Cindy Baldwin (Where the Watermelons Grow): Books Between, Episode 58

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hey everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two girls, a teacher of 5th graders, and starting to have my annual back-to-school nightmares again. Last night it was that I had no clue what my schedule was, I had no plans prepared and was just winging it the entire first day! And – the worst part? I got to the end of the day and…FORGOT to include a read aloud!!! *shudder*

This is episode #58 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Cindy Baldwin – author of Where the Watermelons Grow.

A quick update on our Middle Grade at Heart Book Club schedule. The September pick is The House That Lou Built. And in October we are reading The Three Rules of Everyday Magic and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is our November pick.

And remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  We’ve got some really interesting topics coming up like ending gendered labels, the importance of immigrant stories, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.

Book Bites

First up this week is Book Bites – where I’ll give you a quick taste of a few upcoming books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, The Lighthouse Between the Worlds by Melanie Crowder, and  Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon.

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

The first novel I want to talk about is The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, author of Greetings from Witness Protection. This novel is about Addison Gerhardt and his best friend, Devin Velma, who is trying to become a social media sensation9781250168627.JPG by pulling a risky stunt at a nationally televised pro basketball game. Devin seems to have some secret reasons for doing something so dangerous, and Addison wants to help his friend but his introversion and anxiety often cause him to freeze up when he’s put on the spot.

First lines: 

Chapter One: Narrowed Down

“I finally figured out why my best friend Devin punched me in the face. At first I thought it was because I saved his life, but that wasn’t it. For awhile, I blamed my freezing, only it wasn’t that either. It wasn’t even Twitter, the Velma Curse, that stupid dishwasher, or the Golden State Warriors. Nope. It was the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom.”

First impressions: I love this book! And could not stop reading at just that one short chapter. The banter between the two boys is clever and I’m intrigued by the possibility of this book exploring the power and pressures of social media on kids. Twitter is a space where I spend some time but I do have concerns about that. And I’m curious about how Addison’s anxiety plays a part in the plot later on. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is out October 2nd and is definitely one I want to order for my classroom.

The Lighthouse Between the Worlds

The second novel I’m featuring today is by Melanie Crowder – author of  Three Pennies – a book from a couple years ago that I just loved. This novel – The Lighthouse Between the Worlds is about a young boy named Griffin who lives with the-lighthouse-between-the-worlds-9781534405141_hr.jpghis father on the coast of Oregon where they tend to their lighthouse. Every day they follow the same routine – a walk on the beach, placing a new piece of sea glass on his mother’s grave, and learning how to cast prisms in his father’s glassmaking studio. Things are routine. Until…one day a group of mysterious strangers appears and Griffin discovers that the lighthouse contains a portal to other worlds and that his father has far more secrets that he ever realized.

First lines:

Chapter 1: The Apprentice Glassmaker

“The day began normally enough, for a Tuesday. Griffin and his father, Philip Fen, ate breakfast (juice and apple-butter toast for one, coffee and oatmeal for the other). They buttoned up their thickest flannel shirts and stepped out into the gray morning. Mornings are almost always gray on the Oregon coast. But that’s what makes the green of the mosses and the ferns and the scraggly trees so very green.”

First impressions: My first thoughts on reading the first chapter were how… atmospheric and lush the language is.  And the fact that the mother’s grave has no headstone but only a suncatcher was both beautiful and also sent tingles up my spine – I’m sensing something…off there. This novel is out on October 23rd – the perfect time to read something with a blend of mystery and fantasy.

Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground

And book number 3 – Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon – sequel to the award-winning Zora & Me – a fictionalized account of the early life of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Like the first book, this novel is set in a small Southern town during the very early 20th century of the Jim Crow era, and this 51gMECT-nZL._AC_UL320_SR222,320_.jpgbook is about Zora and her best friend, Carrie who uncover a tragic mystery centered around an enslaved girl named Lucia.

First lines:

“There are two kinds of memory. One is the ordinary kind, rooted in things that happened, people you knew, and places you went…..”

First impressions: I am intrigued – and so fascinated by that concept of the memory of the community and how it impacts all of us in subtle ways we don’t even fully realize. The first chapter launches us into a mystery with the adventurous Zora pulling her friend out into the night into trouble against her friend’s better judgement. It’s so good – and I loved Simon’s beautiful use of metaphor that adds such zing to the language. So be on the lookout for  Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground on September 11th. And if you are like me and haven’t yet read the first novel yet, add that one to your list, too!

