STEM Tuesday — STEM Activity Books– In the Classroom

It’s August and the countdown to school has started. For many students and teachers, going to school may look a little different this year. Some students may be learning in the classroom, while others learn at home. And some students may be doing a little bit of both. No matter where you’re learning, you can use these great books to spark a lasting interest in science and STEM.

The books we’re highlighting this month are all STEM activity books. They are a great starting point for different science activities and discussions in the classroom and at home.

Calling All Inventors!
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Do your students know about scientist and inventor Temple Grandin? In this book, kids can learn from a master inventor by reading her personal stories and trying a few of the book’s 25 hands-on projects. Throughout the book, Grandin shows readers what it’s like to see the world through an inventor’s eyes, questioning and testing how the world works. You could have kids do a few of these projects and then present their results, either in person or in a virtual classroom. You can even have students think like Grandin and come up with their own project or invention!

Want to learn a little be more about Temple Grandin? Take a look at this Colorado State University article about Temple Grandin’s life.

Let’s Build!

If you want your students or kids to learn about engineering – try this fantastic book:
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This book has activities to explore important principles of engineering, such as forces and motion; liquids and reactions; shapes and structures; and light and sound. You can explore gravity by building a working model of a tower crane. You can study the range of colors in light by building a spectroscope. Maybe assign a different project to small groups of students. Have them demonstrate their project to the class. How does it work? What engineering principle(s) does it show? How is this principle used by scientists in the real world?

Take a Walk Through the Jungle

For younger kids, Rainforests is a great activity book that teaches kids about tropical and temperate forests and how we can help preserve them.
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The book also has lots of information about the creatures of the rainforest. The book begins with several chapters about the layers of the rainforest – the forest floor, the understory, the canopy, and the top layer. Perhaps have each kid choose an animal or plant that lives in the rainforest and write a few sentences about it and how it survives in the rainforest.

Kids will learn about the rainforest in different parts of the world. Try some of the book’s activities such as creating a jungle journal in Africa or communicating with message sticks in the South Asian and Malaysian rainforest. Ask the kids: How are the rainforests in different parts of the world similar? How are they different? How can we work together to conserve and protect them?

Have fun with all of the hands-on STEM and science activities in these books! It’s a great way to bring science into your classroom – no matter where it is this year!


Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.

Interview with John Doran, who played Jamie Kincaid in the 1973 movie, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We are in for a real treat today! As all of you know, our site is named after the E.L. Konigsburg classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a book many readers still hold dear. Well, I thought it would be fun to interview John Doran, who played Jamie Kincaid in the 1973 movie version, (Also called The Hideaways) so I reached out, and he graciously agreed!

JR: So, let’s please welcome John Doran to Mixed-Up Files!

JR: I recently went back and watched the movie again, and it brought me right back to my childhood, and reminded me about all the things I loved about the book. How often do you go back and rewatch it?

JD Honestly, it has been a very long time since I watched the movie.  Like a fair number of  former actors, I really do not like watching myself on the screen.  I have a cringe reaction to some of my acting choices in scenes, so it is a bit unpleasant.  That being said, I did try to get my kids to watch the movie since they are all middle-schoolers, but they were not all that interested.  Maybe if I could get the movie onto TikTok…

JR: That’s a great idea, or show them the movie in thirty second intervals. Had you read the book prior to filming?

JD: I read it right before we began shooting.  I had not heard of the book before I auditioned, as it would have been mandatory reading for a class grade or two older at the time. 

JR: Did you get to meet E.L. Konigsburg during the production, and if so, what was that like?

JD: I never met her, unfortunately.  It struck me as odd at the time because she was a regular topic of conversation on the set during filming. 

JR: Mixed-Up Files was your first film, and you had some real Hollywood heavyweights in it. Some of whom went on to stardom after, like Madeline Kahn, and Richard Mulligan, but you also had some heavy hitters in Ingrid Bergman, and George Rose who’d already had a lengthy career in theater. What was that like for a kid to go in filming?

