Wintry books for cold vacation days

I grew up in the Northeast United States and although I’ve lived in sunny California for over twenty years now, I still associate the winter months with cold and snow. When school let out for winter break, I relished the long days with limited sunlight because it meant most of my time could be spent tucked away with a good book. I still prize a day with no commitments where I can just read read read above almost all else.

To celebrate this season of frosty weather, even if in some places it is still bright and sunny, around up of related middle grade novels for reading late into the night.


Winterfrost, by Michelle Houts

An ordinary Danish Christmas turns extraordinary when a family overlooks an important folkloric tradition.

Christmas has come, and with it a sparkling white winterfrost over the countryside. But twelve-year-old Bettina’s parents have been called away unexpectedly, leaving her in charge of the house, the farm, and baby Pia. In all the confusion, Bettina’s family neglects to set out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the tiny nisse who are rumored to look after the family and their livestock. No one besides her grandfather ever believed the nisse were real, so what harm could there be in forgetting this silly custom? But when baby Pia disappears during a nap, the magic of the nisse makes itself known. To find her sister and set things right, Bettina must venture into the miniature world of these usually helpful, but sometimes mischievous folk. A delightful winter adventure for lovers of the legendary and miraculous.


Prisoner of Ice and Snow, by Ruth Lauren

When thirteen-year-old Valor is sent to jail, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, is serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family, and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped the prison in centuries. Valor has a master plan and resources most people could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make some unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

This exciting middle-grade debut effortlessly melds an unforgettable protagonist, a breathless plot, and stunning world-building–and is impossible to put down.


The Contest (Everest series #1), by Gordon Korman

A thrilling adventure trilogy about a number of kids competing to be the youngest person to ever reach the top of Mt. Everest

Four kids. One mountain.

They come from all across America to be the youngest kid ever to climb Everest. But only one will reach the top first. The competition is fierce. The preparation is intense. The challenge is breathtaking. When the final four reach the higher peaks, disaster strikes-and all that separates the living from the dead is chance, bravery, and action.



Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu

The winner of numerous awards and recipient of four starred reviews, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a stunning and heartbreaking story of growing up, wrapped in a modern-day fairy tale.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it’s up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a stunningly original fairy tale of modern-day America, a dazzling ode to the power of fantasy, and a heartbreaking meditation on how growing up is as much a choice as it is something that happens to us.

In Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu tells, in her one-of-a-kind voice, a story that brings together fifty years of children’s literature in a tale as modern as it is timeless. Hazel’s journey to come to terms with her evolving friendship with Jack will deeply resonate with young readers.


Blizzard: Colorado, 1886, by Kathleen Duey and Karen Bale

A raging snow storm creates the coldest kind of danger for two kids in this riveting tale of historical fiction, part of the Survivor series.

Haydn Sinclair hates absolutely everything about his aunt and uncle’s primitive Rocky Mountain ranch. He’d much rather be in a great city than stuck on the countryside.

Haydn’s cousin Maggie hates the thought of having her rich and spoiled cousin visiting for four long months. She’d be happier if he wasn’t around.

When Maggie’s father is injured and she and Haydn are left alone, they argue, and Haydn sets off on foot for the train station miles away. The next day Maggie learns that Haydn never made it to town, and she must search for him despite the blizzard that is raging outside. But even if she can find him, will they be able to survive freezing nights, vicious winds, and the constant threat of snow slides?



STEM Tuesday– Award-Winning MG STEM Titles– Writing Tips & Resources

It’s “Award-Winning STEM Titles” month on STEM Tuesday!

Check out our book list for a great place to start diving into the award winners and this post for classroom ideas. But when approaching this month’s theme from a Writing Tips & Resources angle, I came up with one thing. One thing common to all award-winning books is they’re well written. I hear you screaming, “Captain Obvious.” I understand. “Write good books” is not the most helpful thing from a writing craft advice viewpoint but that’s all I got. 

