Middle Grade Student-Produced Book Trailers

***When I thought about sharing this middle grade learning project with you all just a few weeks ago, I really wasn’t thinking I’d be opening with the following paragraph. Hopefully, everyone is weathering necessary school closings as best we can. Teachers, librarians, and parents have such a critical role to play in our world’s response to this pandemic; let’s keep teaching our kids that we all learn amazing lessons from books, both fiction and non-fiction, and that sharing good stories benefits all learners. I hope this book trailer project idea might work for your classroom situation in the coming weeks, whether you’re face-to-face with your kids or working remotely with them.***

In school? Teaching from home? Need an extra project idea to supplement your kids’ online academics? Whether you are a middle grade teacher, a librarian, or a homeschooling parent, it may be a good time to try a project that employs a little freedom and a lot of creativity: middle grade student-produced book trailers.

Student-produced book trailers are a fantastic way to inspire readership of new books, incorporate technology into learning, employ writing skills, and practice project planning and organization. If your school is in session, this is the kind of project that will energize your students despite the springtime sluggishness that tends to set in around now, or to regain the attention of those who’ve grown hard to hook. Or, if your school is among the many closing for several weeks and suddenly implementing online learning, your readers may need a project with wide parameters to which they can bring a highly individualized amount of knowledge and expertise.

A book trailer project addresses multiple areas of standards for learning, as well: reading, writing, speaking, listening, technology…and depending on the content of the book for which the trailer is produced, possibly history, science, world studies/cultures, and others!

Here’s a step-by-step that worked with my students recently:

  1. Ask students to think about movie trailers out there right now, and trailers they can recall from recent years. Students’ contributions  can be listed on the board, in the virtual classroom collaboration space, or on a group email. Have the class brainstorm and share characteristics that made those movie trailers memorable.
  2. Introduce the concept of a book trailer via discussion or info sheet. Depending on ages and interests, some students may not realize the wealth of beautiful book trailers available online that pique attention and provide visuals for a new book or series. Professionally-created book trailers by authors and publishers employ graphics, video, animation, words, music, and dialogue to craft cinema-worthy advertisements, and you can share wonderful examples with a few links.
  3. You will also find many student-produced book trailers, created for the classroom or out of fandom. Watching a variety of both professional and student-produced trailers will give you a clearer idea of the capabilities of your readers, and will allow you to generate a list of required or suggested elements for their student-produced trailers. For example:
  • Book choice (class novel, or independent read?)
  • Video footage, with or without dialogue
  • Still images, saved and cited with source, or taken by the student photographer
  • Labels, captions, and hooks written by the student
  • Quotes from the text, with chapter and page cited
  • Author info
  • An image of the book cover with author’s name
  • Music
  • Voice over
  • Reviews, either borrowed and cited or collected from classmates
  • “Coming Soon” list of similar titles or other titles by the author
  • Color, style, length, pace of the trailer
  • Questions or statements to hook the potential reader
  • Revelation of a certain number of plot points and characters…but don’t reveal the ending!
  1. What about books with characters, situations, or settings that students can’t portray in actual video footage, for whatever reason? Instead of live actors, students might try models or toys for a stop-motion process. Just as effective as costumed actors, isolating symbolic props in interesting scenes or lighting for close-up shots can be mysterious and thought-provoking. There are many more components to a book trailer than the video footage, so if your students don’t have the resources, scrap that part.
  2. Technically speaking…. On what software or web-based design program can your students produce the book trailer? If your students have dedicated laptops, they may have video-producing software at their fingertips. My students made excellent trailers using their laptop camera for video, then easily imported the segments into the video editor. Special effects and music made the video-making experience fun and frustration-free. For those with no laptop or software, kids who have hand-held gadgets (phone, tablet, iPod) will probably already be quite adept at recording video segments and emailing them to themselves for use. iMovie offers templates and tutorials as do free accounts on Animoto, Powtoon, and other web-based presentation programs. A slideshow book trailer is another great option for still images, original text, and presentation effects.

