For Librarians

Finding Needles in the Haystack

Information.

It’s everywhere.

It’s all-encompassing.

We are knee deep and rising in the Information Age.

We are surrounded by it every minute of every day of our modern life.

We are writers and readers and teachers and librarians and we are all well aware of this information wave. I can’t count on all my fingers and all my toes the numbers of times just in the past month I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of information while doing book research. You know what I mean, right?

Case in point. A certain, not-to-be-named kidlit author researches the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library website looking for a reaction quote from Ike in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik and several hours later, discovers he’s “accidentally” read through the entire Eisenhower archived collection on Sputnik I.

As important as the information is, though, it’s as critical we are able to store and access that information. The difference between success and failure of an assignment or a project often lies in the ability to find the exact clear and concise data we are searching for without losing time chasing interesting, yet irrelevant information.

The library of humanity grows exponentially each passing day. We are swamped with data and overwhelmed by information. How each of us learns to store and retrieve information has become an important part of daily life. Digital data storage, for example, has evolved as fast and as far as anything else in the technology sector.

From the punch cards of mid-20th-century computers to today’s cutting-edge cloud storage options available to practically everyone, we have seen massive improvements in the past 50-years. We rely on thumb drives and smartphones as much or more than we mature folks used to rely on our 5-1/4” floppy disks.

Hannes Grobe/AWI [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

The future of data storage looks incredible. There was a paper published in 2012 about using DNA to store digital information. Digital information which can be coded, carried, copied, and preserved in the genome of a microbe. We could possibly one day stream 2001: A Space Oddessey for the family get-together after retrieving the stored digital copy from the bread mold strain we keep in our pantry. An entire encyclopedia of knowledge stored in the philodendron on the window sill of your office? Maybe, just maybe.

Storing information is one thing. Retrieving it is another vital piece of the information pie. We need to be able to find the data we are looking for fast and accurately. Google, the Queen Mother of Internet Search Engines, uses crawling and indexing to find information—even those funny cat videos. And to make myself sound completely ludicrous, how about the magic of Boolean Search

Personally, I still have a soft spot in my digital heart for the old school search engine found in a library card catalog. There’s still something magical about sliding out the wood drawer of the cabinet, finding the book or topic you want, and scribbling the call number with a stubby pencil onto a piece of lime green recycled scrap paper. Then the moments of investigative anticipation while walking the stacks until you find the physical book on the shelf right where it belonged.

Information nerd heaven.

Enokson from Alberta, Canada [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Okay, folks. In case you were beginning to wonder why I’m rambling on about information storage and retrieval, here’s the meat and potatoes of this post. Today, I have the honor of introducing a new feature for the From the Mixed-Up Files STEM Tuesday posts. When the other STEM Tuesday members said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be so helpful to teachers, librarians, readers, etc. if they could quickly search a topic for past STEM Tuesday posts?”, I said, “NO! It’s more fun to make everyone search blindly and wander around the entire blog archive for days and days! (Insert evil laugh)”

Needless to say, the STEM Tuesday team told me to shut up and go write an introductory post for the new feature. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the new feature:

A searchable database of STEM Tuesday content!

Thanks to programming and webmaster brilliance, we now have our own portal to assist teachers, readers, writers, and librarians sort through the STEM Tuesday library of past book lists, classroom activities, writing craft & resources, and author interviews. We hope this search tool makes it quicker and easier to find that one helpful piece of information.

So, without further delay, the STEM Tuesday Search Tool is live! Visit the STEMtuesday.com page and select a topic from the drop-down screen. Searching for MG STEM book info has never been easier.

(BREAKING NEWS! Next month, we’ll announce a contest to celebrate the STEM Tuesday Search Tool. We’re calling it The STEM Tuesday Search Party contest. Details are being finalized for the contest so I can’t tell you any specifics yet, except we already have a fabulous cache of prizes to offer. Stay tuned for the STEM Tuesday Search Party announcement on February 21, 2019!)

And remember, back up those files! Information is the currency of the digital age. Take care of your data!

