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Embracing Diverse Talents and Perspectives: Using Creative Projects to Dive Deeper into Fiction

For me, the brisk fall weather always brings with it a burst of creative energy. Most likely, you and your students are feeling that too. Why not use this season as an opportunity to engage your students in diving deeper into books in creative ways? As we all know, students have different styles of learning and a variety of talents. What if you could offer your students a number of fun options to explore the fictional books they’re reading and to demonstrate their knowledge? I have included several ideas below:

  • Invite students to consider books as not only works of literature but also as works of art. Begin by showing students several well-known hardcover books and discussing how the text, images, and other design elements on the front and back cover, the spine, and inside flaps relate to the central themes of each book Then invite students to rewrite and redesign the front and back cover, the spine, and inside flaps of the book they’re reading. Students can select a color palette that they believe best fits the book, create new images, and re-write the front and back flap copy to highlight things that they believe would appeal to potential readers. They can put those elements together in a new book design. Ask students to also consider elements such as text, font choice and placement, and how themes and design elements from the front cover continue onto the spine, back cover and flaps. Students can even choose a new book title.
  • Invite students to create a playlist including a song for each chapter with a short paragraph explaining why they selected each song and how it relates to the chapter. I recently put together a playlist for my book Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe featuring artists from Mississippi, where the book is set. Even for someone like me who is not musically inclined, putting the list together was surprisingly fun. I discovered new artists and thinking about chapter pairings gave me the opportunity to re-examine the central theme of each chapter. Limiting the playlist options to artists from Mississippi also allowed me to highlight the talented musical artists from that state. You might try a similar approach with your students. You can ask them to select songs from the historical period of the book, to feature only artists from the geographical region where the story is set, or to limit their choices to a particular genre of music.
  • Invite students to create a graphic novel presentation. If the book your students are reading is not already a graphic novel, you can invite students to select what they consider to be the five most pivotal chapters and to present those chapters in graphic novel form.
  • Invite students to create a poem to have a conversation with a book. Another idea is to invite students to create a poem inspired by questions that they had about a book they’ve read. First ask students to consider why the writer chose certain elements in the book. Then invite students to create a poem that explores the meaning of those elements or that asks questions about the writer’s choices. Students can use any poetry form that they wish, including free verse. Sometimes limiting options is the best way to inspire creativity. If students get stuck, they can write the letters of the book title vertically down the left side of a page. They can then use each letter as the beginning of a word in a line of their poem.
  • Use art to explore and express the way the main character changed. Novels involve change and growth. One way to engage readers in exploring the changes in the main character over the course of a novel is to ask them to create an illustration of the main character at the beginning of the book (utilizing elements of composition including setting, choice of color palette, clothing and accessory choices and other items to show the main character’s traits). You can then invite students to illustrate that same character at the ending of the book, again using elements of the composition to show how the character has grown and changed.
  • Turn students into book ambassadors. You can invite students to imagine that they are booksellers and ask them to create a short video sales pitch for the book. What types of readers do the students believe would be interested in the book? What elements of the book did the students find most appealing? What would they tell someone to try to persuade them to read the book?
  • Challenge students to become book marketers. Once students are comfortable becoming book ambassadors, you can invite them to take the next step and become book marketers. Challenge them to create at least five new taglines for the book they’re studying. As you know, taglines are short phrases included on the front or back cover or inside flaps intended to intrigue potential readers. For example, the tagline for Refugee by Alan Gratz is “Three different kids. One mission in common: ESCAPE.” The tagline for When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller is “Some stories refuse to stay bottled up.” The tagline for All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall is “When all the pieces fit together, dreams can come true.” As you can imagine, creating a tagline takes lots of brainstorming. If students get stuck, invite them to create lists of key words that capture important elements of the story. Student then can combine the words in different order and phrasing to come up with potential taglines.
  • Invite students to create a word-inspired poem. Ask students to pick a number at random that is smaller than the number of pages in the book they are reading. Then invite them to turn to that page, select at least seven words that intrigue them, and create a poem about the book that uses each of those seven words.
  • Invite students to immerse themselves in the setting of the book. You can invite students to research the setting of the book. They can then create an annotated map of the place where the major story action occurred.
  • Invite students to get social. You can invite students to create fictional social media posts from the point of view of the main character in the story at key action points.