JR: I already had a lot of non-movie experience under my belt by that time.  I had co-starred in an Off-Broadway musical, co-starred in a Broadway show with Gwen Verdon, and much more.  So I was very aware of the moment I was in.  I knew very well who Ingrid Bergman was, having seen Casablanca many times before we filmed Frankweiler.  I was not star-struck, but I was keenly aware of how unbelievably cool that experience was going to be before we started.

JR: Wow, Gwen Verdon also! What are some anecdotes you can share with us from the making of the film?

JD: I did not meet Ms. Bergman until her first day of shooting.  Before that, everyone spoke of her in extremely reverent and seemingly hushed tones.  Crew members tripped all over themselves to ready the set for her first day, to anticipate her every need even before she arrived.  To me it seemed as though the crew might be afraid of her.  So I expected the worst.  And when I first saw her, already in costume and makeup, she seemed even more imposing than I had surmised from the crew’s behavior.  But as soon as she saw me from across the courtyard, she donned a brilliant, beautiful smile and called to me “You must be Johnny.”  She called me over to her, she gave me a big hug, and told me how excited and lucky she was to be working with me.  She had an amazing gift for putting people at ease and she treated everyone on the crew and cast as though she was there to serve us. 

There are lots of other anecdotes, of course.  I remember the lunch-time softball games with the crew, who graciously allowed me to play even though I’m pretty sure there were some substantial wagers riding on each game.  These games turned me into a huge baseball fan for decades to come.  There was our executive producer, Charles G. Mortimer Jr., who ate, drank, and slept this film, and who I adopted as my on-set dad (with the approval of his great kids and my own dad, of course).  Charlie was a fellow who was full of energy and love, and it showed in the final product.  One of my regrets is that we never got to film his follow-up project, a film adaptation of The Scarlet Ibis, which we rehearsed for hours on end at Charlie’s home in New Jersey, but which never got to production.

JR: Oh, that would’ve been a great movie to film as well. To me, one of the coolest things about the film was your getting to actually film inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How unbelievably awesome was that?

JD: Words cannot possibly describe the transformative effect of spending months in the Met.  It was simply incredible.  I gained an appreciation for art that I still enjoy today.  I became fascinated by the Dutch grand masters, and Rembrandt and Vermeer in particular.  The Met had a very large exhibit of their works at the time, and I spent many hours there studying their incredible art. 

JR: Did you have your run of the place and are there any good anecdotes from being inside the museum?

JD: We had our run of the Met at times, depending on scheduling, and with certain restrictions.  I was free to walk around the museum at will, which I did, but there were certain areas that were cordoned off.  For example, I remember the exhibit displaying various knights’ battle gear was off limits—if you knocked over one knight by accident it would start a domino effect that would take down twenty of them. 

JR: I’m laughing at the possibility. 


JD: Four anecdotes come to mind.  First, I remember telling our Assistant Director (Pete Scoppa) that I was really tired.  He pointed to a bed down a great hall and said I should take a nap down there.  So I took a nap.  I eventually awoke to someone telling me that perhaps I shouldn’t be sleeping in Queen Victoria’s bed.  Second, I remember when we filmed the scene where Madeline Kahn ushers her middle-school students through the museum, a real middle-school student tour watched from behind the camera, which struck me as very surreal (or life imitating art, I suppose).  Third, filming the chocolate Alka-Seltzer scene presented a very unique challenge, at least for me.  The Property Master worked very hard to create a concoction that looked as much as possible like someone dropped Alka-Seltzer into a chocolate shake.  What I didn’t know was that he also tried his hardest to make it taste as disgusting as humanly possible, as a prank to see if I could get through the scene.  Well I made it through the scene, although the taste was appalling.  Unbeknownst to me, our Director (Fielder Cook) was in on the gag and had us do something like a dozen takes of the scene to see if I would puke.  Fourth, the film was supposed to open with Claudia running through a field following wave upon wave of butterflies.  It turns out there is no central casting for butterflies, so the crew was tasked with capturing as many butterflies as possible, to be released at the beginning of the scene.  Words do not do justice to the visual of a few dozen or so Teamsters running through a field with butterfly nets trying to capture butterflies.

