Curriculum Tie-in

Author Kate Hannigan discusses Boots, the third book in her League of Secret Heroes series

I’m so happy to present an interview with Author Kate Hannigan, who is known for her abilities to deep dive into history and write adventure packed stories for middle grade readers featuring girls with lots of agency. Today, we celebrate the recent release of Boots, the third book in the League of Secret Heroes which has been described as Hidden Figures meets Wonder Woman.

Congratulations, Kate, on your launching of Boots! You’ve been on quite a journey with your three main characters Josie, Akiko and Mae who have been fighting super villains, World War II enemies as well as racism and sexism. Welcome to the Mixed Up Files Blog. In this book, the girls find themselves in Chicago, Sweetwater, Texas as well as Paris–all significant places during World War II, during the time period that your series is set. Tell us a little bit about the research you did to conjure up each of these places.

I love diving into research—sometimes even more than the writing itself! So I had incredible fun pulling together this series. Spotlighting the real-life women from history drove the setting, so for CAPE(Book 1) it made sense to set it in Philadelphia since the ENIAC Six mathematicians were my focus. These women were programming the top-secret computer that was being built at University of Pennsylvania during the war. MASK(Book 2) is set in San Francisco because much of the story focuses on things happening on the West Coast during the war. And now with BOOTS(Book 3), I wanted to focus on the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and other women pilots during this time in history, so it made sense to feature Sweetwater, Texas—where the WASPs did their training—and Chicago, where I live, and the remarkable women pilots here.

I’ve long been fascinated with the WASPs and their role in WWII history, so when I read about their homecoming celebrations in Sweetwater, where former WASPs take part, I jumped on a plane to see for myself. There was incredible warmth to the weekend, as history buffs, aviation lovers, members of the Ninety-Nines(an international organization of women pilots), and families and friends of the WASPs gathered to celebrate their accomplishments. I was lucky to meet WASP Jane Doyle, who was 96 years old at the time, and interview her for the book. My superhero girls fly with Jane.

Each girl in addition to superpowers, has real life powers such as the ability to do math (Josie), crack ciphers (Akiko) or lockpicking (Mae). Are these any of your superpowers?

My sister’s superpower is math, and I could imagine her jumping into an exciting role during WWII if she were there at the time! For me, I love puzzles and grew up solving ones in the newspaper during breakfast. But I have to admit that my current superpower is a bit less glamorous: parallel parking. After living in San Francisco and now Chicago, there’s no space too small for me to tackle!

I loved reading about Aunt Janet and Aunt Willa, and the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). I must confess to not knowing very much about this history before. What do you hope readers take away about these fearless flyers?

First I hope young readers find these figures interesting and want to learn more. That’s the whole reason I write historical fiction: to show kids where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. And second, to show girls especially that they can succeed in male-dominated fields and that while it may seem that women haven’t been there historically, they have. Their stories just haven’t been told.

I love how you consistently don’t shy away from some difficult truths, especially racism and sexism. These are painful but you don’t talk down to kids. How do you handle discussing these difficult realities with your own family?

These are painful topics. And can make us feel small sometimes. But the only way to address difficult things is head-on. So I feel like finding something we can all relate to—wanting to sit down for pie at a restaurant—and looking at it from different perspectives can help us understand why things were the way they were and what we can do to fight unfairness when we see it.

The Infinity Trinity is such a wonderful concept–I appreciate how the girls operate as a superhero trio. How did you decide on three girls?

This was a deliberate decision. I don’t mean to shut out the boys, of course, but I do feel like males have been represented pretty well in literature, film, and everything else for . . . millennia! Haha! So I wanted to write a book where girls are the focus and girls have agency. Where they can feel like a part of something big, where they’re crucial to its success, where they have to use their own smarts and skills, and where they can kick evil in the throat. So as I began sketching out the story, I had to make some big choices: to see these kids battle evil and really wallop some baddies, I was heading into the fantasy genre; and to emphasize the role of women in this period of history, I was going to focus just on females. So I made the decision that the superhero trio, their comic book mentors, and the real-life figures from history they work with would all be female.

What are you working on next? Anything you can share?

