Book Lists

Debating, Campaigning, and Voting, Oh My!

The many televised debates along with the upcoming election have occupied a huge space in the realm of social media, social interaction, and social anxiety. I can’t help but think kids are also affected in many ways. It also makes me wonder how books can help them understand and cope. Fortunately, there are many middle-grade books–nonfiction and fiction–that deal with debating, campaigning, and voting. Here are just a few below. If you have a favorite that you’ve read with kids at home or in the classroom, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Speak Out! Debate and Public Speaking in the Middle Grades

By John Meany and Kate Shuster

Combining the practical and theoretical, Speak Out! teaches students the basics of public speaking, argumentation, and research, and helps them prepare for debate competitions and classroom debates. Exercises give students hands-on experience with important topics.

 

 

 

 

If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well

By Dr. Bill McBride

Every student can become a great debater. The key concepts of argumentation, critical thinking, and meeting academic standards align in a single, engaging format in this book. Packed with practical, hands-on activities, this collection teaches students to argue effectively, research information, think critically, and write persuasively. Also included is in-depth discussion on online research and emphasizes the timely skill of evaluating the validity of various internet sources. This revised edition provides specific connections between book content and the Common Core State Standards, as well as a new section on debate skills.

 

 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

By Ann Braden

In this middle-grade novel, the protagonist joins the debate team and learns new ways to view her life:

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer. At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them. Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

 

 

Running for Public Office

By Sarah De Capua

Find out just what it takes to run for office in the United States. Also learn about campaigning and how elections work.

A True Book: Civics series helps children become productive citizens by presenting core civic knowledge in a fun and engaging way. This series includes an age appropriate (grades 3-5) introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects and a robust resource section that encourages independent study.

From small town mayors to the men and women of the U.S. congress, all public officials play important roles in the nation’s government.

 

 

President of the Whole Fifth Grade

By Sherri Winston

Start counting your votes . . . and your friends.

When Brianna Justice’s hero, the famous celebrity chef Miss Delicious, speaks at her school and traces her own success back to being president of her fifth grade class, Brianna determines she must do the same. She just knows that becoming president of her class is the first step toward her own cupcake-baking empire!

But when new student Jasmine Moon announces she is also running for president, Brianna learns that she may have more competition than she expected. Will Brianna be able to stick to her plan of working with her friends to win the election fairly? Or will she jump at the opportunity to steal votes from Jasmine by revealing an embarrassing secret?

 

 

Lillian’s Right to Vote
By Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans

An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history.

As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.

 

 

The Kid Who Ran for President

By Dan Gutman

“Hi! My name is Judson Moon. I’m twelve years old and I’m running for President of the YOU-nited States.”

That’s how I introduced myself to about a zillion people. I must have kissed a zillion babies, said a zillion hellos, shaken a zillion hands . . . Will I get a zillion votes? The answer might surprise you.

Can you picture a kid as President? Imagine what we can accomplish — together — in a country where parents listen. Where teachers give no homework. Where every lawmaker obeys a single kid — me! How am I going to pull this off? Who knows! Read the book to find out.

Diversity in MG Lit #14 Girl-centered Sci Fi and Fantasy

In the last several months I’ve seen a crop of solid Sci Fi and Fantasy titles with diverse girl characters. Ever since I stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia with Lucy Pevencie, I have loved girl-centric fantasy and sci fi. Especially when it featured a familiar mythology or sacred story. So I’m so pleased to see fantastical stories based in a much broader group of tales. None of these books are a definitive or scholarly reproduction of their originating myths. Please look to non-fiction sources for instruction about originating myths.  Enjoy these books for the gems they are, hewn from the stone of a rich mythological tradition.
The Jumbie Gods Revenge by Tracy Baptiste
    When an out-of-season hurricane sweeps through Corinne’s seaside village, she believes Mama D’Leau, the powerful jumbie who rules the ocean, has caused the hurricane. But Corinne discovers the storms were caused by the angry god Huracan. Corinne races against time to find out what has angered Huracan and try to fix it before her island home is destroyed forever. The Jumbie God’s Revenge blends Caribbean and West African tales to present powerful themes of community and heroism and adventure.
Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss
    When a deadly mythie attacks Lintang’s village the same day the infamous Captain Shafira visits her island, Lintang gets her chance. She defends her village with bravery and earns her a place on the pirate queen’s ship. When Lintang discovers her best friend has stowed away she must choose. Telling Captain Shafira betrays her friend, but keeping the secret risks everything.
Love Sugar Magic: A mixture of mischief by Anna Meriano 
Leo Logroño of Rose Hill, Texas, wants to become a full-fledged bruja like the rest of her family. But she hasn’t discovered the true nature of her magical abilities. That isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: Her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across town, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.
Spirit Hunters: The Island of Monsters, by Ellen Oh
 For fans of scary stories, Spirit Hunters is a high-stakes middle grade mystery series. It features Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother.
Game of Stars, by Sayantani DasGupta
    When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, surrounded by evil-looking bees, 12-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been four months since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a reality show is taking over, and her friends are in danger.
Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee
    Yoon Ha Lee’s space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min is counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds. When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.
Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company, and he’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her. When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says “Run!”, the siblings and Nizhoni’s best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters.
These are just some of the terrific new and diverse titles out there. Please mention any I’ve missed in the comments. -Rosanne Parry

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez: Author Interview with Adrianna Cuevas

I’m very excited to welcome Cuban-American author Adrianna Cuevas to the blog today to talk about her debut middle-grade novel The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.

