A Reading Journey Across the United States with Read Across America

Happy National Reading Month!  

In celebration of National Reading Month, The Week Junior collaborated with Read Across America (RAA) to create a list of middle-grade titles with one book set in each state. There are some familiar names on that list. (see below)

The National Education Association’s Read Across America project is a year-round celebration of reading that introduces readers to diverse books with characters to whom they can relate and to worlds that are different from their own. I was thrilled to see my book Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe named as the Mississippi selection and The Turn of the Tide, by fellow Mixed Up Files contributor Rosanne Parry, named as the Oregon selection. The list is full of amazing books and equally amazing authors and interviews with many of the authors can be found in our Mixed Up Files (see below for links).  

Below are ten activities to help celebrate reading across America all year long. These activities can help readers connect with diverse characters and dive into stories set across our nation. 

Visiting the Setting  

Invite readers to create a visitors’ guide to the book’s setting. Before they begin, discuss the setting’s geography, climate, culture, economy, history, landmarks, attractions, and other unique features. Encourage readers to research elements about which they are curious. Next, identify points of interest and significant places within the story. Readers can use this information to create their visitor’s guide with detailed descriptions and interesting facts about each location. For bonus points, invite readers to illustrate their visitors’ guides with artwork and photos.  

Charting the Course  

Invite readers to create a map based on the book’s setting that highlights the impact that the setting has on the book’s main character(s). Which locations are important? Why? What landmarks or features define these locations? How has the history of the setting shaped the main character(s)? Readers can use symbols, labels, and colors to create a map key to represent different elements.  

Creating News  

Invite readers to create a “hometown newspaper” from the perspective of leaders in a community that serves as a significant setting in the book. What would the community’s slogan be? Challenge readers to write at least three articles describing the story’s action and include illustrations of significant events in the book. Invite readers to consider where the main character(s) fit in the overall societal structure of that community. Would the main character(s) agree or disagree with the newspaper’s version of events? If the answer is “no,” challenge readers to write a “letter to the editor” providing the perspective of the main character(s).  

Creating a Character Scrapbook 

Invite readers to choose a character from the story and create a scrapbook for that character describing their daily life and story adventures. The scrapbook can include drawings, quotes, receipts, tickets, and other items that the character would have encountered along their journey. For bonus points, invite readers to write a reflection about the things they have in common with the character they chose, and to create a list of three things from the main character’s culture about which they would like to learn more. 

Sell It!  

Invite readers to create a persuasive sales pitch for the book. To begin, readers can identify themes, characters, and plot elements to highlight. Invite readers to brainstorm ideas and plan their pitch, being sure to include features they think will most appeal to other readers. Readers can then present their pitch to an audience in any form they choose, including an article, podcast, or video. 

Nature Scavenger Hunt 

Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Invite readers to search for at least five items from the natural world of the RAA book selection. Readers can search until they find all the items or for an allotted amount of time. When they’re finished, invite readers to share their items. For bonus points, use non-fiction resources to look up at least three interesting facts about each item.  

Create a Nature Journal from the Point of View of the Main Character(s) in the RAA book  

Readers can create their own journals using art supplies. When their journals are ready, invite them to research the natural world in which the story is set, including the geography, plant and animal life in the area, and the time(s) of the year in which the action takes place. Readers can use this research as inspiration for the nature journal from the perspective of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to make notes in their journals of the details that would be important to the story’s character(s) on each day of the story’s action. Each entry should include the time, date, place, natural elements, including flora and fauna, and weather, plus any additional information the reader believes is important. Journals can include a narration about what the character(s) did while outside and drawings of things the character(s) saw, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted. The journal also can include nature-inspired poems, quotes, questions to research later, pressed leaves or flowers, or all of the above. For bonus points, invite readers outside to observe their own natural setting. Are there any elements in the reader’s own world that are also found in the natural setting of the book they are reading? If so, list and illustrate them. 

Vibing with Verses 

Host a poetry slam for your class or group of friends. Invite readers to create their own original poems from the point of view of the book’s main character(s). Invite readers to recite their poems in poetry-slam fashion for the rest of the group. Readers will learn about poetry, performance, and how to be a supportive audience member. 