 

Whatever activities you choose, I hope that you and your students enjoy diving even more deeply into the world of books. You can learn more about new releases at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/mixed-up-files-book-lists/ and find a list of books by Mixed Up Files contributors at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/about/contributor-books/. I’m wishing you and your students loads of reading and creative adventures.

New Releases: November 2021

As the weather gets chillier, what better time to curl under a blanket with a new book? November’s reads offer escape for fantasy lovers and realism for many who are still coping with the world’s situation. Take a look at some of the books releasing this month and mouse over the covers for links to purchase from Bookshop.

The Ice House by Monica Sherwood

With shades of When You Reach MeThe Thing About Jellyfish, and Bridge to Terabithia, and a big, timely climate hook at its core, here is a heartfelt middle-grade debut about the inevitability of change that will resonate profoundly during these extraordinary times.

Spring has arrived, and yet an unyielding winter freeze has left Louisa snowed into her apartment building for months with parents coping with extreme stress, a little brother struggling with cabin fever, and—awkwardly—her neighbor and former close friend, Luke. The new realities of this climate disaster have not only affected Louisa’s family, but when Luke’s dad has an ice-related accident and it’s unclear if he’ll recover, both families’ lives are turned upside down.

Desperate to find an escape from the grief plaguing their homes, Louisa and Luke build a massive snow fort in their yard. But their creation opens up an otherworldly window to what could lie ahead and sets them on a mission: to restore the universe to its rightful order, so the ice will melt, and life will return to “normal”. With a deft combination of heartfelt prose and a touch of magic, Monica Sherwood’s affecting debut novel is a relatable story of families grappling with—and emerging from—a different kind of quarantine.

 

Stuntboy in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illus. Raúl the Third

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting all the time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how. Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

 

Birdie’s Billions by Edith Cohn

A savvy young girl finds half a million dollars and wonders if she can keep it in this charming middle grade mystery that asks big questions about right, wrong, and what you’d do for family.

For as long as eleven-year-old Birdie can remember, it’s always been just her and her mom, which means there’s not a lot of extra money to spend on things like new clothes and batons from the fancy gymnastics store. Still, they always find a way to make ends meet. Then Birdie makes one silly mistake that has a big consequence: Mom loses her job. Now things are more dire than ever, and Birdie knows it’s up to her to fix it.

When Birdie discovers a huge stash of cash in an abandoned house, she just knows it must be the answer to their problems. But the people who left that money behind aren’t willing to give it up so easily. Does “finders, keepers” count when it’s half a million dollars? In this heartfelt small-town story from beloved author Edith Cohn, Birdie learns how to balance what’s right for her family-and herself-with what’s the right thing to do.

 

When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura

A heartwarming, feel-good story of friendship and overcoming adversity in a time of COVID, this is a book about community, giving back, and understanding the world around us through the power of generosity. With one little announcement from their fourth-grade teacher, Shayla, Liam, Ben, and Ai’s world turned upside down. Now, with school on hold due to a strange virus that they don’t quite understand, the only semblance of safety they feel is knowing that they have one another in their apartment complex.

But as each of them head home and experience their own version of confinement, it becomes very real. And as their individual struggles grow, they need each other now more than ever. Very soon, they discover that they’re not the only ones who need a little help.

Banded together, the friends find ways to help others struggling in their building. And one by one, they do their part in making their neighbors feel just a little bit safer. As the world becomes more complex, as protests take the streets, Shayla, Liam, Ben, and Ai do everything they can to better understand the world around them and the people around them in order to discover the power and comfort that understanding and generosity can bring.

 

Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli and The Tea Dragon Society, this is a magically heartwarming graphic novel about self-acceptance and friendship. Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

 

Candidly Cline by Kathryn Ormsbee

A must-read for fans of Julie Murphy and Ashley Herring Blake, this queer coming-of-age story from critically acclaimed author Kathryn Ormsbee sings with heart, warmth, and hope.

 

Born in Paris, Kentucky, and raised on her gram’s favorite country music, Cline Alden is a girl with big dreams and a heart full of song. When she finds out about a young musicians’ workshop a few towns over, Cline sweet-talks, saves, and maybe fibs her way into her first step toward musical stardom.

But her big dreams never prepared her for the butterflies she feels surrounded by so many other talented kids—especially Sylvie, who gives Cline the type of butterflies she’s only ever heard about in love songs. As she learns to make music of her own, Cline begins to realize how much of herself she’s been holding back. But now, there’s a new song taking shape in her heart—if only she can find her voice and sing it.