Cindy Baldwin – Interview Outline

Our special guest this week is Cindy Baldwin – debut author of the acclaimed Where the Watermelons Grow. We discuss honey, the importance of accurate depictions of disability in children’s literature, Pitch Wars, the Anne of Green Gables adaptation on headshot1.jpgNetflix, and of course her novel!  And joining me this week to chat with Cindy is one of the founders of the MG at Heart Book Club, and Cindy’s Pitch Wars partner, Amanda Rawson Hill.

Take a listen…

Where the Watermelons Grow

Your debut middle grade novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, was just released this past month…

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

CA: Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

AH: I love how you slip into this southern accent when you read. I think every time you do it, people are surprised. But those who know you aren’t. What’s your history with the setting of this book?

CA: I know that your novel is mostly associated with watermelon, but it’s really more about honey! Is watermelon honey a real thing?

CA: Cindy –  I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, BUT – reading your book made me feel sooooo hot and sweaty!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula 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 42:27 mark.

CA: How is the final version of the novel different from earlier drafts?

AH: While the book is about Schizophrenia, you are not Schizophrenic yourself. And yet, your own personal experience with disability helped shape this narrative. How?

511OD4J9dbL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Your Writing Life

AH: For those who don’t know, Cindy has Cystic Fibrosis which has her spending a lot of time every day doing breathing treatments and affects her energy levels. On top of that, you have this wonderful spitfire of a child, who Della’s little sister is based on. And if that’s not enough, I know that in the past year you have also suffered from a lot of pain while writing. Yet, you just finished another novel (and it’s beautiful by the way, I’m reading it now.) Talk to us about some of your strategies for getting the writing done even with all these things in your life that make it a bit difficult.

CA: What are you working on now?

CA: While I have both of you here, I have a writer related question to ask.  On Twitter, I keep seeing this thing called PitchWars. What IS that?

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.  CA: 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?

AH: I’d love advice on reading aloud when you have a precocious child, like Kate.

CA: So Cindy – I’ve gathered that you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables. What do you think of Anne with an E adaptation on Netflix?

CA: What have you been reading lately?

Links:

Cindy’s website – http://cindybaldwinbooks.com

Cindy on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook

Amanda’s website – https://amandarawsonhill.com

PitchWars website – https://pitchwars.org

Cindy & Amanda’s blog hop PitchWars post – http://blog.cindybaldwinbooks.com/2018/08/2018-pitch-wars.html

Pragmatic Mom website – https://www.pragmaticmom.com/booklists/

What We Do All Day website – https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/category/books/

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Horton Hears a Who (Dr. Seuss)

Clementine series (Sara Pennypacker)

Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke)

E.B. White

Dick King-Smith

James Harriot

Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)

The Anne of Green Gables graphic novel (Mariah Marsden)

Race to the Bottom of the Sea (Lindsay Eager)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Mostly the Honest Truth (Jody J. Little)

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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Paula Chase (So Done): Books Between, Episode 57

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom for the past 11 years, a teacher for the past 17 years, and a fan of flavored seltzer for the past two months. Either I have been oblivious to it or suddenly there is a plethora of sparkling waters and seltzer available everywhere! Including some tasty hard seltzers for those inclined. And during a hot, sticky summer – a frigid, fizzy can of black cherry seltzer poured over a full glass of ice is just about the best thing ever.!

This is episode #57 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Paula Chase – author of So Done.

One super quick announcement – set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you never miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat!  We have some really great topics coming up like creating a classroom community through books, ending gendered labels, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.

Book Bites

First up is a brand new segment I am calling Book Bites – where I will give you a quick sampling of a few books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser, and Scream Site by Justina Ireland.

The Phantom Tower

The first novel I want to talk about is The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff. You may know him from his other middle grade novel The Matchstick Castle. This book is described as 51CPglxwY6L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgmagic, mischief, and mystery colliding in a thrilling adventure. It’s about 12 year old identical twin brothers who move into a mysterious apartment building and discover a portal to a parallel dimension.

First lines: 

“The first time I saw Brunhild Towers was the day we moved in. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, I saw a lot of things differently back then, I thought old people were boring. I thought learning history was a good way to fall asleep. I thought dying was simple. You probably noticed I said Towers, not Tower. Pay attention and I’ll explain everything.”

