For Kids

Inexpensive Bookish Holiday Gifts Middle-Graders Can Make

I have vivid memories of making things at my grandmother’s big dining room table, especially around the holidays. Usually under the urging of my Aunt Connie, we paper mached, decoupaged (there’s a word I haven’t used in thirty years) and macramed (make that two words).  I remember a year we made large paper globes out of old Christmas cards.  My grandmother, my Aunt Connie, and that old dining room table are gone now, but the desire to make something remains, and I appreciate having adults in my life who encouraged creativity.

I’ve selected (and even tried) some holiday crafts that are easy enough for nine-year-old hands and yield  a lasting treasure worthy of gifting.

Super Cute and East Button Bookmarks – A little hot glue and Grandma’s box of old buttons and this one is as good as done.  Click here for the details, or not. If you’re like me, you’re already thinking “How hard can it be?”

Book ornaments – This one is probably my favorite holiday gift craft ever.  I made these a couple of years ago and they were a hit. Talk about easy and no mess! Start with empty glass ornament balls, which are easy to find most anywhere. For younger crafters, plastic ones are available, but for middle-grade hands, glass is fine and classier and the clarity makes a difference when reading tiny words.  I had many old paperbacks that were either well worn or duplicates, and I chose books that fit recipients – The Hobbit for the Tolkien fan, Little Women for my favorite Jo March friend, etc. I cut narrow strips of text and rolled each strip around a pencil. It’s surprising how well the paper curls. I found that if I left it around the pencil, and then inserted the pencil into the opening of the ornament, then let it fall off, it was easier than taking the strip off the pencil before trying to insert it. I chose lines with proper nouns – character names, places – in order to make the book easily identifiable. Play around with length of strip and how many to use. You’ll know what looks good. And the book lover in your life with adore you!

Scrabble Coasters – Okay, guys. I made these for my critique partners this year, and if I can do it, so can you. Our holiday gathering is the same day this post goes live, so I’m hoping they don’t read it before they open their gifts.  I ordered 500 letter tiles and found them to be fairly consistent in size. There were a few oddballs, but aren’t there always?  And I used these adhesive cork squares, which were a bit too large and had to be cut on one side. That made me nervous because I can’t cut in a straight line to save my life, but I used a paper cutter with grid lines and, surprisingly, I did all right!  I had planned not to trust the adhesive and bought wood glue, but discovered that the adhesive side of the cork was VERY sticky, so I ended up not using the glue. Hooray! The last step was to coat the finished coasters with an acrylic spray. After all, they are meant to hold sweaty glasses or hot cups. Voila! I have to thank my daughter Maggie who, upon hearing me lament “I don’t know. It sounds complicated,” said “Mom, just do it.”

                   

Ribbon Bookmarks – This one is, admittedly, a bit more complicated and took some planning and tools I didn’t previously own. But, wow, what a response I got when I gifted these to my book friends a couple years ago! The good news is that in one trip to a large craft store, I got the ribbon, the metal ends, the little O rings, and a nice set of jewelry-making tools that I’ve used over and over again since. The most challenging part for some might be collecting the little items to attach. You can buy small charms, I’m sure, but I’m a repurposer and collector of tiny things, so I had a drawer of old watch faces, luggage locks and keys, broken earrings, tiny charms, and baubles and bangles of all sorts. I mean, doesn’t everyone? (Don’t answer that.)  If nothing else, you can start collecting for next year!


Book Trees – These are so cute and not hard to do at all. I found this great video that demonstrates just how simple they are to make. You can leave them “au natural” or bling them out with paint, glitter, and glam.

 

There’s still time, and none of these are too messy or difficult. You’ll make more than a gift. You’ll make a memory or two, I’m sure.

 

Cynthia Leitich Smith of the new HarperCollins imprint, Heartdrum

The latest diversity in children’s book data released by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows the publishing slice for American Indians/First Nations books stayed relatively flat. This percentage increased only slightly from the 2015 data (0.9%) to 1% reported in 2018. The excellent infographic, Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 by David Huyck and Sarah Park Dahlen, visually represents this striking data.

There is a need for action.