Taste Across America  

Invite the readers in your life to pick out at least one food mentioned in the RAA title they are reading. Invite them to create a tasting menu including that food, with additional items inspired by the culture of the book’s main character(s). Need ideas? You can check out a sample Southern tasting menu here. 

Listen Across America 

Divide the readers in your life into groups. Invite each group to research the music of the state and the time period in which a RAA title is set. Invite them to create a playlist featuring artists and songs from that setting and time period. The playlist may be chapter-by-chapter or section-by-section (beginning, middle, and end). Either way, it should reflect the story’s action and the mood of the main character(s) in response to what is happening in the story. Need ideas? You can check out a sample playlist here. 


Below are links (listed alphabetically by the state represented) to some recent Mixed Up Files interviews with RAA authors.  

  • James Ponti’s book City Spies: Golden Gate was chosen as the California title. You can read Patricia Bailey’s interview with him here. 
  • Avi’s The Secret Sisters was chosen as the Colorado pick. You can read Amber Keyser’s interview with him here. 
  • Caroline Starr Rose’s book May B. is the Kansas pick. You can read Kate Hillyer’s interview with her here. 
  • The Minnesota selection is Erin Soderberg Downing’s Just Keep Walking. You can read her interview with Natalie Rompella here.  
  • The Nevada selection is Julie Buxbaum’s The Area 51 Files (illustrated by Lavanya Naidu). You can read her interview with Ines Lozano here.  
  • Dan Gutman’s Dorks in New York! is the (you guessed it!) New York selection. For writing tips from Dan, read his Mixed Up Files interview here. 
  • The North Carolina selection is Sheila Turnage’s most recent release, Island of Spies. You can learn more about the book and Sheila here. 
  • Roll With It by Jamie Sumner is the Oklahoma pick. To learn more about Jamie and Roll With It, check out her interview with Andrea Pyros here.  
  • Varian Johnson’s historical fiction novel The Parker Inheritance is the South Carolina selection. You can find Jacqueline Houtman’s interview with him here 


I hope you’ll pick up some of these RAA titles for yourself and the young readers in your life. For the full list, follow this link. I’m wishing you many fun reading adventures exploring diverse settings and characters as you read across America.  

WNDMG – Interview with Debut Author Patchree Jones

Welcome, Patchree!

It is my extreme pleasure to welcome Patchree Jones to the blog today.  Her debut book comes out later this year, and it’s the sort of story I adore. This is a fantasy that features best friends and a Thai-inspired world.

Take Home Messages

What messages do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

In SKYLIGHT, we follow Sofia through her journey as she deals with issues of self-love, self discovery, and struggles to share her true thoughts and feelings. This story is meant for every kid who feels like they don’t fit in.  I want readers to know that it’s okay to not blindly follow the plan others have for you because you are entitled to have an opinion in your life, even as a kid.

Thai Inspiration

Can you tell me about the Thai folklore that inspire this book?
One of the many traditional Buddhist temples in Thailand
There isn’t one particular folklore that served as the main inspiration. Rather, it’s an homage to my Thai upbringing and culture. I pulled ideas from different elements of mythology and infused my own interpretations. For instance, the Mehk people of the story are loosely based on the kinaree,
a half-human/half-bird creature. However, I’ve recrafted this mythological creature into one which has roots with the kinaree but does not exist in Thai folklore.


Phra Aphai Mani - Wikipedia

Since I was born and raised in the US, I didn’t have many “home-grown” stories of Thai folklore, besides a few scary ghost stories. I delved into classical Thai literature and mythology as an adult, and I was inspired by PHRA APHAI MANI, an epic poem composed by Thai poet Sunthorn Phu. This poem is similar to the Ramayana fused with elements of the Odyssey, so it was a great resource for Thai folklore.

Learning About Different Cultures

How do you balance introducing readers to unfamiliar cultural aspects of your story while keeping the story engaging?
different culture to kids
I used Sofia, my main character, to introduce readers to unfamiliar cultural aspects. Without spoiling too much, Sofia learns about the Mehk people and the kingdom of Tropos right alongside the reader. Everything in this world, including all of the cultural norms, are new to her because she was raised outside of these traditions. She learns throughout the story as she learns aobut herself.

