care of all the things that come up when planning an event. After that, we pack up and I escort the crew down to the main hall to be picked up and take that opportunity to connect with parents and answer any questions. So basically, our after school book club meetings are discussion, read together, plan together.

How do you host a great community book club celebration?

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to work out at ALL. The Saturday morning of our first event, two things happened that did not bode well.  First, despite the fact that I had requested the room through the proper channels and filled out all the school-required paperwork, the library was locked and NO ONE with the key was available. Okay – so we just relocated to my room, and I scrambled to get the space organized. Second – several of the kids and staff had volunteered to come in early at 9:30 to help me set up and it was 9:50 and NO ONE was there but ME. And I thought – well…. I’ll just hang out here and grade papers and eat the cider and muffins I brought myself. But – then…. EVERYONE showed up!! And our final count was over 40 people and it was an amazing event!  So – here is the schedule we followed.

  • First – ask for some volunteers to bring in drinks and snacks. We had cocoa (a BIG hit!), cider, donuts, and muffins. Kelly and I brought in some and parents had volunteered to supply snacks and drinks, too.
  • When people arrived from 10:00 – 10:20, there was a sign-in sheet, and we had an Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.01.28 AM.pngactivity set up at each table for them to complete when they came in. For Towers Falling, we supplied big pieces of paper and markers, and had people create their own Social Units diagram. For our next read, The Wild Robot, we’re planning on a build-your-own-robot craft. I think having something fun to do for the first 15 minutes as people arrive is a good idea since families want to get a snack and everyone wants to chat anyway.
  • From 10:20-10:30 I welcome everyone, give a brief introduction – go through the agenda, explain what ProjectLIT book clubs are all about, show pictures of the book club in action that I’ve been taking throughout the past month, and give thanks to the organizations and donors and volunteers that have helped us out. It’s a quick power point, and I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes if you want to use it for your events.  Also, as each person arrives, we hand them a half-sheet copy of the agenda with an exit survey stapled to the back to we can get some feedback.Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.33 AMScreen Shot 2018-11-26 at 12.00.26 AM
  • From 10:30-10:50 is Group Discussion time!  Students pass out a discussion guide with six questions they’ve developed.  And each group takes about twenty minutes to chat about the book! These could be general questions like, what character could you relate to the most or what scene stood out to you? Or they might be specific to the novel, like “Why do you think Dejá’s father didn’t want her to learn about 9/11?”  For this particular book, we also asked the adults in each group to share where they were on 9/11 and what were their experiences and feelings on that day.Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 11.59.19 PM.png
  • From 10:50-11:15 is trivia! I created an online quiz based on the trivia questions that the kids made using the website Kahoot – which was lots of fun!  You do need access to a device though, so traditional trivia is fine, too!  We had everyone break up into teams of no more than 6 and then the top team each won a prize of a full-sized Hershey’s Bar, the second place team each got a Hershey’s mini, and the 3rd place team each got a Hershey’s kiss. That trivia game and those little prizes were such a HUGE hit – and the competition was quite fierce!  I’ll drop a link to that Kahoot if you want to check it out.
  • From 11:15 – 11:20 – We drew prizes!  We were lucky enough to have some community members and parents donate books and a few small gift cards to Barnes & Noble and a local yogurt shop. So at the beginning of the meeting, we had a student in charge of passing out tickets and then we just drew names at the end of the meeting.
  • From 11:20 – 11:30 is cleanup!

A few things I would change – we forgot to explicitly ask people to fill out the surveys and return them to us. Oops! And I forgot to take a big group picture! Next time, I’d also make sure that at least one of the book club kids were seated at each group. We also didn’t get DrHDC6pU4AA_-9kas many community members who weren’t directly connected to the school as I had hoped. So, we are going to keep reaching out! And our next steps are to do more community service events like book drives and to find ways for the students to be literacy advocates in other ways in our community.

So, overall – it was REALLY successful and a TON of fun! Our new principal came – even though he hadn’t technically started until the following week! We had almost all the book club kids come with at least one family member – including bringing older siblings who were former students which was wonderful!  About six staff members came, including one with her new baby.

I was truly overcome with the passion and excitement and generosity that our community showed. And really – all I did was provide an outlet and an opportunity for kids and the community to express their passion for reading and literacy.

I know, if you decide to start a community book club in your school, you won’t regret it!   And if you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to chat more with you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or reach out on Twitter or Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. And if you have some suggestions or tips about how to run a successful community book club – I’d love to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other!