The first step has been around a long time for the readers and educators who have found it. It’s the abundance of exceptional Native content produced by exceptional Native creators. I highly recommend digging into Native kidlit and giving these books a try. You’ll be glad you did.

A solid and promising second step came recently from a major publishing house. HarperCollins Children’s Division is taking a step forward with the announcement of their Heartdrum imprint. Better yet, this exciting new imprint will be led by two awesome and talented individuals, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan. Today, we are honored at From the Mixed-Up Files to have Cynthia Leitich Smith graciously answer a few questions about Heartdrum.

Cynthia, welcome! Thank you for being our guest and sharing this great news about Heartdrum.

What does having a Native imprint at major publishing house mean to you personally, now and for the future, as an author, advocate, and enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation?

It’s a signal that Native voices and artistic visions are more fully welcomed and embraced by children’s-YA book publishing per se. It is a noteworthy and encouraging intersection between the industry and the intertribal Native literary community—most importantly, young readers, centering Native children and teens.

When we think personally, “community” is the first, most important word that comes to mind.

As excited as all us Native Kidlit fans are for the news of the Heartdrum imprint, we mustn’t look past the tremendous creative work that has been and will be released in the future from independent publishers. Can you touch on some of those wonderful houses?

We must remember that tribal presses and Native-owned presses are and should always be the leaders in this industry conversation. We must also pay tribute and continue to support small presses that have been at the forefront of bringing Native voices and visions to kids from the start.

When seeking out Native literature, we’re all blessed to have high-quality titles from houses like Salina Bookshelf, Lee & Low/Tu Books, Charlesbridge, Cinco Puntos, Levine Querido, Native Realities Press, and Chickasaw Press (among others).

(A huge shout out to Lee & Low for taking a strong leadership position in encouraging more diversity and accountability within publishing as an industry and to Tu editor Stacy Whitman for bringing more Native voices in speculative/genre fiction into the world.)

This moment is also a testament to the importance and guidance of groundbreaking elder authors and illustrators like Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Michael LaCapa, Tim Tingle, Lucy Tapahonso, Joy Harjo, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Simon Ortiz…to new and rising stars like Christine Day, Dawn Quigley, Darcie Little Badger, Eric Gansworth, Julie Flett, Monique Gray Smith, David Alexander Robertson, Angeline Boulley, and Brian Young (among others).

Likewise, we should all be sure to herald breakout individual titles on big-house publisher lists from new sensations like At Mountain’s Base, written by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Kokila/Penguin Random House), Fry Bread, written by Kevin Noble Malliard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) and the forthcoming We Are Water Protectors, written by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)(among others).

(A huge shout out to Traci Sorell for her leadership in the Native children’s-YA literary creative community.)

Together, these Native literary and visual artists have proven that authentic, well-crafted Native writing and illustration can entertain, inform, delight, foster empathy, validate and connect.

And their accomplishments didn’t come easily. They have persevered and broken through barriers of bigotry, misconceptions, and stereotypes—navigating and pushing against literary defaults to non-Native conventions and sensibilities. And that battle is still ongoing.

What is Heartdrum’s origin story?

Turning to the Heartdrum imprint, it should be noted that credit for the idea goes to Ellen Oh at We Need Diverse Books. And of course, she—like so many of us—was made more aware of the Native children’s-YA publishing book landscape in part from the hard work of folks like CCBC, former ALA President Loriene Roy, the American Indian Library Association, Drs. Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza of the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, and rising voices like Kara Stewart and Alia Jones.

Ellen and the CCBC team are wonderful examples of friends who went above and beyond.

Remember that every act of support from each of us makes a difference.

Every Native or non-Native teacher who shares an authentic Native-focused book—especially when it’s not November; every Native or non-Native family member or friend who gives one to a beloved child….

As a fan, I’ve enjoyed the recent resurgence in Native-created content. Can you highlight some of these changes which have given Native creators in the industry the space they deserve?

Last year, author Debby Dahl Edwardson organized LoonSong: Turtle Island, a workshop for Native writers, that led to deep friendships and ah-ha moments that will long impact children’s literature in exciting ways.

This year SCBWI welcomed me to its Board of Advisors, and I’m working with a terrific committee of luminaries on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Bank Street College featured several Native voices at this fall’s book festival.

