World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, which celebrates the importance of a free press in a functional society. First organized by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, it’s a day to commemorate journalists around the world who have fought with integrity for a free press.

Here at The Mixed-Up Files, we’d like to celebrate by shining a light on middle-grade books about real and fictional investigative journalists. If you have your own favorite middle-grade book about a star reporter, tell us about it in the comment section!


The News Crew, (Book 1: Originally The Cruisers) by Walter Dean Myers
The is the first in a series, which included: Checkmate, A Star is Born, and Oh, Snap! Zander and his crew are underdogs at DaVinci Academy, one of the best Gifted and Talented schools in Harlem. But even these kids who are known as losers can win by speaking up. When they start their own school newspaper, stuff happens. Big stuff. Loud stuff. Stuff nobody expects. Mr. Culpepper, the Assistant Principal and Chief Executioner, is ready to be rid of Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, and Bobbi – until they prove that their writing packs enough power to keep the peace and show what it means to stand up for a cause.



Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles into a real-life murder scene and her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case makes for a winning middle grade mystery.




The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey

Life in a Nevada mining town in 1905 is not easy for 13-year-old Kit Donovan, who is trying to do right by her deceased mother and become a proper lady. When Kit discovers Papa’s boss at the gold mine is profiting from unsafe working conditions, she realizes being a lady is tougher than it looks. With a man’s hat and a printing press, Kit puts her big mouth and all the life skills she’s learned from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to work, defying threats of violence and finding that justice doesn’t always look like she imagined it would.




Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip

Adam Canfield has to be the most overprogrammed middle-school student in America. So when super-organized Jennifer coaxes him to be coeditor of their school newspaper, THE SLASH, he wonders if he’s made a big mistake. But when a third-grader’s article leads to a big scoop, Adam and his fellow junior journalists rise to the challenge of receiving their principal’s wrath to uncover some scandalous secrets. From a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and NEW YORK TIMES columnist comes a funny, inspiring debut that sneaks in some lessons on personal integrity — and captures the rush that’s connected to the breaking of a really great story.




The Truth About the Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

When Zebby and Amr create the website, they want it to be honest. They want it to be about the real Truman Middle School, to say things that the school newspaper would never say, and to give everyone a chance to say what they want to say, too. But given the chance, some people will say anything—anything to hurt someone else. And when rumors about one popular student escalate to cruel new levels, it’s clear the truth about Truman School is more harrowing than anyone ever imagined.




Clara Voyant by Rachelle Delaney

Clara can’t believe her no-nonsense grandmother has just up and moved to Florida, leaving Clara and her mother on their own for the first time. This means her mother can finally “follow her bliss,” which involves moving to a tiny apartment in Kensington Market, working at an herbal remedy shop and trying to develop her so-called mystical powers. Clara tries to make the best of a bad situation by joining the newspaper staff at her new middle school, where she can sharpen her investigative journalistic skills and tell the kind of hard-news stories her grandmother appreciated. But the editor relegates her to boring news stories and worse . . . the horoscopes.

Worse yet, her horoscopes come true, and soon everyone at school is talking about Clara Voyant, the talented fortune-teller. Clara is horrified — horoscopes and clairvoyance aren’t real, she insists, just like her grandmother always told her. But when a mystery unfolds at school, she finds herself in a strange situation: having an opportunity to prove herself as an investigative journalist . . . with the help of her own mystical powers.



Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Myers, illus. Bonnie Christensen

This picture book biography introduces the extraordinary Ida B. Wells. Long before boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides, Ida B. Wells was hard at work to better the lives of African Americans.

An activist, educator, writer, journalist, suffragette, and pioneering voice against the horror of lynching, she used fierce determination and the power of the pen to educate the world about the unequal treatment of blacks in the United States.

In this picture book biography, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of this legendary figure, which blends harmoniously with the historically detailed watercolor paintings of illustrator Bonnie Christensen.




Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids by Ellen Mahoney

In the late 1800s, the daring young reporter Elizabeth Cochrane—known by the pen name Nellie Bly—faked insanity so she could be committed to a mental institution and secretly report on the awful conditions there. This and other highly publicized investigative “stunts” laid the groundwork for a new kind of journalism in the early 1900s, called “muckraking,” dedicated to exposing social, political, and economic ills in the United States. In Nellie Bly and Investigative Journalism for Kids budding reporters learn about the major figures of the muckraking era: the bold and audacious Bly, one of the most famous women in the world in her day; social reformer and photojournalist Jacob Riis; monopoly buster Ida Tarbell; antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells; and Upton Sinclair, whose classic book The Jungle created a public outcry over the dangerous and unsanitary conditions of the early meatpacking industry. Young readers will also learn about more contemporary reporters, from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to Amy Goodman, who have carried on the muckraking tradition, and will get excited about the ever-changing world of journalism and the power of purposeful writing. Twenty-one creative activities encourage and engage a future generation of muckrakers. Kids can make and keep a reporter’s notebook; write a letter to the editor; craft a “great ideas” box; create a Jacob Riis–style photo essay; and much more.

May New Releases!

What’s sprouting up in MG lit this May? Some weather and nature-themed
middle-grade books! Here are a few to fill your rainy, cloudy, and sun-sprinkled May days.


Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  
(Nancy Paulsen Books) May 7, 2019

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Fish in a Tree comes a compelling story about perspective and learning to love the family you have.

Delsie loves tracking the weather–lately, though, it seems the squalls are in her own life. She’s always lived with her kindhearted Grammy, but now she’s looking at their life with new eyes and wishing she could have a “regular family.” Delsie observes other changes in the air, too–the most painful being a friend who’s outgrown her. Luckily, she has neighbors with strong shoulders to support her, and Ronan, a new friend who is caring and courageous but also troubled by the losses he’s endured. As Ronan and Delsie traipse around Cape Cod on their adventures, they both learn what it means to be angry versus sad, broken versus whole, and abandoned versus loved. And that, together, they can weather any storm.



Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby (Algonquin Young Readers) May 7, 2019

Fig, a sixth grader, loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door. As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought . . . and begins to compose her own definition of family.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a radiant and tender novel about taking risks and facing danger, about friendship and art, and about growing up and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story about love—both its limits and its incredible healing power.


Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids by Kim Andrews (Rockridge Press) May 28, 2019

Nature books for kids should get them excited about heading out into the great outdoors. This one encourages them to track, explore, discover and create. Unlike some nature books for kids, the Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids, is filled with hands-on educational outdoor activities―like crafting bird feeders out of fruit, pressing flowers, creating sundials and so much more.



Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story by Michael Collins (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) May 28, 2019

In time for the 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon, this re-release of Michael Collins’s autobiography is a bold, sparkling testament to exploration and perseverance. In this captivating account, space traveler Collins recalls his early days as an Air Force test pilot, his training at NASA, and his unparalleled experiences in orbit, including the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned lunar landing. The final chapter to this autobiography is an exciting and convincing argument in favor of mankind’s continued exploration of our universe. Originally published in 1976 and updated for this new edition, including an introduction from astronaut Scott Kelly, Collins’s voice and message are sure to resonate with a new generation of readers.






Book List: Just Right Poetry for Middle-Graders

It’s National Poetry Month!  What better way to celebrate than to explore some of the great poetry books available for readers ages 8-12?  As you read poetry this month or anytime, remember that poets tune in to the sounds of feeling and the feelings of sound. Please READ  POEMS ALOUD to fully enjoy them.

Here are some appealing collections by single poets:

Marilyn Singer in Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems, ingeniously turns familiar fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella upside down in poems that you can  read forward and backward for opposite meanings! Her other books in reverso form are Follow Follow (featuring more tales like The Little Mermaid and The Tortoise and the Hare) and Echo Echo, based on Greek myths. All three are illustrated by Josee Masee.

Patrick Lewis’s Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis, Illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli, earns its title. It includes a range of poems written our third Children’s Poet Laureate. Subjects include animals, people, reading, sports (some of the best baseball poems I’ve read–take that, Casey at the Bat!), riddles, and funny epitaphs.

In Animal Poems, Valerie Worth captures the uniqueness of animals ranging from bear to porcupine to mole to jellyfish in brief but rich free-verse word pictures.  Stunning paper-cut animal illustrations by Steve Jenkins accompany the poems.

Joyce Sidman is our premier nature poet for children.  Her extraordinary books explore the natural world with vivid poems in various forms, based on solid science. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors depicts animals that have adapted around the world and are definitely not endangered. See also her other titles , including her Caldecott Honor Winner Song of the Water Boatman and Winter Bees 

A good way to discover new poems and poets you love is to browse through anthologies with a variety of poets and poems. 
In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, Chris Coldly and Mary Wentworth have written poems in homage  to great poets past and present who have inspired them., reflecting their styles and ideas.  The subjects include  Maya Angelou, Basho, e.e.cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walter Dean Myers, Pablo Neruda , Mary Olver, Rumi, and even Chief Dan George.  A joyful book with bold illustrations by Ekua Holmes.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye is also a superb anthologist with a special interest in poems from less familiar voices.  See The Space Between our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, and This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the WorldShe also compiled a collection of poems written by her students in poetry-in-the-schools classes over the years: Salting the Ocean: 100 poems by Young Poets. 

More and more novels in verse are appearing, most of them for at adult readers.
A wonderful exception is Kwame Alexander’s be-bop and free verse Newbery Award winner The Crossover. Here’s what Publisher’s Weeklyhad to say in its review of the book: “The poems dodge and weave with the speed of a point guard driving for the basket, mixing basketball action with vocabulary-themed poems, newspaper clippings, and Josh’s sincere first-person accounts that swing from moments of swagger-worth triumph to profound pain.” A page turner, even if you’re not especially a sports fan.  See also the other books in his Crossover series: Booked and Rebound.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a spare, quieter free-verse novel published in 2007 that still resonates in the present moment. This touching story of a young Sudanese war refugee trying to find his way in America is told through his own eyes and voice.

Middle Graders love humor.  Here are some books that take pitch-perfect aim at the middle-grade funny bone.

I’m loving Chris Harris’s I’m Just no Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grownups.  Of course he is good at rhyming, but kids will find the title poem hilarious.

Caleb Brown is also a humor treasure, especially his Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about Just about Everything.  See also The Ghostly Carousel: Delightfully Frightful Poems.  He has a new book coming out in June, Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense.

Douglas Florian is  best known for his slightly younger books of clever word-play and paintings.  But he has two big books of humor: Poem Depot, Aisles of Smiles and Laugh-eteria. He has also collaborated with  J. Patrick Lewis in the wildly clever Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.

Younger middle-grade fans of Shel Silverstein are in for a treat with his posthumously published book of spoonerisms  Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

What about middle-graders who would not only like to read poetry but to write their own?  Of course the best way to learn to write is to read and write and write some more.  But the following books may give young writers some encouragement and inspiration:

Kathi Appelt, Poems from Homeroom : A Writer’s Place to Start

Ralph FletcherPoetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You.

Paul B. Janeczko, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.



Readers, the hardest part about compiling this list was choosing from all the possibilities!  Please use the comments to add poetry titles you think or know from experience middle-graders would love.  Then let’s all get to our bookshelves, independent bookstore, or local library and celebrate National Poetry Month!