First impressions: The first thing I noticed when I opened the pages – a map! The first chapter was fast-paced and fun but didn’t make you feel lost. You definitely get enough background info to help orient you to the characters and the tone with lots of touches of humor. The story is written in 1st person and told by one of the twins – Colm. The first chapter reminded me a bit of Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, so if you have kids who like that novel or The Explorers or The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Phantom Tower would be a good book to introduce them to next.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Next up is the sequel to a beloved middle grade novel – Karina Yan Glaser’s The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. In this story – the Vanderbeeker kids band 61uVvYo6RtL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgtogether to do something nice for their upstairs neighbors (Miss Josie & Mr. Jeet) who are going through a tough time. And in classic Vanderbeeker fashion, the five kids make an elaborate plan to convert the abandoned (and possibly haunted) lot next to the church into the gorgeous community garden that Miss Josie has always wanted.  

First lines:

“This is the most boring summer in the whole history of the world,” nine year-old Oliver Vanderbeeker announced. He was wearing basketball shorts and a faded blue T-shirt, and his hair was sticking out in every direction.”

First impressions: Well – Oliver doesn’t stay bored for long!  And oh how I loved jumping back into the sweet Vanderbeeker banter! The premise of this novel reminds me a bit of the book Seedfolks, and I’m curious how they solve the water problem here…. Along with all the other obstacles I am sure they will encounter!   I love the Vanderbeekers, and I know so many of you do as well – and apparently we are not alone. Because Amy Poehler’s production company has optioned the rights to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street!  Ahhhh! And I know, I know – that doesn’t mean it’s going to hit the screen next year, but I’m still so excited and so happy for Karina. If you want to hear her talk about the first Vanderbeekers novel, check out episode 46.

Scream Site

And finally, I wanted to check out Scream Site by Justina Ireland. She’s the author of the YA novel Dread Nation among other books. This novel features 14 year-old Sabrina 51xK-r2R+2L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSebastian who wants to be an investigative reporter so she’s digging into this popular website where people post scary videos hoping to go viral. And she starts to think that maybe some of the videos are real – and then someone very close to her goes missing.

First lines:

“So, what do you think? Should I go with ‘Taco Tuesday is a Day Made of Lies’ or ‘Football Team Organizes Book Drive for Local Library’? Those are my two best stories, and I’ve narrowed it down to them. I think. I’m actually not sure.” Sabrina Sebastian leaned back in her chair and waited for her best friend, Evenlyn Chao, to respond.”

First impressions: Number one – the cover is awesome. It’s a gorgeous blue with the shadows of trees looming over a young girl’s silhouette as she faces what looks like an abandoned ferris wheel lit from behind by a full moon. Already – I’m drawn in. And the first chapter leads me to think that there is going to be some interesting and timely discussion about social media and journalism. Scream Site is marketed as YA,  but I’ve read in several places that it’s really geared toward more of an upper middle grade audience. Probably wouldn’t include it in my 5th grade classroom, but if you have strong readers in 6th grade and up – this would be a great book for kids who like mysteries and kids who are drawn to internet rumors and hoaxes and those paranormal YouTube videos.

This August be on the lookout for The Phantom Tower and Scream Site.

Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden will be headed our way September 25th.

Paula Chase – Interview Outline

Our special guest today is author Paula Chase. Her debut middle grade novel, So Done, comes out tomorrow. It’s about best friends Tai and Mila who are somewhat awkwardly back together after a summer spent apart from each other. And each is wondering if they 0-1.jpegcan salvage their friendship from the secrets and pressures of middle school and crushes and tryouts and memories that have started to loom in their lives.  I loved getting a chance to chat with Paula about her novel, being a dance mom, and the importance of books with authentic stories and authentic voices.

Take a listen…

So Done

Your middle grade debut, So Done, is coming out tomorrow!

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?

From the very first pages, 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. You have this special knack for voice – whatever that “it” is – you’ve got it!  

What is your secret for for capturing those voices?

I think I heard you mention that there was some back and forth with your editor about the vocabulary you used in the novel.

Can you talk a little about that?

One of things that I loved about So Done were scenes about dance. I’ve heard you mention that your daughter is a dancer.  

How much did you draw on her experiences to write this story?

Nicknames (as opposed to “government names”) are an important part of the story.  

Did you have a nickname?

Are you more like Tai or more like Mila?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula 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 40:14 mark.
book-sodone-1.jpgYour Writing Life

Your previous series was young adult.