I’m obsessed with the year 1920! A whole lot was happening then. So I’m working on a middle-grade mystery set at this time, with some fascinating historical figures walking around with my young detective. It’s been so much fun to research, and now I’m writing every single day to get a solid draft done. We’ll see what happens!

We can’t wait to hear an update. Thanks so much for being on the blog today, Kate!

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

 

 

 

A Teacher Shout Out for Informational Books

Times-are-a-changing, as they say.

Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

Anyone who has been teaching understands this well. It’s been a rocky road, going back and forth from virtual teaching to brick and mortar. That means every system that was learned before the pandemic is being reinvented. Currently, my class and I are back in our brick and mortar class, and right now, informational books are at the top of student choice in reading.

 

Tastes have been varied. Everything from the delightful fact ladened books by Charles Micucci, to Cobblestone magazines, to science books by our own Jennifer Swanson. The books all seem to have one thing in common. Pictures and short sections of information, facts, and trivia. Students are still checking out novels when they can, but the proportion of students gravitating toward short reads has been increasing exponentially.

Eyewitness books are being read from front to back. Even the Magic School Bus series is being devoured. To be honest, I didn’t realize there was so much science in the Magic School Bus books until I viewed them through critical eyes. Today’s students are visual learners. They’ve grown up with cell phones and tablets and are naturally drawn toward illustrations. It’s been fun to hear them discuss the life of a bee and ask each other trivia questions about mummies and the number of shark species. The challenge has been providing good reading material to spark student learning and informational books have come into their own. The reward has been students excited about learning and that’s really what it’s all about.

Smashing the Single Story Narrative: A New Middle-Grade Series by Kate Messner

Paul Revere’s famous cry “The British are coming!” warned residents of Lexington and Concord of the imminent danger of British invasion. Right?

The Titanic was touted as “unsinkable” before its ill-fated maiden journey. Right?

Well, not exactly. The stories we’ve been told about historical events have been skewed by the fact that most were written from a single perspective. And no event has EVER had only one perspective.  That’s why I’m so excited that author Kate Messner is writing a new series for middle-grade readers called History Smashers.

History Smashers: The Titanic by Kate Messner

Before we talk about the books, though, let’s talk a bit more about this notion of  the “single story narrative.” Last fall, while walking my daily two-mile neighborhood loop, I listened to author Linda Sue Park discuss her book PRAIRIE LOTUS with Matthew Winner on The Children’s Book Podcast. In the podcast, she talked about the “single story narrative” and about how she introduces the idea of a single story to young readers.  The analogy she uses is very clever. You should click the link above and listen to the podcast.

Since then, I’ve thought about how much of our history has been learned from a single perspective, and I’ve pondered the challenges teachers, parents, librarians, and those of us who write, edit, and publish for young readers, face.  Digging deeper, I listened to the TED Talk titled The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Linda Sue mentions in the podcast. The talk is more than ten years old, but never has it been more important that we ask ourselves “Who else was there?” and “What if we start the story from a different perspective?”

History Smashers: The American Revolution

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Messner says she wants “to tell stories in a way that’s respectful of kids. Kids can handle more than we think they can. And I feel like being honest with kids is really important. Sometimes our teaching of history has not fared so well in that area, particularly when it comes to our failings as a country, our mistakes. We like to teach little kids nice stories about history. I think we can start to have those conversations earlier.”

Out of that vision, the History Smashers series was born. With five titles complete and more on the way, the reviews are fantastic!

“Critical, respectful, engaging: exemplary history for children.” —Kirkus Reviews, The Mayflower, starred review
”The book’s format may be a good match for those with shorter attention spans, and permits it to be gratifyingly capacious in what it covers.” —New York Times Book Review

“Kate Messner serves up fun, fast history for kids who want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Absolutely smashing!” —Candace Fleming, award-wining author

I also love that these books are fact-packed and visually enticing, with sidebars, graphic panels, and lots of illustration. They’ll be a welcome addition to classroom, public, and home libraries. I have no doubt they’ll be conversation-starters for years to come. Keep the conversations going, friends!

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor.   History Smashers: Women's Right to Vote  History Smashers: The Mayflower