STEM Tuesday Spin-Off: Potato Chip Edition

StemLogo-SpinOff (1)It’s time for another edition of STEM Tuesday Spin- Off! In this relatively new addition to the MG Book Village, members of STEM Tuesday (blogging for From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors) examine everyday items in a middle-grader reader’s life from the perspective of science, technology, engineering & math.

Picture a wheel. The common, everyday item will be the “hub” or main idea of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the STEM spokes in our wheel of discovery. We’ll peek behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for STEM connections, and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. According to STEM Tuesday contributor Heather L. Montgomery, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

potato chips (3)
STEM Tuesday Spin-Off:  Potato Chips

This month author Patricia Newman takes a closer look at snack foods, particularly POTATO CHIPS. Who doesn’t love potato chips, right? Their crispy, saltiness opens a Pandora’s box of STEM concepts.


Hub:  Potato Chips

Spoke 1:  Where Food Comes From

Do potato chips really start with potatoes? What are those other ingredients on the label? This spin-off gets kids thinking about where food comes from (before it arrives in the grocery store, that is). Everything we eat has its own story. Where are our apples grown? Did the salmon on our plates ever swim in the ocean? What pesticides are on our veggies? Let’s Eat: Sustainable Food for a Hungry Planet by Kimberley Veness uncovers the secret lives of our food (think the science of agriculture).

Establishing a small garden is another great way to reinforce the science between food and the environment. Start with The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book. This title also introduces the idea of composting (think decomposition) to reduce the impact of food waste on the environment.

812BYMeeyv0L            91KBP7UZRTL

Spoke 2:  Palm Oil

Virtually all snack foods are made with oil. Palm oil is the most popular variety in the world. But palm oil plantations destroy rain forest habitat, which endangers its inhabitants such as orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Who knew eating a single potato chip could ripple all the way to the rain forests of Asia (think food chains and human impacts on the environment)?

In the “Treetop Teachers” chapter of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I follow Dr. Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Meredith studies how habitat loss affects orangutans. Her stories, both fascinating and tragic, make us wonder if we really need that potato chip after all.

Mission Tiger Rescue by Kitson Jazynka brings readers up close and personal to tigers–their habits, the challenges they face, and how we can help them.

A1bbXtnn7uL         91IH5zwfrgL

Spoke 3:  Cooking

Eating too many snack foods can lead to childhood obesity. But why is snack food more fattening? What is a healthy diet (think human biology)? And by golly, how can I make vegetables taste as good as potato chips?

Cooking is an excellent STEM activity (think chemistry and math) to make healthy food more exciting. For ideas, consider the global focus of Food Atlas: Discover All the Delicious Foods of the World by Giulia Malerba and Febe Sillani. Or perhaps you want to jump to the kitchen with simple home cooking. Kid Chef  by Melina Hammer includes many healthy eating suggestions that kids can prepare themselves.

51rXTJrzNsL    71esej0PmqL    815TlVY06jL

Another way to emphasize healthy eating is to uncover the dirty secrets the fast food industry uses to reel us in. Eat This! How Fast Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk by Andrea Curtis and Peggy Collins approaches STEM from a different perspective—the science of persuasion.

Spoke 4:  Trash

Once our chips are gone, we throw away the bag. But where is “away?” Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash with Environmental Science Activities for Kids by Donna Latham and Tom Casteel does a great job answering this question (think processes and engineering solutions).

Releases March 2019

Your chip bag is most likely made of plastic. In many cities, including my hometown of Sacramento, only rigid plastic containers may be recycled. Soft plastics such as chip bags goes to the landfill (if they don’t blow out of the trash truck and onto the side of the road first). But what happens during recycling anyway? And why can’t ALL plastics be recycled (think different kinds of plastics and upcycling vs. downcycling)?

Spoke 5:  Marine Debris

You might wonder why I didn’t include marine debris in the Trash spoke. I want to emphasize that all pollution is ocean pollution. What gets tossed out on land (especially if it’s not in the proper waste can) makes its way to the ocean via our watershed.

Read these two books to understand the way ocean currents work to transport trash and how bad ocean plastic really is.

