Why I Write Upper Middle Grade

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Flash back four years ago. My daughter was ten, an avid reader and seeking her next book. She wanted something different. She and I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but what she wanted was an “issue book”—a book that deals with a real world issue that she could discuss with her friends and, if I was lucky, she might discuss with me.

As a full-time lawyer who was already transitioning between careers to become a writer, I thought it would be easy to find what she was looking for. Wow, was I wrong!

The kinds of social justice books she wanted, whether historical or contemporary, were few and far between. It was easy to find what she was seeking over in the YA section, but as a parent, I didn’t think she was quite ready for some of the content. I didn’t want her love of reading to fizzle because of a lack of books, so I ended up previewing the YA books before handing them over to her. Now, to be honest, I love children’s literature, so this wasn’t really a trying task for me. But most parents don’t have the time or desire to pre-read all the books their kids read, and they shouldn’t have to.

Fast-forward a few years when my agent called, asking if I would consider writing for the upper middle-grade market. My first reaction: What upper middle-grade market? Did I really want to put my heart into a book when no publisher would want it?

But my agent followed-up with an explanation: Sonali Fry, the publisher of a new middle-grade imprint, Yellow Jacket, wanted to make a concerted effort to focus on that upper middle-grade category (ages 10-14; grades 4-9). Lucky for me, Sonali was also extremely interested in learning more about an unexplored topic in middle-grade books—polygamous communities.

Yes, I can hear your laughter. Polygamy and middle-grade? Believe me, I laughed, too, when I thought HOW on earth can I write about this topic for the middle-grade audience, even a so-called “upper middle-grade audience?”

And then, I thought about it a little longer. My background is in Religious Studies, so I already had the knowledge base to write the book (though I did update my research). More importantly, I started to ask myself questions. How would I think if I was born into one of these communities, and it was the only life I’d known? How would I feel about the rules being imposed on me as a girl and on my sisters and my mothers? How would I perceive the privileges and expectations placed on my father and brothers? And finally, would this be a book my daughter would want to read?

I soon realized I wasn’t really writing a book about polygamy; the community was only the setting. Instead, THE PROPHET CALLS explores female empowerment, the importance of family and questions of faith. In other words, it’s exactly the type of book my daughter had wanted.

As of late, my publisher is not the only one that has realized this previously unmet need for older middle-grade books. I’ve been so fortunate to debut with other authors who are also wrestling with important themes for this category of readers.

For example, PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD by Henry Lien is a futuristic fantasy that explores the politics of culture and identity. EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen is a contemporary realistic story that examines a friendship between a girl who occasionally has to take on the role of parent and another who struggles with shoplifting. LEGENDS OF THE LOST CAUSES by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester is a western fantasy that delves into feelings of vengeance versus justice in the wake of the death of a loved one. And these are only a few of the fantastic books publishers have designated for ages 10-14 in 2018!

Four years ago, I could only hope to find books specifically written for my upper middle-grade reader on the shelves. I’m so happy these books now exist and, if you ask for recommendations, I’ll excitedly point out the numerous titles that are as diverse and wonderful as their authors. From what I’m hearing, educators and booksellers and parents have welcomed this overdue addition. And most important (to me at least), my daughter thinks it’s pretty cool, too.

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Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. THE PROPHET CALLS is her debut novel.

The Importance of Reading Aloud to Kids: or, Do Kids Grow Out of Read-Aloud Time?

The Colors of the Rain

When my oldest son turned ten, he told me he now wanted his privacy during bath time.

This, of course, is a normal part of growing up; children like the presence of their parents, the stability they can offer in the moments of a day when they are young—and then one day they no longer need us. But I was not quite ready.

For the last seven years I had sat in the bathroom while he bathed and I read a book aloud, just him and me. We read fun books together—The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, The Westing Game. We read serious books: Chicken Boy, Home of the Brave, Brown Girl Dreaming. We read biographies—George Lucas, Abraham Lincoln, Maya Angelou. We read novels in verse, graphic novels, short novels, long novels, all the ones in between. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we wondered, we connected.

We connected. This is what reading aloud to kids—no matter how old they are—does: it connects us.

