Stuart Stotts Interview and Giveaway

Stuart Stotts


Stuart Stotts is a songwriter, storyteller and author from Wisconsin. He’s worked as a full-time performer since 1986, and he gives over 200 shows a year for kids, families, and adults around the Midwest, and sometimes farther. He’s a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops for teachers, parents and librarians. Stuart’s travels have taken him to such far places as Greece, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Great Britain, as well as to other exotic locales like Green Bay, LaCrosse, and Fond du Lac.

Stuart has worked extensively as an artist-in-residence in elementary, middle, and high schools. He has released several award-winning recordings, and is also the author of The Bookcase Ghost: A Collection of Wisconsin Ghost StoriesBooks in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin and Curly Lambeau: Building the Green Bay Packers, the story of the man behind the early years of the Green Bay Packers. We Shall Overcome: A Song That Changed the World was an ALA honor book. Stuart’s newest book, Father Groppi: Marching for Civil Rights, was published in February 2013. It’s another Badger Biography.


From IndieBound: “Growing up on the south side of Milwaukee as the son of Italian immigrants, young James Groppi learned early on what it felt like to be made fun of just because of who you are, and he learned to respect people from other races and ethnic groups. Later, while studying to become a priest, he saw the discrimination African Americans faced. It made him angry, and he vowed to do whatever he could to fight racism.

Father Groppi marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement. But he knew there was work to be done in his own city. In Milwaukee, he teamed up with the NAACP and other organizations, protesting discrimination and segregation wherever they saw it. It wasn’t always easy, and Father Groppi and the other civil rights workers faced great challenges.”


What’s your favorite thing about middle grade books (as a reader or a writer)?

I can write for an audience that is able to understand bigger ideas, and that also has some experience in the world and the ways in which it is complex. At the same time, I have to make sure that what I write is well-explained and clear to those who might not have a lot of background knowledge. It’s a balancing act. In addition, adults often use these kinds of books as a quick introduction to a subject. For example, if you like the Packers and want to know more about Curly Lambeau, my book is a good quick read, and will tell you the basics of what you probably want to know. Or you can read the 350 page book about him, if you have the time and more interest. But for those who just want the essentials, middle grade non-fiction does a good job.


What do you enjoy most about writing biographies?

I have to try to get inside the complexity of a person. Groppi is a good example. He was a hero, clearly, and stood for great things, and took action. At the same time, he was, from what I can tell, impatient, sometimes impulsive, and a divisive figure. Many people hated him. I really liked him, and find him inspiring, but for others that was not the case.

Biographies also give a good window into a time or an era or a movement. You get to see what’s happening through someone’s eyes, not just a series of events. Father Groppi’s life shares many parallels with others who cared about civil rights and equality. It’s also a unique course that he charted. The age old question about biographies has to do with how much people are products of their times, and how much time is a product of certain people. I think it’s both, although we tend to gravitate toward the heroic ideal of one person making a difference.

Did you choose to write about Father Groppi, or was the topic chosen by the Historical Society?

I was asked to write the book. I didn’t know anything about him when I began. I think what was surprising was that he had very little overt success that he could point to. Milwaukee schools weren’t desegregated, the Elks Club campaign ended without accomplishing its goals, and the Fair Housing Marches also ended after 200 nights without anything solid to show. In the long run, these actions created a climate that did lead to fair housing laws, but the connection is not as direct as “we did this protest, and something changed.” I also think that is not so uncommon in social change. Gandhi said, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”


Why do you think it is important for young people to learn about people like Father Groppi?

A big idea for me right now is the idea of standing up for others. It’s related to all the talk about bullying, but is bigger than that. Father Groppi stood up for black people, as a person of a privileged class. There was no reward for him in it. His life would have been easier if he hadn’t gotten involved. But he took the chance, and I hope that would inspire others to stand up, too, despite how hard it may be at times.

“In 1963, Father Groppi attended the March on Washington, where Dr. King gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Dr. King, who was the most well-known leader of the civil rights movement, inspired him. But Father Groppi knew that thousands of other activists who were not famous were working just as hard, taking risks and facing violence. He was determined to do his part in working for justice.” (pp. 38-39)

I like this idea, because of the sense of thousands who weren’t famous but who were important anyway. That’s the heart of the lesson.


If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from Father Groppi, what would it be?

Stand up for what you believe in. Do something, don’t just talk.


How does your singing and songwriting influence the books you write?


I often find that music manifests in my work. I’ve played at many protest events, and written many songs with a social change intention. This connects better with Father Groppi, and my “We Shall Overcome” book than some of my others. I have a book, fiction, about music changing a situation. We’ll see if it ever sees the published light of day. 


What books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed FATHER GROPPI?