Just last month, educator Jillian Heise organized and moderated a Native author panel at NCTE. And Native representation was up at that conference across the board.

KidLitCon has announced that Dawn Quigley will be their upcoming keynote speaker.

Children’s librarians introduced authors like Traci Sorell and Kevin Noble Maillard to elementary students at their schools.

Native booksellers like Red Planet Books & Comics in Albuquerque and Birchbark Books & Native Arts in Minneapolis (among others) have become essential destinations.

Of late, Meghan Goel, the children’s book buyer and programming director, at Austin’s legendary independent bookstore, BookPeople, reached out to ask how she and the store could better support Native voices, and she took positive action from there, including writing a related article for Publishers Weekly.

The work of today’s veteran advocates is echoed and carried forward from Indigo’s Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth.

I could share so many more examples—including this interview at Mixed-Up Files!

All of this is to say: We’re talking about a steadily building groundswell of support, over many years, that has been the most successful when Native voices have taken the lead and true friends have listened respectfully and responded proactively in cooperation.

What role do you envision for Heartdrum in advancing Native literature and literacy?

The Heartdrum imprint is another next step forward. Actually, it’s a leap of faith.

Twenty years ago, a big-house editor, Rosemary Brosnan, took a risk on my first book, Jingle Dancer, a contemporary Native story about a young girl bringing together regalia with the help of women of every generation of her family and community. Launching the Heartdrum imprint with her feels as though our journey has come full circle. And now, we’ll begin again with the goal of helping to nurture and lift more Native creative folks and books, to benefit generations of young readers.

A house with the reach and resources of HarperCollins, dedicating itself to this initiative, will be a game-changer for the future of children’s-YA book publishing.

Heartdrum will offer page-turning, heartfelt, sometimes joyful, sometimes reflective books that will speak to generations of young readers.

My hope is that Heartdrum books will validate fellow Native literary and visual artists of all ages—from preschoolers to elders. I also hope that educators will take note of our emphasis on tribally specific, contemporary (and perhaps futuristic) stories to recognize that Native people hail from distinct Nations with past, yes, but also a present and future.

We’ll be inclusive when it comes to the intersectional identities. There is so much diversity within Indian Country—intertribally, culturally, linguistically, in terms of faith, socio-economic status, body type, gender, orientation, and so on. If, say, a Native author with a disability reflects that experience on the page, we’re not going to say, “Your layers of identity are too much for the mainstream market to process.” We understand that the human experience is not a check-one-box proposition.

Joy, fun, and humor will be ever-present in the mix with more serious themes.

We’ll prioritize the needs of kid readers, especially Native kids.

Beyond that, I hope friends and colleagues take this moment to reflect on their relationship to Native literature and diverse and inclusive literature more broadly. And that’s something we’ll continue to do, too.

We must all be asking ourselves with each step forward: How can we do better?

I’m also deeply grateful that WNDB and HarperCollins are making it possible to organize annual workshops for Native writers to nurture their writing journeys. No doubt that some writers we’ll be working with will go on to publish with the Heartdrum imprint and some will go on to publish with other houses.

We’ll be filled with joy about them all!

 

 

December New Releases

December is for holidays, hot chocolate, and a whole lot of great middle-grade books. So take a look and decide which ones you might want to put on your wish list!

 

Major Impossible (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #9) by Nathan Hale

This ninth book in the bestselling series tells the story of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed geologist who explored the Grand Canyon John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) always had the spirit of adventure in him. As a young man, he traveled all over the United States exploring. When the Civil War began, Powell went to fight for the Union, and even after he lost most of his right arm, he continued to fight until the war was over. In 1869 he embarked with the Colorado River Exploring Expedition, ten men in four boats, to float through Grand Canyon. Over the course of three months, the explorers lost their boats and supplies, nearly drowned, and were in peril on multiple occasions. Ten explorers went in, only six came out. Powell would come to be known as one of the most epic explorers in history! Equal parts gruesome and hilarious, this latest installment in the bestselling series takes readers on an action-packed adventure through American history.