No data storage system is perfect; even if it’s Tom Brady’s DNA we’re talking about.

 

 

 

Interview and Two 30 Minute Skype Giveaways with Author Tara Lazar

I’d like to welcome Tara Lazar to the Mixed-Up Files blog. She’s an amazing author and has done so much to help the kidlit community as well as teachers, media specialists, and students.

Please tell us all about Storystorm and how you came up with the idea for it. 

Jealousy, that little green monster, is to blame. In November 2008, I saw writing friends post all about the amazing National Novel Writing Month challenge and I came down with a bad case of FOMO. So I thought–what kind of challenge could I create for picture books? Writing one manuscript in a month was not much of a challenge, and writing one every day for a month was pure insanity. So I thought maybe a story idea a day was doable—a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I called it Picture Book Idea Month or PiBoIdMo, borrowing from the NaNoWriMo nomeclature. That year I did it on my own. The following year I decided to throw it up on my website. What the heck, right? Maybe a dozen people would participate with me. I had no expectations for it whatsoever.

 

I love how this evolved into Storystorm, where writers, illustrators, and students can use this challenge to come up with 30 story ideas in 31 days for any genre each January. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses. Ideas may build upon other ideas. Your list of potential stories will grow stronger as the days pass. On Tara’s blog, daily posts by authors, illustrators, editors and other publishing professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you’ll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories.

Sign up for this free idea challenge using this link by January 7 if you’d like the chance to win some amazing prizes! 

What are some great ways for teachers, media specialists, and parents to encourage kids to join in your challenge?  

Honestly, the daily posts are so much fun, they could easily spend just five minutes reading it with the students, then give the students five minutes to brainstorm. It’s just that easy and simple.

 

What has surprised you the most about Storystorm?  

How much writers love it. How many books have been created as a result. I had no idea it would resonate this strongly.

 

How has Storystorm helped writers and students?  

I think it helps everyone tune into their creativity. Creativity isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally. You have to make time and space for it, like anything else in life. The little daily motivation it provides is surprisingly powerful. And hopefully after thirty days, it becomes a habit.

 

If you were giving us a Storystorm Skype right now, how would you motivate us to come up with ideas? 

I often tell students that all you need for a story is a character and a problem. I tell them to just look around the room. Anything can be a character. The chair you’re sitting on. I mean, a chair has a lot to complain about, having all those butts on it all the time.

 

LOL! I wonder if we’ll see a chair book in your future. ?

How do participants keep track of their ideas and how detailed do they need to be?  

Whatever makes the most sense for that writer. A notebook. A Microsoft Word document. A note on your phone. The idea can be one word like “mustache” or a title or a sentence or an entire paragraph. These are your ideas, your rules.

 

Once people come up with all these ideas, what should their next steps be?  

They have to decide what idea calls to them the most, what would make an interesting story. I find I get a gut reaction from certain ideas—they just beg to be written. Maybe not immediately, maybe they just simmer in my brain awhile, but I know I want to write that idea. If you do not get a gut reaction, maybe share your ideas with trusted critique partners or writing friends to see what they think. What idea sounds most promising? This isn’t an exact science, either. Maybe you need to build on your existing ideas until you get an AHA moment. Experiment. Try writing something. You never know what will happen. I love the act of discovery as I am writing a story. Some start out one way and then veer off in a different direction. I then step back and refine the story concept.

 

That’s great advice, Tara! Sometimes I find that a few ideas mesh together into an amazing one. Between the inspiring daily blog posts and Storystorm community, the ideas usually flow for me, but I found a few tricks to spark ideas on slower days, thanks to some of your wonderful archived posts. The ones I use most are 500+ Things That Kids Like and 100+ Things Kids Don’t Like. I also scroll back to posts from previous years, for both Storystorm and the original PiBoIdMo. Tammi Sauer’s posts are always a huge help!

What are some of your favorite tools and tricks for coming up with as many unique ideas as possible?