Once book trailers are completed and edited, you can think about ways to use these great middle grade projects in the future: library contests, summer reading program activities, back-to-school night for new students, or homeschool network or coop project sharing.

Thanks as always for reading, and I hope a book trailer project might work for your readers!

STEM Tuesday– Astronauts and Space Travel — In the Classroom

Reading books from this month’s list confirmed something I instinctively knew – I am nowhere near adventurous enough to be an astronaut. Here are my brief takes on the books I read.

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Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Countdown tells the story of how mankind journeyed to (and first walked on) the moon. Unlike most books about astronauts, this book is told in free verse poetry. It is also primarily illustrated, gorgeously, by Thomas Gonzalez.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLost in Outer Space
by Tod Olson

This book screams for a read-aloud. Once you get into it, it gets increasingly difficult to put down. Olson does a great job of telling Apollo 13’s story. He puts his own spin on it by sprinkling the perspective of Commander Jim Lovell’s daughter Barbara (a teenager at the time) throughout.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgCutting-Edge Astronaut Training
by Karen Latchana Kenny

This book is a quick but informative read, covering how astronauts train to go into space.



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Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow
by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

This book looks at NASA from the beginning of the space program through to expectations for the future. One thing I love about this book is that it weaves in what is happening in the world at various points in time and how those things impact NASA’s missions.

Springboard From the Books

Each of these books has references to materials that readers can explore in order to delve more deeply into the subject matter. Look through the books and take some time to explore these materials, most of which are online.

You can also explore materials provided from author and publisher websites.

Tod Olson, Lost in Outer Space:


Suzanne Slade’s Book Resources:

Suzanne Slade’s Great Space Resources:

Explore Free Verse

Take a closer look at Coundown and challenge students to create their own free verse poetry. As an added challenge, have students use poetry as a means of writing nonfiction – whether it’s describing something or telling a nonfiction story.

Here are two great resources for looking at and developing some free verse:

As a bonus, you can read about Suzanne Slade’s journey in writing this book here:

Signs of the Times

Pick an event from one of the books. Explore what was going on in the world at that point in time. Here are some questions you might want to answer:

What songs were popular? Listen to some.
What TV shows were people watching? Watch one.
What were people wearing?
What problems was the world facing at that time?
Who was the President of the United States? Who were the other world leaders?
What was the cutting-edge technology for that time?

Consider making a timeline of important world events, including one or more of the significant events mentioned in the book(s).

Who do you know who was alive during that time? Interview one or more people to get their perspective(s) on the event.

Consider Being an Astronaut

Do a little career exploration and determine if you have what it takes to be an astronaut.
What is NASA looking for in astronauts? Find out here:

There is a short video where astronauts talk about what kinds of people NASA looks for in astronauts here:

Take an Astronaut test – would you be a good candidate?

NASA has a behind the scenes look at astronaut training from about 15 years ago. Poke around the information and read entries from an astronaut trainee’s journal here:

Then answer the question. Do you have what it takes to be an astronaut? Why or why not?

Pick astronaut or another career and do a little research into it.
What kind of skills and/or training does it require?
What is a typical workday like?
What is the pay range?

One place to look for career information is the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics:

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It takes many people to put astronauts up in space. One book that highlights a lot of these jobs is Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.

Read this and/or look through NASA’s website to see what other careers help with space exploration. Do any of them interest you?


Other Ideas:

Look Into Life in Space

Take an online tour of the ISS in space with astronaut Sunita (Suni) Williams:

Or watch the 30 minute video A Day in the Life Aboard the International Space Station:

How is life in space similar to your life? How is it different?
Would you like to live in space? Why or why not?
Bonus: Can you find out what your home looks like from space?

Astronaut Biographies

There is so much information available on the NASA website. Here is where you can find a lot of the information related to astronauts:

Biographies for NASA’s active astronauts can be found here:

There are other links for information on former astronauts, international astronauts, and more.
Students could choose an astronaut to profile, explore the information provided, and write a biography about them.