Advice for Aspiring Authors

What advice would you give to aspiring authors of middle grade fantasy?
The Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books - The Bookish Mom
Just keep writing. Read a lot of middle grade books beyond just fantasy and take copious notes. As you write, don’t delete anything and don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Finally, write the story of your heart or at least the story you want to read. There’s really no wrong way to write as long as you continue to put words down on the page.

Dogs and Anime!
Beastars - Plugged In

Can you tell me about your dog?
I love anime, and one of my favorite shows is Beastars. The main character in that show is a wolf so I named my dog Legoshi because he’s part German shepherd, part timber wolf!
He’s a pandemic pup and turns four this year. Legoshi is bigger than most German shepherds, but is the biggest scaredy cat. He hates golf carts, garbage trucks, and the vacuum cleaner, but he loves cheese and candy. He’s a professional napper and is the perfect blanket whenever he naps next to you.

Best Thing about Being an Author of Fantasy for Middle Graders!

What’s the best thing about being an author of fantasy books for middle grade children?
The best thing about writing middle grade fantasy is that I can watch any cartoon or kids show I want and claim that it’s research! But seriously, I think the best thing about being a middle grade fantasy author is the freedom that comes from writing for kids. I get to lean into my silly side, invent
wild storylines, and deal with serious topics in a digestible manner. Moreover, writing middle grade makes me feel closer to my kids and helps us learn from each other as I draft new stories.

New Middle-Grade Releases for March!

March always feels like a long month to me. Cold. Windy. Hints of winter mingled with hints of spring. There’s a lot of time to read a book or two or a few. New Middle-Grade Releases for March will give you some ideas. Enjoy!

Ferris by Kate DiCamillo. 240 pp. March 5.

ferrisIt’s the summer before fifth grade, and for Ferris Wilkey, it’s a summer of sheer pandemonium. Her little sister, Pinky, has vowed to become an outlaw. Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley and is holed up in the Wilkey basement to paint a history of the world. And Charisse, Ferris’s grandmother, has started seeing a ghost at the threshold of her room, which seems like an alarming omen given that she is also feeling unwell. But the ghost is not there to usher Charisse to the Great Beyond. Rather, she has other plans—wild, impractical, illuminating plans. How can Ferris satisfy a specter with Pinky terrorizing the town, Uncle Ted sending Ferris to spy on her aunt, and her father battling an invasion of raccoons?


The First State of Being by Erin Entrada Kelly. 272 pp. March 5. first state of being

It’s August 1999. For twelve-year-old Michael Rosario, life at Fox Run Apartments in Red Knot, Delaware, is as ordinary as ever—except for the looming Y2K crisis and his overwhelming crush on his fifteen-year-old babysitter, Gibby. But when a disoriented teenage boy named Ridge appears out of nowhere, Michael discovers there is more to life than stockpiling supplies and pining over Gibby.

It turns out that Ridge is carefree, confident, and bold, things Michael wishes he could be. But when Ridge reveals that he’s the world’s first-time traveler, Michael and Gibby are stunned but curious. As Ridge immerses himself in 1999—fascinated by microwaves, basketballs, and malls—Michael discovers that his new friend has a book that outlines the events of the next twenty years. His curiosity morphs into something else: focused determination. Michael wants—no, needs—to get his hands on that book. How else can he prepare for the future?

Read an interview with award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly.

Free Period by Ali Terese. 272 pp. March 5.

free periodHelen and Gracie are pranking their way through middle school when a stinky stunt lands them in the front office — again. The principal orders the best friends to do the unthinkable: care about something. So they join the school’s Community Action Club with plans to do as little as humanly possible.

But when Helen is caught unprepared by an early period and bleeds through her pants, the girls take over the club’s campaign for maxi pads in bathrooms. In the name of period equity, the two friends use everything from over-the-top baked goods to glitter gluing for change. But nothing can prepare them for a clueless school board, an annoying little sister, and crushes. As Helen and Gracie find themselves closer to change and in deeper trouble than ever before, they must decide if they care enough to keep going . . . even if it costs them their friendship.