Get out and live life. I have gotten so many ideas from things that happen to me or things I see around me. The difference is being aware that something can be an idea. If you want lightning to strike, you need to hold a lightning rod. (OK, I don’t mean that literally.) But going through a normal day—knowing in the back of your mind that you are seeking inspiration—causes inspiration to visit. You are looking at the world through a different lens.

 

You have been on fire with your amazing picture books. Huge congratulations to you and all your lucky readers! What are some great ways that teachers and media specialists can use picture books with 9 – 11 year-old students?

Can you find the blue eyeball monster?

I find that the older students are so sharp at picking out hidden humor in picture books and noticing small details. Some of my illustrators have included tiny characters in multiple pages of our books. In 7 ATE 9, there is a tiny mouse in the office of the daring Private I. Who is that mouse? He has his own story. What is it? In THE MONSTORE, there is a furry blue eyeball monster that appears on sixteen pages of the book. Who is he? What is he watching for?

Picture books often have extra characters in their pages—ones who never receive a single line of text from the author. This is a technique many picture book artists utilize to lend more depth to a story.

Have students flip through any picture book to find a recurring background character. They can then write a story from that character’s point of view.

 

That’s a great exercise to use with students. First, they put on a detective hat to find the recurring character and then create a new story from another point of view. Brilliant!

Thank you again for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files, Tara. Your challenge has always been amazing for me (I’ve come up with 40 – 90 ideas each year). I’m so grateful for all the work you put into it and everything you do for writers and readers.

Good luck to everyone who is participating in Storystorm! If you haven’t joined the Facebook group yet, hop on over for some cheers plus even more support and inspiration as your ideas multiply in this fun challenge. I hope the ideas flow and that you discover tons of gems that turn into incredible stories in 2019.

 

Tara has generously donated two half hour Skype visits. Thank you so much, Tara! One is open to everyone—you can ask Tara publishing questions or for extra Storystorm inspiration. The second is a thirty minute Skype school visit for teachers and media specialists—the topic will be decided between Tara and the winner. Teachers and media specialists may enter both Rafflecopter widgets.

Winners will be posted on January 10th. Good luck, everyone!  

You can find out more about Tara Lazar on her website, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Don’t forget to join the supportive Storystorm Facebook group and check out the challenge chat on Twitter.

Here is the Skype visit that everyone can enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here is the classroom Skype visit for teachers and media specialists.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

January’s New Releases


Happy 2019! It’s the beginning of a new year and hopefully many new and wonderful middle grade books to read! Here are some top releases for this month, including two in the Second Chance Ranch series by From the Mixed Files’ very own Laurie J. Edwards (pen name Kelsey Abrams). Start the new year right . . . with one of these new middle grade reads.

Llama Drama by Kelsey Abrams, illus. by Jomike Tejido

Life at Second Chance Ranch becomes hectic after Grace offers to take in animals from a petting zoo. Even though her impulsiveness earns her the responsibility of taking care of the big Berkshire pig, Daisy, she is happy that the llama, Harry, is also under her care . . . that is, until she discovers his ill temper. Still, she decides to train Harry as part of her science project. But spitting llamas don’t care if a hypothesis is proven or not. Can Grace pull off the best science project ever? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

 

Buddy Blues by Kelsey Abrams, illus. by Jomike Tejido

When Buddy, the class rabbit, goes missing, Emily is distraught. It was her responsibility to take care of Buddy over spring break, and now he is gone. The angry glares from her classmates don’t help her blues either. The only bright spot is her new friend Oliver. But as Emily’s friendship with Oliver blossoms, the possibility of finding Buddy withers away. Can Emily recover from the loss of Buddy? At Second Chance Ranch, the Ramirez family cares and works to find homes for all kinds of animals on their 200-acre ranch in Texas. Sisters Natalie (12), Abby (10), and twins Emily and Grace (9) all do their part to help out and give each animal the second chance it deserves.

