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Diversity in MG Lit #37 June 2022

Here’s a round up of new and diverse books on sale this June. It is by no means a complete list of every diverse book published this month. Please add your own favorites into the comments below.
book cover Days of InfamyLet’s start with non fiction. What I like about Days of Infamy: How a centurey of bigotry led to Japanese American internment by Lawrence Goldstone is that it takes a larger slice of history, giving context and detail to story of discrimination against the Asian American community. In addition to historical photographs, maps, and documents throughout, the book contains an index, bibliography and detailed sources notes. Bravo, Scholastic and Lawrence Goldstone for including the extras to refute doubters and give curious readers more information.
Horse Country: Friends Like These by Yamile Saide Méndez is the second in a new series. I highlighted the first in March and I’m happy to see that a sequel is just as charming and has followed so closely. A third in the series, Where There’s Smoke, will be out in the fall. As a bookseller trying to get MG readers hooked on a new series it really helps to have the first books roll out quickly.
The Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo is a debut novel in verse about author’s childhood. Her family immigrates from Taiwan in the 1980s and opens a small restaurant. The story is beautifully told. I found my self really rooting for this family. There was nothing extraordinary about their struggles, but they faced them with grace and courage that will resonate with anyone who has ever tried to make a go of a new business.
book cover Onyeka and the Academy of the sunOnyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolá Okogwu is a celebration of black hair–vibrant, curly, and big! The twelve year old hero is a mythical being from Nigerian folk lore, a Solari. Her powers emanate from her magnificent black hair, and she must used them to be a force for good in her new superhero school The Academy of the Sun. Great fun for fans of the Marvel franchise.
book cover Punky AlohaPunky Aloha By Shar Tuiasoa is a vibrantly illustrated chapter book about gathering your courage and going out in the big world. Set in Hawaii, Punky takes her grandmothers sunglasses and the spirit of Aloha on her very first solo errand to a neighborhood shop. If you are charmed by the Netflix show Old Enough, you’ll love Punky Aloha.
All Four Quarters of the Moon by Chinese-Australian writer Shirley Marris a novel about love and resilience interwoven with Chinese mythology, a world made entirely of paper, and an ever changing moon. Fans of When You Trap a Tigerwill appreciate its powerful and compassionate voice.
book cover Undercover LatinaKids at the older end of the MG span will appreciate the smart, entertaining, and politically astute debut MG novel of Aya De León. It’s called Undercover Latina, and it’s about a Latina who goes undercover as a white girl to infiltrate a white nationalist group and bring them to justice. This one has a bit of a bite to it, but young social justice warriors are going to love Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín and her undercover persona Andrea Burke.
Everyone knows that middle school is the great training ground for extortionists. In Destiny Howell’s book High Score the hero Darius James, the new kid at the neighborhood middle school, is trying to figure out how to help his friend Connor who owes the biggest bully on the block. 100,000 arcade tickets. Fortunately DJ, knows all about running scams. This fast paced and engaging story will make a perfect summer vacation read.
Do you have a favorite diverse summer read? Give it a shout in the comments below.

STEM Tuesday –Community Science – In the Classroom

This month’s theme is something that is near and dear to my heart – Community Science (also known as Citizen Science). I’ve participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count (among others) for years. The books I read that inspired this month’s activity suggestions are:

Book Cover for Bat Citizens, showing a bat flying toward the reader.Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night
by Rob Laidlaw

This book is devoted just one type of animal – bats. It highlights many different young scientists and what they are doing to help these amazing creatures.

 

Book cover for Citizen Scientists. Shows a ladybug on a leaf, a red-bellied woodpecker, a hand holding a frog, and a monarch butterfly.Citizen Scientists: Be A Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard
by Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz

This book covers a citizen/community science project for each season – Fall butterflying, Winter birding, Spring frogging, and Summer ladybugging.

 

Turquoise book cover reading "The Outdoor Scientist"The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World
by Temple Grandin

The Outdoor Scientist is part memoir, part field guide, and contains lots of different activities and mini-bios of inspiring scientists. Opportunities to take part in citizen science projects are sprinkled throughout. They include several projects I hadn’t heard of before.

 

Book cover for 12 Epic Animal Adventures shows monkeys bathing in a hot spring.12 Epic Animal Adventures
by Janet Slingerland

I wrote this book, which means I read it MANY times. Each chapter highlights a different location around the world where people can have an interesting animal experience. The 5th chapter shows visitors participating in a leatherback sea turtle nest count.