61LtRBWv2AL          51kCpwshIIL

Spoke 6: Activism

The previous spokes also lead to this last spin-off—the idea that reading about STEM topics can inspire us to change our behavior. After all, what’s the point of all this learning if we don’t reach our potential? Challenge kids to try the following:

  1. Your groceries make a difference. Buy food that uses sustainably sourced palm oil. Either download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil app to your phone or check out this chart of orangutan-friendly foods.
  2. Download the #ProtectOurWorld Challenge posters.
  3. Download the 30-Day Plastic Challenge.
  4. Audit your trash either at home or in the classroom. Brainstorm ways to reduce your single-use plastic consumption.
  5. Find out what kinds of plastic your community recycles. What’s left out? Are there any alternatives where you live? Check this website for recycling some soft plastics (but unfortunately NOT chip bags).
  6. Potato chips aren’t the only way we impact the environment. Read several of these books on the STEM Tuesday All About Conservation book list.
  7. Create a piece of art with waste plastic to raise awareness of our single-use plastic epidemic. Check out Washed Ashore for some amazing ideas.

Wrap Up

STEM is synonymous with inquiry and kids are natural question factories. Questions lead to discovery and discovery leads to learning. Challenge the kids in your life to ask questions and find connections. I’ll wager those connections will lead to science, technology, engineering, or math—and learning that engages as it empowers.

patricia newmanConnect with Patricia Newman on Twitter (@PatriciaNewman) or online (

Other stuff you might want to know about Patricia:  Her award-winning books show kids how their actions can ripple around the world. She is the author of Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; as well as NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book; Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; and Neema’s Reason to Smile, winner of a Parents’ Choice Award. Newman hopes to empower kids to think about the adults they’d like to become.


STEM Tuesday Spin Off: Recess Edition

StemLogo-SpinOff (1)


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. As  STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources contributor, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.

For this second post, we will take a closer look at something that hopefully every middle grader gets to experience once a day and why it’s important:



The Hub: Recess

Spoke #1:  Get Outside/See the World

School is a great place to learn all kinds of interesting things about STEM. Topics might include how earthquakes occur and how mountains are made (plate tectonics), information about the newest Mars Lander, and even a peek into the world of nanotechnology. But sometimes the best type of learning for STEM is hands on. Recess is a great way to experience science up close and personal.

Take a look at the ecosystem around your school. How would you classify it? Is it a forest? A grassland? A swamp?

Here is a great resource to check what you find:

Type of Environmental Ecosystems by

Check out this book for information, too.

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth by Rachel Ignotofsky

To get more info about the science outside that is all around you (and above you), maybe try one of these books:

Spoke #2: Being Healthy

Being active means being healthy. Moving about and exercising is a great way to stay active. Recess is the perfect time to run, jump rope, do cartwheels, or just walk around. When we exercise, our heart rates increase and blood pumps just a little faster throughout our body, giving us energy and increasing our lung power. Movement allows your muscles to stretch and bend, keeping them toned and fit. Exercise creates lots of chemical interactions within your body, which of course, is part of life science.


Website resource:  The Many Benefits of Exercise on

Other books that might inform/inspire you to exercise:


Spoke #3: Sports and Games

Let’s face it, recess is all about the games! Whether you play soccer, volleyball, or even tag, you are moving about and having fun.  Studies show that many kids love playing sports. Sports teach us a lot about how to interact with others. It helps with coordination and fitness, and sports are just plain fun. What is your favorite sport to play?


Website resource: Sports Illustration Kids

Sports books that will fascinate you with fun facts and cool kid athletes



Spoke #4: Olympics

If you want to take the sports topic even further, take a look at one of the ultimate worldwide sporting competitions: The Olympics! These athletes spend their entire days training for their specific event. It might be running, skiing, sledding, or even table tennis. Working hard to meet and athletic goal is a great quality. And you’d be surprised how much science goes into all that training (or maybe not. After all, you probably understand by now that science is ALL around you!)


Here’s a great resource for those interested in the science behind the Olympics

Science of the Olympic Winter Games by NBC Learn

Check out these books for more about the science and the people behind the Olympics:

Spoke #5: Helps You Relax

Even if you can’t get outside for recess, because of the weather, it’s still good to take a break during the day. I find myself writing for hours at the computer. Then when I get up, it’s hard to move because my muscles have been still for so long. Moving about, even if you aren’t running or jumping, is still a good thing. But recess, is not just good for your muscles, it’s also good for your brain to take a break. Maybe you just stretch in place. Or perhaps you do some yoga poses. Give it a try.  Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take a deep breath and let it out. Do you feel yourself relaxing? You should.



Website resource: Science Shows the Meditation Helps Children’s Brains and Behaviors 

Spoke #6:  Physics/Forces and Motion

Movement at recess is related to one of the most basic ideas in the universe: physics. Physics, specifically forces and motion, comes into play every time we move. Remember Newton’s Laws? Those three statements that tell you how every object behaves? They totally apply to recess. You get on the swing and start moving your legs back and forth. That causes your body to go forward and backwards. Yep. That’s Newton’s Law #3, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Why do you keep swinging when you stop moving your legs? Newton’s First Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.  I told you, science, is EVERYWHERE.



Website Resource: A whole host of blog pages on how Forces and Motion work by 

A fun look at physics and how it affects us:


As we can see by taking a closer look at an everyday event like recess, STEM is ALL around us. Next time you go outside, walk down the hallway, or just sit in your classroom take a look at your surroundings. I bet you will find TONS of science, technology, engineering and math in your sight. You are even sitting on an object created by STEM right now (hint: your chair!)

So Be Curious.. and observe… and you will see that STEM is EVERYWHERE! Don’t forget to check out STEM Tuesday for more great STEM book and activities ideas!

Jen Author Photo-2017 Jennifer Swanson is the creator and administrator of STEM Tuesday blog. She is also the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for kids. When not writing, she spends her day at the beach, chasing her dog in the waves and looking for science amidst the sand. You find more information about Jennifer and her books on her website


What It Means to Be First Generation

Sandra Neil Wallace voting voted in the Primary elections SEPT 2018I became a US citizen on December 16, 2016 at 9:01 a.m. You never forget that moment—it’s etched in your brain and in your soul forever. You remember what you wore (red wool dress, my grandmother’s shawl), how you felt (floating like a balloon, shaky knees, quivering lips), and who you were with. For me, it was a celebration of sisterhood. As Lady Liberty shone on the screen at the front of the state courtroom, I stood shoulder to shoulder with women from Colombia, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We soon cried and laughed together hugging and congratulating one another as “my fellow Americans,” as soul sisters, as first generation trailblazers.

Three weeks before, I’d had a much different experience. I sat in a waiting room surrounded by grey walls with my husband holding my hand, whispering, “You’re going to be great,” while I mentally went over the 100 answers to the 100 questions I might be asked by the USCIS officer. I was about to take my US citizenship test, and on the wall in front of me hung framed pictures of movie stars—all of them men and all of them white–who had become naturalized citizens.

But I didn’t stand with white male movie stars when I became a US citizen—I stood beside people who are true reflections of new Americans elevating this country right now. And I thought, “Why aren’t the people in this courtroom reflected in the books kids read?” The next day, Rich Wallace and I began writing FIRST GENERATION: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great.

First Generation can mean two things:

  1. The first member of a family to immigrate to a new country.
  2. Children who are born in that new country to immigrant parents.

Those are the dictionary meanings. But what does it mean in real life? For me, it means everything. I’m the first generation in my family to be born in Canada, and the first to have English as my birth language. I’m also the first to go to university and immigrate to the United States.

DjYNS4HX0AA7LXwThe moniker can be both an honor and a burden: there’s the pressure of expecting to graduate with the highest marks, to earn a top salary that will secure financial freedom for several generations of family members. As we wrote about the first generation trailblazers in our book, it became obvious that these experiences are shared across all cultures, ethnicities, races, genders and classes.

What all of us know, too, is why we are first generation: because of the courage, the grit, and the sacrifices our families made for us. But in so many ways—in the most life-affirming ways–what first gens and immigrants and refugees want is what everyone wants: to belong and be loved, to have a purpose in life, and to be with and to support family.


Growing up, Mazie Hirono–the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate–convinced her school to let her work in the cafeteria during lunches and stuffed her earnings into a piggy bank so that her single mom could use it to buy groceries. As a kid, entrepreneur Maria Contreras-Sweet recycled bottles, babysat, and made bows in a flower shop to elevate her family. In college I worked two jobs—one at a radio station, the other at a TV station—to pay for my tuition.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother came to Canada after World War II as concentration camp survivors from Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists. They had become stateless, stripped of their citizenship and their voices. That’s why I was one of the first people in line at the polls for the recent primaries. It was the first time I had a full voice in this country, that I could experience full citizenship and my part in the franchise. The man who opened the door saw my wide grin and asked why I was so enthusiastic just to vote. “First generation,” I proudly told him. And with that he handed me a voting sticker and shook my hand.

Sandra Neil Wallace close-up 2018Sandra Neil Wallace writes biographies for young readers that focus on people who break barriers and change the world, including FIRST GENERATION: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great. An immigrant and daughter of a concentration camp survivor, Sandra broke a gender barrier in sports as the first woman to host an NHL broadcast on national TV. Her titles have been selected as ALA Notable books and awarded Booklist’s Editors’ Choice, Kirkus Best Children’s Books of the Year, and the ILA Social Justice Literature Award. She is a founding-year member of the Keene (NH) Immigrant and Refugee Partnership and an advisor to the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. Visit Sandra at

More Fab Nonfiction & a Conversation w/ Diane Magras: Books Between, Episode 53

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help us see our world more clearly and to see each other more clearly.  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, a 5th grade teacher and currently in a battle with Japanese beetles!  Argh! My hollyhock has finally bloomed after three years and those buggers and destroying it! A green thumb, I do not have.

This is Episode #53 and today I’m discussing more fabulous nonfiction and sharing a conversation with Diane Magras, author of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter!  

A couple quick announcements for you!  The July Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is Just Under the Clouds . Where the Watermelons Grow is the read for August and the September pick is The House That Lou Built.

And don’t forget that Monday nights are our #MGBookChat Twitter chats with upcoming topics like graphic novels, ending gendered labels of MG books, and the importance of refugee stories. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat for conversations and collaboration between educators, librarians, and authors.  I’ll warn you though – if you think your TBR stack is bad now… it only gets WORSE after one of those chats! (There are worse vices to have, right?)

Alright – take a listen…

Book Talk – More Fabulous Nonfiction

A couple weeks ago, on episode #51, I started a list of fantastic nonfiction reads with the promise that I would continue the list in the next episode. Well, the conversation with special guest Nikki Mancini was so good that I didn’t want to cut any more and so I bumped this nonfiction book talk to today.  So here are more fabulous nonfiction books that you and your middle grade students will love this year!

First up is a brand new book called Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics by Garfield Kwan and Dana Song. I love this book for its bright, bold comics that are easy to read and with just the right amount of humor to keep a smile on your face as you learn about cool creatures like the moon jelly, and the narwhal, and seadragons! It reminds me a lot of the Science Comics series (which I mentioned in that last episode) but this one is a tad easier to read with bigger font. So I think the readability on this one could hit a younger audience. I’m really excited to share this one with my class in the fall.


Another nonfiction book that bubbled up into my awareness late last school year is Discovering Black America: from the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-first Century by Linda Tarrant-Reid. This books offers 200+ pages of in-depth history from the black sailor who traveled with Columbus to the indentured servants of the colonial era and tragedies of enslaved Africans to the Harlem Renaissance and up to the presidency of Barack Obama.  And those stories are set in a greater context of the entire history of the United States. This is a book that is great to read cover to cover but also a helpful resources to have on hand to offer a perspective about a historical topic that might not be covered completely in a traditional history text. For example, there is an entire section on black patriots who fought for independence and the black women in the Women’s Army Corps in the 1940s. Definitely check this one out.


Another couple of books that were really popular with my 5th graders – and frankly, with me too, since they were my personal books that I brought in – were the Star Wars Visual Dictionaries. The two I have (so far) are the ones for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens. These books are must-haves for any Star Wars fans because they let you see in detail all the little things go by so quickly in a movie.  Like, everything that’s in Rey’s salvage kit. The names of the Resistance pilots and their backstory. And little surprises like Ben Solo’s calligraphy set. Visual Dictionaries are really fun to explore and DK Publishers does a really incredible job with them. So have a few on hand that appeal to the interests of your kids.

Also – if you and your kids have not yet read any of Sarah Albee’s nonfiction books – you all are in for a treat!  My daughters and I just read Bugged: How Insects Changed History and were simultaneously enthralled and appalled! From the disturbing fact of where that brilliant red dye comes from to how bugs were a factor in the Louisiana Purchase. It’s a COOL book and can either be read cover to cover or just read the textbox features.  Sarah Albee is also the author of the incredible Why’d They Wear That – a gorgeous, glossy book all about fashion through the ages with an introduction by the amazing Tim Gunn.  

Note: I mistakenly say on the podcast that How They Croaked (about the awful deaths of famous people) and How They Choked (all about the epic fails of the super famous) are by Sarah Albee. They are both, in fact, by Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley.

Albee’s latest book is called Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends – featuring, well – stories of dogs through history!

A really interesting book that blend forensics with history is Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. By Sally M. Walker. It’s a gorgeous full color book showcasing new insights gained about this era based on information scientists have gathered by examined the newly excavated bones of Europeans and Africans from colonial sites in Virginia and Maryland. And again even if kids don’t read this one cover to cover, I think reading and discussing a chapter would really help children understand how our knowledge of history changes over time as we make new discoveries and have better tools to analyze.


Another nonfiction book that I keep bumping into online – and was FINALLY able to get at my public library – is Two Truths and Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson.  It’s a clever book that is just begging to be read with a friend – or out loud in the car! Essentially, each chapter is about a topic. Like, Chapter 1 is Crazy Plants and Chapter 6 is Large Animals. And within each chapter are three stories: A, B, and C.  Each story is about 3-5 pages long with lots of bold colors and cool fonts and photos. And the reader has to decide which of those three stories is false. The answer key is in the back and it gives a paragraph or so of explanation. This book is called Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive so I’m kind of hoping there are more in the series.


A book that has recently intrigued my daughters and me is called Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond by David Long with illustrations by Kerry Hyndman.  It is a collection of extreme survival stories from all over the world. Some you may have heard of – like Aron Ralston – the climber in Colorado who cut off his own arm to survive. It was made into the movie 127 Hours with James Franco. But others may be unfamiliar – like the story of Poon Lim – the sailor who survived a shipwreck by sucking the blood from a shark.  This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but for those kids who like shocking stories of people overcoming the most dangerous situations this is the book for them!


Another beautiful new nonfiction book is Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. It’s a large format book about the size of a picture book with such detailed and multi-layered artwork. It’s written in a unique way. It’s written in the 2nd person where the narrator takes you on a tour of the canyon as it gives you information. For example, here is a line: “After climbing out of the Inner Gorge, you’ll find yourself on a broad, sun-baked slope.”  And as the narrator gives you information about the Grand Canyon, you see in a center spread, illustrations of a father and daughter exploring the canyon and doing what the narrator just said. And around the edges of the main illustration, kind of in a Jan Brett format, are small drawings of the animals and plants found in the canyon, or a cross section of the layers, sketches of the weathering process… it’s really cool!  And some of the pages have holes in them to show the fossils and when you turn the page – you just have to see it for yourself! This book is amazing!


Okay – I hope this has given you some ideas for new nonfiction books to freshen up your informational section of your library. And if you have a suggestion about a great nonfiction book we should all know about, email me at or connect on Twitter at @Books_Between.

Diane Magras – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Diane Magras is engineer by day and middle grade author by night, Karen Chow. We got an opportunity to sit down together last month to chat about The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Take a listen…Diane-Magras_ABOUT-DIANE.jpg

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, what is this story about?

CA: Love the mix of swashbuckling medieval adventure mixed with humor – at times it reminded me a bit of The Princess Bride. What were your inspirations?

CA: There seem like there might be elements of fantasy in this book. What genre do you see this book falling in?

KC: Drest is very brave throughout the book. Did you take some of her bravery from a historical figure?

KC: Drest is mistaken for a boy several times. Is that because of the way she is dressed? Her short hair? Why did you decide to have Drest this way?

KC: Did real warriors have a code of ethics?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Diane and Karen 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 38:13 mark.

CA: What are you working on now? And will there be a sequel for Drest?

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?

KC: Do you have book recommendations for people who liked your book?

CA: What are you reading now?



Diane’s website –

Diane on Twitter and Instagram

Karen’s website –

Karen on Twitter

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper)

Here Lies Arthur (Philip Reeve)

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter (Diane Magras)

The Shadow Hunt (Katherine Langrish)

The Serpent’s Secret (Sayantani DasGupta)

The Jumbies (Tracey Baptiste)

Bounders Series (Monica Tesler)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)

Where the World Ends (Geraldine McCaughrean)


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 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

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 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!


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.



Science Comic Series is Awesome!

The Science Comics Dogs: From Predator to Protector by Andy Hirsch and Science Comics Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks are the two best book I have ever read!

They both talk about their habitats.  And they both do talk about science, and I would really encourage you to read both of those book if you have time because they really want you to learn about more of the cool science.

