If you write middle grade fiction, it can be difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of a middle schooler’s daily life if you are not the parent or teacher of kids this age.
I interviewed a middle school guidance counselor (I’ll call her Ms. Counselor) for insights—some granular details ranging from school day schedules to substance use to gender, sexual orientation, and the beginnings of romance.
After a summer off from blog writing and teaching, I have that fresh and exciting September feeling!
A few insights from my summer travels in Ireland:
The bookstores of Ireland were a feast, both the independent ones as well as the chains. There was a wide variety of titles from Irish authors as well as authors from the States and other countries.
I also loved seeing familiar titles in Irish. Kids in Ireland study the Irish language all the way through secondary school, so the language is alive and well.
I had tea with Irish author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, author of two books I love: The Apple Tart of Hope (which I reviewed here) and Back to Blackbrick (with her third book coming soon). We had an energetic conversation about the book business in Ireland and the U.S., her books, time travel, and more.
I was intrigued to find that the U.S. classic by Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is an oft-used book in classrooms and in the leaving cert. exam in Ireland. It was in every bookstore I visited! I even found a dog-eared copy on my nephew’s bookshelf in Galway. I am amazed and delighted that such an iconic American book is so widely read by students in Ireland!
Ireland continues to delight and surprise in terms of its political climate and LGBT rights. If you haven’t seen the Noble Call speech on homophobia by “accidental activist” and drag queen Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill), you’re in for a treat. I had the chance to visit Panti Bar, iconic LGBT hotspot and gathering place in Dublin. So much fun!
I also had wonderful conversations with a gay teacher and others about how much has changed in Ireland over the last decade (including last year’s successful landmark marriage referendum).
My trip to Ireland was food for the soul and the mind. I spent time with family, with my sister, cousins, and more. I made new friends, immersed myself in the book scene, and brushed away a tear as I promised myself I’d return–soon!
Getting an invitation to talk about children’s books and summer? No way I’d turn that down!
I had the chance to join host Mindy Todd and Falmouth librarian Jill Erickson at WCAI-FM (Cape and Islands NPR station) recently, and we talked about so. many. books!
The topic was kids and summer reading.
**the importance of letting kids make their own choices in the summer, to read exactly what they want to read
**the library is a parent and child’s best friend… a no-cost, community-oriented way to grow a reader
**taking on the Reading Without Walls Challenge is a great way to add some spice and excitement to your summer reading, either for a kid or an adult! The Reading Without Walls Challenge is brought to us by Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Here is a list of books I mentioned on the program:
Summer Reading Recommendations for WCAI- The Point
SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander
FRED STAYS WITH ME by Nancy Coffelt… divorce/separation story
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña
WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES (Poems for All Seasons) by Julie Fogliano
Deborah Ruddell’s TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ (bird poem, including the cardinal poem I read)
THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle Pitman (Gay Pride)
POEM RUNS by Douglas Florian (baseball poems, including the first base poem I read)
Middle Grade book (for ages 8 to about 12)
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier… (graphic novel, theater kids)
Donna Gephardt’s LILY AND DUNKIN…transgender character, “outsiders”
Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST… main character is Jackson Greene (a smooth operator), a middle school caper reminiscent of Oceans 11. Sequel is TO CATCH A CHEAT. Varian visited Falmouth library and schools this past fall.
PAX by Sara Pennypacker… an animal story… a boy main character…. local author.
DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Barnes… baseball, girl athlete main character, will appeal to fans of Cape Cod Baseball League
Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL…. a story about popularity, loyalty, friendship, middle school
Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE… a girl battles with reading difficulties, adopting a trouble-making personality as a smoke screen, until a teacher makes a difference
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia…Three African American sisters go to visit the mother who left them, in 1968 Oakland, California….the first book in a trilogy.
Young Adult– teen books
Ellen Wittlinger’s LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY… a juicy Provincetown story… a story of four friends, one of whom gets swept away in stormy weather…. a mystery unravels.
K. A. Barson’s CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT… two girls who are juniors in a cosmetology arts program enter a competition, and Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that she’ll win…her mom wants her to give up cosmetology for college.
SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli… Simon struggles to come out to himself and his wonderfully quirky family, approaches a new romance and unravels the mystery behind some secret messages.
There are some other books that I was prepared to talk about on The Point, but we ran out of time!
A few more picture books:
SLICKETY QUICK: POEMS ABOUT SHARKS by Skila Brown
DRUM GIRL DREAMS by Margarita Engle…the main character is told that girls cannot be drummers…but she dreams and practices and becomes a star drummer in this colorful picture book set in Cuba.