JR: Those are some great stories! Have to ask, did you ever feel guilty for cheating Brucie at cards?

JD: Great question!  No, I never felt guilty but it taught me early on that one should never cheat at cards.  Mike Hammett played Brucie, and he was a great actor and a really nice kid.  He actually co-starred with my older brother, Robert, years later in a soap opera called Another World.


JR: Do you ever do conventions, and do you ever have any contact with your co-star from that film, Sally Prager?

JD: I have never appeared at any conventions, although I used to attend the L.A. Science Fiction Horror and Fantasy Convention as a spectator in my teens.  I never heard from Sally after we completed the film.  That’s just sort of how the movie business works sometimes. 

JR: Sad to hear. You went on to make many more movies and television shows, with some of the biggest stars from the time, including Michael Landon, Peter Ustinov, Vic Morrow, any fun stories that pop out from other moments of your career?

JD: Wow, there are so, so many memories—some fun and some the very opposite.  It’s hard to pull just one out from a nearly 20 year career.  But I suppose my most cherished memory is actually from Frankweiler in a way.  As you know, the book and movie involved a quest to identify the sculptor of a statute of an angel.  After the opening of the movie at Radio City Music Hall, cast and crew all went our separate ways and, as is the case with most film productions, we just didn’t stay in touch.  Five years later, very much out of the blue, I received a package from Rome with no return address.  Inside the package I found a beautiful, antique, hand-carved angel with a lovely note from Ingrid Bergman.  This, to me, was a testament to the grace and class that Ms. Bergman exuded.  The fact that one of the greatest stars of an era would even remember me after five years, let alone send me something to remember our time together moved me beyond words, and it still does. 

JR: That’s a fantastic story. You must’ve loved that. Very gracious of her. I do have to ask about one role in particular. You did an Afterschool Special, based on a YA book, called The Pinballs. I remember Afterschool Specials being Must-See-TV back then. But this one in particular had one of my childhood crushes, Kristy McNichol. What do you remember about that movie?

JD: That was a fun shoot.  I had a huge crush on Kristy at the time, and we actually went out on one date.  I played a boy whose father ran over his legs with a car.  The challenging part of that production was getting the leg casts on and off each day.  I went through several fittings for the custom casts, and getting them on and off each day was like trying to squeeze into (and out of) ski boots that are three sizes too small.  However, I did teach myself how to do all kinds of stunts in the wheelchair I used in the show.

JD: While The Pinballs was a great show, I was extremely fortunate to co-star in another Afterschool Special that I felt was even more impactful.  ABC produced a show entitled The Wave in 1981, which ABC subsequently included in the Afterschool Special lineup.  The Wave told the story of a high school teacher who conducts a social experiment with his class to explain how the Nazi youth movement could have taken place.  I played a class loner who turns enforcer.  It is a chilling story and even today people tell me they were required to watch the show back in middle school.

JR: I was one of them! I remember having to watch that back in school. Since we’re a site dedicated to children’s books, what was your favorite childhood book?

JD: My favorite would have to be Sounder.  It is such a heart-wrenching and powerful story.

JR: Your favorite childhood movie?              

JD: That is a no-brainer:  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I read the book when I was very young, because my older brother, Robert, was in close contention to play the role of Charlie in the then-upcoming movie.  For me, the movie was a rare example of a film that actually outdoes the book.  The cast was incredible, the score was amazing, and of course Gene Wilder completely owned that role. 

JR: One of my all-time favorites as well! Out of all your roles, do you have a favorite, and why?

JD: Well, I have to go a little obscure on this one.  I co-starred in Captains and the Kings, one of the first novels for television.  Based on the highly successful Taylor Caldwell novel, the mini-series told the story of Irish immigration and assimilation into the U.S. (with a silent tip of the cap to the Kennedy family).  My parents both being Irish immigrants, and having spent part of my childhood in Ireland, the show always felt like it was part of my story.  On top of that, I worked with more true film superstars on that one show than I did collectively during the rest of my career.  The cast was simply incredible. 