It’s also the end of the year. Another pretty tough year for many. I hope you all are well and creating the things only you can create and taking things one day at a time.

In order to fulfill my STEM Tuesday duty and not find myself sent to the doghouse, here’s an “Award-Winning STEM Titles”-themed post (I used the term “themed” lightly).

As they used to say on Monty Python, “Now for something completely different.” A comic version of how I imagine a STEM Tuesday Award Show would go.

Thanks for supporting STEM Tuesday!

Enjoy all the award-winning middle-grade book lists. Use these lists as portals to find new authors and subject matter to explore. Remember one thing about book award lists, the books on award lists are almost always well-written but not all well-written books are fortunate enough to land on an award list. 

All we are saying…is give books a chance.

Doesn’t that sound like it should be a holiday song?


Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and Instagram at @mikehays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files highlight the award winners in STEM. 

  •  The Best of STEM Awards

      • There’s so much awesome to check out on this site. I’ve barely scratched the surface.
      • “An award to finally put the spotlight on the innovative products, technologies, and services that are changing the world of STEM education. The Best of STEM Awards is the only award program created for and by teachers, and the winners will be determined by specially selected STEM educator judges and by email from fellow educators.”
    • The Best of STEM Awards 2021

  • SMART Scholarship Program

      • The Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service Program, funded by the Department of Defense (DoD), is a combined educational and workforce development opportunity for STEM students.
      • Mission: The SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program enhances the DoD civilian workforce with innovative scientists, engineers and researchers across the United States.
      • Vision: SMART creates a highly skilled DoD STEM workforce that competes with the dynamic trends in technology and innovation to protect national security.
  • Finding the right book to read.


Paired Texts: Inspired by Classics

Need a last-minute gift idea for a middle grade bookworm? Or maybe you’re a teacher, librarian, or homeschooling parent on the lookout for some fresh literature lists or features for the new year? Consider pairing together a retelling, sequel, or inspired tale with the title that preceded it.

  • Reading paired texts is a great workout for MG readers’ critical thinking skills, especially when they think critically about the context of the classic work (such as the time period in which it was written).
  • The comparing/contrasting of two stories is a lesson goal that can be tailored to a wide variety of learning styles and levels.
  • Reading two related texts fulfills important core standards in educational settings.

Or if someone on your gift list simply enjoys thinking about stories and writers in cool and comparative ways, reading a modern retelling, sequel, or companion novel alongside its classic predecessor might be a cozy way to spend some winter afternoons. Here are some ideas for paired titles you might consider for your classroom, library, or personal gift-giving.

Hena Khan’s More to the Story is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In More to the Story, a modern American Muslim family faces challenges that compare to the March family’s conflicts of a century-and-a-half ago in Alcott’s classic.

Rajani LaRocca’s Midsummer Mayhem is subtly inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Midsummer Mayhem features Indian American protagonist Mimi who uses both culinary skill and magic to solve the mysterious goings-on in her household and town. For the Elizabethan classic, consider an introductory adaptation like this comics-style version if your middle graders aren’t ready for Shakespearean verse. This author also wrote Much Ado About Baseball, a companion piece to Midsummer Mayhem which Kirkus calls an “homage” to the bard’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Lou Kuenzler’s Finding Black Beauty is a spin on the story of Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty, retold from the perspective of groom Josephine who masquerades as a boy in order to find the horse she loves when they become separated.

Sequels to children’s classics The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett include Holly Webb’s Return to the Secret Garden and The Princess and the Suffragette. Hilary McKay’s Wishing for Tomorrow is a sequel to A Little Princess as well.

A variety of writers compile new perspectives on Alice’s adventures in Return to Wonderland, a collection of retellings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas sees a modern-day retelling and new perspective from young protagonist and time traveling teen Greg Rich in Stuart Gibbs’s The Last Musketeer.

Wishing everyone the best in your holiday seasons and new year!