For Parents

Exploring THE PLACES WE SLEEP with Author Caroline DuBois

I have a new guest for you, today! She’s written a tender, moving tale in verse that journeys a young girl through everyday details while living during a time of national crisis. The first words of this story made me pause and take notice. And the rest, poked me right in the heart to the end. The writing is beautiful and real, the story is important, and the growth of the main character is hopeful. I’m very excited to share The Places We Sleep with you and welcome Author Caroline DuBois to share her thoughts about the book.

Hi Caroline! It’s wonderful to have you visit our Mixed-Up Files family. Let’s share your beautiful cover and story with readers first.

THE PLACES WE SLEEP

by Caroline DuBois

A family divided, a country going to war, and a girl desperate to feel at home converge in this stunning novel in verse.

It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.

I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.

Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves due to her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.

And then it’s September 11. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s “home” looks like it might fall apart. America has changed overnight.

How are we supposed / to keep this up / with the world / crumbling / around us?

Abbey’s body changes, too, while her classmates argue and her family falters. Like everyone around her, she tries to make sense of her own experience as a part of the country’s collective pain. With her mother grieving and her father prepping for active duty, Abbey must learn to cope on her own.

Written in gorgeous narrative verse, Abbey’s coming-of-age story accessibly portrays the military family experience during a tumultuous period in our history. At once personal and universal, it’s a perfect read for fans of sensitive, tender-hearted books like The Thing About Jellyfish.

If you would, share with our readers one book from your childhood that has stayed with you, and how can children’s authors in today’s unsettled world achieve this same unforgettable feel?

Mary Norton’s The Borrowers sparked my imagination as a child. My librarian mom introduced it to me. Norton’s world-building of tiny people living in the walls and borrowing from the people with whom they lived was pure escape for me from the big complicated world.

Children’s authors in today’s uncertain world can achieve this same unforgettable feel by either delivering children to a rich land of imagination, or by providing children a story in which they can see themselves. Then they can envision and dream of ways they can be and all the things they can achieve.

What made you decide to write “The Places We Sleep” in verse?

Abbey’s story came to me naturally in poetry, perhaps as a lyrical way to process 9/11 and my brothers’ deployment, but also likely because I’d recently completed my MFA in poetry. It began as more of a character sketch through poems and eventually turned into a story. I wanted to write about how world events have rippling effects on individuals and familial relationships in unexpected ways. The snapshots or scenes that poems allow you to write provided me with the perfect medium.

Your description of poems being scenes is fascinating and also beautiful. It definitely worked. How much of the novel is inspired by your own experience growing up in the South in a military family?

Although I did not grow up in a military family, both of my grandfathers served in the military, as well as both of my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my sister-in-law. Abbey’s story is about being a military child, but it’s also about many other things—identity, loss and grief, creating art in the face of tragedy, tolerance and acceptance, and friendship. It’s about how world events can touch individuals in large and small ways.

That they do. ♥ This couldn’t have been an easy story to write. What was the most difficult part?

I faced two specific challenges in writing this story. One was creating full, round characters through poems. And the other was making decisions about how to approach a national tragedy age-appropriately and sensitively. Having a great editor at Holiday House and a sensitivity reader helped with both.

Why do you think this story is important for the middle-grade audience?

Middle grade students I’ve taught often have had only a fuzzy understanding of the events of 9/11, and the nonfiction texts they’ve typically enjoyed the most in my classroom were almost always couched in a narrative story. I hope Abbey’s story will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy. I hope the book will leave readers with a memorable story about a girl who may not be all that different from themselves. Furthermore, I hope student readers are gently nudged to learn the names of others with whom they share classes and hallways and to act with kindness and dignity to those they may not know or understand. Maybe it will even inspire some young reader to choose to deal with life’s challenges through art or poetry or other forms of creativity.

Inspiring young readers to engage in conversation about the events of 9/11 is a wonderful.

How much research did you do for the story?

I lived through 9/11 and began writing and reading about it immediately thereafter. Additionally, I’ve had various family members in the military as well as taught students who experienced and still experience islamophobia. I conducted research as I was writing the story, as well as mined the living resources around me to create as authentic a portrayal of the historical backdrop to the story as I could.

What can young readers expect from your main character Abbey?

