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7 MG Novels to Celebrate International Day of Mathematics

According to the official website, today is International Day of Mathematics, a global celebration of math. And while math aficionados around the world will be celebrating in various ways, we here at the Mixed-Up Files are commemorating the day by highlighting a few of our favorite middle-grade novels that showcase math in a literary way. If you have a favorite middle-grade math novel, let us know in the comments section. (Mouse over the titles for purchasing information.)

Violet and the Pie of Life by D.L. Green

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math.

#1: Adjust the ratio of Mom’s nagging to her compliments.
#2: Multiply Dad’s funny stories by a factor of three.
#3: Add in romantic stuff wherever possible.

But when her dad walks out, Violet realizes that the odds do not look good. Why can’t her parents get along like popular, perfect Ally’s parents? Would it be better to have no dad at all, like her best friend, McKenzie? Violet is considering the data when she and Ally get cast in the school play, and McKenzie doesn’t–a probability that Violet never calculated. Maybe friendship and family have more variables than she thought. Filled with warmth, math-y humor, and delicious pie, this heartfelt middle grade read is perfect for fans of The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. Includes illustrated charts, graphs, and diagrams throughout.

 

All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall

Based on a true story, All of the Above is the delightful and suspenseful story of four inner city students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron.

Weaving together the different personal stories of the kids, their teacher, and the community that surrounds them, award-winning author Shelley Pearsall has written a vividly engaging story about math, life, and good-tasting barbecue.

Filled with unexpected humor, poignant characters and quiet brilliance, All of the Above is a surprising gem.

 

 

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan’s life was changed forever when she was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but the zap gave her genius-level math skills, and she’s been homeschooled ever since. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

 

Solving for M by Jennifer Swender

When Mika starts fifth grade at the middle school, her neat life gets messy. Separated from old friends and starting new classes, Mika is far from her comfort zone. And math class is the most confusing of all, especially when her teacher Mr. Vann assigns math journals. Art in math? Who’s ever heard of such a thing?

But when challenges arise at home, Mika realizes there are no easy answers. Maybe, with some help from friends, family, and one unique teacher, a math journal can help her work out problems, and not just the math ones.

Debut author Jennifer Swender delivers poignant prose and illustrator Jennifer Naalchigar brings Mika’s journal to life in this perfect equation of honesty plus hope that adds up to a heartwarming coming-of-age story.

 

Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Who are you, if you can’t be what you always expected? A moving coming-of-age tale of prodigy and community, unlikely friendship and growing things.

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Rose, who loves both music and math, is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined.

Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.

 

Secret Coders #1 by Gene Luen Yang, illus. by Mike Holmes

This is Book 1 of the series by Gene Luen Yang who was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2016 to 2018 and is a MacArthur Fellow, a recipient of what’s popularly known as the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes!

From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

 

Numbed! by David Lubar

When Logan’s class takes a trip to a math museum, his mischievous friend Benedict is sure it will be a boring day―until he discovers a robot and its creator in an off-limits area. The robot proves feisty, and soon both boys get zapped. They realize only later that they’d left the museum without their math skills.

To get back the knowledge they need for school―not to mention buying food at the mall, divvying up dinner at home, and much more―they’ll have to get back to the museum and pass a series of math challenges. Being “numbed” teaches Logan and Benedict just how useful, and even fun, math can be.

 

 

Interview & giveaway: Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island 2: Secret Beneath the Sand

I’m thrilled to have author Donna Galanti here with me today. We’re both unicorn lovers, and she has another delightful book in her Unicorn Island series to share with us. We’re both so glad this book has finally arrived after its long journey.

Book summary

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2)
By Donna Galanti
Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe
Andrews McMeel Publishing (Simon & Schuster)

Unicorn Island is a middle-grade illustrated novel series about a young girl who discovers a mysterious island full of mythical beasts. School Library Journal says that “Fans of unicorns and magic in the real world will enjoy this adventure,” and Foreword Reviews claims it’s “An all-too-human, enchanting middle grade fantasy novel.”