 

Crown Heist by Deron Hicks

In another “suspenseful mystery romp with art appreciation” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Art and Camille head to London to find her estranged father, and soon find themselves embroiled in a heist involving a long-dead monarch. Packed with fascinating facts about real places and pieces of art, this fast-paced thriller is perfect for fans of the Spy School and Mr. Limoncello’s Library series.

No matter how dangerous his adventures have been, Art has always been able to count on his best friend, Camille. Now that Camille is meeting her estranged father, Art wants to be there for her—which means going to London.

But Camille’s history professor father, renowned for expertise in British legend, is missing. When they visit his apartment, Art and Camille find a long-missing object that suggests the professor could be in trouble and solving a mystery related to London’s history. Follow Art and Camille as they visit the Tower of London, National Portrait Gallery, and ride the “tube” in hopes of uncovering the truth before it’s too late.

 

Tangled Up in Luck (The Tangled Mysteries 1) by Merrill Wyatt

When seventh grade enemies research a missing set of jewels for a class project, they realize that the answers to the unsolved case might be much closer to home than they thought in this fun-filled mystery for fans of The Book Scavenger and Lemons.

If you told Sloane Osburn and Amelia Miller-Poe that they’d be hiding in their town cemetery from an evil mastermind, they would have been hard-pressed to believe you. If you also told them that person was intent on beating them to a cache of long-lost jewels using nothing more than a slingshot and wicked aim, they’d have been sure you got your facts wrong. Finally, if you told them they’d be doing all of this as friends…well, they would have been sure you needed medical attention.

Whether through serendipity (really, really good luck) or zemblanity (really, really bad luck), someone tricked their teacher into using their seventh-grade class to investigate the mystery of their town’s long-missing treasure. From there, things have escalated. Quickly. Now, the girls are stuck hiding behind a gravestone, dodging acorns (who knew acorns could be so threatening?), and just a few clues short of those jewels. It’s up to these enemies-turned-partners to uncover centuries-old clues to find the treasure at the end of this book before the mysterious person on their trail can get to it first.

 

The Swag is in the Socks by Kelly J. Baptist

Xavier Moon is stepping out of the shadows when his great-uncle gives him some outlandish socks and some even stranger requests. A story about heart, confidence, and standing on your own two feet that is perfect for fans of The Season of Styx Malone and The Parker Inheritance. 

Xavier Moon is not one to steal the show. He’s perfectly content to play video games and sit at his bedroom window watching the neighborhood talk outside.

But for Xavier’s twelfth birthday, he receives a pair of funky socks and a challenge from his great-uncle, Frankie Bell, saying it’s time to swag out and speak up. First on the list: get into the legendary Scepter League. Xavier’s grandfather, great-uncle, and father were all invited to join the elite boys’ after-school club that admits only the most suave and confident young men. Xavier has never had the courage to apply before, but his wild socks are getting him some big attention, so maybe it’s time to come out of the shadows and follow in his family’s footsteps. Or maybe Xavier will march down a new path altogether.

 

Stuck by Jennifer Sender

A coming-of-age story about a boy who is used to flying under the radar, and the classroom of kids determined to help him stand out. This touching friendship tale is the perfect read for fans of Fish in a Tree and Song for a Whale.

 

If Austin picked a color to describe his life, it would be tumbleweed brown. Austin doesn’t like standing out. He’s always the new kid, and there’s no hiding his size. Plus, Austin has a secret: he struggles to read.

Then Austin meets Bertie, who is razzmatazz. Everything about Bertie is bursting! But the best part of his newest school is the Safety Squad, with their laser lemon vests. Their easy confidence and leadership stand out in the coolest way. Even when things are not so vibrant and life at home makes Austin feel pacific blue, for the first time, he wants to leave a mark. And the more Austin speaks up, the more he finds he may not be that different after all.

 

A-Okay by Jarad Greene

A-Okay is a heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and—to top it off—Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him. Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

 

Spell Sweeper by Lee Edward Fodi

Featuring a failed young wizard and her cleanup crew, this delightfully dysfunctional middle-grade fantasy is an imaginative twist on magic school that’s perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The School for Good and Evil.

Cara Moone is a wizard—but she’s basically flunked out of wizard school. Now she’s in training to be a MOP, also known as Magical Occurrence Purger, also known as it’s Cara’s job to sweep up the hazardous dust a real wizard’s spells leave behind.