Maggie & Harper from Books and a Blanket – Interview Outlinebooks_and_a_blanket_1_blog.jpg

Our special guests this week are sisters Maggie & Harper – founders of Books and a Blanket!  We talk about the origins of their project, their favorite books, and how you can help them promote literacy and well-being among young children in need.

Take a listen…

Books & a Blanket

What is Books and a Blanket and how did it get started?

How has Books and a Blanket changed from when you first came up with the idea?

How do you get all the books and blankets? And do you accept both used and new?

What are your plans for the future of Books and a Blanket?

How do you decide who gets them?

If our listeners wanted to get involved and help you out, what could they do?

Your Reading Life

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

We have a lot of teachers and librarians listening. What is something you want them to know?

What is something you wish teachers did MORE of?

What is something you wish teachers did LESS of?

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Links:

Books & a Blanket website – https://booksandablanket.com

Books & a Blanket on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

 

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein)

The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

The Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

The Hunt for Red October (Tom Clancy)

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Trenton Lee Stewart)

The Candymakers (Wendy Mass)

Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

The Land of Stories (Chris Colfer)

Rick Riordan

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Closing

Okay, that wraps up our show this week!  I hope you’ll head over to BooksandaBlanket.com to help support a great cause.

And remember to check out #HappyPottermas throughout December for some magical fun.

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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

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

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

 

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3 New Paranormal Releases & A Conversation w/ Pablo Cartaya: Books Between, Episode 61

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hello everyone! Welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!

I believe in the power of stories to change our mood – make us laugh, cry, or… creep us out in the best possible way!  My goal is to help you connect kids with those fabulous books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and spending a few hours each week phone banking!   

This is episode #61 and today I’m booktalking three recent paranormal reads that will get you and your kids in the perfect fall mood, and sharing a conversation with Pablo Cartaya about his latest novel, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish!

Before we jump into things, a few updates:

The Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick for October is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is the November pick. And – I just got sneak peek at the first four MG at Heart picks for 2019 and they’re fantastic. In fact, one of the authors, was recently featured on the show.

Also remember to check out #MGBooktober to check out all the great discussions around middle grade and connect with other educators, librarians, authors, and fans.

And remember that Monday nights at 9pm EST is the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  We always have a great time a leave with tons of suggestions for the kids in our lives. And…of course, ourselves!

Book Talk – 3 New Paranormal Releases

This week I am sharing with you three new paranormal releases that are perfect for the fall – or anytime, really! They are Edison Beaker Creature Seeker by Frank Cammuso, Sheets by Brenna Thummler, and Small Spaces by Katherine Arden.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker

Let’s start with Edison Beaker Creature Seeker. This full-color graphic novel is the first in a new series by Frank Cammuso – author of The Knights of the Lunch Table series and 9780425291924the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series.  This book is about a young boy named Edison who has always been afraid of the dark. When his mom has to go out of town, Edison and his little sister, Tesla, go to stay with their Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl is an exterminator and he reluctantly takes the kids on a late-night “emergency” job where they end up going through a door to a shadowy other-worldly place where Edison has to confront his fears and lots of bizarre creatures!  Here are three things to love about Edison Beaker Creature Seeker:

  1. Tesla’s hamster, Scuttlebutt! He is so stinking cute!! And gets into so much trouble – or rather, gets everyone else into trouble when he rolls away in his ball into the darkest, most dangerous corners.
  2. How FUNNY this book is!  I was at the park with my daughters when I finished it last week, and I just could NOT help laughing out loud – even though I knew I was getting weird looks. The word play, especially, is so much fun. Already the names Edison and Tesla are awesome – but another example, the portal to the other realm is through the Night Door which is found in an old building called the Wherehouse. And so the creatures call their underworld – the UnderWhere. And as you can imagine – the conversations around that are THE BEST.
  3. This intriguing little creature called Knox who is this fierce, cute little purple scavenger with a blue mohawk. I. LOVE. HER. She’s complicated and tough and vulnerable – and clearly has a much bigger part to play in future books.

Edison Beaker Creature Seeker is a fantastic graphic novel that you will definitely want to add to your collection. It’s sort of like a mix between HiLo and Amulet. So if you have kids who loved those two series, this is one to introduce them to next.

