A Reading Journey Across the United States with Read Across America

Happy National Reading Month!  

In celebration of National Reading Month, The Week Junior collaborated with Read Across America (RAA) to create a list of middle-grade titles with one book set in each state. There are some familiar names on that list. (see below)

The National Education Association’s Read Across America project is a year-round celebration of reading that introduces readers to diverse books with characters to whom they can relate and to worlds that are different from their own. I was thrilled to see my book Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe named as the Mississippi selection and The Turn of the Tide, by fellow Mixed Up Files contributor Rosanne Parry, named as the Oregon selection. The list is full of amazing books and equally amazing authors and interviews with many of the authors can be found in our Mixed Up Files (see below for links).  

Below are ten activities to help celebrate reading across America all year long. These activities can help readers connect with diverse characters and dive into stories set across our nation. 

Visiting the Setting  

Invite readers to create a visitors’ guide to the book’s setting. Before they begin, discuss the setting’s geography, climate, culture, economy, history, landmarks, attractions, and other unique features. Encourage readers to research elements about which they are curious. Next, identify points of interest and significant places within the story. Readers can use this information to create their visitor’s guide with detailed descriptions and interesting facts about each location. For bonus points, invite readers to illustrate their visitors’ guides with artwork and photos.  

Charting the Course  

Invite readers to create a map based on the book’s setting that highlights the impact that the setting has on the book’s main character(s). Which locations are important? Why? What landmarks or features define these locations? How has the history of the setting shaped the main character(s)? Readers can use symbols, labels, and colors to create a map key to represent different elements.  

Creating News  

Invite readers to create a “hometown newspaper” from the perspective of leaders in a community that serves as a significant setting in the book. What would the community’s slogan be? Challenge readers to write at least three articles describing the story’s action and include illustrations of significant events in the book. Invite readers to consider where the main character(s) fit in the overall societal structure of that community. Would the main character(s) agree or disagree with the newspaper’s version of events? If the answer is “no,” challenge readers to write a “letter to the editor” providing the perspective of the main character(s).  

Creating a Character Scrapbook 

Invite readers to choose a character from the story and create a scrapbook for that character describing their daily life and story adventures. The scrapbook can include drawings, quotes, receipts, tickets, and other items that the character would have encountered along their journey. For bonus points, invite readers to write a reflection about the things they have in common with the character they chose, and to create a list of three things from the main character’s culture about which they would like to learn more. 

Sell It!  

Invite readers to create a persuasive sales pitch for the book. To begin, readers can identify themes, characters, and plot elements to highlight. Invite readers to brainstorm ideas and plan their pitch, being sure to include features they think will most appeal to other readers. Readers can then present their pitch to an audience in any form they choose, including an article, podcast, or video. 

Nature Scavenger Hunt 

Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Invite readers to search for at least five items from the natural world of the RAA book selection. Readers can search until they find all the items or for an allotted amount of time. When they’re finished, invite readers to share their items. For bonus points, use non-fiction resources to look up at least three interesting facts about each item.  

Create a Nature Journal from the Point of View of the Main Character(s) in the RAA book  

Readers can create their own journals using art supplies. When their journals are ready, invite them to research the natural world in which the story is set, including the geography, plant and animal life in the area, and the time(s) of the year in which the action takes place. Readers can use this research as inspiration for the nature journal from the perspective of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to make notes in their journals of the details that would be important to the story’s character(s) on each day of the story’s action. Each entry should include the time, date, place, natural elements, including flora and fauna, and weather, plus any additional information the reader believes is important. Journals can include a narration about what the character(s) did while outside and drawings of things the character(s) saw, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted. The journal also can include nature-inspired poems, quotes, questions to research later, pressed leaves or flowers, or all of the above. For bonus points, invite readers outside to observe their own natural setting. Are there any elements in the reader’s own world that are also found in the natural setting of the book they are reading? If so, list and illustrate them. 

Vibing with Verses 

Host a poetry slam for your class or group of friends. Invite readers to create their own original poems from the point of view of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to recite their poems in poetry-slam fashion for the rest of the group. Readers will learn about poetry, performance, and how to be a supportive audience member. 

Taste Across America  

Invite the readers in your life to pick out at least one food mentioned in the RAA title they are reading. Invite them to create a tasting menu including that food, with additional items inspired by the culture of the book’s main character(s). Need ideas? You can check out a sample Southern tasting menu here. 

Listen Across America 

Divide the readers in your life into groups. Invite each group to research the music of the state and the time period in which a RAA title is set. Invite them to create a playlist featuring artists and songs from that setting and time period. The playlist may be chapter-by-chapter or section-by-section (beginning, middle, and end). Either way, it should reflect the story’s action and the mood of the main character(s) in response to what is happening in the story. Need ideas? You can check out a sample playlist here. 


Below are links (listed alphabetically by the state represented) to some recent Mixed Up Files interviews with RAA authors.  

  • James Ponti’s book City Spies: Golden Gate was chosen as the California title. You can read Patricia Bailey’s interview with him here. 
  • Avi’s The Secret Sisters was chosen as the Colorado pick. You can read Amber Keyser’s interview with him here. 
  • Caroline Starr Rose’s book May B. is the Kansas pick. You can read Kate Hillyer’s interview with her here. 
  • The Minnesota selection is Erin Soderberg Downing’s Just Keep Walking. You can read her interview with Natalie Rompella here.  
  • The Nevada selection is Julie Buxbaum’s The Area 51 Files (illustrated by Lavanya Naidu). You can read her interview with Ines Lozano here.  
  • Dan Gutman’s Dorks in New York! is the (you guessed it!) New York selection. For writing tips from Dan, read his Mixed Up Files interview here. 
  • The North Carolina selection is Sheila Turnage’s most recent release, Island of Spies. You can learn more about the book and Sheila here. 
  • Roll With It by Jamie Sumner is the Oklahoma pick. To learn more about Jamie and Roll With It, check out her interview with Andrea Pyros here.  
  • Varian Johnson’s historical fiction novel The Parker Inheritance is the South Carolina selection. You can find Jacqueline Houtman’s interview with him here 


I hope you’ll pick up some of these RAA titles for yourself and the young readers in your life. For the full list, follow this link. I’m wishing you many fun reading adventures exploring diverse settings and characters as you read across America.  

Jo Hackl on Email
Jo Hackl
Jo Watson Hackl has been locked inside a library twice (mostly accidentally) but never has been able to manage sneaking into the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an overnight stay. Jo grew up in the piney woods of Mississippi surrounded by great storytellers. Her middle grade book, SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF MAYBE (Random House Children’s/Yearling Adventure) is about a girl who runs away to live in a treehouse in a ghost town and sets out on a clue-solving adventure. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her family and her poetry-loving dog.