Did you decide from the outset that So Done would be middle grade or did it evolve in that direction?

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?

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

So – what ARE your thoughts about “dessert” books?

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

Links:

Paula’s website – http://paulachasehyman.com

Paula on Twitter

 

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Mildred Taylor

Judy Blume

Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)

The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton)

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Breakout (Kate Messner)

Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)

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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Kelly Yang (Front Desk): Books Between, Episode 56

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and I just discovered the COOLEST thing last week and I have to share it with you!  There is this teacher named David Marsh and he makes stop motion LEGO Batman Book Talks. They are SO awesome! There’s one for Enginerds and one for Serafina and the Black Cloak – and, my favorite – the one for The Frame-up! I’ll drop a link to his YouTube Channel in the show notes. Do you yourself a favor and go watch them.

This is Episode #56 and today is all about Kelly Yang and her fabulous new novel, Front Desk.

Before we begin, I have two quick announcements! First is the Middle Grade at Heart Book Club update. This month’s pick is Where the Watermelons Grow, and I am so close to finishing that book – it’s so good and I can’t want to have Cindy Baldwin on the show to chat with me about it. In September we are reading The House That Lou Built and in October is Three Rules of Everyday Magic. So grab those books and let me know if you have questions you think I should ask the authors when they come on the show.

And second quick reminder that Monday nights are the #MGBookChat Twitter chats with some really juicy topics coming up like building book access in book deserts, creating a classroom community through books, and ending gendered labels of books. It can be very easy to get into the hustle and bustle of your day and forget – so set a reminder on your phone for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter.

Kelly Yang – Interview Outline

Our special guest today is Kelly Yang. And as you will hear – she is one incredible and humble person. And since she’s not going to talk herself up, I am. Kelly Yang is one of the youngest graduates of Harvard Law School – earning her degree at 17. She’s a columnist for the South China Morning Post and her features have been published in The New York Times and the Washington Post. She’s a commentator, a debater, and founder of The Kelly Yang Project – an award-winning writing and debate program for kids in Hong Kong. And that’s really just scratching the surface of this WOW Woman! I was really honored that Kelly took the time out her family vacation to sit down with me and chat about so many things – how to reach English-language learners, racial profiling, the Simpsons, her writing journey, and her childhood helping her parents run motels which was the inspiration behind her debut middle grade novel, Front Desk.

Take a listen…

Front Desk

Your debut middle grade novel, Front Desk, has been getting all kinds of love!!  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?

Aside from running the front desk of the motel, Mia is often translating for her family. Was this something you also had to do? If so – how did that impact you?

I adored Mia, but I really really came to love her parents! But… her mother could be carelessly cruel. Her pressure to be good at Math. And then when she tell Mia that the other kids are cars but that Mia is a bicycle – oh my GOD!  I started to wonder if maybe Mrs. Tang was just really scared for her daughter?

One of the most powerful scenes is when a car was stolen from the motel and in the course of that investigation, Mr. Yao discovers that the Tangs have been renting to black people. And he says, “I thought I told you not to rent to bad people.” That thread of discrimination and racial profiling (even by other marginalized people) was woven throughout the story at various points.  Can you speak a little bit about your thought process behind those sections?

I love following you on Twitter and I loved your thread about the Simpsons and Apu controversy. Could you talk a little bit about your response to that and your relationship to that character?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Kelly 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 : mark.

Your Writing Life

What was your journey from Harvard Law graduate to author?

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?

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

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

Links:

Kelly’s website – http://kellyyang.edu.hk

Kelly on Twitter and Instagram

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Babysitters Club series (Ann M. Martin)

Matilda (Roald Dahl)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Unidentified Suburban Objects (Mike Jung)

Peasprout Chen (Henry Lien)

Magicians of Elephant County (Adam Perry)

Alan Gratz

Ban This Book (Alan Gratz)

The Wild Robot (Peter Brown)

The Wild Robot Escapes (Peter Brown)

Orphan Island (Laurel Snyder)

Ghost Series (Jason Ryenolds)

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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Being a Book Witch & a Conversation w/ Melissa Sarno: Books Between, Episode 55

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in empowering children by helping them discover who they are as readers.  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fabulous reading experiences and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 11.49.03 PM.pngI’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, and thinking about how much I LOVE our public libraries and how much they are needed. My daughters and I just launched our summer Library Crawl where we try to hit as many public libraries in the area as can and explore their unique services and collections and just get to know them. Libraries are the heart of our communities. Please support them.