 

Find a Project and Join In!

Of course, the first thing I’m inspired to do after reading these books is to participate in a community science project. There are a multitude to choose from.

Most of the better-known community science projects are related to the natural world. But there are lots of other projects out there. Here are a few web sites where you can see or search for a variety of efforts you can participate in.

SciStarter (https://scistarter.org) lets you search for projects that are online or in person near you. You can also search by topic, age range, or goal. This site most likely has links to all the projects listed in the books.

NASA has a page dedicated to citizen science projects. Some of these are literally out of this world (sorry, couldn’t resist). Here’s the link: https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience

National Geographic has a page where you can look through a list of projects geared for grades 3-12+. The web site is: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/citizen-science-projects.

Keep an eye open for new opportunities. I recently saw a notice put out by NJ Fish & Wildlife about a turkey brood survey. Each year, they ask for help estimating the number of turkey families throughout NJ. (The link to the survey is on the NJ Fish & Wildlife home page: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw – look for the orange “Wild Turkey Alert”.)

I also saw a notice about a firefly survey. We see fireflies in our backyard, so I was really interested to see what that was all about. It’s run by Mass Audubon, but anyone in North America can participate. https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/community-science/firefly-watch

Report on a Project

Each of the books presents community science projects in different ways. After participating in a project, report on it.

You could choose to imitate one of these methods or explore different ways of communicating what you did and what you learned. You could practice interview and journalism techniques by reporting on a community scientist’s experiences. You could present your project participating as a photo-essay. You could put together a podcast episode or video segment.

The opportunities for this are endless.

Citizen vs. Community

You might notice that some people refer to community-supported science efforts as citizen science while others call it community science. A few organizations have explained why they’re making the switch, like here: https://debspark.audubon.org/news/why-were-changing-citizen-science-community-science and here: https://www.re-sources.org/2020/10/community-science-citizen-science.

This is a great opportunity to talk about citizenship, community, and the power of words. I recently had a very interesting conversation with my son on these topics. What I find especially interesting is that we each have different ideas about what it means to be a citizen.

Some things to ponder:

What do you think of when you hear citizenship? Community? What are your feelings around these words?

Look the words up in the dictionary. Do they mean what you think they mean?

Does citizen science imply something different than community science?

As citizens of Earth, do we (or should we) have some responsibility to engage in community science?


Janet smiling while holding a butterflyJanet Slingerland is the author of over 20 books for young readers, including 12 Epic Animal Adventures. For more activities related to this book, check out this page on Janet’s web site: http://janetsbooks.com/my-books/animals.

Interview with Molly and the Machine author Erik Jon Slangerup and Giveaway!

Welcome, Erik! 

Thanks for having me! Big fan of the Mixed-Up Files!…and all things mixed up.

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I can say that I knew you when, as we hosted you at Claire’s Day way back in 2006! I am so excited for the release of your latest, Molly and the Machine  a heart-warming novel for middle-grade readers.

Ha, yes, it’s been a minute! But that festival is such a great memory for me. I recall a moment stepping out of a tent, and seeing some kids skipping along in these fantastic, colorful costumes, one holding balloons, and another blowing bubbles, and I thought: wow, this is really magical…books are magical.

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Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer…

Oh man, as I look back to way back when, it really does feel like a journey now, ha! For 25 years, I was lucky enough to make my living as a creative writer in the ad business—as many do—while writing some picture books on the side. It was lots of fun, and helped hone my craft, but a few years ago, I felt like time was growing short, and decided to make the side gig the main one. Shortly after that, I had a serendipitous coffee with an amazing writer friend, Bryan Hurt, who put me in touch with Elizabeth Rudnick, another amazing person, who eventually became my agent. Prior to that, I’d already been shopping my manuscript for “Molly and the Machine,” but Liz helped me beat it up, expand it, and make it much better. Revising was a very long process, because I’m a slow writer. But after that, things moved fast, and we sold it in an exclusive first look over a weekend, which I can now appreciate is pretty crazy.

 When did you start writing Molly And The Machine?

The kernel for Molly and the Machine actually began as a sketch, a little more than ten years ago—told you I was slow! I like to draw as well as write, so that’s sometimes how I initially capture an idea. (I have that sketch framed in my office now.) I grew up watching old monster movies, like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and was always terrified of being eaten by some giant creature like the cyclops. So I channeled that fear into a story about a giant robot who swallows children.