Gigi Shin Is Not a Nerd by Lyla Lee. 192 pp. March 5. gigi shin

Jiyoung “Gigi” Shin loves to create, from her zany outfits to self-executed haircuts. She dreams of becoming an artist and doodles every chance she gets—at school instead of taking notes, in choir instead of singing, and at home instead of homework. Art is her way of escaping her boring life in suburban Middle of Nowhere, Texas. Unfortunately, her working-class, immigrant parents want her to focus on her studies and pursue something more “practical.”  When Gigi learns about an elite art camp on the East Coast, she’s determined to go. But she knows her parents won’t let her. After overhearing her little brother Tommy complain about how hard math is and how his teacher goes too fast for him, Gigi has a brilliant idea: forming a tutoring club with her friends to make enough money for the art camp. The girls go all in, but the first few sessions with their classmates are a little chaotic, and Gigi wonders if she will end up sacrificing more than she bargained for to achieve her dreams.

Gut Reaction by Kirby Larson & Quinn Wyatt. 272 pp. March 5.

gut reactionTess Medina is still dealing with the loss of her father when she starts at a new school. She feels close to him by doing what she does best — baking — because her dad taught her everything she knows. But when tasting her creations causes a deep stabbing pain in her abdomen, she tries to power through and be strong in the same way she powers through her emotional pain.

Lucky for Tess, her baking skills attract the right kind of attention, and she assembles a ragtag team to taste her new creations in preparation for the Jubilee Flour Junior Baker West Coast competition. This is a chance to redeem herself and prove that she’s a star baker. Above all, Tess is desperate to win first place and make her dad proud.

But leading up to the competition, Tess’s pain gets worse and worse, and, soon, she finds that she’s avoiding so many foods that she’s barely eating. When the physical pain becomes too great, Tess will be forced to confront everything she has been trying so desperately to hide.

Kyra, Just for Today by Sara Zarr. 320 pp. March 5. kyra just for today

Krya has always felt like she’s a bit too much. Too tall, too loud, and too earnest. But she’s okay with that. Ever since her mom got sober five years ago, she and Kyra have always been there for each other—something Kyra is thankful for every week when she attends her group meetings with other kids of alcoholics.

Then seventh grade starts, and everything Kyra used to be able to count on feels unsure. Kyra’s best friend, Lu, is hanging out with eighth graders, and Mom is unusually distant. When Mom starts missing work, sleeping in, and forgetting things, Kyra doesn’t dare say “relapse.” But not saying that word means not saying anything at all—to Lu or to her support group. And when Kyra suspects that her worst fears might be real, she starts to question whether being just enough is not enough at all.

Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice by Anna Lapera. 336 pp. March 5.

mani semillaTwelve-year-old, Chinese-Filipino-American-Guatemalan Manuela “Mani” Semilla wants two things. To get her period and to thwart her mom’s plan of taking her to Guatemala on her thirteenth birthday. If her mom’s always going on about how dangerous it is in Guatemala, and how much she sacrificed to come to this country, then why should Mani even want to visit?

But one day, up in the attic, she finds secret letters between her mom and her Tía Beatriz, who, according to family lore, died in a bus crash before Mani was born. But the letters reveal a different story. Why did her family really leave Guatemala? What will Mani learn about herself along the way? And how can the letters help her to stand up against the culture of harassment at her school?

Maya Plays the Part by Calyssa Erb. 240 pp. March 5. maya plays the part

Maya lives and breathes musicals. When her chance to finally be a part of the summer musical program at the community theater comes up, Maya is convinced she will get the lead. After all, who knows The Drowsy Chaperone better than she does? However, things don’t turn out exactly the way she’s planned, and the summer turns out to be jam-packed with problems: dealing with her best friend’s move, her parents’ busy jobs, and―since her autism diagnosis―the ongoing puzzle of how to be Maya in Public. But perhaps most important of all, Maya has to figure out how to play the part that truly feels like her own.

Paper Dragons: The Fight for the Hidden Realm by Siobhan McDermott. 384 pp. March 5.

paper dragonsAn outsider in her village above the cloud sea, 12-year-old orphan Yeung Zhi Ging’s only hope of escape is to win the single invitation to train as a Silhouette: an apprentice to the immortals. After her ill-fated attempt to impress the Silhouette scout leads to a dragon attack, Zhi Ging is sure her chances are over. But the scout spots her potential and offers her protection and a second chance. She’s in.