JR: You currently are very successful practicing law in Arizona. How did that transition occur, and does anyone ever recognize you from one of your films?

JD: When I was a sophomore in college, I had a brief recurring role on General Hospital, which caused me to miss classes every once in a while.  One of my professors, who I respected immensely, pulled me aside after class one day and told me I needed to choose between my acting career and my education. I was tired of jumping from one acting gig to another and wondering where my next meal was coming from (literally), so I stopped going to auditions and began focusing intently on college.  I became very involved in inter-collegiate debate, which opened the door to law for me. 

I do hear from people from time to time who remember one or more of my projects.  More often than not, they are from Europe, because I starred in a series called Salty, which only lasted 32 episodes in the U.S. but played for years throughout Europe and Asia. 

JR: Have you thought about writing a memoir about your experiences?

JD: I have, and others have urged me to write one.  But, quite frankly, nobody would believe the stories I have from those days.

JR: Now, I want to hear them more than ever! How can people follow you on social media?

JD: I am on social media mostly as a professional matter.  I am on LinkedIn as John Alan Doran.  I contribute to an employer-side labor law blog from time to time at have a twitter account under @johnalandoran, but I have yet to tweet.  Perhaps I should start. 


JR: I think after this interview, you’ll have to! John, I’d like to once again thank you for joining us, and you’re welcome back anytime!

JD: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share some of my experiences with your readers.  Your site is wonderful!

Black MG Magic

I firmly believe that it’s important to stand together against racism, and I’ve been making an effort to feature more black characters in my book talks and displays. Many of the book lists that I’ve come across featuring black protagonists have been full of great contemporary, realistic stories that deal with the experience of growing up black in America but haven’t had a lot of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. So, here is a list of some of my favorite fantastical, magical, and spooky middle-grade stories featuring black heroes and heroines.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia- This upper middle grade follows seventh-grader Tristan Strong who accidentally rips a hole into a parallel world where West African gods and African American folk heroes battle iron monsters. To return home, Tristan must help the heroes find Anansi, who can heal the rift that he’s created between the worlds.


The Jumbies Cober

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste- Eleven year old Corrine doesn’t believe in jumbies, evil shape-shifting creatures that are said to live in the woods near her home, but when her father begins acting strangely following the arrival of the beautiful lady Severine, Corrine begins to suspect that Severine might actually be a jumbie and that she and her father are in danger.


Gloom Town Cover

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith- To help his struggling single mom, twelve-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the mysterious Lord Foxglove, but he soon discovers that the eerie goings-on at Foxglove Manor will put the whole town in danger, and it’s up to Rory and his best friend Izzy to stop them.



Bayou Magic Cover

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes- When ten-year-old Maddy visits her grandmother in Bon Temps, LA, she discovers that she can summon fireflies and see mermaids, and when disaster rocks Maddy’s family, her magical gifts are the only things that can save her beloved bayou.



Dragons in a Bag coverDragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott- Nine-year-old Jaxon discovers a package of dragons when staying with a relative for the afternoon. “Ma”, the mean old lady, who raised his mother tries to return the dragons to their magical realm, but a transporter accident strands her, leaving the dragons in Zaxon’s care.



Forgotten Girl Cover

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown- Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the woods behind her house when they discover the abandoned grave of a girl named Avery who died when she was near Iris’s age. Shortly after the discovery, Iris begins having nightmares about a ghost girl in the woods.


The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles- On the last day of summer vacation, Otto and Sheed Alston accidentally freeze time in their small Virginia town. Now, they’ll need all their bravery and smarts to defeat the villainous Mr. Flux and save the day.



Shadows of Sherwood cover

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon- In this futuristic Rbin Hood retelling, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley flees to the forest following the disappearance of her parents. She bands together with a ragtag group of orphans and embarks on a mission to find her parents and stop the tyrannical Governor Crown.