Book Lists

Beyond Shel Silverstein: Silly Poetry for Kids

I feel I must clarify. I adore Shel Silverstein. Who doesn’t love “Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”? Or “Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”? Great stuff. But I fear that children’s poetry, particularly funny poetry, begins and ends with dear old Shel. There is a whole world out there of funny poetry for kids, and some of it even gives Shel a run for his money. These are poems that evoke giggles and guffaws, that insist on being read aloud, and that are perfect for these evenings as the weather gets colder and we want to snuggle by the fire. Check them out! And if you have other suggestions for me, please add them in the comments. I am eager for a few new titles to grab on the next snowy Sunday.

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks by Calef Brown

Georgie Spider catches flies but never eats the little guys. Instead he cooks them up in pies. He doesn’t use the legs or eyes or any artificial dyes . . . Not far from a greenish town, the Bathtub Driver is selling cut-rate imported shampoo. Georgie Spider serves up award-winning pies, while overhead on Highwire 66 there’s a small problem causing an acrobat traffic jam. Ed’s funny smell, Eliza’s special jacket – they’re all part of the picture in Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, fourteen stories about pesky snails, sleeping fruit, and one funky snowman. In the tradition of Edward Lear, Calef Brown has fashioned fourteen nonsense poems so zany that both young and old will be unable to suppress their laughter. Brown’s invented words and sounds and their visual counterparts create both an audible and a visual feast. This is the kind of silliness children relish.

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris, Illustrated by Lane Smith

Meet Chris Harris, the 21st-century Shel Silverstein! Already lauded by critics as a worthy heir to such greats as Silverstein, Seuss, Nash and Lear, Harris’s hilarious debut molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make you look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. With enthusiastic endorsements from bestselling luminaries such as Lemony Snicket, Judith Viorst, Andrea Beaty, and many others, this entirely unique collection offers a surprise around every corner: from the ongoing rivalry between the author and illustrator, to the mysteriously misnumbered pages that can only be deciphered by a certain code-cracking poem, to the rhyming fact-checker in the footnotes who points out when “poetic license” gets out of hand. Adding to the fun: Lane Smith, bestselling creator of beloved hits like It’s a Bookand The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has spectacularly illustrated this extraordinary collection with nearly one hundred pieces of appropriately absurd art. It’s a mischievous match made in heaven!

What are You Glad About? What are you Mad About? by Judith Viorst

From the beloved and internationally bestselling author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst comes a collection of wry and witty poems that touch on every aspect of the roller-coaster ride that is childhood.

Did you wake up this morning all smiley inside?
Does life taste like ice cream and cake?
Or does it seem more like your goldfish just died
And your insides are one great big ache?

From school to family to friends, from Grrrr to Hooray!, Judith Viorst takes us on a tour of feelings of all kinds in this thoughtful, funny, and charming collection of poetry that’s perfect for young readers just learning to sort out their own emotions.

Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Peter Sis

We’re sailing to Scranimal Island,

It doesn’t appear on most maps….

Scranimal Island is where you will find the fragrant Rhinocerose, the cunning Broccolions, and if you are really, really lucky and very, very quiet, you will spot the gentle, shy Pandaffodil. (You may even hear it yawning if the morning’s just begun, watch its petals slowly open to embrace the rising sun.

So put on your pith helmet and prepare to explore a wilderness of puns and rhymes where birds, beasts, vegetables, and flowers have been mysteriously scrambled together to create creatures you’ve never seen before –– and are unlikely to meet again! Your guides –– Jack Prelutsky, poet laureate of the elementary school set, and two–time Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sis – invite you to join them on an adventure you will never forget!

The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Bite-able Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, Illustrated by Joan Rankin

Take a bite out of the calendar with this cheerful collection of delicious seasonal poems, each one an ode to a favorite food

The daring popcorn astronauts
are brave beyond compare–
they scramble into puffy suits
and hurtle through the air.And when they land, we say hooray
and crowd around the spot
to salt the little astronauts
and eat them while they’re hot.