This bathing time was not the only time my son and I read together, so though it was a difficult time to surrender (because a mother has difficulty surrendering at every stage), it was also not so difficult. In my home, I read stories to my sons in the morning, during their lunch (I have only one who is not in school now, so this has become a precious time with him), and before they go to bed. We read picture books, joke books, magazines, newspapers, poetry. Lots of poetry. Sometimes we read around our dinner table (it helps kids stay put at the table). We are always working on a chapter book I read aloud to the entire family—sometimes two if it’s summertime. (Current reads are the latest Incorrigible Children book and Chicken Boy, again.)

One of the earliest pictures my husband took of my first son and me is one where I am stretched out on the floor, reading to him from a collection of Shel Silverstein poetry. This is not intended to be a self-congratulatory admission; it is only to say that the structure of read-aloud time is built one day at a time. We all start somewhere; for me that starting place was on the floor, with my infant, reading poetry I could almost recite by heart, so loved is it.

Reading aloud to children has multiple benefits. For very young children, it familiarizes them with the pattern of language and encourages speech. For children who are emerging readers, reading aloud introduces them to the random letters that turn into words that pave the way for reading proficiency. As children get older, reading aloud to them builds their vocabulary and their interest in stories—which leads to a lifelong love.

But the most important value that reading loud offers is its connection.

When my twins were newly born, they spent twenty excruciating days in the neonatal intensive care unit. They were perfectly healthy with a good set of lungs; it was hospital procedure, however, to keep premature babies in NICU to ensure they knew how to eat and would flourish in the first weeks of life. During that time, when I was allowed only pockets of visitation, I brought bags of books and read them to my babies, silently urging them to eat so that I could bring them home.

We connected, in those first weeks of their lives, through touch, through nourishment, through stories.

Yes, some might be thinking—but they were babies. What happens when your children are older—ten, say, or fourteen, or eighteen?

My answer is always the same: Kids don’t grow out of read-aloud time.

There are days in my life that fly by with hardly a notice. I am not alone in this; our lives roll on at a staggering pace. Carving out reading aloud time allows families—parents and children—to press pause, to take a breath, to connect again. And those threads of connection weave all throughout our lives. They are everlasting threads.

My oldest son is now eleven. He is about to embark on a new journey, heading into middle school, navigating puberty, experimenting with who he wants to be. He needs connection now more than ever.

The other night, after an explosive argument on all sides (strong wills are abundant in my home), my son let himself into my bedroom, plopped down on my bed beside me, and said, “Mama will you read to me? I just need someone to read to me.”

And what could I do but say yes?

Rachel Toalson

 

Rachel Toalson is an author, essayist, and poet who regularly contributes to adult and children’s print and online publications around the world. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six boys. The Colors of the Rain is her first traditionally published novel. You can visit her online at www.rltoalson.com.

Why Boys Should Read Books About Girls

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Often, I have walked into a bookstore and heard someone tell a bookseller how so-and-so won’t read “that” book because there’s a girl on the cover. Or how their son or grandson won’t read “that” book because the main character is a girl. It takes all of my willpower to keep from intervening to remind them (as an author, as a parent, as a book-buyer) that there’s no such thing as “boy books” or “girl books.”

We need to stop doing this. When we assume boys don’t want to read books about girls, we are continuing the narrative that girls and their experiences are somehow “less than.” We are furthering the idea that boys don’t want to read about girls because there’s little or no value in what girls do or that their experiences are not interesting to boys. And frankly, we are underestimating boys in assuming they only want to read about “boy things.”

Before we get too far, yes, I do believe the flipside of this as well: girls should read books with boys on the covers and books about boys. But girls already are. We always have been. I cannot think of one book I read in middle school or high school that featured a strong female heroine. There’s not the same stigma attached to a girl grabbing a book with a boy on the front cover as there is with a boy reading a book about a girl. There was a recent twitter chat about this very subject and the resounding conclusion from educators and authors was that adults are perpetuating this stereotype, not kids.

We all know that one of the greatest gifts of reading is that books create empathy by placing the reader in the shoes of the main character. My debut book, THE PROPHET CALLS, tells the story of Gentry, a girl who has grown up in a patriarchal society. She faces discrimination on a daily basis simply because she was born a girl.

In this era of trying to finally, finally move past toxic masculinity and mansplaining, shouldn’t we help our boys to understand how misogynist attitudes make our girls feel? When ideas about sex and gender are forming in those middle school years, what better place than a book to create safe spaces to explore these confusing concepts with our kids?