The young protagonist is Molly McQuirter, an eleven-year-old girl who is navigating the grief from her parent’s broken marriage, her dad’s broken heart, all the while dealing with an annoying young brother. Molly is inventive, creating Rube Goldberg-like chain reaction machines, and she escapes her reality by taking off on her bicycle, Pink Lightning. How did the character of Molly come to you?

What a great description. Isn’t Molly great? Like all characters, I suppose she’s an amalgamation of many people I know—my Mom, my daughters, maybe even a little of myself. I’m the oldest of four, and I think there’s always this feeling of responsibility that comes with having younger sibs. But I was really attracted to the idea of taking some of the traditional gender norms in literature, like “knight rescues damsel,” and flipping them. So, among other things, this is a story about a girl who sets out on a quest to rescue her brother. Girl saves boy.

At the heart of the story is love. Which relationship in the novel was your favorite?

I’m so thrilled that comes through—even between all the explosions and mishaps. Most of all, I love the dynamic between Molly and her beloved “Gruncle” Clovis, because for me its representative of the kinds of bargains we all strike among those we love to meet people where they are in life, and accept the gifts they’re able to offer, even when it falls short of a “model relationship,” whatever that might be. That’s life—being stuck in a room filled with weird, wonderful, incredibly flawed people, and figuring out how to love them.

Grunkle is quite a character and brought to mind Hagrid from Harry Potter. Would you say the same?

That hadn’t occurred to me! Unlike some younger debut authors, I only experienced Harry Potter as a parent, so while I love that universe, it doesn’t occupy quite the same space in my heart and mind that it does for, say, my oldest son, Dalton, who remains a huge fan to this day. But now that you mention it, I can see the similarities! Both Hagrid and Gruncle are very well-intentioned, but sort of bumbling their way through everything, aren’t they? Oh, and of course, they both have these monster motorcycles with sidecars! (Gruncle’s “Blue Thunder” is a refurbished bike from World War II—with some James-Bond-like gadgets—like Molly’s “Pink Lightning.”) And although Gruncle is far from half-giant stature, he does have a very big personality!

The setting, the Hocking Hills area of Ohio is a character in itself. Why did you choose to use this location for the background?

Yeah, those hills to play a big role in the story. Ohio is filled with all kinds of little tucked-away treasures like this. Aside from it being one of my favorite getaways, I chose Hocking Hills because I love exotic locales. This might sound strange to someone born and bred in Ohio, but for a Californian transplant like myself, the landscape here is so lush and green, it feels like another world. And that’s just the feeling I wanted to convey. (The woods also made the perfect hiding spot for a ten-story-tall robot.)

The novel is set in the 1980s, a time before many of the conveniences and distractions young readers have today. Offer a bit about your experiences in growing up during this time frame and how that transferred into your novel.

My generation was much more feral. We were pre-cellphone, pre-internet, pre-GPS. Who knows, maybe less of us survived intact, but the ones who did have good stories to tell! The environment that young people grow up in today can present a different set of challenges. It’s what drew me to the idea of an enormous robot that swallows children. On one level, the robot can be seen as a metaphor for all the ways technology envelopes us—and has the power to make us feel more connected, or more isolated. And navigating that can be really complicated. So, I hope this story invites more conversation and reflection on that.

What do you hope young readers take away from Molly And The Machine?

I hope readers come away with the sense that are real adventures out there to be had—and sometimes the outcomes might depend on how they apply their own wits and grit.

 I understand you are already working on a sequel to Molly’s first story. Can you share a bit about this new adventure?

Absolutely! Right now, I’m deep into revisions on “Molly and the Mutants,” the next book in the series. I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll share that the resolution at the end of book one inadvertently winds up causing the problem that arises in book two… and that problem takes the shape of some very large—and very hungry—amphibious creatures that require even more ingenuity on Molly’s part to save everyone in Far Flung Falls from becoming something’s lunch. (As you can see, I’m tapping into my fear of being eaten again.)

Thank you, Erik, for your time and for offering insights into your writing journey, and the creation of Molly and the Machine.

Oh, it’s my pleasure, Julie! Love chatting books!

The publisher, Simon & Schuster has graciously offered a complimentary copy for a giveaway, to one lucky winner. To enter, click here