My own We Shall Overcome is good. I like Claudette Colvin by Phil Hoose. Anything by Ann Bausum is good in this area. The Eyes on the Prize video series is also good.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle grade books?

Respect your audience, and get some feedback from them directly on what you have written. Let kids be the guide.

What’s next?

 My novel about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which I’ve been working on for about five years, seems to be getting closer. But it may in fact be far from being done. I’d like to write a biography of Charlie Christian with a friend of mine in Oklahoma City, who is the world’s expert on the man who brought the electric guitar into the world as a solo instrument. And other fiction projects. And traveling around, leading workshops. And performing. And spending those giant royalty checks. And watching my oldest daughter graduate from college. And enjoying a beautiful Wisconsin spring.


Stuart has kindly offered to give away a signed copy of Father Groppi. Comment by Midnight April 15. Winner will be announced April 16.

*******EDITED TO ADD********

Because of recent issues with the website, we have extended this giveaway!

 Comment by Midnight April 24. Winner will be announced April 25.


Jacqueline Houtman is the author of  THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press).  Like Stuart, she lives in Wisconsin, but they have never met. It’s a big state.

Trends in Nonfiction


Back in November, I was lucky enough to attend the Falling Leaves Master Retreat for nonfiction writers. It was FABULOUS!   Located at a YMCA camp nestled in the mountains of the Adirondacks and overlooking beautiful Silver Lake Bay, it was picture perfect for a weekend of learning about writing. The leaves on the trees were decked out in bright oranges and reds and there was just a nip of chilly weather in the air to brighten your cheeks. This Florida girl was in heaven!

Aside from the wonderfully peaceful environment, the weekend just hummed with energy. The mix of new and established writers and as well 5 valued editors from major publishing houses had my creative senses in a whirl.

All of the editor talks were extremely interesting and informative. Listening to them, I managed to take away a few notes on upcoming trends in nonfiction. Naturally, a fair amount of talk centered around the Common Core and how all newly published nonfiction books need provide teachers with the necessary tools for teaching. The editors made a big deal about this:

According to the guidelines for the Common Core:

50% of classroom reading in elementary and middle schools will use nonfiction books

70% of classroom reading in high school will use nonfiction books


In response for the increased demand, publishers will be providing many different types of nonfiction books. One editor introduced a new term for a type of nonfiction. She called it “Browsable nonfiction”.

So, what is Browsable Nonfiction?


These books are examples of browsable nonfiction:


But so are these:

So, I guess you could say that browsable books are books that have short bites of information. They can be lists, like the books in the first section above. Or they can have chapters filled with interesting snippets of history or art. They can also deal with many different topics all in one book.

The advantage of browsable books?

Perfect for the reluctant reader or maybe just one that needs a book to keep their attention, they are chock full of fun and exciting fun facts!  These books usually contain many vivid and visually entertaining photos – the better to catch a reader’s eye and interest. These diverse and unique books are filled with  fascinating information presented in easy to read snippets and chapters. In this world where readers are deluged with information and images 24 hours a day, these books not only capture and hold a reader’s attention, but also make for great resources for tiny bits of trivia to share with your friends.

As far as the Common Core goes, they can be great starter books for a research project. Or for even finding a topic. Have to do write a biography but not sure what interests you? Then pick up the How They Croaked Book, and page through the chapters. Surely reading about the dramatic endings of some of these people will liven up the most boring of biography topics.

Browsable books often contain interactive features like For Further Reading and Original text from other sources, hands-on reference material, and easy connections a reader can make. Hopefully, a small nugget of information will turn into a large thirst for knowledge.


Narrative Nonfiction books are also making a surge according to the publishers. Narrative nonfiction, like the word narrative implies, has a storyline to it.

For example:


       School Library Journal awards Larry Dane Brimner’s Birmingham Sunday with a starred review.

“The author successfully blends the facts of the event with the intense emotions of the period in order to bring it to life. …The book is beautifully designed, with good-quality, black-and-white photos, informative captions, and pertinent pull quotes. A worthy addition to any collection.”


The book contains informational sidebars to augment the highly engaging text. These provides opportunities for classroom discussions using Common Core relative questions and topics.


But narrative nonfiction is not only for history and biographies, it can also be used very successfully in science books as well.

This introduction to black holes takes readers from simple to complex by dropping definitions and information slowly and clearly into the lively narrative. Dramatic and amazing illustrations help to impart the sense of the vast distances in space, of how atomic nuclei meld in the intense interaction  called fusion, and how the areas of a black hole–the event boundary, the extreme gravity zone, and the singularity–are defined. … ” –School Library Journal, starred review

The author provides additional information on her website and an extensive glossary to make this book very user-friendly.