This is Episode #55 and oday I want to chat with you about being a book witch, and then I’ll share a conversation with Melissa Sarno, author of Just Under the Clouds!  

I have three super quick announcements for you! First is a Middle Grade at Heart Book Club update. The August pick is Where the Watermelons Grow, the September pick is The House That Lou Built and in October we will be reading Three Rules of Everyday Magic. And all of those authors are scheduled to come on the show – so stay tuned for that!

And announcement #2 – don’t forget that Monday nights are the #MGBookChat Twitter chats with upcoming topics like #ownvoices, the importance of refugee stories, and books that battle mental health stigmas. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter for conversations and collaboration between educators, librarians, and authors.

And – finally, announcement #3. This is something that has been semi-secretly in the works for a few months now, but I am so happy to make it official. NerdCamp Central New York is ON for next summer – August 6, 2019! So – if you want to experience some of that NerdCamp magic and you’re able to make it to Syracuse, NY – save the date! And you can follow @NerdCampCNY on Twitter for more updates.

Main Topic – Being a Book Witch

And you can go ahead and replace that W with a B if you’d like.  So – I had a topic planned for today. I had an outline, things were coming together, and then I saw a post. And then some tweets. From several people, including Donalyn Miller, who were attending a recent Scholastic Reading Summit.  It was it from a presentation by Annie 51RQIFvbUvL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWard – or at least referencing her work From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Capable, Confident Readers.   And it was one slide showing ways that educators and parents can be what she called “Book Wardens”. And well, it struck me so forcefully. And made me think of all those times as a teacher and as a parent, I have been that Book Witch. I am recovering – but yeah…. that was me.

So I scrapped my other topic and that’s what I want to talk to you about today. First – ways we might not even realize that we’re being book snobs and inadvertently turning kids off to reading – both from Annie’s presentation and from my own mistakes. And then some thoughts on ways we can do better. Although to be up front with you – my understanding of this is evolving. Starting with the first bullet on that slide.

1. Confining kids to “just right” books – gulp. That is a phrase I have used ever since… I don’t know when! A have a big lesson on choosing “just right” or “good fit” books complete with a whole array of shoes I bring in to demonstrate! But now I am wondering… who SETS the criteria for “right”? Is it.. Level?  Genre? Format? Perceived complexity? Something I’ve started doing is turning these questions back on myself. Okay Corrina, what’s a “just right” book for you? Well -it depends! What am I in the mood for? What do I want to learn? What are my friends all reading that looks amazing and I want IN on THAT conversation!  When I think about it that way, it’s not really about picking a book off the shelf and reading the first page and counting the errors on my fingers. Adults don’t do that! And – we are definitely NOT picking from the bin labeled Level Z or only reading within our lexile level.  So why are we asking kids to do that? What DO we do? We weigh all those factors, gather some options, and try them out. If it’s too hard, well…. then…. I’m just going to put The Iliad off to the side for now. I think we need to trust kids more. And be more open about how you actually go about choosing books. And maybe I don’t totally drop the phrase “just right” but shift it to be child-centered and NOT mean “just right” from MY point of view.

2. Express book snobbery. So, you might be a book snob, if you’ve said one these things (and I’ve said a few of them in the past…):

  • “Graphic novels are not real reading.”
  • “Don’t just listen to that audio book – make sure you are following along in your book.”
  • “I only really like literary books – you know award-winners.”
  • “Well, I’ve never heard of that book!”
  • “NEVER watch the movie before reading the book!”
  • “I get all my book recommendations from NPR.”
  • “They’re reading THAT? I guess it’s better than reading nothing!”
  • “I don’t watch TV. Never.  I just read.”
  • “I only read books for adults.” (Credit to Sarah Threlkeld for suggesting that one.)
  • “Yeah, we’re only reading CLASSICS in this class.”
  • “Romance novels are all the same.” (And you can replace romance with mysteries, westerns, fantasy.)
  • “Are you reading a picture book? Maybe you should choose something more your age.”
  • “You dog-ear your pages? You beast!”
  • “Fan Fiction doesn’t count toward your reading minutes.”