 

Two new books will come out this month by Jenni L. Walsh in the She Dared series. They are:

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai always knew she wanted to become a doctor someday. But a new extremist group in her home country of Pakistan wanted to stop girls from going to school. Malala knew what was important, and so she spoke out. Even after she was attacked on a bus for her views, she persisted. Learn about Malala’s incredible recovery and her journey to becoming a world-famous advocate of girls’ rights and education — and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner.

 

Bethany Hamilton

Growing up in Hawaii, Bethany Hamilton loved to surf. But one day, she was in her favorite place, out on the waves, when a tiger shark suddenly attacked. Thirteen-year-old Bethany lost her left arm. As she fought to recover, Bethany wondered: Would she ever surf again? Follow Bethany as she got back on her board and fearlessly chased her surfing dreams. With the strength of her family and faith behind her, Bethany knew she could become not only a professional athlete, but a champion and a role model.

 

 

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

A basketball-loving girl makes a wish to never miss a basket in this charming middle grade novel that pushes girl power to the max! Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball. She doesn’t have much by way of money, but she has access to the community court, a worn ball named Ginger, and she practices constantly. After fighting to join the boy’s team at her school, Lizzy is finally given the opportunity to show off her hard-earned skills. When she answers what she believes is another bill collecting phone call, Lizzy receives a magical wish: the ability to sink every shot. Pure Swish. Now eviscerating the competition in the boy’s league is small potatoes—she has the skills to dominate in the NBA. With the help of her BFF Toby and some viral video action, Lizzy goes all the way to the Philadelphia Bells’ starting lineup, making history and taking names. Then, just as she’s about to go face to face with her hero, the best player on the planet, things begin to fall apart. But Lizzy isn’t a quitter and she’ll play her hardest for the love of the game.


Meena Meets Her Match by Larla Manternach, illus. by Rayner Alencar

Graduates of the Ramona Quimby series will adore Meena Zee as she navigates the triumphs and challenges of family, friendship, and personal secrets in this charming middle grade debut. Meena’s life is full of color. She wears vibrant clothes, eats every shade of the rainbow, and plucks eye-catching trash from the neighborhood recycling bins. But when Meena’s best friend, Sofía, stops playing with her at recess and she experiences an unexpected and scary incident at breakfast, nothing can fight off the gray. That’s when Meena comes up with a plan to create the BEST and most COLORFUL Valentine’s Day Box in the class. With the help of her cousin, Eli, and her stuffed zebra, Raymond, Meena discovers that the best way to break through the blah is to let her true colors shine.

 

Ultraball #1 by Jeff Chen

Enter the exhilarating game of Ultraball—fly over pass rushers and explode into slingshot zones—through Jeff Chen’s dazzling future world on the moon. Here Ultraball is life, and survival is all that matters. Perfect for sci-fi and sports fans alike. Strike Sazaki loves defying gravity on the moon in his Ultrabot suit. He’s the best quarterback in the league, but while Strike’s led the Taiko Miners to the Ultrabowl three years in a row, each one has ended in defeat. This year, Strike thinks he’s finally found the missing piece to his championship quest: a mysterious girl who could be his new star rocketback. But Boom comes from the Dark Siders, a mass of people who left the United Moon Colonies to live in exile. And not all his teammates are happy sharing a field with her. When rumors surface of a traitor on the Miners, Strike isn’t sure who he can trust. If Strike can’t get his teammates to cooperate and play together, they’ll lose more than just the Ultrabowl. The stake of the colony’s future is on his shoulders.

 

I have three books coming out in the Cutting-Edge Space Exploration series: Breakthroughs in Mars Exploration, Breakthroughs in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, and Breakthroughs in Planet and Comet Research. All three books explore the latest technology involved with space exploration and the breakthroughs scientists are discovering using them, like: Saturn’s sixty-plus moons are covered with icy methane oceans, the resources on Mars astronauts could use to live there, and technology that searches for signs of life on exoplanets.

 

 

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

This space opera is 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 feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s 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. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name. Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. This sci-fi adventure with the underpinnings of Korean mythology will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination