Book Lists

19 Back-to-School Themed Books

As summer winds down, kids are thinking about heading back to school. After you load them up with all the no. 2 pencils they need, get them in the school spirit with a middle-grade book about those first days back in the hallways.

The First Rule of Punk Cover
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez
First day at a new school and twelve-year-old Malú makes her school’s queen bee, mad, shows up in punk rock attire that is not dress-code approved, and gets in trouble with her mom. Is there a harder age than this? We don’t think so!

Ghosts CoverGhosts by Raina Telgemeier
Catrina is upset that her family relocated to Bahía de la Luna, California, but her younger sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and the sea air in their new coastal town will help her. Exploring, they find out their town is full of ghosts–and it sends Catrina on a journey of her own.

Goodbye Stranger Cover

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Growing up together vs. growing apart is the theme of Stead’s novel about three best friends who find that everything changes at the start of seventh grade.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
No BTS list is complete without a mention of “the boy who lived” and his first eventful year at Hogwarts.

The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman
When a group of fifth graders team up as the D Squad to create a homework machine named Belch, everything goes smoothly… at first, but before long, Belch becomes more powerful than they ever imagined, and the kids wind up in major trouble.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven may make up stories like that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, but she was born without them. She fears that moving across the country and starting over at a new school means she’ll have to explain her physical differences over and over again to new people. But the move allows her to meet a new friend, solve a mystery, and face her fears.

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
In this relatable story, Karma is super nervous about starting middle school–for all sorts of reasons, including tricky friend reasons and changes in her family reasons–and most of all, because of the seventeen hairs that suddenly showed up on her upper lip.

Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
Fifth grade Kat lives in New York where she attends a new age New York City private school. In addition to coping with all sorts of fifth grade stuff (like a boy crazy best friend) she has a mother with worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer Cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles
Buddies Otto and Sheed are junior detectives in their wacky town where all sorts of crazy stuff happens. As summer nears its end, they’ve got one final mystery to solve before school starts.

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements
Twelve-year-old identical twins Ray and Jay are tired of being known as part of a pair. But when they start at a new school, and Ray stays home sick on the first day, Jay discovers the school has no record of his brother. Cue crazy schemes and shenanigans as the twins trick their new classmates and teachers into thinking there is just one of them.

 

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm
Ginny starts seventh grade with a to-do list of impressive action items but her school year so does not go as planned. Told through Ginny’s stuff (like notes and report cards) this is a fun and unusual way to tell a story.

My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros
I so remember those back-to-school jitters I wrote a whole book about it. My Year of Epic Rock is my debut novel about Nina, who, on the first day of seventh grade, finds out her best friend has ditched her for a cooler girl. Ouch! Now Nina’s banished to the peanut allergy table in the cafeteria at lunchtime, where she and the other food-allergic kids come together how to have a rocking year.

New Kid by Jerry Craft
This funny, relatable graphic novel follows Jordan as he starts seventh grade at a fancy new private school where he’s one of only a few boys of color. Suddenly he feels adrift, not at home with the friends he left behind nor the new kids at school he feels he has little in common with.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (illustrator)
This graphic memoir explores the pain and challenges of shifting friendships. Shannon thinks Adrienne is her best friend forever, but then Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen and “The Group,” leaving Shannon painfully behind.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
This whimsical novel is about a town called Midnight Gulch that used to be full of magic, before a curse ended that. Now twelve-year-old Felicity has moved there with her always-on-the-move mother, and Felicity wants nothing more than to heal the town and finally find a home they can stay in forever.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda Books) Cover

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda series Book 1) by Tom Angleberger
In the first book in the beloved, hilarious Origami Yoda series, sixth grader Dwight creates a finger puppet paper Yoda, who turns out to be as wise and helpful as the Yoda we all know and love.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd
Set in 1985 Tennessee , Lyndie B. Hawkins is the daughter of a veteran. Her love of history, especially family history, puts her in direct opposition to her fusspot grandmother who’d rather keep secrets than expose them.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Dèja starts fifth grade at a new school with a secret — she and her family are homeless and live in a Brooklyn shetler. But an inspiring teacher leads to new friendships for Dèja, as well as an understanding about the tragic events of 9/11, fifteen years prior, and their lingering impact on her family and community.

Wonder

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Starting at a brand-new school in fifth grade is hard enough, but for Auggie, born with facial differences that make him stand out, it’s even harder. This lovely and moving novel guides readers to “Choose Kind.”

 

 

 

Stranger Things, Mall Bookstores, and 80s Books!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

It’s definitely been a while, and I missed all of you. Hope you’re enjoying the summer, because I know that I am. It’s always been my favorite season, because once school lets out, there are always endless possibilities. The sense of fun and adventure that each day might bring. Some of my best memories were during the summers of my youth and that’s kind of what I decided to write about today.

The reason for this trip down memory lane?

Well, let’s say it has to do with a certain popular, spooky show on Netflix. That’s right, Stranger Things. First off, it’s such a fun show on its own, but if you grew up in the same era that I did, it brings back waves of nostalgia. I tell my kids all the time how much fun the 80’s were. The movies, the music, and they look at me the same way that I probably looked at my parents when they would talk to me about the 50’s and 60’s. Actually, to be fair to both me and my kids, I was interested in the 50’s and 60’s and my kids are interested in the 80’s, and it makes sense, since there always seems to be that glorifying the time before as something special. I mean, I grew up watching Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, and they have Stranger Things and other shows which portray the 80’s as some magical time.

The only difference is, the 80’s really were the best time!

But getting back to Stranger Things and my youth, the portrayal rang true to me. Well, except for having to deal with inter-dimensional monsters and Soviet spies. As for everything else, yes, it was an idealized version of  the 80s, but the mall really was the epicenter of the teen universe back then. Movie theaters, food courts, record shops, arcades, and for me, bookstores. I’ve posted before about how much I miss Waldenbooks and B. Daltons. I would never go into the mall without stopping at one of them. And when I went with my dad, he’d ALWAYS buy me a book. Didn’t matter if we had just gone a couple of days before, he’d get me another one, because I read them that fast. Those memories are really among my best of mall life. And truth be told, I still think of those days every single time I go into a mall now. It’s a sense of loss that those days are gone, but even more that those stores are gone. The mall experience just isn’t the same for me without them.

So, now you might be asking, “Jonathan, that’s sweet, but is this post just about a stroll down memory lane? Does it have anything at all to do with actual books?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, like I said, watching that show got me thinking about my youth, and going to the bookstores, and what did I buy there? Books, of course! And I just wanted to share some of the books that came out in the 80’s that I enjoyed and think need a revisiting now!

So, because I know that you’re all anxiously waiting for the list, here we go:

Okay, the first one is a cheat. I admit it. But, technically, it came out in 1980, even though the series is much, much older. I devoured The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, and I specifically remember buying The Mystery of Smugglers Cove. Probably read it in one day, too. This one, I remember well because it took place in Florida. Who knows, maybe that helped influence my move here, years later.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman: This one is in my mind for several reasons. I remember getting this book because of the author’s name. I had no idea at the time that he was this huge entity in the kidlit world. All I knew was it was a Jewish last name and I wanted to read it. I had such a desire to read stories that featured Jewish characters because there weren’t many, and I wanted to see myself in books. There’s still a huge need for that. (Cough, cough, We Need Diverse Books committee). The book wasn’t specifically Jewish, but it seemed like it, and that was close, and it was also a good book on its own. Entertaining and funny. And I remember it even more fondly, since years later, I was fortunate enough to actually meet Sid Fleischman at a Florida SCBWI conference and take a workshop with him. He really was the nicest man. He wasn’t doing well, but still spent quite a bit of time talking to me that weekend, and I’ll always cherish that.

Being a writer who loves Spooky things, and actually belonging to a group of SpookyMG writers, you know I have to include Scary Stories to tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Was this book actually scary? Heck, yeah! Definitely took quick peeks around the room when I was reading. My daughter has seemed to pick up on my love of spooky stories, and we’re both very much looking forward to the movie adaptation later this year.

 

Next we have The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain. This was a scary, funny story, like the ones I’m so fond of. It deals with a wish-giver who grants wishes that go horribly wrong. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it’s a take on the Monkey’s Paw story. I love that tale so much, that one of the first things I wrote was an updated Monkey Paw tale. Seek this book out!

Okay, I’m going to end this on another cheat here, but not really. For anyone who’s listened to my school visits, you know I ALWAYS mention this series. The Choose Your Own Adventure books were among my favorites. And when I said that my dad used to get me books all the time, more often than not, he bought me one of these. I finished them off in a day. They were so dog-eared to keep track of all the different endings. And the best part about these books, to me, was that it was in second person. So, it was always YOU are the star, meaning me. It was easy to put myself into all those situations and imagine myself doing them. I’m happy that my kids like them now.