More middle grade titles:
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo…a friendship story set in the South… three girls, baton twirling and pageants, and more
GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead… perfect for parent and kid to read together; captures the complexity of middle school so well
Mike Jung’s UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT…Chloe Cho, a Korean-American 7th grader, wants to get in touch with her family history…they are the only Asian family in town… funny, touching, great twist!
Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY… 18 kids try to rescue their school from the wrecking ball… a novel in verse.
Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH… 12-year-old Charlie catches a magical wishing fish and tries to use her wishes to solve some challenges, but her wishes go awry. Charlie is an Irish step dancer and wishes for a new dress for competition. On a more serious note, she longs for a solution when it’s discovered that her older sister has become addicted to heroin; Charlie grapples with the limits of magical thinking. This subplot is handled sensitively and may resonate with a lot of middle grade readers.
One more YA novel…
Sona Charaipotra’s SHINY PRETTY THINGS…Juicy ballet story, with three characters, it has been likened to “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars”…. it has a sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES. Diverse cast of characters and lots of drama for those who love ballet!
Thank you, Mindy Todd and WCAI-FM, for hosting this fun conversation about reading!
I had the privilege of watching author James Howe present to Nauset Regional Middle School today– the whole school. (I have an inside advantage: my wife Bonnie is a guidance counselor there!) He spoke at two different schools today, and will give an evening presentation, too.
I was taking in Jim’s presentation on three levels:
Enjoying the ethnographic research of being in a middle school– the drastic differences between 6th, 7th, and 8th graders… the ways of dressing, the height differentials, the hair.
As a writer, it was delightful to hear Jim Howe talking about his writing process, the way he develops character, and his motivations to write.
As someone who does school presentations and writing workshops, watching the ease and charm with which Jim presented was inspiring.
**Jim read a few pages from THE MISFITS first, to set the scene for his conversation. Many of the students had read the book and were familiar with the others in the series.
**Jim showed slides– but not too many. His commentary was relaxed, conversational. He showed some pictures of his own childhood, pet pictures (a big hit), photos of his process (spreading out his manuscript pages on a large table, the three-ring binder approach, and more). He shared a picture of himself and his daughter when she was at middle school age, and said that her struggles in middle school inspired THE MISFITS. He demonstrated a real empathy for how difficult middle school is– something that must be so powerful for his young audience to hear!
**Jim talked openly and easily about being gay, about being married to a woman earlier in his life, and why it took him so long to come out. It was disarming, simple, direct, and related to his books. His books are responsible for the creation of No Name Calling Day across the country, and he spoke about being very proud of that. I kept thinking about the kids in the audience who were out, or coming out– how powerful to have this author and role model up there, being himself in such a natural and comfortable way!
**Jim spoke about “interviewing” one of the characters in his books in order to get to know to the character more deeply. He showed pages of his interview notes and how they ended up as backstory in the novel TOTALLY JOE. He finished with a Q&A.
Finally some kid notes:
**The middle schoolers weren’t playing it too cool. “There he is!” a boy stage-whispered as he entered the auditorium. Another boy literally jumped up and down with excitement as he had his books signed by Jim.
**Blue hair. Purple hair. Green hair.
**Wedge high-top sneakers are apparently a thing.
**Best middle-schooler’s shirt, in my estimation: hand-lettered with a Sharpie, “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor.”
All in all, a perfect experience of a great author visit!
Raising a Reader is a non-credit course aimed at parents and caregivers who want to infuse a love of reading and books into their children’s lives. Preschool teachers and home daycare providers may also enjoy this course.
Topics covered in Raising a Reader include: reaching a wide range of learning styles; early literacy skills; book selection; overview of genres and types of children’s books; anatomy of a picture book; putting together a diverse and rich home library; boosting literacy skills during read-aloud; and engaging reluctant readers of all ages.
Participants will also come away with literacy resources, book lists, and on-line resources. Raising a Reader is open to the community (participants do not need to be registered college students or college graduates).
It’s going to be fun! Register here. GOOD NEWS: Bridgewater-Cape Cod has just announced a “bring a friend” special. Register for the class ($149) and you can bring a friend. You can split the cost!
Author and educator Mary E. Cronin teaches Early Childhood Education, Children’s Literature, and Creative Writing at a wide array of institutions including Cape Cod Community College, Bridgewater State University, Barnstable County Correctional Facility, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, and more. Mary is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and the joy of reading. Read more about her at www.maryecronin.com, or on Twitter at @maryecronin.