STEM Tuesday Spin Off: The Science of Social Studies

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

We’ll look at the things in life we often take for granted. We’ll peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing will be the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the spokes making up our wheel of discovery.

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


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

Maps and Map-making

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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




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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Information on EVERLASTING NORA:

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

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

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

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

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

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



An NPR Best Book of 2018!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox Post: SO DONE and the Art of the Epilogue

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There’s plenty of talk in the writing world about prologuesseparate introductory sections that usually take place well before or well after a story begins. When prologues are done well, they can set the stage for a novel in a very compelling way…but some people list prologues among their literary pet peeves and caution that there had better be a really good reason for including one. We’ve even heard the advice that writers should omit a prologue if they’re querying agents and sending sample pages because it might be an immediate turnoff. Prologues evoke some strong opinions!

There’s not so much talk about epilogues, though. Perhaps that’s because epilogues are separate sections that come at the end of a book rather than at the beginning, and there tends to be more talk in writing circles about how novels begin, especially when writers are querying agents and sending first pages, and especially because beginnings get workshopped most frequently.

But let’s face it: writing a good ending is hard. And there are times when an epilogue can offer just the right kind of closure for a novel. That’s the case in the Middle Grade at Heart March book club pick: So Done, by Paula Chase.

So Done ends with an extremely effective epilogue. Well, two extremely effective epilogues, actually: one for each of the novel’s two point of view characters, Mila and Tai. Let’s look at why the So Done epilogues work so well!

So Done is the engrossing, powerful story of two girlsMetai and Jamilawho are about to begin eighth grade. Tai and Mila have been best friends for many years, but their connection is now unraveling and there is a whole lot of tension between them, in part because of a secret they are both keeping about something that happened to Mila at the end of seventh grade.

The end of So Donethe part just before the epiloguesis intense. We’ll try to keep this discussion spoiler-free, so we’ll just say that the whole novel is ramping up toward the full revelation of what happened to Mila several months ago. The scenes that reveal Jamila’s trauma are raw and painfulas they should be, because what happened to Mila is terrible, and it’s something that really does happen to girls her age.

Paula Chase goes there. She trusts that upper middle grade readers can handle the depiction of what Mila has gone through and how it impacts her, Tai, and others when that truth comes to light. The scenes at the end of the book are very emotional. They are honest. They do not pull punches. The last chapter before the epilogue finishes with a gut-wrenching image of one of the girls. It’s beautifully done…but it would be a bleak place to end a middle grade novel.

So instead of either ending there, Chase skips ahead a few months and gives us the two epilogues, one showing Mila in November and one showing Tai. Chase summarizes some of the consequences of the truth coming out and then takes readers to a place where the girls are beginning to heal. This works well for a few reasons.

First, a lot of what has happened between that last heartbreaking image and the epilogues centers around the adults involved in Mila’s trauma rather than on the girls themselves. This is the girls’ story, and we need to know about how those events impact the girls, but we don’t need to see those events unfold in detail.

Second, by moving ahead in time, Chase gives those heartbreaking last chapters space to linger. She doesn’t suggest that the girls could begin to heal quickly. This jump in time honors the seriousness of what has happened but also shows readers that the girls can ultimately get to a better place.

Thirdand this is a really important onethe epilogues don’t wrap things up too neatly. Middle grade readers notice when books end in an unrealistically happy and tidy way. These epilogues offer plenty of hope, but they also make it clear that things are not magically betterthere are things that are still extremely difficult, and there are people who are suffering very much (including the girls, some of the time).

In general, an epilogue can be an effective tool for bringing closure and hope to the end of a novel, especially one explores tough topics. Can you think of other middle grade novels with epilogues that work particularly well? Let us know some of your favorites!

Our newsletter about So Done will go out on Monday, March 18th, and be sure to mark your calendar for the #mgbookclub Twitter chat about the book! The chat will be a week earlier than usual this month, on Tuesday, March 26th at 8pm EST. We hope you can join us!

Interview: Geoff Rodkey

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Before we begin, I just want to say thank you, Geoff, for stopping by the MG Book Village to celebrate We’re Not From Here and to chat about the book. Before we get to the new book, would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure! This is my ninth middle grade novel, after the Chronicles of Egg trilogy, the four books in the Tapper Twins series, and Stuck in the Stone Age. Before I got into books, I wrote movies, including Daddy Day Care and RV. And before that, I worked in a bunch of different media, including TV, magazines, speechwriting, and video games.

Now – We’re Not From Here. Can you tell us about it?

It’s the story of a family of humans who immigrate to an alien world after Earth is destroyed in a nuclear war…only to discover that the aliens who invited them have changed their minds about opening their society to a species that just incinerated its home planet. Because the family has nowhere else to go (assimilating is literally a matter of life and death), they have to figure out how to persuade the planet’s government to let them stay even as they’re being subjected to various kinds of scapegoating and discrimination.

I can’t imagine a darker, more dire premise for a book. Yet, like all your books, We’re Not From Here can be downright hilarious. Was it important for you to make sure the story was humorous? What do you see as the role of humor – both in fiction and in life?