Well, there you have it. My short list of 80s books. It was a fun time with some really great books. I’d list more but Dorian Cirrone said that I needed to stock the supply room at Mixed-Up Files Headquarters and she gets testy when I don’t do it right away.

So, those were some of my favorites, now tell me some of yours in the comments!

Until next time, here’s the third most popular member of the site signing off . . .

 

THE ODDMIRE: Book I Changeling & All Sorts of Magic!

We have another amazing author visit today here on The Mixed-Up Files!

Despite being a debut author in the middle grade arena, this author might already be familiar to you. It’s William Ritter, the author of the New York Times bestselling Jackaby series, which deserves a major round of applause. But he’s here to share his intriguing #mglit tale of vanishing magic, the Wild Woods, goblins, and more! And to top all this newness off, William shared with me that this is the first time his own illustrations are being used in one of his books. Super cool!

Hi William, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you again. We’re very excited to have you here. Tell us, what books did you find most memorable as you were growing up?

I loved so many books growing up. As a teen, I liked the witty language of PG Wodehouse and the silly situations of Douglas Adams. When I was a middle-grade reader, the standout was probably Patricia Wrede’s fantastical Dealing with Dragons.

Do you think they’ve influenced you as an adult? As a writer?

The stories I loved as a kid are deep in my bones now—and they definitely influence the books I write. Wrede’s series, set in the Enchanted Forest, borrows all manner of classic folktale tropes, turning them on their head and reimagining them in clever, playful ways. My MG debut, The Oddmire, is set in the Wild Wood, and it is absolutely following in Wrede’s literary footsteps.

Speaking of THE ODDMIRE, let’s show the readers your book.

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

In this first book in a new fantasy-adventure series, New York Times bestselling author William Ritter takes readers on a journey of monsters, magic, and discovery.

 

Love this cover! And the story sounds like a non-stop race and adventure. What was your favorite part of writing this story?

Making my own kids laugh. I have two boys (the inspiration for the Burton twins in The Oddmire). MG readers are a very discerning audience with little patience for boring prose—so when I read my drafts to my boys and they laugh at the funny bits or demand to hear the next chapter, it makes my heart happy.

Okay, this answer just made my heart all squishy. Was there anything that surprised you while writing The Oddmire?

There are always tiny ideas that grow into huge elements as a book evolves. The character of Fable wasn’t even in my earliest outlines, and I can’t imagine the story without her now. The Queen of the Deep Dark similarly began as a simple boogeyman, but the more I explored her character, the more depth I found.

*Note future writers: this is a teeny peek into what it’s really like to develop characters. And it is so much fun! What do you hope readers find within the pages of this story?

Having a family that looks different or comes together in an unconventional was is not a bad thing. Family can be messy & difficult, but real family is about love, not about clean, simple genealogy.

Gosh, this is truth and such a wonderful message for kids to grasp. Okay, we know this is a series. Any sneak peeks into what’s to come?

Changeling is centered around the Burton twins. They meet many fun characters along the way, but in the end, it’s their story. The Unready Queen bring the twins back, but turns its focus toward the enigmatic Fable, a girl from the Wild Woods. It’s her turn.

*flails Kermet arms* This is very exciting! It will be great to get to know Fable even more.

For our reading writers, what’s the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received?

E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) once said: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Truth! Sometimes you’ll feel truly inspired—other times you’ll have to drag each word out. Sometimes you’ll write in a clean, tidy office—other times you’ll be sitting on the back seat of a city bus. Sometimes you’ll write in the quiet morning light on a vintage typewriter with a steamy cup of tea beside you—other times you’ll poke letters into a cell phone notepad in the middle of the night because you woke up to a screaming baby and then got an idea for a new story. Readers will never know which passages were written under “ideal” circumstances and which you scraped out of the muck. Just let yourself write.

Such wonderful advice, William. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your work with us. Looking forward the The Oddmire’s release on July 16! Your friends at The Mixed-Up Files will be cheering you on.

Reports of William Ritter’s birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a quiet town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and Seventeenth Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and education with certificates in creative writing and folklore.

He currently teaches high school language arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices. Find out more about William – WEBSITE | TWITTER

Readers, do you like fantasy middle grade like The Oddmire? If so, what do you like about fantasy?