When it comes down to it, children like stories. Period. If you listen carefully, they will tell you what they want: adventure, drama, fantasy, suspense and so on. I have never once heard a child request a book about a boy or a girl.

In this global society, empathy building is as important a skill as ever. But when we’re too busy placing boys and girls in old-fashioned boxes, we are only furthering the inequity that already exists. It’s up to all of us. We cannot expect our kids to be empathetic if we don’t ever give them a chance.

So the next time a child is looking for a good read, peel away your assumptions about what you think they want, and listen. Really listen. You just might be surprised.

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Melanie Sumrow received her undergraduate degree in Religious Studies and has maintained a long-term interest in studying world religions. Before becoming a writer, Melanie worked as a lawyer for more than 16 years, with many of her cases involving children and teens. THE PROPHET CALLS is her debut novel.

 

 

Discovering the Power of Funny Books

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Three years ago, I set out to save our school library. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to discover the power of funny books.

Not that the immediate situation was funny at all. Due to major cuts in school library funding, our town’s only primary school had lost its librarian long ago. By 2015, the library itself was on its last legs. “We called it the book dumping ground,” someone later told me. Random collections of old books were piled higgledy-piggledy, upside-down and backward, with pages torn and spines bent backward. It was impossible to find what you wanted, or to keep track of which books were where.

Every time I walked into that library, my heart hurt. I’d been lucky enough to grow up with great school libraries. They opened up the world for me. I wanted my daughter and her friends to have that. I wanted every kid to have that.

So I stepped up and volunteered to take charge of the library.

At first, I was asked only to straighten things up. But my dreams were much bigger than that. I wanted new books and new shelves, a computer system to check books out, and library training for all the children.

Step by step, with many people helping and raising funds, we got there. But it took an incredible effort, and I was giving my time for free. For a couple of years, the library needed anywhere from four to 20 hours a week from me—time that I had to take from my writing.

To save the library, I’m having to kill off my own books, I thought, And that didn’t seem funny at all.

Yet I was learning a lot from my library work. I was having conversations with dozens of children about the books they loved. I was watching them share their favorite books with each other. I was helping book-shy kids get hooked on series. And because I was in charge of buying new books with the PTA’s hard-earned funds, I was reading more widely than ever before.

I was also getting a new appreciation for the power of humor. Adults sometimes look down on funny books, especially for kids. Everyone knows that serious books are more likely to win prizes. But in our library, it was the funny books that went out again and again. Top borrowers, reluctant readers, the kids in the middle: they all wanted books that made them laugh. They would rush up to tell me about them, and they would get their friends to read them, too. If a new book in a funny series came in, I’d see absolute joy in their faces.

My experiences in the school library went deep. My own writing had always tilted toward the serious, with plenty of suspense and fear and darkness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d reached a point in my life where I was searching for the light. Slowly, slowly, my time in the library began to change me as a writer.

Inspiration works in strange and not always obvious ways. I didn’t see it coming, but my very next work-in-progress turned out to be a funny book for young readers. Set in Ancient Egypt, RA THE MIGHTY features an unusual detective duo: Pharaoh’s pampered cat and his scarab beetle sidekick, who must solve a crime that’s baffled Pharaoh’s court.

I loved writing about this odd couple, it makes me happy to know that they’ve made my editor and illustrator laugh, and reviewers as well. Best of all, I now get letters telling me that RA THE MIGHTY makes children laugh, too.

And our school library? Thankfully, it’s on its feet now. And this year there will be a copy of RA THE MIGHTY for everyone to borrow, with my profound thanks.

. . .

20180921_151828 (2).jpgA. B. Greenfield grew up in New York State, where she once had four kittens living in her closet. After studying history at Oxford, she became an award-winning writer, and she now lives with her family in England. Her latest book, Ra the Mighty, has been praised as “perfect for young gumshoes” by Booklist and “a charming page-turner of a mystery” by School Library Journal. For an excerpt, educator’s guide, and more, visit her at http://www.amybutlergreenfield.com.