Dive into a watermelon lake and sing the praises of mac and cheese in this playful and poetic celebration of food. In spring, bow to the “Strawberry Queen” and eat “Only Guacamole.” In summer you’ll meet Bob the Ogre, who only eats corn on the cob, and in fall, you can learn “21 Things to Do with an Apple.” And then in winter, retreat from the cold at “The Cocoa Cabana ” Stellar team Deborah Ruddell and Joan Rankin deliver a whimsical celebration of the tastiest treats of life in this palatable poetry collection.

Ogden Nash’s Zoo by Ogden Nash, Illustrated by Etienne Delessert

A collection of verses about animals from the barnyard to the aquarium and the haunts of the lion and rhinoceros also includes verses about mythical animals.

Kate Hillyer is a middle grade writer and poetry lover who feeds her addiction by serving as a Cybils judge for poetry. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen. You can also find her at and on Twitter as @SuperKate. 

United Nations (of Books) Day

We have a calendar at From the Mixed-Up Files. It gives us members the dates of the upcoming posts, who is assigned to a particular date, and lists if something special is celebrated on that date. My assigned day was today, October 24, 2018, and the something special celebrated on October 24, 2018, was listed as United Nations Day.

United Nations Day?

How in the wide world of sports was I going to find one of my usual go-to middle-grade sports book topics to fit with United Nations?

It’s World Series time! College and professional football have hit their full stride. College and professional basketball have started. Volleyball! Local high school fall sports! All this plethora of sports-related fall activities and not one is United Nations related.

Oh well, so much for working in United Nations Day into a post.

But then…

I started thinking.

Dangerous, I know.

Yet, the wheels in my distracted brain turned. The gears whined and squealed and smoke billowed out of my ears.

United Nations.


What unites us? A lot of things, that’s for sure. My guess is that we have more things in our human existence that can work to unite us rather than tear us apart. Two things, though, kept appearing on my mind’s horizon.

United by sports.

United by books.

Think about it? The World Cup. Harry Potter. The Winter Olympic Games. The Hunger Games. The Summer Olympic Games. Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Baseball. Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park. NBA. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Book fandoms unite!

And then books as a unifying force streamed into my feeble brain…

How about some global book unity in Pernille Ripp’s Global Read Aloud? 

  • 2017 Middle Reader Selections
    • Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe
    • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
    • A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park
  • 2018 Middle Reader Selections
    • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold
    • Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
    • Refugee by Alan Gratz

Nerdy Book Club and the nErDcamp Movement

The Nerdy Book Club blog is a daily dose of this book unification theory. If you haven’t treated your book-lover soul to a nErdcamp yet, I suggest you get yourself a free ticket and make the plans to catch one soon. Here are a couple of links to my favorites.

Classrooms & Libraries UNITE with a book!

  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  • The Night Gardner by Johnathan Auxier
  • How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia
  • The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
  • The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
  • The Amulet Series by Kaz Kabushi
  • The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

I could go on forever listing books which have united me in brotherhood with fellow readers, young and old. How about you? What books have brought you a sense of community and shared experience?

Books are powerful elixirs.

Reading is a superpower.

Books have the inherent ability to attract like-minded humans. Carry a beloved book, like your tattered copy of Coraline or Hogfather, around in public and see what reactions this incites. My guess is there will be comments or, at the very least, a shared smile in appreciation of the book. Just as a sports jersey of your favorite team pulls together other fans like moths drawn to the porch light, readers are held in orbit around their favorite books by literary gravity.

Wouldn’t it be cool to see the UN General Assembly set aside a month for a book exchange? All the countries exchange a book from their country with a polar opposite country. Bond through books. Peace one page at a time. Words for a wise world.

Imagine a class, a library, a town, and a nation enjoying the camaraderie of a single book. Not quite magic, but something really close. Something that has the potential energy of a lightning bolt wrapped between the front and back covers of a book.

Like with our favorite sports teams, we are passionate about books.

We are united by books and that, my friends, is a powerful medicine.