I hope you have fun journeying into space with these books and activities.


Janet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website:

Diversity in MG Lit #14 Crossing Borders

Immigration and border-crossing has long been a subject of literature for both children and adults. I went looking for new titles and rounded up a group of favorites about kids who cross borders. Refreshingly these are all by own voices authors. I’ve included a few spoilers that I thought might be relevant to parents and educators.
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros  is an absolutely uplifting and heart-wrenching story of a young Latino boy whose mother is swept up in an immigration raid and deported leaving him and his dad to care for twin 6 year olds. Challenging. There is also a friendship story laced with all the usual MG drama plus Efren’s developing sense of responsibility to take leadership. The story is peppered with lots of words in Spanish, conveniently translated in a glossary in the back, but quite accessible to anyone who hears Spanish spoken regularly. *spoiler* this is one of those rare books with a satisfying but sad ending. The family is not reunited in the end. Your most tender-hearted readers may struggle with this. (Harper, March 2020)
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine takes us back more than 400 years to the era when the King and Queen of Spain expelled the Jews and engaged in many acts of cruelty including forced conversion. In this story Paloma makes an epic journey crossing political and cultural borders along the way….The author has based this story, in part, on her own family history.  (Harper May 2020)
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet and illustrated by Claire Fauvel, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger This graphic novel follows the travels of an orphaned Jewish girl in WWII France who travels constantly from one place of sanctuary to the next finding comfort in the courage of the French Resisters and in the art of photography. I’m always on the lookout for translated work this was originally a novel published in French by l’ècole des loisirs. (Harper Alley Jan 2020)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park does much to both honor and interrogate the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In it a Chinese American girl crosses over from the urban west coast where most Chinese immigrants of the 1880s lived to a fictional stand-in for DeSmet SD where the last 4 Little House books were set. She faces down the prejudices of her town while attempting to finish her education and open a dress shop with her father.  (Clarion March, 2020)
These books were published in 2018 and 2019
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide  is a debut historical fiction about the changes that Edi Amin brought to Uganda in the 1970. An African boy and Indian girl find their friendship severed when Indians are forced to leave Uganda. Though the events of this era are nearly 50 years old, I think readers will find they resonate deeply with more current experiences. Sometimes it is easier to have a conversation about difficult issues when the story is set at a bit of a remove from the lived experience of students in a classroom.    (Katherine Tegan Books, 2019)
Gürero, poems of a border kid by David Bowels Is a lively collection of poems about a child whose life both literally and spiritually crosses the US-Mexico border. The power of this book far out strips its size and it is an excellent choice for a classroom read together. If you are not familiar with Cinco Punto Press, they are an independent press in El Paso, TX publishing many books on the border and all it means for people on both sides. They have bilingual Spanish/English books and like many small and regional publishers they are brave and diverse in their offerings.  (Cinco Punto Press, 2018)
Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry is the story of a brother and sister immigrating to New York during the American civil war. Orphaned in their crossing, Danny and Kathleen have to scramble to avoid the dreaded orphanage and equally lethal Civli War. Danny dresses as a girl to take a position as a domestic servant with his sister in the home of wealthy Protestants. Fortunately Danny’s love for the music and dance of his home country leads him and his sister to a better home and family.Their story intersects with the Civil War Draft Riots a piece of Civil War history woefully overlooked in the curriculum and an event which does much to illuminate our current state of race relations. (Carolrhoda, 2019)
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga just won a Newbery honor. It was my honor to be in conversation with Jasmine at the Portland Book Festival last year and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her.   In her gorgeous novel in verse, a Syrian refugee Jude and her mother come to Cincinnati to live with relatives. Jude struggles to find her way in middle school and her American cousin comes to terms with her own struggles as an American-born Syrian feeling disconnected with both her cultures of origin. (Balzer & Bray, 2019)