So – that last one? About the fan fiction? Was me – a few years ago. But then, I discovered that Angie Thomas (you know – author of New York Times Bestselling, multiple award-winning The Hate U Give) got her start writing fanfiction for her favorite soap opera. And suddenly I thought, maybe I’m being kind of a witch about this. And then, I discovered Star Wars fan fiction and I was hooked. I think I spent about a week just immersed in alternative Star Wars universes. So go ahead – come at me about the fan fiction!

3. Look askance at funny, edgy, or “forbidden” topics. So, confession time.  Way back when I was just getting starting as a teacher and starting to build my classroom library, I would ONLY purchase what I, the book witch, deemed as high quality literature. Captain Underpants? Comics? Joke books? Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Uh…no. And oh do I owe those kids an apology. I was flat out wrong. And clearly not remembering all the Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes books that I devoured as a young kid. I’m happy to say our class is filled with Dav Pilkey books and all kids of funny, light-hearted books. Because, wow – don’t we need that now? And as far as edgy or “forbidden” topics – that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Edgy according to who? I’ve seen adults roll their eyes when a 10 year old picked a book about the WWE.  I’ve seen adults try to ban books with characters who are dealing with substance abuse. And I’ve seen adults pluck books with gay characters out of their kids hands. Who are we to tell kids that their family, their life, their experiences are “too edgy” and not allowed.

4. Frowning upon rereading. Yup – this is another one I have done regularly. And I think it comes from a well-intentioned place. When you know how many amazing books are out there, you want kids to experience that. And I think for me, I have the bias that I am not typically a HUGE rereader. Aside from a few books that I might reread for school or book club (like Home of the Brave, or Wonder), I find it so hard to resist the siren call of my TBR pile.  But last year, instead of giving side-eye to those kids rereading Dork Diaries or Smile for the 3rd or 4th (or 12th!) time – instead, I tried to act excited and say, “Wow – what do you love so much about that book? What are you noticing now that you never noticed the first time you read it?” And the reframing has helped me recognize more value in rereading. And those conversations help me understand my readers better and offer them similar titles they might enjoy to expand their reading palate.

5. Imposing Accountability Measures for Reading. I’ll admit – I had to think about this one for a minute. But I think what this is getting at is when ‘points programs” like AR (Accelerated Reader) are used to confine student reading in an attempt to make sure there is tangible proof of reading. Accountability measures might include parent sign-offs on a reading log or requiring a summary each night. That imposition on reading.  Instead – the best “accountability” is a culture of reading where kids want to talk about what they are reading. And your tangible proof are conferences and conversations and observations.

6. Treating some books like “dessert”. And only allowing kids to read them after they’ve read something more suitable. Usually when I see this – those “dessert” books are graphic novels, or Minecraft books. Now – there are times when I will say, “Let’s take some some time to read our Book Club novels. And if you finish your section for the day, read whatever you want.” But always treating SOME TYPES of books like just fluff – is being a book witch.

So those were the main points from Annie Ward. But I’ll add one more.

7. Not letting kids take the books home. I used to treat MY books like they were GOLD. And I would let kids read them in class but then not let them out of my sight. I lost fewer books – but I also lost readers. Now – they go home with them. Usually they come back, but if not – I just hope that book meant so much to that child that they couldn’t bare to part with it.  

So, I am a recovering Book Witch! And I mentioned some things we can do instead, but to quickly sum up, here they are:

  • Let kids take the lead in what “just right” reading means for them – including their mood and what they are interested in, the format, the social connections they want to form around that reading – and not just a level.
  • Don’t be a book snob! Openly embrace and book talk all genres and formats and expand your horizons.
  • Watch your words and your body language to make sure you are not looking down on kids’ reading choices or making them feel ashamed for reading a text some might consider “edgy.”
  • If a child is rereading a book – ask them about it! Or ask them to book talk it to the class!
  • Instead of cumbersome attempts at reading accountability, instead – watch your kids, have conversations about the books, confer with them and have them read to you.
  • Let kids take books home. And be gracious when they get lost or damaged.
  • And finally – trust the kids and trust the books.

If you want to know more about Annie Ward’s work with co-author Stephanie Harvey, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Capable, Confident Readers.  And as always, we are learning together and helping each other out, so please share your thoughts about overcoming being a book witch.  You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook – our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to share your ideas.

Melissa Sarno – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Melissa Sarno is author Julie Artz. We got a chance to sit down together last month to chat about Just Under the Clouds.

Take a listen…

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read Just Under the Clouds what is this story about?