9780425291931-4

Sheets

Next up this week is another graphic novel – Sheets by Brenna Thummler. This story is about 13 year-old Marjorie who is responsible for running her family’s laundromat. She 51rVAwnO8xL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_has a lot going on – dealing with her father’s depression, taking care of her little brother, middle school drama – and the horrid Mr. Saubertuck who is trying to close down the family business. And then, in floats Wendell – a ghost (sheet and all) who accidentally ends up in Marjorie’s laundromat and creates his own complications.  Here are three things to love about Sheets:

  1. The ghosts! Even though they all wear a sheet, they each have their own personalities – some wearing hats, or glasses.
  2. The parts about the laundromat business. I love stories that get you behind the scenes of how things run.
  3. Brenna Thummler’s illustrations!  Such a gorgeous color palette in shades of blue, pink, and green. I love her backgrounds – the buildings, all the little details of the interiors, and especially her trees!  I noticed this in her illustrations for Anne of Green Gables, too – Brenna’s trees and leaves are stunning.

Sheets is a great suggestion for kids who might be looking for a realistic fiction graphic novel with a twist of paranormal that it’s too scary.

sheets04

Small Spaces

And finally – a new middle grade novel you NEED to get your hands on – Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s about a young girl named Ollie whose mother died under tragic91StTYa-U4L circumstances last year, and understandably – Ollie is withdrawn and raw.  She ends up with this creepy book that tells the legend of two local brothers who come under the influence of The Smiling Man – with horrific results. When Ollie takes a field trip to a nearby farm, she and her friends Coco and Brian end up in an other-wordly fight to survive the lure of those mysterious forces. I love what Betsy Bird said about this book: “Are you afraid of scarecrows? No? Well, bad news bucko. You’re about to be.” And oh is she right!!  Here are three things to love about Small Spaces:

  1. It’s so immersive and atmospheric!  I loved Arden’s lush descriptions of a gorgeous sunny autumn in Vermont that slowly turns dark and foreboding – scarlet sugar maples, the silvery gleam of the distant creek, and then fog descending over a broken-down bus.
  2. It is straight up terrifying! And the pacing is perfect – taking the tension up a notch bit by bit.  Small things, then bigger and bigger. A thrown rock. A frightened woman at the watering hole. A mysterious book from 1895. The weird, bad story about the schoolhouse fire. And that’s only the first quarter of the book!!  
  3. That twist at the END!!! Ahhh! It is SUCH a pleasure when a book truly surprises you!

If you have kids who like scary – kids who liked Stranger Things. Kids who liked The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street. This is the book to hand them next.

Pablo Cartaya – Interview Outline

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Our special guest this week is Pablo Cartaya – author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and his most recent middle grade novel – Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. We talk about the people of Puerto Rico and their strength, we discuss why he included a character with Down’s Syndrome and the efforts he made to get that portrayal right, and we also chat about the proper storage of peanut butter – among lots of other things. And don’t forget that when you are done reading the book and you want to hear Pablo and I discuss the ending of Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, just wait until the end of the show after the credits and that bonus section will be waiting for you.

Take a listen…

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish is your second middle grade and has been getting all kinds of great buzz online!

For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I felt like I was traveling through Puerto Rico right along with Marcus!

Can you talk a little bit about your research?pablo-cartaya

There is a fair amount of the novel that is in Spanish (a language I don’t speak) and yet somehow I never felt lost in the story.

What was your process like for deciding how much Spanish to include and where it would go?

In the novel, Marcus’ younger brother, Charlie, has Down Syndrome.  What made you decide to include a character with Down Syndrome and how did you make sure to get that representation as authentic as possible?

In your acknowledgments,  you thank your father for teaching you how to cook. What are some of your favorite things to make?

Where do YOU store your peanut butter?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Pablo and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 59:50 mark.

Your Writing Life

I noticed that your first book was a picture book!

What lead you down the path of writing middle grade?

Do you think you’d ever write another picture book?

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special person who helped launch your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Links:

Pablo’s website – http://www.pablocartaya.com

Pablo on Twitter and Instagram

Information about Kokila Imprint

 

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne)

Roald Dahl

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

Sounder (William H. Armstrong)

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (Angela Dominguez)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Angela Cervantes)

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

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.