In her lessons in the underwater realm of the immortals, Zhi Ging faces challenging trials to prove she’s worthy—despite her rivals’ attempts to sabotage her. But as Zhi Ging’s power grows, so do the rumors of the return of the Fui Gwai, an evil spirit that turns people into grey-eyed thralls. Can Zhi Ging use her newly uncovered talents to save her friends and the world beyond? Or will the grey-eyed spirit consume them all?


Penny Draws a Secret Adventure by Sara Shepard. 240 pp. March 5. penny draws a secret adventure

Little by little, Penny Lowry is making it through the fifth grade with help from her friends as well as her lovable dog Cosmo. But there’s a lot of change to deal with this year. Penny’s newborn twin brother and sister have everyone in her family on their last nerve with their crying. Her friends Maria and Chloe are spending a lot of time together without inviting Penny along, leaving her to worry why. Then, on top of everything else, Penny and her friends discover a very old map in her attic that sends them on a wild scavenger hunt in search of treasure! Can Penny get her worries about her friends and family under control, and lead her group of friends to find the hidden treasure?

Summer at Squee by Andrea Wang. 320 pp. March 5.

summer at squeePhoenny Fang plans to have the best summer ever. This year she’s a senior camper at Summertime Chinese Culture, Wellness, and Enrichment Experience. That means she and her squad of friends will have the most influence. It almost doesn’t matter that her brother is a CIT (counselor-in-training) and that her mom and auntie are the camp directors.

But the day Phoenny arrives, she learns the Squad has been split up, and there’s an influx of new campers. Determined to be welcoming and share all the things she loves about camp, Phoenny quickly learns how out of touch she is with others’ experiences. Particularly of the campers who are adoptees. The same things that make her feel connected to her culture and community make some of the other campers feel excluded.

Summer at Squee turns out to be even more transformative than Phoenny could’ve imagined, with new friendships, her first crush, an epic show, and a bigger love for and understanding of her community.

Next Stop: A Graphic Novel by Debbie Fong. 272 pp. March 19. next stop

Pia is a soft-spoken middle schooler whose life is turned upside down after both the loss of her younger brother and her parents’ decision to move to a new town. To get her mind off of the troubles at home, Pia goes on a bus tour with a family friend, stopping at weird and wacky roadside attractions. The final destination: a mysterious underground lake. The locals say it has magical powers. Pia won’t admit she believes in it, but she’s holding on to hope that the waters may hold the answer to mending her broken family.


The Circuit: Graphic Novel by Francisco Jiménez. Illustrated by Celia Jacobs. 240 pp. March 26.

the circuitPoignantly told from a young boy’s perspective, The Circuit centers on a Mexican family working in California’s fields. It portrays an honest and evocative account of a family’s journey from Mexico to the fields of California and to a life of backbreaking work and constant household moves. The story is told through the eyes of a boy who longs for education and the right to call one place home.

A popular choice for community reads, as well as school curricula and curriculum adoptions. Francisco Jiménez’s award-winning memoir is brought to life in Celia Jacob’s beautiful and resonant artwork and is a powerful story of survival, faith, and hope.

Olivetti by Allie Millington. 256 pp. March 26. olivetti

Being a typewriter is not as easy as it looks. Surrounded by books and recently replaced by a computer, Olivetti has been forgotten by the Brindle family―the family he’s lived with for years. The Brindles are busy humans. But 12-year-old Ernest would rather be left alone with his collection of Oxford English Dictionaries. The least they could do is remember Olivetti since he remembers every word they’ve typed on him. It’s a thankless job, keeping memories alive.

Olivetti gets a rare glimpse of action from Ernest’s mom, Beatrice, only for her to drop him off at Heartland Pawn Shop. When Olivetti learns Beatrice has mysteriously gone missing afterward, he believes he can help find her. He breaks the only rule of the “typewriterly code” and types back to Ernest, divulging Beatrice’s memories stored inside him.

Their search takes them across San Francisco―chasing clues, maybe committing a few misdemeanors. As Olivetti spills out the past, Ernest is forced to face what he and his family have been running from: The Everything That Happened. Only by working together will they find Beatrice and the parts of themselves they’ve lost.

Here are even more ideas for a new March read.

March 2024 bookshelf