 

Who Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Patricia Brennan Demuth, illus. Jake Murray

You’ve probably seen her on T-shirts, mugs, and even tattoos, well, now that famous face graces the cover of our latest Who Is? title. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is famous for her stylish collars (called jabots) and her commanding dissents. This opera-loving New Yorker has always spoken her mind; as a young lawyer, RBG advocated for gender equality and women’s rights when few others did. She gained attention for the cases she won when arguing in front of the Supreme Court, before taking her place on the bench in 1993. Author Patricia Brennan Demuth answers all the questions about what makes RBG so notorious and irreplaceable.

 

Mac Cracks the Code (Mac B., Kid Spy) by Mac Barnett, illus. Mike Lowery

Mac B. and his arch-nemesis are facing off at the Video Game World Championships! But first, Mac B. needs to crack an unbreakable secret code. Can he solve it in time to defeat his enemy? Find out in this kid spy adventure from New York Times bestselling author, Mac Barnett! The Queen of England calls on Mac B. once again! This time, Mac must crack a secret code that has been recovered from a double agent. A series of clues leads Mac to France, and then to Japan, where he comes face-to-face with his arch-nemesis, the KGB man . . . and the world headquarters of Nintendo! Is the KGB Man secretly behind all of this? And are Mac’s video game skills good enough to face down his enemy at the Video Game World Championships? With Mike Lowery’s signature illustrations on every page, historical facts woven throughout, and of course intrigue, history, hilarity and more, catch the latest in this totally smart, wholly original, side-splittingly funny series.

 

Night of Dangers (Adventurer’s Guild, Book 3) by Zack Loran Clark, illus. Nick Eliopulos

After falling victim to a vile betrayal, Zed is cut off from Brock and their friends and unable to warn them about a dangerous enemy on the move. The Adventurers Guild may have defeated the evil that cast the elves from their home, but that doesn’t keep them in the Freestoners’ good graces for long. An ordinary day at the market comes to a fatal end when a rare Danger infiltrates the city, leaving over a dozen dead. Tensions come to a boil as the city is threatened by upheaval from within and becomes alight with terror. Brock finds himself frustratingly unable to utilize his underground contacts . . . though the mysterious Lady Grey may not be finished with him yet. To come together to save their city from a timeless evil looking to settle a score, the young adventurers must learn to trust in each other again and be willing to do whatever it takes to stop the tragedy of the Day of Dangers from happening again.

 

Bad Kitty Joins the Team by Nick Bruel

See Kitty as you’ve never seen her before: EXERCISING (reluctantly) in Bad Kitty Joins the Team, the latest installment of Nick Bruel’s phenomenally successful New York Times bestselling series. Kitty is terribly out of shape―she can barely torment Puppy without needing a break to huff and puff! When Kitty’s owner catches her wheezing, Kitty is told it’s time to EXERCISE. It takes some serious convincing, a high-stakes competition, and a little bit of trickery but eventually Kitty gets into the competitive spirit . . . albeit reluctantly. What did you expect? Will our favorite feline friend learn what it means to be a good sport? Find out in this hilarious addition to the Bad Kitty series.

 

 

Don’t Tell the Nazis by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

The year is 1941. Krystia lives in a small Ukrainian village under the cruel—sometimes violent— occupation of the Soviets. So when the Nazis march into town to liberate them, many of Krystia’s neighbors welcome the troops with celebrations, hoping for a better life. But conditions don’t improve as expected. Krystia’s friend Dolik and the other Jewish people in town warn that their new occupiers may only bring darker days. The worst begins to happen when the Nazis blame the Jews for murders they didn’t commit. As the Nazis force Jews into a ghetto, Krystia does what she can to help Dolik and his family. But what they really need is a place to hide. Faced with unimaginable tyranny and cruelty, will Krystia risk everything to protect her friends and neighbors?