Collaboration Celebration: The Lowdown on Co-Writing & a Big-Time Giveaway — co-written by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Our co-written middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, came out six months ago, and since its release, we’ve gotten lots of questions about why and how we wrote together. We wondered how other writing duos would answer these questions and how their co-writing processes are similar to and different from our own. So we connected with four other co-author pairs who had some fascinating things to say. Read on to find out all the wisdom they shared for writers wanting to collaborate and teachers assigning co-writing projects. And don’t miss the details at the end about a special eight-book giveaway!

INSPIRATION

The most common question any writer gets is, “Where do you get your ideas?” That question becomes more complicated for co-written books because there’s the added question of who got the idea.

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Some co-authors hit upon their idea together when they find a shared interest. That’s what happened for Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, authors of the Legends of the Lost Causes series. Brad and Louis were in grad school together and discovered a shared passion for the Western genre. They became excited about the idea of writing a Wild West adventure for kidsthe kind of series they would have wanted to read when they were growing up.

Other times, one person has the initial inspiration and approaches the other. That’s how it worked for us with Every Shiny Thing; we were friends and critique partners, and Cordelia wanted to write a story about a girl who has always taken care of her mom and falls into similar caretaking patterns with a new friend. She thought this story would be richer if it included each friend’s point of view and asked Laurie to take on the friend’s perspective.

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Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of The Art of the Swap, had been friends for several years before they carpooled to a conference and discussed potential projects on the drive. Kris described one idea she hada middle grade novel set in a Newport mansionand together, they ran with it. By the end of the weekend, they had “the expanded concept for a time traveling body swap story set in Newport.”

Meanwhile, Laura Shovan had worked with Saadia Faruqi a bit through the PitchWars author mentoring program and asked Saadia to partner with her on a book. Laura explained, “I wanted to write about the challenges and joys of growing up bicultural and first-generation American. But I realized that there were areas of the first-generation experience I couldn’t address because my mother came to the U.S. from England.” Laura knew Saadia was a recent U.S. citizen raising first-generation American children, and Saadia agreed to collaborate on their forthcoming novel, A Place at the Table, which is due out in 2020 and features Pakistani-American Sara and half-British, half-Jewish Elizabeth. Laura feels that working together has helped them both “see the first-generation experience through a broader lens.”

LOGISTICS

No matter whereor whothe initial idea comes from, co-authors then need to figure out how they will write together. The logistics to consider include whether they will each take one character’s point of view or work jointly on the whole narrative and how much planning they will do.

Naomis too.jpgMost of us opted to craft a dual-perspective book with each person writing one character’s perspective. That was the case for us with Every Shiny Thing, and it was also true for Kris and Jen, Saadia and Laura, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, who collaborated on Two Naomis and Naomis Too, novels about two girls named Naomi whose divorced parents get together.

For Every Shiny Thing, we did some loose plotting but then largely improvised, writing chapters back and forth in Google Docs until we were more than halfway through the book, when we met up to outline the rest.

Like us, Olugbemisola and Audrey didn’t create detailed outlines before they began. They alternated writing chapters and sometimes gave each other what Olugbemisola described as an “advance preview of what would lie ahead.” Then they got on the phone or Skype to tackle problems that arose—usually with the book’s timeline, they said.

However, Kris and Jen and Saadia and Laura planned their projects much more precisely. Jen and Kris set up a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline and adjusted the outline as needed. Saadia and Laura also created an outline, but they didn’t stop there; they then set up a chart to figure out which scenes would be in which character’s voice and a table in Google Docs to track what happens in each chapter and which character is narrating.

Brad and Louis took a different approach for their series. Although they do take turns writing chapters, they do not each have an assigned character; they collaborate on one point of view. They set up a working outline, and then they edit each other’s work as they go to ensure their books have one narrative voice throughout. But they also work on Google Docs! This seems to be the most popular forum for co-writing.

CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS

The biggest challenge when co-writing is fitting the project into an author’s busy schedule. In addition, challenges can arise because of the way the authors’ writing styles or working patterns fit together, but these challenges often lead to benefits, too.

In some instances, writing styles might be very similar, and that can present a challenge. Audrey and Olugbemisola said, “If we were allowed to, our books would be all about two girls sitting in bakeries and talking and NOTHING ELSE. So coming up with and trying to execute a plot was definitely the biggest challenge.”