In Volume 2 of the Unicorn Island series, Secret Beneath the Sand, Sam and Tuck are on their way to becoming unicorn protectors when they discover new secrets about the island that threaten unicorns’ existence!

Sam can’t believe how much her life and luck have changed since she came to Foggy Harbor: First, she discovered that unicorns are real, and now she’s on her way to becoming an actual unicorn protector! With her new friend, Tuck, by her side during Uncle Mitch’s lessons, Sam finally feels like she’s home.

But as the long-buried dangers of Unicorn Island begin to surface and a mysterious scourge spreads throughout the herd, Sam learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Donna is giving away one hardcover copy of Secret Beneath the Sand that Kirkus Reviews says is “A sweet but not overly sugary treat for unicorn devotees.” Open to U.S residents only please. Enter below!

Interview with Donna and Laurie:

Laurie: What was the inspiration behind this second Unicorn Island story idea for Secret Beneath the Sand?

Donna: I wanted to continue Sam’s story of becoming a full-fledged unicorn protector while also adding a new layer of mystery to the unicorn magic and solving the mystery presented in book one. I also wanted the characters to explore more of the island itself on their adventures so its mysteries—and challenges—are revealed. With these elements in mind, the story grew. I also knew I wanted to add in new fantastical creatures, and they were fun to create!

L: In the story, a mysterious disease threatens the unicorns. Even though unicorns are mythical, was there any research involved in writing this story?

D: Absolutely! My research was based on real-life science. I looked to the plight of elephants with their tusks being poached as a source of inspiration in relation to unicorn horns and their dire situation in the story. The atrocities that still plague elephants deeply affect me. Recent studies even suggest that as a result of widespread poaching, elephants are rapidly evolving to have no tusks.

L: Throughout the series, you introduce both science and magic. What was your purpose in combining these?

D: I love combining both science and magic in this story as I like to think we can have our feet in both worlds—and together, they can do wonders. It also adds to the conflict of the story as some characters view science as the answer and some view magic as the answer. Together, they discover that maybe both are necessary.

L: The story centers around not just unicorns but family and a sense of home. How does this change for Sam, the main character, in this second book?

Unicorn book coversD: Sam discovered new family in book one, but she is still drawn to solving another family mystery. This drives her to take high-risk actions in Secret Beneath the Sand to uncover the truth in the hope of benefiting those she loves. Through her choices, she comes to strengthen the foundation of her sense of home as she navigates this mystery.

L: You have other fantastical creatures in Unicorn Island besides unicorns. What influenced you to create them and add them into the story?

D: One of my favorite little wild animals are chipmunks. I grew up with them and loved to discover them in the woods. For years, I was sad to not live in chipmunk territory, but since moving last year, I was ecstatic to discover I am now back in chipmunk land! Hence, why they had an influence on me creating a similar creature in Secret Beneath the Sand. As a young reader in school, I was also fascinated with the mythical character of Grendel from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, “Beowulf.” I’m drawn to tragic characters, and his was quite tragic—and why I’ve included a nod to him in this story. I’ve also been super lucky to have had the amazing illustrator, Bethany Stancliffe, bring these creatures to life!

L: I love chipmunks too! What a fun animal to include with your unicorns! And now that we’ve heard a bit about books one and two, I hope you’ll give us a sneak peek into what we can expect when the third volume of Unicorn Island releases in winter of 2023. Can you share some of what’s next for Sam and her best friend, Tuck, and the unicorns in this final installment of the series?

D: In the working title, Beyond the Portal, Sam is inspired to solve the final mystery of her family and save the unicorns. Once again, she puts herself in dire danger to do so, accompanied by her friend, Tuck. I won’t give too much away, except to say that much of this story takes place in a new and perilous setting. Tuck and Sam face the unknown again in a much more impactful way that has far-reaching consequences for all. 😊

Purchase the Unicorn Island series at your favorite bookseller here:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Unicorn-Island-Secret-Beneath-the-Sand/Donna-Galanti/Unicorn-Island/9781524871970

 Watch the book trailer for Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand here:

Download fun Secret Beneath the Sand activities and check out an excerpt from Secret Beneath the Sand below:

Sam frowned. A month ago, it had seemed that Mel, Foggy Harbor’s veterinarian and Tuck’s mom, had cured Barloc of a strange illness. But now that Sam thought about it, the young unicorn had seemed more tired this past week. He was running more slowly and sleeping a lot more.