I didn’t set out to write a funny book, and it’s probably too dark a premise to be a comedy in the usual sense. But the human characters in the story are desperately trying to persuade their alien hosts that—despite our often horrific capacity for violence—humans have other qualities that are redeeming enough to make it worth the risk of allowing us to live among them. And in trying to figure out for myself what human attributes are unambiguously good, one of the answers I came up with was humor. I think life would be a lot sadder and less interesting without it.

We’re Not From Here is told in first person, by a young human named Lan. You made a very interesting decision regarding Lan. Would you care to discuss your motivations for doing so? What does this do for the story, and for the reader of it?

In the book, I never describe Lan’s gender, ethnicity, or body type, because those physical attributes don’t matter much in the context of a story that’s set in a non-human society—and by leaving them out, I could give every kid who reads the book the freedom to imagine whatever version of Lan works best for them.

I wanted to make it as easy as possible for kids to imagine themselves in Lan’s shoes, and to empathize with how hard it is to be in that situation—to get scapegoated, discriminated against, and blamed for things you had nothing to do with, simply because of where you come from.

Full disclosure: I borrowed this device from an adult sci-fi author, John Scalzi. In 2014, he published a book called Lock In, and I got three-fourths of the way through it before I realized my default assumption—that the main character was a white guy—wasn’t necessarily correct, and that they could just as easily be a woman, an African-American, etc. As a reader, this really opened my eyes to the notion that a big chunk of the way I perceive the world doesn’t come from facts, but from assumptions I make based on my own personal history and biases. These assumptions might seem true for me…while not being true at all for someone looking at the same set of facts from a different perspective. That realization was pretty profound—it was like taking an empathy vitamin, and it had an impact on me way beyond my enjoyment of the book.

I decided to use the same device for We’re Not From Here not just because it fit perfectly with the book’s themes of inclusion and acceptance, but because I wanted to give middle grade readers the chance to have the same kind of empathy-broadening experience that reading Lock In gave me. Plus, I figured the overlap between John Scalzi’s mostly adult readership and the 8-to-12-year-olds who might pick up We’re Not From Here is slim enough that borrowing his narrative conceit won’t be too unfair to him. (Although I still feel a little guilty about it.)

We’re Not From Here is certainly science fiction, but a particular sort of science fiction. Reading it, I was reminded of certain books and stories by Kurt Vonnegut, and also of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. Are you a fan of sci-fi? Did you read it growing up? What were, or are, some of your favorites?  

I’m not a hardcore sci-fi fan, although I’ve enjoyed a lot of books in that genre over the years. As a teenager, I loved Slaughterhouse FiveDune, and Brave New World. In my 20’s, it was William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I’ve read a bunch of Stephenson since then—Cryptonomicon and Seveneves were both great. I went through a Terry Pratchett phase recently and read half a dozen of his Discworld books, which are hilarious. M.T. Anderson’s YA novel Feed was awesome. Like millions of other people, I devoured the whole Hunger Games trilogy in about a week. And I’ll read almost anything John Scalzi writes, even when I’m not stealing his narrative devices.

The situations and themes at the forefront of We’re Not From Here are incredibly timely – and seem to grow even more timely by the day. Did you set out to write such a book, or did the story come to you more naturally?

The book was definitely inspired by what’s been happening in America over the past few years. When I was growing up in Freeport, Illinois, my public school teachers drilled into us the idea that America is a melting pot of races, religions, and cultures that all come together in one society. Where we came from doesn’t matter: we’re all just Americans. That ideal might be naive, and it’s been contradicted in pretty appalling ways throughout our country’s history. But to me, it’s still worth striving for, and it’s a core element of our national character.

I got to thinking about this a lot in the fall of 2015, right after I did some school visits in Wichita, Kansas. Culturally and demographically, Wichita’s similar to the town where I grew up, and at one school I visited, I noticed a few Muslim girls wearing headscarves in the audience. Seeing them in a Kansas middle school initially struck me as a heartwarming reminder of that ideal of the melting pot.

But on the same day I came home from Wichita, the Paris terror attacks happened…followed a few weeks later by the San Bernardino attack…and then a presidential candidate’s proposal that the government ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. The idea that a nation founded in part on the principle of freedom of religion would even consider such a thing struck me as a pretty fundamental violation of what I’d been raised to believe it means to be an American. And as events like this happened, I kept thinking back to those little Muslim girls in Wichita. It broke my heart to imagine what kind of a lousy month they must be having—because I strongly suspected, based on my own experience growing up in a similar culture in the Midwest, that there was at least one kid on the school bus calling those sweet little girls terrorists.

I wanted to write a book about the injustice of that—about getting scapegoated and harassed not because of anything you’ve done, but just because of where you come from. Like the ideal of the melting pot itself, I wanted the story to be inclusive of everybody, and to speak not just to the kid getting bullied in real life, but the kid doing the bullying. It took me a while, but eventually I figured out that the best way to do that was to take a metaphorical step back and make the story about someone who’s getting scapegoated not because of the kind of human they are, but just because they’re human.