Other times, authors have different working styles. Saadia feels that working with Laura has taught her “so much about different ways of working.” She told us, “For me, working with another person is challenging anytime, because I have a controlling personality. It was a challenge to get used to Laura’s writing habits, ranging from her multiple drafts to her timeline for completing chapters. When I am working on a novel by myself, I power through without breaks for days on end, and I edit as I go along. For this project though, the pace and intensity of my work had to evolve.”

Saadia’s pacing slowed down, but others of us sped up the pace of our work. Kris said, “I was a lot more diligent about my writing, knowing Jen was counting on me to get my part done when I was supposed to!”

Similarly, the first draft of Every Shiny Thing was the quickest thing we ever wrote, and we found that our different writing styles occasionally posed problems but ultimately enriched our work. Cordelia is more of a big picture thinker and Laurie is more detail-oriented. These different approaches can occasionally lead to challenges, but overall we end up stretching each other and learning from each other as we collaborate.

ADVICE FOR WRITERS

It can be smart to set some non-negotiable priorities before you begin co-writing. For Kris and Jen, their friendship came first. Jen explained, “The single best thing we did at the outset, in my opinion, was take a literal vow to one another that we wouldn’t let the co-authoring experience mess with our friendship. That took priority over all.”

Saadia and Laura set some “non-negotiable items” for their point of view characters. They each made it clear upfront that there were certain things about their characters that they would not be willing to change.

It’s also important to “set aside your ego,” as Brad and Louis put it, and to be flexible. “You’ll want to be open to new, strange ideas,” Brad and Louis advise. “Your partner might make suggestions that at first seem odd . . . but if you’re open and consider your partner’s inspiration, you’ll find sometimes the strange idea on the table can actually take the story in an exciting new direction, leaving you with a tale you could’ve never created on your own.”

Similarly, Audrey and Olugbemisola advise co-writers to “be open to working in ways you haven’t worked before” and to “take the story, but not yourself, very seriously.”

It is also essential for co-writers to communicate honestly. Conflicts will invariably arise, and having committed to a project together means working through them; as Kris said, “Being honest with each other and communicating was paramount to the process!”

ADVICE FOR TEACHERS

It’s challenging to structure effective collaborative projects in the classroom, and there are kids who get stressed out by the idea of writing together. But we think co-writing assignments can be very valuable.

Jen described one great reason for assigning this kind of work: “As much as I’ve heard the groans over group project assignments, I’m a big fan of co-writing ones because I think it’s really important for students to know there are so many different approaches to writing (and to having a writing/storytelling career, if that’s something of interest to any of them) and the majority of those approaches are not ‘sit alone at a computer and write a novel.’” She pointed out how many careers involve many creative people working together to develop stories.

Jen advises that teachers keep co-writing assignments very structured at first. She suggests having students collaborate on a play, which is mostly dialogue; they can outline it together and then each write the dialogue for one specific character.

Teachers can also set students up for success by pairing them up based on the topics they want to write about. As Laura pointed out, “When studentsor adultshave a common interest or experience, that supports collaborative writing.”

Audrey suggests that teachers should “encourage students to identify and take advantage of each person’s strength”good advice for any group work.

Oh, and she has one other excellent piece of wisdom to share: “And when possible, reward yourselves with freshly baked treats.” That’s good advice for any circumstances, we think!

THE GIVEAWAY

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We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about how five writing duos collaborate, and we’re excited to offer an *EIGHT BOOK!* collaboration celebration giveaway! One randomly selected winner will receive a signed copy of our book, Every Shiny Thing, as well as four other co-written books and three solo books by the generous authors who worked with us on this article.

To enter, post on Twitter or Instagram about any co-authored book you love and why you love it by Friday, October 26th and tag your post with #CollaborationCelebration so we’ll see your entry.

You can choose a book that’s featured in this piece or any other co-authored book, MG or not. US only, multiple entries are fine. Tweet or DM @LaurieLMorrison with questions.

An Open Letter-Orb from Peasprout Chen Denouncing Reveals of Book Covers and Song

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Venerable and Sagacious Readers of Pearl Shining Sun News,

I am Chen Peasprout, second year student at Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, former Peony Level Brightstar, and future legend of skate and sword.

I am infuriated to death by this newspaper’s reveal of the covers of the books written about me by some author named Lien Henry. I have not read these books entitled PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD and the new sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS. However, I do not need to read them to know that they are worthless and less than trash, as well as being dull and completely without qualities.