My favorite thing in the coral reef book is that they talk a lot about the effects of climate change and littering on coral reefs. Also, did you know that a dog has better stamina than a cheetah?

And I do think it is really appropriate for kids and adults to read. Also it is kind of a quick read.

Oh and also if you read these then there is a whole other set of the Science Comics books so if you read and liked those books you can read all the other books!

And that is why I think that you should read some of the Science Comics.

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 11.41.04 PM.pngHello my name is Ryan and I am from Central New York. And one thing that you should no about me is that I love theater and I love to play basketball. Also I have a dog named Duke and he is a really active dog.And that was some stuff that now you know about me.

Exceptional Nonfiction Reads & A Conversation w/ Wendy MacKnight: Books Between, Episode 51

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a teacher, a mom of a 9 and 11 year old, and struggling with some kind of rogue pollen in the air. So if I suddenly sound like the Albino from the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride – that is why.

This is Episode #51 and today I’m discussing some exceptional nonfiction reads and sharing a conversation with Wendy MacKnight, author of The Frame-up!  

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is sponsored by MoxieReader – a literacy app that’s like a fitness tracker for your reading life. It gives educators insights unnamedinto their students’ reading lives, customized recommendations, and a way for kids to set and work toward their own reading goals in a way that is engaging and fun. My 5th graders and I have been trying it out over the past couple of weeks and they have been really been pumped up about hitting their own goals AND they’ve really liked sharing recommendations with each other.

I feel like the summer is, for me anyway, the perfect time to explore something new so head over to and the use the code welovereading and try it out!

A few announcements to pass along! This month’s Middle Grade at Heart book club pick is The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. We’ll have author Diane Magras on the show soon so watch out for that! In July we are reading, Just Under the Clouds and Where the Watermelons Grow is the August pick.

In other news, we at MGBookVillage had SUCH as fabulous response to the #MGBookChat  Twitter chats that we’ve decided to continue them!

So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST  and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter for great conversations between educators, librarians, and authors about how to get great books into the hands of middle grade readers!    We have some great guest hosts lined up so far, but If you have an idea for a topic centered around supporting children’s reading lives and celebrating MG books and would like to co-host an upcoming chat, please contact us. (I’ll drop a link to more information and our upcoming schedule in the show notes.)

Book Talk – Exceptional Nonfiction Reads

This week’s book talk is all about nonfiction!! And I will admit, I do tend to read and book talk more fiction than nonfiction. (And I have heard from some of you about that.) But, my students and I are just coming off of a great Unit of Study all about informational texts and I wanted to share with you some of the books that have really hooked us. And as I started this list, I soon realized it’s too much for one episode. So consider this part one, and on the next show you’ll get more great recommendations!

Let’s get into it with the hot reads with my fifth graders this year. All of these books had long waiting lists and complicated exchange arrangements with my kids – if you work in a classroom or library, you know what I mean.

First up… the Science Comics series!! Oh my word – have these books taken off in my class!  They are graphic novel-style books that feature a character (like an animal) introducing you to their world and telling you everything you need to know about it.  For example, a favorite one in our class is Science Comics Dogs: From Predator to Protector by Andy Hirsch and it starts with an introduction by two canine scientists and then we meet Rudy, who talks directly to the reader about things like domestication, Punnett Squares, and evolution, and breeds, and the meanings of various howls and wags. We have another one called Coral Reefs: Cities of the Oceans which is told by a little yellow fish and is all about coral formation and water runoff and the effects of climate change. I will say – they are complicated and do contain sophisticated vocabulary like alleles and numerical dating vs relative dating and, well – lots of other words I can’t pronounce! But the support of the illustrations really helps, and I have found that readers will pick up what they can and skim the rest – and that’s okay. They next time they come across the term allele, they’ll be more likely to pick up that meaning.  There are a TON more in the series, Bats, Plague, Flying Machines, Volcanoes, Robots & Drones with new titles coming like Polar Bears and Wild Weather!! I definitely need to get more of these next year – they are bright and colorful – and just COOL!