What do you hope your readers – in particular the young ones – take away from We’re Not From Here?

My deepest hope is that kids who read the story and identify with Lan will come away with a greater sense of empathy for people who are in similar situations in real life. But the story’s metaphorical enough that I’m not sure how many kids will see the real-world parallels without a nudge in that direction from a teacher or librarian. My own 12-year-old son, who’s pretty well-informed about current events, loved the story—but he read the whole thing without ever pausing to wonder if it had any connection to things he reads about in the news. It was a somewhat humbling reminder that what might seem to an adult like a blindingly obvious political metaphor can, to a kid, just be a cool story about trying to get along with a bunch of giant insects who don’t like you.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them – in particular those planning to add We’re Not From Here to their classroom libraries?

When they talk to their students about the book, I’d encourage them to point out that every kid has the freedom to imagine whatever kind of Lan they want. Because the lack of physical detail is all subtext, a lot of kids probably won’t even notice that they haven’t been told Lan’s gender, body type, etc. in the text—they’ll just automatically fill in the blanks without realizing it.

But if you draw their attention to it, I think it can make for a really interesting conversation around the idea that reading isn’t just a passive activity, and that every reader’s experience of a book is unique. Unlike movies and TV, written stories are really a collaboration between two imaginations: the writer’s and the reader’s. If you think of a story as a house, all a writer does is draw the blueprint. It’s the reader who has to actually build the house in their mind, and no two readers’ houses will ever look exactly the same. Every book is like this—We’re Not From Here just makes that imaginative collaboration a little more obvious by putting slightly less detail into the blueprint.

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


I have a website at, where you can learn more about both my books and my background. Also, Random House created an Educator’s Guide for We’re Not From Here—there’s a PDF at this link, and I’ll happily send a physical copy to anyone who emails me via the contact page on my site. And until the end of this school year, I’ll be offering free Skype visits to any classroom or group that wants to talk about We’re Not From Here, so send me an email if you’re interested!

MG at Heart Book Club’s March Pick: SO DONE by Paula Chase

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There’s been a lot of discussion in the middle grade community lately about the need for books that bridge the gap between middle grade and young adult. Here at MG @ Heart, we think that So Done by Paula Chase is exactly that kind of book—so we’re extra glad to have it as our March book club pick! Read on to find more about it…

When best friends Tai and Mila are reunited after a summer apart, their friendship threatens to combust from the pressure of secrets, middle school, and the looming dance auditions for a new talented-and-gifted program.

Fans of Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together will love this memorable story about a complex friendship between two very different African American girls—and the importance of speaking up.

Jamila Phillips and Tai Johnson have been inseparable since they were toddlers, having grown up across the street from each other in Pirates Cove, a low-income housing project. As summer comes to an end, Tai can’t wait for Mila to return from spending a month with her aunt in the suburbs. But both girls are grappling with secrets, and when Mila returns she’s more focused on her upcoming dance auditions than hanging out with Tai.

Paula Chase explores complex issues that affect many young teens, and So Done offers a powerful message about speaking up. Full of ballet, basketball, family, and daily life in Pirates Cove, this memorable novel is for fans of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Jason Reynolds’s Ghost.

Watch for our newsletter on 3/18 and our Twitter chat on 3/26!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE NIGHT DIARY by Veera Hiranandani

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Our February book club pick was Veera Hiranandani’s Newbery Honor Book, THE NIGHT DIARY. This heartbreaking historical middle grade tells the story of a family forced to relocate under dangerous conditions during Partition in the 1940s in India and what is now Pakistan. When India secured its independence from Britain, it came with the caveat that all Muslims would move to newly formed Pakistan, while all non-Muslims could live in India.

This puts young Nisha and her family in a difficult position. Her father is Hindu, but her mother, who passed away just after Nisha and her twin brother Amil were born, was Muslim, which leaves Nisha with many thoughtful questions about why they must choose sides in the conflict. Their beloved cook, Kazi, who steps in as a beloved parental figure with the children while their father spends long hours at the hospital where he works, is also Muslim and must stay behind while Nisha and the rest of her family prepare to leave the only home she’s ever known for India.

The novel is made up of a series of journal entries from young Nisha to her mother. The epistolary style really lends itself to listening to the story via audiobook if you’re able! These journal entries describe all the things Nisha loves about her home even as she prepares to leave it. And then it chronicles the conflict that is stirred up between Muslims and Hindus as they prepare to leave. Even as the family faces life and death stakes on their journey to India, they face personal stakes as both Amil and Nisha force their father to face the grief he’s shoved aside since their mother’s death.

A story of love, loss, and redemption in the face of political upheaval and violence, THE NIGHT DIARY is a must-read that deserves every bit of the praise and accolades it’s garnered since its release.

Readers of all ages will learn something from Nisha’s heartwarming journal entries.  To learn more about the author, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to THE NIGHT DIARY.

The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for March is DO DONE by Paula Chase! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on THE NIGHT DIARY on March 5!