She knelt in front of Barloc, looking into his violet eyes. I won’t let anything bad happen to you. I promise. She gripped the necklace that Verny had given to her. Made from a unicorn tail, it was a symbol of his trust.

Barloc closed his eyes. I’m just tired. I have been since I got back to the island.

Sam bent her head to his and laid a hand on his horn. It felt warm against her fingers. She frowned and held the back of her hand against his horn to make sure she wasn’t imagining things. It was definitely radiating heat.

“Uncle Mitch,” Sam said, her voice quavering, “I think something’s wrong with Barloc.”

Uncle Mitch quickly knelt down next to her. He checked the young unicorn’s eyes and breathing, then stroked his horn.

“His horn is warm,” Sam whispered. “What does it mean?”

Uncle Mitch shook his head and bit his lip as he continued his inspection. Barloc whinnied softly, looking into Sam’s eyes.

“I know you don’t want to think about this, but . . . it could be the sign of another disease,” Tuck said.

“No!” Sam shook her head and jumped up. As she did, the ground beneath her suddenly rocked. She fell to her knees as the earth buckled. Uncle Mitch grabbed both her and Tuck, pulling them in close as Verny screeched and took to the skies, circling overhead with frenzied dips.

The herd bolted across the meadow in confusion and fear as Barloc bowed his head, digging his hooves into the quaking earth.

 

Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and the Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish.” She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, the popular Unicorn Island series, and the Element Trilogy thrillers for adults. Donna is a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, regularly presents as a guest author at schools, and teaches writers through her online Udemy courses. She’s lived in fun locations including England, her family-owned campground in New Hampshire, and in Hawaii where she served as a U.S. Navy photographer for Fleet Intelligence Pacific. Donna is represented by Liza Fleissig of the LRA Agency. Visit her at donnagalanti.com.

 

Enter to win a copy of Secret Beneath the Sand below! Runs 3/11/22 – 3/18/22

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WNDMG Wednesday – M. K. England Guest Post

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday is thrilled to host author M.K. England this month. M.K. wrote a fantastic post for us exploring themes central to their writing–themes that consistently create connection and validation, which is the connective tissue of what diverse kidlit is all about. Thank you so much, M.K.! And congratulations on Player vs. Player — so excited for this book!

Guest Post, by M.K. England

My work as an author is a bit all over the place. I started out in YA sci-fi/fantasy with The Disasters and Spellhacker, skipped to adult sci-fi with Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory, then hopped to YA contemporary with The One True Me and You, which just came out on March 1st. Now, after all that, I’ve finally found my way to middle grade—and what a joy it is to be writing the Player vs. Player trilogy.

Two Consistent Features

What in the world could possibly connect all of those very different books, other than the fact that they all lived in my brain? There are two consistent features of everything I write:

  • Strong, loving, supportive friend groups that treat each other like family, and,
  • A reading experience that I, the queer nerdy Star Wars loving gamer child, would have felt validated by.

It’s dangerous to go alone!*

In the Player vs. Player trilogy, both of those features are fundamental to the story. We get to see the formation of my hallmark friends-as-family group in action as four kids come together to bond over their shared love of a video game called Affinity. Book one, Ultimate Gaming Showdown, is like a video game version of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, where four kids team up in a virtual tournament to do battle for an amazing prize package. They play well together… but there are whole heaps of loneliness and isolation (and maybe a few secrets) keeping them from playing their best and coming together as a team—and as true friends.