 

The Winterhouse Mysteries by Ben Guterson, illus. Chloe Bristol

Danger, intrigue, and the power of family combine in The Winterhouse Mysteries, the fast-paced conclusion to Ben Guterson and Chloe Bristol’s illustrated, enchanting Winterhouse middle grade trilogy. It’s springtime at Winterhouse and Elizabeth is settling into the joyful chaos of her new home. But it isn’t long before she and Freddy are drawn into an ominous new mystery. Guests at the hotel start behaving oddly, and Elizabeth’s powers manifest in thrilling―sometimes frightening―new ways. As unnatural tremors shake the foundations of Winterhouse, Elizabeth hears cries for help from Gracella Winters, a villain she’d thought dead and gone for good. Elizabeth’s discovery of a rare book containing secrets of an ancient ritual leads to a tragic realization: someone at the hotel is trying to help Gracella rise again. Can Elizabeth and Freddy banish these threats and protect the future of Winterhouse once and for all?

 

Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

From the author of Ice Dogs comes a riveting adventure about a musher who sets out to prove her impaired vision won’t hold her back from competing in a rigorous sled race through the Canadian wilderness. Perfect for fans of Gary Paulsen. McKenna Barney is trying to hide her worsening eyesight and has been isolating herself for the last year. But at the request of her little sister, she signs up for a commemorative mail run race in the Canadian wilderness—a race she doesn’t know if she can even see to run. Winning would mean getting her disease—and her sister’s—national media coverage, but it would also pit McKenna and her team of eight sled dogs against racers from across the globe for three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, snow squalls, and bitterly cold nights. A page-turning adventure about living with disability and surviving the wilderness, Dog Driven is the story of one girl’s self-determination and the courage it takes to trust in others.

 

Sisterland by Salla Simukka, translator, Owen Frederick Witesman

Fall under the spell of this contemporary fairy tale that’s perfect for fans of Emily Winfield Martin’s Snow & Rose and the Chronicles of Narnia series. Alice thought it was unusual to see a dragonfly in the middle of winter. But she followed it until she fell down-down-down, and woke up in a world unlike any other. Welcome to Sisterland, a fantastical world where it is always summer. The most enchanting magic of all, though, is Alice’s new friend Marissa. But as the girls explore the strange land, they learn Sisterland’s endless summer comes at a price. Back on Earth, their homes are freezing over. To save their families, Alice and Marissa must outwit the powerful Queen Lili. But the deeper they go into Sisterland, the less Alice and Marissa remember about their homes, their lives before, and what they are fighting for. This is a wondrous tale about heroism, loyalty, and friendship from one of the most celebrated Finnish children’s authors.

 

What Were the Negro Leagues? by Varian Johnson, illus. Stephen Marchesi

This baseball league that was made up of African American players and run by African American owners ushered in the biggest change in the history of baseball. In America during the early twentieth century, no part was safe from segregation, not even the country’s national pastime, baseball. Despite their exodus from the Major Leagues because of the color of their skin, African American men still found a way to participate in the sport they loved. Author Varian Johnson shines a spotlight on the players, coaches, owners, and teams that dominated the Negro Leagues during the 1930s and 40s. Readers will learn about how phenomenal players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and of course, Jackie Robinson greatly changed the sport of baseball.

 

The Love Pug: A Wish Novel by J.J. Howard

J.J. Howard, author of Pugs and Kisses and Pugs in a Blanket, delivers more puppy love and friendship mix-ups. Emma’s pug, Cupid, has a hidden talent: He is a master at matchmaking! Her pet seems to have a nose for spotting which two people belong together. With the big school dance coming up, Emma decides to use Cupid’s powers to find her best friend, Hallie, a date. But as Emma tries to navigate crushes and secrets, she finds that things are a lot more complicated than they seem. And what if Cupid also has a surprising match in mind . . . for Emma herself?

 

 

 

My Survival: A Girl on Schindler’s List by Joshua M. Greene and Rena Finder

Rena Finder was only eleven when the Nazis forced her and her family—along with all the other Jewish families—into the ghetto in Krakow, Poland. Rena worked as a slave laborer with scarcely any food and watched as friends and family were sent away. Then Rena and her mother ended up working for Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who employed Jewish prisoners in his factory and kept them fed and healthy. But Rena’s nightmares were not over. She and her mother were deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz. With great cunning, it was Schindler who set out to help them escape. Here in her own words is Rena’s gripping story of survival, perseverance, tragedy, and hope. Including pictures from Rena’s personal collection and from the time period, this unforgettable memoir introduces young readers to an astounding and necessary piece of history.