CA: One of my favorite parts of the book is when Cora goes to her remedial math class and her new teacher gives her some advice about solving algebra problems. She says: “I’ll give you a hint. It’s always easiest to start from the end. Start backward.” I’m wondering – when if your own life have you found it easier to start at the end?

JA: I loved the friendship between Cora and Sabina. They both have experienced intense loneliness due to an unconventional lifestyle, but the moment when they commit to their friendship–even though they may end up apart–was really touching. How did you come up with the idea for this complex and lovely friendship?

JA: Adare is such a vivid character despite being mostly non-verbal. What research went into creating her character?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Melissa and Julie 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 37:50 mark.

JA: I loved the tree book and all that it represented for Cora. How much time did you spend researching trees for the story, or has that always been an interest of yours?

CA: What are you working on now?

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

JA: What types of books did you love when you were Cora’s age?

CA: What are you reading now?

Links:

Melissa’s website – https://www.melissasarno.com

Melissa on Twitter and Instagram

Julie’s website – http://julieartz.com

Julie on Twitter

New York City Tree Census – https://www.nycgovparks.org/trees/treescount/about

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

 

Swiss Family Robinson (Johann D. Wyss)

The Tillerman Series (Cynthia Voight)

Lizard Music (Daniel Pinkwater)

Her Body and Other Parties (Carmen Maria Machado)

The Cardboard Kingdom (Chad Sell)

Bob (Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead)

Hurricane Child (Kheryn Callender)

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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Middle Grade is Listening

Listening is a skill.

We’ve all met someone who actively, purposefully listens. Not everyone does this. It’s not innate. It’s a skill honed and practiced and used with deftness. It’s a magician’s trick, because it makes the one being listened to feel valued and cherished. Except it’s not a trick. It’s the real thing.

(Bear with me, this will circle around to Middle Grade lit; I promise).

I’m a teacher by trade. Last week, I read the picture book THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS by Robert Munsch to my kiddos. While I read, I didn’t show the illustrations, but it was their job to listen and draw. When finished, I looked at each of their drawings and noticed that one child had a dragon inside a cave–a cave that was colored entirely blue (to be clear, there’s nothing *blue* in the text). When I asked the illustrator why the cave had ended up blue (also to be clear, I’d assumed they’d scribble scrabbled blue just for kicks; we’ve had problems with this of late) they said, “The cave is blue, because the dragon’s favorite color is blue, so the dragon painted the cave blue.”

(I’m getting closer to my point; hold on.)

Often, Middle Grade lit is mentioned as sitting at the kids table. There are two reasons people find this worth mentioning. First, that it’s terribly easy to equate the silliness of childhood with childhood itself as being silly. Second, that it’s a joke.

Humor and the telling of jokes is filled with power dynamics and social constructs and a way for “in-groups” to push people to the outside. This is what happens: at some point, people graduate from the kids table at holiday to the adult table, and when we look back at the kids table (or worse yet, oh horrors–if we have to return and sit at the kids table ourselves), it’s done so with shame or embarrassment or eye-rolling laughter.

Do we see how easy it is to turn “childhood” into “childish” into “silly and unimportant”? How easy it is to turn childhood into a joke? The punchline of a joke. Better yet, do we think kids don’t notice?

(Here we go; this next part is my main thought. See, I promised I’d come to books eventually.)

Middle Grade literature is not talking to children, or talking at children, or talking around children. This is what adults tend to do to kids. We talk to them, or at them, or around them. But Middle Grade literature is none of these things; at least, it shouldn’t be. Rather, kidslit is talking with children.

And when MG is at its finest, it’s listening.

At its heart, Middle Grade lit is authors listening to children. It’s the moment adults bend down, look children in the eye, and listen respectfully to their logic (that dragon’s cave was blue for a reason), their lives, their experiences, the way they value relationships and act within friendships, and the deeply held needs and desires they have. And we do not, not ever, treat childhood itself as a joke.

As Middle Grade authors, it’s our job to make the decision to listen, and also to find value in what our audience has to say. With every book we write, I hope our readers know that always, always we’re listening.

_PJZ9696.jpgJuliana Brandt is a Middle Grade fantasy author represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. When not writing about strange and dreamy magic, she teaches Kindergarten and hikes in the mountains of Appalachia. She has mentored other writers through Pitch Wars since 2014. You can connect with Juliana on Twitter at @julianalbrandt and on her website http://julianalbrandt.com