What did I come away with from my fantastic weekend in the Adirondacks?  Upcoming nonfiction books are interesting, exciting and ready to grab the imagination of any child – from 1  to 101!  Check them out!!


So tell me, what nonfiction books are you excited about this year? Put them in the comments below so we can all know. I am always looking for great books to add to my “to-read” list.


Jennifer Swanson is a self-professed science geek and author of 9 nonfiction books for kids. When not writing she can be found searching for cool science facts to share with her students. You can find more about Jennifer at her website


Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)

Mixed-Up Files Reader, Michael M. comments:

I’m sure you’ve noted a heightened emphasis in the new Common Core Standards on NF and longer texts beyond articles. It’s particularly challenging, as much of the available NF is not expository pieces with the charts and tables that the CCS requires.  If you have any “go-to” people, that would be huge. Thanks for a great blog and a wonderful resource!

Michael, thanks for the comment and the compliment of our little piece of the blogdom. While I wouldn’t consider myself a “go-to” person, I’m interested in the same topic as a writer, school-based occupational therapist and general research geek. It’s a good thing since I can see from my calendar, it’s a topic I’ll be hearing a lot more about in upcoming professional development meetings. There will be lots of other people trying to figure out the practical implications of the standards and the best resources to implement them. Publisher’s Weekly had a great article about that very subject.

For this post, I searched for non-fiction books about math that included the graphs and charts you referenced in your question. For my needs, I also looked for high interest subject matter that had practical real life applications. I wanted books that did not look like textbooks in any way and were easy to access. I was able to find all of these books at my public library.

For our Mixed-Up fiction lovers (and as a nod to my previous post about book twins), I also included a few examples of fiction that reference math concepts. Hopefully MUF readers will add to the list in the comments below. Don’t worry, Michael, we’ve heard your plea and will include more non-fiction book lists and references in the future.

Tiger Math by Ann Whitehead Nagada; Cindy Bickel
Children learn to graph as they follow the growth of an orphaned Siberian tiger cub.

A Siberian tiger cub born at the Denver Zoo is orphaned when he is just a few weeks old. At first T. J. refuses to eat his new food, and it requires the full attention of the zoo staff to ensure that he grows into a huge, beautiful, and very healthy tiger.

Through photographs, narrative, and graphs, young readers follow T.J. as he grows from a tiny newborn into a five-hundred-pound adult. A heartwarming story about one tiger’s fight for survival that also introduces a basic math skill. (descriptions and cover photos from Indiebound unless otherwise noted.)

Joanne’s comments:  This is part of a series that includes books by the same authors including Panda Math, Chimp Math and Polar Bear Math. The right side pages follow the story of the animals. The left side pages include the math concepts such as charting growth patterns, figuring out how much food the animal needs, the feeding schedule etc.  The math concepts in the series include time, division,  graphing and fractions.

Growing Money by Gail Karlitz
Never before has there been a time when the economy has been so much a part of our daily lives. Today’s young investors want to know the basics of finance, especially how to make money grow. This complete guide explains in kid-friendly terms all about savings accounts, bonds, stocks, and even mutual funds!

Joanne’s comments: Money is motivating for most kids and this book is a great resource with lots of interesting information and facts.  Charts and tables are sprinkled throughout including comparing the cost of everyday items in the past to current prices and demonstrating the effect of interest on savings.

The Big Push: How Popular Culture is Always Selling by Erika Wittekind

Buyer beware! Why do you really buy what you buy? Did you see a commercial for a cool mountain bike? Did your favorite celebrity wear a fantastic pair of shoes on the red carpet? Learn how products are advertised using all types of media. And be aware of popular cultures influence on consumers including you! (description from

Joanne’s comments: I am  veering a bit off topic here, but I found this book when I was looking at books about money. I thought it was fresh, relevant and was something that many kids could relate to. The charts and graphs were not plentiful but were interesting. The book was targeted toward the tween age group. Being a smart consumer is another aspect of managing one’s money and is definitely a needed life skill, so I believe it meets my criteria for this list.

Basketball: The Math of the Game by Thomas Kristian Adamson

How far is it from the three point line to the basket? What is the difference in diameter between a basketball and the rim? How do you calculate a basketball players field goal percentage? With every bounce of the ball and swish of the net, math makes its way to the court! (description from

Joanne’s comments: This book is part of a Sports Illustrated for Kids series including other books featuring baseball, hockey and football.  I read Football: The Math of the Game by Shane Frederick and was pleasantly surprised at the level of difficulty of the math–definitely upper middle grade math including pre-algebra, mean, median, mode and range and calculating momentum. It has the familiar glossy magazine format with lots of photos, but there is a solid amount of text, tons of graphs and math problems based on real football situations.  Another example is the  Sports Math Series by Ian Mahaney including  Read more