This Lien Henry claims to recount the true story of my first two years at Pearl Famous, as if some old man with a head as bald as Turtleback Mountain could appreciate the bitter sacrifices that I went through in my first year mastering the beautiful but deadly art of martial skating. It is impossible to imagine him adequately portraying the wrenching choices I have to make in my second year as I form a battleband to protect my new home of Pearl from invasion by my original homeland of Shin. I have challenged this Lien Henry to single combat but he hid behind his army of litigation masters like a flea diving into tiger fur. My rage explodes like ten thousand volcanos when I think of a single person ever seeing the covers of his miserable books ever again.

[Editors’ Note — The covers of the books are reproduced again below for our readers, compliments of Pearl Shining Sun News.]

I have submitted to the editors of Pearl Shining Sun News my list of complaints about the covers, which they promised to include here in its entirety.

[Editors’ Note — The list has been omitted in its entirety.]

I beg you to direct your attention to some of these most outrageous of injustices in the list.

Complaint Number 82 — I believe that the first cover depicts me finishing a third-gate, East-directional slashing crane leap but I’m portrayed as completing the move with two feet rather than one. As if someone who was Wu Liu Champion for all of Shui Shan Province five times before the age of ten would ever need two feet to land. I am not a duck. Ten thousand years of stomach gas!

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Art by Afu Chan

Complaint Number 527 — The second cover depicts me completing a fifth-gate phoenix prancing across the Eight Jade Seas triple jump, which is a move I have done flawlessly since before I even learned to crawl, but where is the apple in my cheeks? I am portrayed as having wholly apple-less cheeks. Make me drink sand to death!

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Art by Afu Chan

I also denounce Pearl Shining Sun News’ dissemination of the letter-orb containing the recording of “The Pearlian Battlesong” by my battleband. That recording was never meant to be made public. It refers to the name of my battleband as “Nobody and the Fire-Chickens”. That name is just the temporary result of an administrative misunderstanding, about which I have protested to the senseis of Pearl Famous and over which my ultimate victory is more certain than anything under Heaven. I thank the editors of Pearl Shining Sun News for promising not to further disseminate the song.

[Editors’ Note — A letter-orb containing the recording of the song is attached again hereto for our readers, compliments of Pearl Shining Sun News, this time with the lyrics.]

THE PEARLIAN BATTLESONG

Sisters of the skate,
Brothers of the blade,
Come and lend your hands and stand up for your motherland.
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!”

Chorus
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join, come and join our band!
Come and join our band!”

Come to summon some
Of what you would become.
Come to understand the grandeur of the greater plan.
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!”

Chorus

Give a cheer to Hisashi for a pipa well-played.
Over there, we’ve got Yinmei riding on the drumblade.
Doi is playing erhu like the Empress of Heaven.
With Peasprout dominating the magnetic shamisen.
As for me, you may call me Crick
And we are Nobody and the Fire-Chickens!”

No one can deny
Someday we will die!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
How we live and what we give will be determinative!
Answer the command,
Come and join our band!

Pearl Shining Sun News and I have not always been the best of friends. However, my heart is filled with a thousand strains of peace knowing that the editors will at last allow my whole story to be told and stop smearing my face with disgusting and vomit-scented lies.

I thank the benevolent readers for buying this issue of Pearl Shining Sun News to finally get the whole story. 

Your humble and grateful servant,

Chen Peasprout

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 5.28.27 PM.pngHenry Lien is a 2012 graduate of Clarion West. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov’s, earning multiple Nebula Award nominations. He is the author of the Peasprout Chen series, on which he was mentored by George R.R. Martin, Chuck Palahniuk, and Kelly Link. Born in Taiwan, Henry currently lives in Hollywood. Henry has worked as an attorney, fine art dealer, and college instructor. Hobbies include pets, vegan cooking, writing and performing campy science fiction/fantasy anthems, and losing Nebula awards.

www.henrylien.com/peasproutchen

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250165695

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250165756

www.facebook.com/HenryLienAuthor

www.twitter.com.com/HenryLienAuthor

www.instagram.com/HenryLienAuthor

For more about artist Afu Chan, visit: www.afuchan.com

STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: School Lunch Edition

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

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

For the inaugural post, we will take a closer look at something near and dear (and sometimes feared) by the average 8-14-year-old.