  • Josh’s family moves around a lot for his mom’s job and just wants some friends to game with.
  • Hannah struggles in school and plays alone at the public library every evening while her mom works a second job.
  • Gaming is banned altogether in Larkin’s household, and she’s got a million other things going on in her life—but her heart and dreams are filled with video games.
  • Wheatley struggles to relate to other kids and has an overbearing father… and a secret that could wreck the whole team.

Player v Player cover art

I loved getting to design the video game these kids play together, and writing the action of the tournament was a blast. It’s the process of getting these kids together as a team, as friends who trust and care about each other, that ultimately propels the book forward though. There is such incredible power in finding the people who see you and validate the things you care about, something all of these kids desperately needed. To many people, video games are a waste of time, something shameful that kids should avoid. To these kids, gaming is a critical lifeline, a source of purpose and pride… and maybe even a future career.

Of course, as we’ll find out in PvP book two, it’s not all smooth sailing once you’ve found your people. Staying friends, especially when you’re on a team together? There are… challenges.

* – A classic Zelda reference that the kids in this book would totally not get. I embrace my status as an Elder Millennial Nerd.

Gamers are cool now, right?

The second constant in my writing, a reading experience that validates my queer nerdy young self, is baked right into the core concept. I loved video games a lot as a child. It’s the earliest thing I remember being very into, starting with button mashing on our old original Nintendo as soon as I could get my hands around the controller.

However, when I was the same age as the kids in PvP, it was the late 90s. Being a gamer at that time wasn’t especially cool for anyone, but definitely not if you weren’t a boy. Things have improved, but gaming is still a boy’s club in a lot of ways. For example, the vast majority of the top streamers on Twitch are straight cis white guys. Meanwhile women, BIPOC folks, and queer people get harassed right off the site. We clearly still have a long way to go.

For adult me, a queer non-binary person who grew up as that weirdo “gamer girl,” the opportunity to write this story is healing. The gaming team in PvP includes two girls competing at the highest level in eSports—and as a kid, I would have been obsessed. PvP is a book I would have read until the paperback had gone soft and fuzzy, full of creases and little torn off chunks missing from too much time spent in a backpack or wedged between the bed and the wall. Though there weren’t books for kids and teens back then that mentioned the word nonbinary (that I knew of), I gobbled up anything where I saw kids like me—girls who didn’t fit, who dared to ferociously love unexpected things, who chafed against their boxes. If there’d been a book series about girls in video games? Game over.

((Also into gaming? Read this archive STEM Tuesday interview with Janet Slingerland, who wrote VIDE GAME CODING))

Press start

 It’s been fascinating to me, writing characters who are just beginning to discover who they are. Characters in YA are doing the same thing, but they’re much further down the path. In middle grade, kids are just starting to take those first steps to differentiate from their families and embrace who they’ll become.

For some queer, trans, and gender-expansive kids, by the time they hit that 8-12 range, they’re already well aware of their identities. For others, like me, it takes longer. Maybe it was just the lack of representation in media and the “tomboy” label I was saddled with as a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I really started to understand and embrace some aspects of who I was, and the full picture didn’t come into focus until my early 30s. Before that, it was much more subtle. Blushing glances, that awkward blend of curiosity and embarrassment, experimenting with clothes to see what felt right. While I’m sure I’ll write a more overt middle-grade story later, for right now I’m enjoying writing this subtle growth into queerness that so reflects my own experiences while the characters put 99% of their brainpower into their gaming goals.

It’s an honor to be writing directly to and for the next generation of gamers, who I hope will create a much more open and welcoming gaming culture in the years to come. I’ll still be here, controller in hand.

 

Headshot of MK England - background stars and galaxies

M. K. England grew up on the Space Coast of Florida watching shuttle launches from the backyard. These days, they call rural Virginia home, where their house is full of video games, dogs, plants, Star Wars memorabilia, and one baby human. MK is the author of THE DISASTERS (2018), SPELLHACKER (2020), THE ONE TRUE ME & YOU (2022), and other forthcoming novels. Follow them at www.mkengland.com.

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