Another hot nonfiction read for us this year is Don’t Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True Stories by Anna Claybourne. This is a National Geographic Kids book published by Scholastic and how it’s set up is each topic has a two page spread with a big title, an introduction and then 4 or 5 text features like a timeline or picture, or fact box. It really lends itself to bite-sized reading and with each flip of the page you get a new topic like “Island of the Dolls” or “Buried Alive” or “Eerie Everest”. And there are six quizzes throughout the book like “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” or “Spot the Fake Photos!” so I liked that it also included some debunking and skepticism. This is book that some of your kids are going to look at and say, “No thank you!” but you know there are a lot you are going to go “Oh yeah! Let me at it!”

In a similar vein is a book called Beasties in My Backyard which also includes a two-page spread for common backyard (or household) bugs like centipedes and cicadas and cockroaches and lightning bugs! Each page has an intro and a HUGE super close-up photo (like see every hair on their legs photo) with the features labeled and explained. And then a fact file with its size and diet and location. And a few text features. Actually, even though the title is Beasties in my Backyard – our classroom has had its share of ants, and moths, and stink bugs, and centipedes recently. Just yesterday my teammate, Cindy, had to snag a spider out of my hair during lunch!  A couple other nonfiction books that my biology-loving students are getting into are 101 Hidden Animals (all about creatures who camouflage), Life As We Know It (about everything from the beginnings of life on earth to species and ecosystems and survival) and Ocean Animals: Who’s Who in the Deep Blue (another gorgeous National Geographic Kids book).

Another super popular book this year is one called… Drones. It’s one of those short, wide books with 96 pages chock full of information. There’s a four page intro and then each spread is about a different drone – military drones and then civilian drones. I liked that the pictures are large and the text is large and well spaced so it’s really readable. Also – for each drone they include a “How Big Is It”  box with the silhouette of that drone with either a person or a bus or something to help you picture it.


Two other books that have become very popular this year in the wake of student activist movements are Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge which tells the story of the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 with a particular focus on the voices of the children who participated. Another book called Kids on Strike! tells the stories of children who organized in the early 1900s for better working conditions. Each chapter is about a different strike – from mill workers and coal miners and garment workers, It was a fascinating and timely read. I think it would be really interesting to have students compare a chapter from each these books to current news stories about student walkouts and the marches demanding gun control.

My students are also really loving those Scholastic “A True Book” series – especially the one called Cybercriminals which is all about hacking and identity theft – topics they hear about in the news and want to know more about. I really, really love this series and they have a plethora of titles that can connect to just about any content area so you can make your reading time also hit some science and social studies.

And – I probably don’t need to tell you this, but any of the Almanac / World Record-type books are hugely popular with my kiddos. They were with me too when I was their age! But boy have they changed! My tattered copy of the 19somethingsomething Guinness Book of World Records is black and white, teensy-tiny print, and maybe a picture or two? These books are chock full of color and images with bold words and color coded sections.  I don’t get a new one EVERY year but honestly I probably should they are so popular. Guinness has a great one every year and so does Scholastic.  And the National Geographic Kids Almanacs are also great. And there are also books like The Year in Sports and even ones specific to baseball or football.

And I’m starting to realize that this list is pretty heavily loaded with Scholastic titles. Honestly, it’s because they are affordable and I can save up my points to get some of the more pricey ones. But I do realize that limits the selection, so next year I’m going to look for ways to fund some other titles, too.

Alright – I hope this has encouraged you to pick up some new nonfiction titles for your children and students. And if you have a suggestion about a great nonfiction book we should all know about, email me at or connect on Twitter at @Books_Between.


Wendy McLeod Macknight – Interview Outline


Our special guest this week is Wendy McLeod MacKnight.  We chat about art, her biggest
influences as a child, and her inspirations behind her newest middle grade novel,
The Frame-Up.

Take a listen…


Your newest novel is due to be released into the world on June 5th! What is Frame-up all about?

What kind of research did you do for this book and did you collaborate at all with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery?

What were some of the challenges you encountered when setting up the “rules” of the paintings?

If you could go visit any painting you wished, which one would you pick?

If you knew a painting could really come alive, would you want one painted of yourself?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Wendy 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 47:30 mark.

Your Writing Life

What are you working on next?

Your Reading Life

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

What are some books you’ve been reading lately?


Wendy’s website –

Wendy on Twitter and Facebook

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

It’s a Mystery Pigface (Wendy MacKnight)

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

Penderwicks at Last (Jeanna Birdsall)

You Go First (Erin Entrada Kelly)

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter (Diane Magras)

The Science of Unbreakable Things (Tae Keller)

The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody (Matthew Landis)


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 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

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 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!


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.