School Lunch!

The Hub: School lunch

Spoke 1: Nutrition & Menu Design

Contrary to popular belief, school lunch just doesn’t happen by accident nor is it a random offering of what foodstuffs are on hand. Believe it or not, even that turkey tetrazzini or the mystery meatloaf is part of school lunch by design. Over the past several decades, the spotlight on the importance of school lunch has garnered a bounty of attention. Heath, brain development, wellness, and food insecurity are now vital components of the one place in a school that is often taken for granted—the school cafeteria.

Performance nutrition

Spoke 2: Cafeteria Design & Engineering

The days of bland, boring, and institutional cafeterias and lunchrooms may be behind us. The cafeteria as a place to relax, unwind, refuel, and socialize is happening. And it’s pretty darn awesome. So awesome, I may have to re-enroll in elementary school to make up for all the brown bag bologna sandwiches I endured back in the day.

Spoke 3: Food Preparation Science/Food Disposal Science

Making good food is fun. Making good food for hundreds and perhaps even thousands of school kids safely is a challenge day after day after day. After all the food is prepared, served, and consumed, then something has to be done with all the waste, right?

Culinary Arts

Food Safety

I’m a microbiologist. I could probably bore you to tears with talk of Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7, Aeromonas hydrophila, and other food pathogens. Wait! You’re already crying tears of joy reading this post? (I guess I should shelf the microbial talk and get back to business before I get booted from the MG Book Village.) Food safety is important. Food touches so many people in so many positive ways but it can also affect people negatively by causing illness. Take the case of cook Mary Mallon and the spread of Salmonella typhi in 1907 as an example of the importance of safely serving food.

Food Disposal/Recycling

Spoke 4: Food Production

Where does all that food come from? So much in the life of everyone depends on safe, nutritious, and tasty food finding its way onto the tables in homes and in school cafeterias everywhere.

Production Resources

  • United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service: Food and beverage manufacturing
  • I could watch this Most Amazing Food Processing Machines video over and over.

Spoke 5: Seed Science and Genetics

The science of food has been with us as long as we’ve been hanging around on this planet. Producing better crops, livestock, fruits, and vegetables have led to some of the greatest scientific advances of humanity. Production improvements and protection are vital to our future food security. Farmers and researcher are now using high-tech methodologies, satellite imaging, advanced weather and soil sensors, genetic data, performance data to predict and refine agriculture.

Seed Science Resources

Spoke 6: Hunger & Taste

At the end of the day, when you talk about school lunch, you got to talk taste. Hungry kids love the food but truthfully, how many sixth graders have you seen be excited about a sticky scoop of overcooked white rice plopped into their bowl? Food that tastes good = happy kids. Happy, healthy kids = a better world.

Can we talk about food and leave out dessert? NO WAY!

  • Author Interview: CHOCOLATE: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg

 

After researching this post on school lunch, my TBR pile has ballooned to a record high level. Some of this information I’ve read, some I am looking forward to reading ASAP. Dear trusty, MG Book Village reader, can you add additional books, comments on the listed books, and/or resources to any of the STEM Tuesday Spin-Off School Lunch spokes? If so, please do! We need all the details we can get our inquisitive hands on.

Wrap-Up

The true power of STEM doesn’t reside in the formulas, pathways, measurements, lines of code, or the blueprints we often associated with science, technology, mathematics, and technology. STEM lives and breaths in observation with an eye toward understanding and innovation. STEM is a way of looking at the world around us.

As we can see by taking a closer look at something ordinary like school lunch, STEM is all around us every day! There are multiple STEM stories around virtually every, single thing we interact with during the course of our day. There are also STEM books and resources to help explain most of these STEM stories we encounter.

Be curious. Think about the world around you. Figure out what makes it tick and work to make it better.

I want to read that story!

All this talk of school lunch has made me hungry. Now, where did I put that bologna sandwich?

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! STEM Tuesday is hosting a CoSTEM Contest to celebrate one whole year of STEM Tuesday blogs. The CoSTEM Contest is a mash-up of literacy and STEM costumes. So drag out your favorite books, take a good look at the theme, then create an amazing, one-of-a-kind, spectacular costume. Most important, there will be book prizes! Yes, book prizes! Check out the details HERE.

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his essays will be included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books release later this month. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.