Tricks & Treats: Halloween Costume and Book Pairings

Halloween is coming, and for many middle graders, that means there’s going to be a character parade at school. What’s a character parade? That’s when your middle grader student dresses up as their favorite book character and parade around school. The catch is that they have to bring a book featuring that character to display with their costume. What are you supposed to do if your middle grader wants to dress up as the latest TV or video game characters? Don’t worry! We here at Mixed-Up Files have got you covered.

Here are some books to bring along that complement popular character costumes.

The most popular costumes this Halloween are rumored to be characters from the videogame, Fortnite. With a little imagination, these costumes can also represent some great middle-grade characters. Say, your middle grader wants to dress up as a:

Dark Voyager:  That’s basically an astronaut costume in black instead of white. Any nonfiction books about astronauts should fit the bill here, like Astronaut, Aquanaut by Jennifer Swanson. Or if you’d prefer a fiction book, middle grade books about space travel would work. Try The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Silvensky. For more space-travel related books, check out our list here.



Black Knight: This is exactly what it sounds like, and again, nonfiction books can be your friends. Try Knights and Armor by Jim Pipe. But there are also plenty of fiction books about knights too.  For example, the Have Sword, Will Travel series by Garth Nix.



Or a Skull Trooper:  With the addition of a few pieces of clothing found around the house, this is a pretty versatile costume. Add a trench coat and a fedora, a skull trooper becomes Skullduggery Pleasant, the titular character from Derek Landy’s series. With a frilly black shirt, a blue bow, and a pair of jean shorts, you’ve got Cinderskella from the Scarily Ever After series. Or, if you’d prefer to go the nonfiction route, human body books such as Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks would be a good choice.


Of course, not all middle graders want to be characters from Fortnite. Other popular characters may include superheroes, such as Black Panther. There are plenty of books and graphic novels to represent characters from these realms. For Black Panther fans there’s, Black Panther the Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith. Also the Marvel Super Hero Adventures graphic novel series features several Marvel characters, including Black Panther. Tom Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame also has a series featuring Rocket and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. The DC Superhero Girls books and graphic novels feature many DC heroes. For DC superheros such as Batman and Superman, the Super Powers would be a good series to use. The Secret Hero Society series would also be a good choice for understated superhero costumes.

But what if none of these books are available, or your middle-grader has a costume that they can’t or won’t wear to school?

Here are some quick costume suggestions based on items that you have around your own home.

Evangeline from Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge: Evangeline is a swamp witch just like her grandmother who fights off monsters and werewolves in a girl-powered “Little Red-Riding Hood” retelling. This costume is pretty simple. All you need is a jeans, boots, and a red hoodie.



Devin Dexter from Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset till Sunrise by Jonathan Rosen: Devin hunts monsters with the help of his cousin Tommy. In Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, he fights evil Christmas toys, and in his latest adventure, he’s facing vampires. Devin’s outfit is pretty easy to pull off with sensible shoes, jeans, a white button down, green sweater vest, and a brown outer coat.


Alcatraz Smedry from Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz series vs. the Evil Librarians series: Alcatraz Smedry is so unlucky that for his thirteenth birthday, he receives a bag of sand that is supposedly his inheritance. Then, the bag of sand is stolen, and a crazy man claiming to be Alcatraz’s grandfather convinces him to face off against the evil librarians who stole it. Alcatraz’s outfit is fairly simple with jeans, a white t-shirt, and a green jacket. Also, very important is a pair of glasses. You can be as creative with these as you like.

Gratuity “Tip” Tucci from The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex: Gratuity “Tip” Tucci embarks on a journey to find her mother after aliens invade Earth. Along the way, she befriends an alien who calls himself J. Lo, who helps her find her mom and escape the other alien race that shows up to take over. While Tip’s clothing is never really described in the book, you can easily create the costume from the movie adaptation costume with jeans, a green hoodie, and red sneakers.


These are just a few of our costume and book suggestions for your character parade. What costumes are you planning?