A real wizard, that is, like Harlee Wu, the so-called Chosen One destined to save the magical world. But when one of Harlee’s spells goes awry and leaves behind a rift in the fabric of magic itself, it’ll take more than magic to clean up the mess. Luckily, messes are kind of Cara’s thing.

 

 

Gussy by Jimmy Cajoleas

A magical, lyrical middle grade novel that will enchant fans of Kelly Barnhill and Anne Ursu, about a girl who must take on the ultimate responsibility in her village—and the dangers of secrets kept locked away in the dark.

Gussy knows that being a village Protector is a big job, even if Grandpa Widow makes the role look easy. So when Grandpa Widow is suddenly called to travel across the desert surrounding the village, and Gussy has to step into the role of Protector herself, she barely feels ready to perform the magical Rites that keep her village safe from the Great Doom, the mysterious power that threatens the residents in the lands outside.

On her very first night in charge, a mysterious young girl arrives in search of shelter, forcing Gussy to break the number one rule of being a Protector: When the sun goes down, keep the gates shut. Soon it becomes clear that the Great Doom has managed to get inside the village walls. And as the villagers all look to Gussy for help, Gussy will have to turn to some surprising allies to save the only home she’s ever known.

 

The Art of Running Away by Sabrina Kleckner

Twelve-year-old Maisie is an artist. When she’s in front of her sketchbook or apprenticing at Glenna’s Portraits, the family-run art shop her grandmother started, the world makes sense. She doesn’t think about Calum, her brother who mysteriously left home and cut ties with her family six years ago, or her parents’ insistence that she “broaden her horizons” and try something new—something that isn’t art.

But when Glenna’s Portraits falls on hard times, Maisie’s plan to take over the shop when she’s older and become a lifelong artist starts to crumble. In desperation to make things right, Maisie runs away to London to reconnect with her adult brother, hoping he might be the key to saving the shop.

But as Maisie learns about her family’s past from Calum, she starts to rethink everything she’s ever known. Maisie must decide not only if saving her family’s art shop is worth it, but if she can forgive her parents for the mistakes they’ve made.

 

 

 

 

WINNERS of the STEM Tuesday 4th Anniversary Giveaway!

Congratulations to the WINNERS of the STEM Tuesday giveaway prizes. The person listed has won the prize listed directly below it. You will be contacted shortly by the authors themselves. 

 

 

WINNER: Heather Matthes

Author Jennifer SwansonFrom Author Jennifer Swanson 

TWO free books

The Secret Science of Sports book

WINNER: Carol Baldwin

Newman headshot

From Author  Patricia Newman

Whose books include:  Planry Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean, and Eavesdropping on Elephants

One FREE 15-20 minute Skype Visit 

 

 

 

 

WINNER: Cristine Beach

Author Heather L. Montgomery

From Author Heather L. Montgomery,

Whose books include:  Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other and Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.

One FREE 15-20 minute Skype Visit 

 

 

WINNER: Joel Timmons

From Author Nancy Castaldo

Whose books include:  The Farm that Feeds Us and Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction

One FREE 15-20 minute Skype Visit

 

 

WINNER: Bri Kvale

From Author Janet Slingerland

Whose books include Atoms and Molecules

One FREE 15-20 minute Skype Visit

 

 

 

WINNER: Sandra Ontiveros

Sue Heavenrich, author

From Author Sue Heavenrich 

1 copy of

13 Ways to Eat Fly Book

 

 

 

 

 

WINNER: John Smith

Mike Hays

 

Mike Hays is offering a 20-minute classroom Zoom to talk about STEM Tuesday and the ways STEM intersects with all aspects of life and literature.

 

WINNER: Annie Lynn

From Author Mary Kay Carson 

Two books:

Escape from the Titanic book  Emi and the Rhino Scientist book

 

WINNER: Summer Burgardt

From Author Kirsten W. Larson  

1 copy of
Wood Wire Wings book

WINNER: Nancy Payette

From Author Karen Latchana Kenney 

TWO STEM books for  giveaway: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINNER: Tonya Ramsey-Chandler 

AND  ONE FREE $25 Gift Card to Barnes and Noble (from the whole team) 

THANK YOU for reading along with STEM Tuesday. Cheers to another great year. GO STEM!!!