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

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

 

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Kate DiCamillo (Louisiana’s Way Home): Books Between, Episode 60

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books! I believe in the power of stories to lift us up and help us discover who we really are.  My goal is to help you connect kids with those incredible books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two preteen girls, a 5th grade teacher in Central New York, and really, really glad that September is over.  I always feel like, for educators, September is a little bit like childbirth and having a newborn. Somehow you forget the utter exhaustion and work and lack of sleep every time. And instead you focus on the fresh start! Getting the room set up! Getting to know new personalities and a chance to get right THIS time what you you struggled with last time. And you forget that it took you MONTHS to get them into a decent schedule. And that the first weeks are just…. triage.   So… in solidarity with all the exhausted and overworked teachers and parents out there – I see you. I feel you. I AM you.

And after 15+ years of teaching, I did two things this September that helped my stress level a bit.

  1. I went to bed. And if you know me at ALL – you know how hard this is for me. I am a night owl. I am most inspired between 9pm and 1am. But when I have to get up for work at 5:15 – it was killing me.  Probably literally.
  2. I cut myself some slack. I DID NOT have my classroom “picture ready” on the first day of school. For the last few years, I have decorated my door with all the books I’ve read over the summer with favorite quotes. Nope – not this year. I just couldn’t pull it off. And that was…. honestly disappointing, but I think we need to give ourselves some grace with that stuff. I think we internalize all those Pinterest/Instagram ideas of what an “ideal” teacher and classroom should be and we give ourselves crap when we fall short of that imagined perfection. When in reality – NO one has it all together. Not the “education thought leader” with hundreds of thousands of followers, not the educator with the inspiring YouTube videos, not the teacher with that amazing new book out – NONE of them are living up to what we’re all “supposed to” be doing. Something is falling through the cracks. And I find the ones who admit that are really the ones worth listening to.

So, it is now October. I’m more rested and sooo ready to dive back into things – including bringing you some fantastic interviews this fall!

This is episode #60 and today I’m sharing a conversation I had this past summer with Kate DiCamillo about her latest novel, coming out tomorrow – Louisiana’s Way Home!

Before we dive into that, I want to give you a few updates.

The Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick for October is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is the November pick.

Also – #MGBooktober is BACK!!  The MGBookVillage is hosting a month of awesome middle grade related book prompts. We hope that you and your students will join in the fun. Just use #MGBooktober to post your responses and to find everyone else’s pics.

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And finally – remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  This month some of the topics are: Teachers as Readers, Middle Grade Spooktacular (Why Scary Stories Matter), Building Vocabulary with Middle Grade Books, and Taboo Roll Call: Does anything go in Middle Grade now?  Those all sound amazing – so see you Monday nights!

Kate DiCamillo – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Kate DiCamillo – author of Because of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux, among so many other incredible books. I KD_2014_RGB_72got the opportunity to chat with her this summer about Louisiana’s Way Home– the follow-up to her 2016 novel, Raymie Nightingale. We talk about why she decided to write a sequel, Pinocchio, bologna sandwiches, and of course her latest novel – Louisiana’s Way Home.  

 

Take a listen…

Louisiana’s Way Home

Your latest novel, Louisiana’s Way Home, is coming out this October. I had the opportunity to read an ARC and simply fell in love this story. It has so much depth and so much clarity all at the same time.  For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

This is the first time you’ve revisited the world of a previous novel.  What was your journey to decide that you wanted to go further into Louisiana’s story?

Early on in the book, Louisiana observes that “There are the rescuers in this world and there are the rescued.”  Which one are you?

My daughter would like to know – do you like bologna sandwiches?

You are known for your vibrant character names but in this book – you have three characters with the same name!

bk_louisiana_198pxThroughout the novel there is this small thread about the book Pinocchio and how most people don’t remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of the story! It made me think that perhaps adults don’t remember how dark the stories they grew up with actually were…

You’ve mentioned before that when you are writing, the trajectory of the story or the characters will often surprise you.  Were there any unexpected parts of Louisiana’s Way Home?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Kate and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 36:18 mark.

Your Writing Life

Was it challenging to write a novel that would be satisfying for readers of Raymie Nightingale but that would also stand on its own?

If you can talk about it….. what are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?  And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Links:

Kate’s website – https://www.katedicamillo.com/

Kate on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateDiCamillo

 

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Pinnochio (Carlo Collodi)

The Juniper Tree, and Other Tales from Grimm (Illustrated by Maurice Sendak)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

The 21 Balloons (William Pene du Bois)

A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)

Stuart Little (E.B. White)

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)

Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

Polly & Buster (Sally Rippin)

The Borrowers (Mary Norton)

Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

The Search for Delicious (Natalie Babbitt)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground (Rita Williams Garcia)

 

Closing

Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

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

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

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

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!

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.

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

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

 

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