What her  book is about: Nestor Lopez is a Cuban American boy who has to use his secret ability to communicate with animals to save the inhabitants of his town when they are threatened by a tule vieja, a witch that transforms into animals.

Adrianna, thanks for joining us on the MUF blog! So, this is your first middle grade novel–have you always wanted to write an MG novel?

I was a Spanish and ESOL teacher for 16 years and I taught all grades K-12 at some point during my career. The hormonal tornado of silliness and maturity in intermediate and middle school made it my absolute favorite ages to teach. I knew when I started writing I wanted to gear my stories toward those amazing middle grade readers. As my own son approached that age and I wanted to write stories for him, it was a natural fit.

Which authors have inspired your writing style and why?

I don’t really think I have a writing style, unless praying and hoping for the best is considered a style. I enjoy reading fast-paced books filled with strong voices, humor, and heart. I aim to write stories that fit my reading preferences. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks, and Just South of Home by Karen Strong.

What brought you to the story of Nestor Lopez? And when did the idea first spark?

There’s a slight chance I was sitting in a high school faculty meeting four years ago when I started scribbling story ideas to soothe my miniscule attention span. My son loves to ask hypothetical questions like “What if you could have any Pokémon as your pet?” or “What if you could have any superpower you wanted?” and he’s also completely obsessed with zoology. So I started with “What if you could talk to animals?” I’d love to say that Nestor’s ability to speak to animals has a deeper significance, like Gatsby’s green light shining across a bay, but it doesn’t. I just thought it would be fun. How else was I going to fit so many poop jokes in a story without creating a sarcastic, potty-obsessed raven?

Do you have experience as a military child, moving from school to school? Why was this a big part of Nestor’s life and how do you think it affects him?

Although I’m not a military kid, my husband had several deployments as an Army MP early in our marriage so many of the experiences in the book, such as Nestor’s aversion to military reunion videos and his mom mistaking ROTC students for a mortuary affairs detail, stem directly from that time.

In trying to make Nestor a fully realized character, I felt that adding this element provided depth and emotion to the story. And students from military families, particularly Latinx families, don’t get to see themselves in many stories. Twenty percent of the Armed Forces are Hispanic and it was important to me to represent this.

Can you tell me about the journey from first idea to finding a publisher?

I finished the first draft of Nestor in a few months and entered it into Pitch Wars in 2017. I was accepted and mentored by the incredible Jessica Bayliss who helped me fine-tune my world-building and character arcs. During that time, I also attended my local SCBWI conference in Austin and pitched the manuscript to Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary. I signed with Stefanie and completed further revisions. She helped me find the heart of the manuscript and was critical in making it the story it is today. We went on sub in October of 2018 and the manuscript sold to FSG/Macmillan two months later.

What has been your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part of the process has been meeting other authors who geek out about stories and writing as much as I do. Finding people who are passionate about the same things I am and enjoy building each other up has been a great gift.

Also, seeing young readers react with excitement and enthusiasm to something that just existed as a silly story for so long in my mind has been incredibly satisfying. A class of fifth graders in north Texas read an arc of Nestor and their teacher told me the whole class gasped at the climax of the story. Mission accomplished!

Was there a particularly difficult part of the novel to write? Why was it so difficult? How did you get through it?

My husband and I had been married 10 months when he was called up for his first deployment. I was living far away from family in a town where I didn’t feel like I belonged. Having to revisit those emotions in the process of writing Nestor was a challenge but it made for some great conversations between my husband and I. We were able to share our stories with our son as well who was born after my husband got out of the Army. Veterans are sometimes reluctant to share their experiences so I was grateful that writing this story allowed us both to open up to each other.

What do you hope readers will see in Nestor Lopez and find in this story?

I hope that readers will find escape in an exciting story, laughter in silly moments, and a reminder that your idea of home may not be what you expect. And if they crave Cuban food after they’re done reading, I accept full responsibility.

Was it important for you to represent your heritage in this novel, and why?

Most authors draw from personal experiences to inform their writing. My Cuban heritage is just one of the many elements of my life that shape my stories. I’m not running into kidlit waving a Cuban battle flag and screaming ‘Azúcar!’ Well, maybe I am a little. It’s only because I’m proud of who I am and of my family. I’m also the proud wife of a veteran and the proud mother of a kid who has unabashedly embraced his weirdness. I’m writing who I am.

And if a young Cuban-American kiddo reads my stories and chuckles, “Me, too,” then I’ve done my job as an author.

And did you find many characters you could relate to as a young reader? How has this shaped your writing?

Growing up in Miami, a city dominated by Cuban culture, as a bicultural, white-presenting latina, afforded me the privilege of not being overly affected by the lack of Cuban-American characters in stories. This is why I am now passionate about using my privilege to boost authors who are enhancing authentic representation in children’s literature. So, hey, now would be a great time to add How to Make Friends With the Sea by Tanya Guerrero, Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit, Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass, and Éfren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros to your reading list!

 

Thank you Adrianna! Look out for The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, which is set to release on May 12, 2020. To find out more about Adrianna and her debut MG novel, visit: https://adriannacuevas.com.