I hope that young readers can see themselves in Abbey as she navigates challenging world events along with the struggles of middle school and adolescence. Currently, teens and children are facing their own difficult world events. I hope readers see how Abbey perseveres and strives to be a good friend, to be kind, and to express empathy and tolerance to others.

All extremely important traits, especially in today’s world. Do you have any advice for librarians and teachers on how to encourage middle schoolers to give in verse books a try?

Books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. You’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else. Another way to inspire and hook a child on the joy of reading is by giving a book talk. Where an educator may not have time to read an entire chapter, there’s always time for a poem or two. And once one student starts reading it, the likelihood is that his or her friends will pick it up too. Books in verse create more white space between scenes as well as playful or dramatic visual messages with syntax, punctuation, and form, which can motivate adolescent readers.

Circling back to my first question, what do you hope stays with your readers after they read this story?

Perhaps The Places We Sleep will spark curiosity in young readers about 9/11 and the monumental lessons we learned and are still learning from that tragedy. I hope student readers are gently nudged to learn the names of others with whom they share classes and hallways and to act with kindness and dignity to those they may not know or understand. Maybe it will inspire some young reader to choose to deal with life’s challenges through art or poetry or other forms of creativity.

Here’s a little bit more about Caroline:

Caroline Brooks DuBois found her poetic voice in the halls of the English Department at Converse College and the University of Bucknell’s Seminar for Young Poets. She received a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, under the scholarship of Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Tate, among other greats in the poetry world.
DuBois’s writing infuses poetry and prose and has been published by outlets as varied as Highlights High Five, Southern Poetry Review, and The Journal of the American Medical Association and has been twice honored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her debut middle-grade novel-in-verse, The Places We Sleep, is published by Holiday House and to be released August 2020.
DuBois has taught poetry workshops, writing classes, and English at the middle school, high school, and college levels. In May 2016, she was recognized as a Nashville Blue Ribbon Teacher for her dedication to her students and excellence in teaching adolescents.
DuBois currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works as an English instructional coach and sometimes co-writes songs for fun with her singer-songwriter husband. She has two teenage children and a dog, Lilli, and she enjoys coaching soccer and generally being outside.
WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM

Thank you for sharing some of your writing journey with us, Caroline! All the best with The Places We Sleep.

In Memory: John Lewis

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
— John Lewis (1940-2020) 

We at Mixed-Up Files join citizens around the world in mourning the loss of civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who died on July 17, 2020 at the age of 80. He leaves behind a legacy that has inspired — and will continue to inspire — Americans and people around the world.

If you would like to teach the children in your life more about this inspiring American and his role in the civil rights movement and his long career as a politician serving the people of Georgia, here are some ways to do that:

March by John Lewis

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Illustrator)
This powerful, three-book, graphic autobiography written by Lewis (and Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell) is Lewis’ first-hand account of his fight for civil and human rights and the American civil rights movement he was a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

John Lewis: Good Trouble | A Magnolia Pictures Film | Now In ...

John Lewis: Good Trouble directed by Dawn Porter (watch at home) 
This documentary weaves together interviews with John Lewis, his family, friends, and colleagues, and archival footage to paint a picture of Lewis’ life, his fight for social justice, and his long career as a U.S. representative.
(Rated PG.) 

 

 

 

Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Bausum  

Here, middle grade readers can learn about the childhoods of John Lewis and James Zwerg and the story of the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who rode buses throughout the South in 1961 to test a Supreme Court decision that declared segregated facilities for interstate passengers illegal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Benny Andrews and Kathleen Benson

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim (author) and E. B. Lewis (illustrator)

 

Two biographies, one for middle-graders (John Lewis in the Lead) and a picture book for younger children (Preaching to the Chickens) teach kids more about Lewis and his life.

John Lewis: An Icon on the March (watch at home)
In 2014, journalist Gwen Ifill interviewed John Lewis at The Aspen Institute on a range of topics. The Institute explains, “On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, witness a conversation with longtime congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis about his latest journey using graphic novels to move young people to embrace nonviolence. In the late 1950s, his own mentors, Rev. Jim Lawson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used a remarkable comic book to teach young people the fundamental principles of nonviolent social resistance. Now, following in their footsteps, Congressman Lewis has embarked on a nationwide campaign to use his award-winning graphic memoir series March to inspire a new generation to take up the fight against injustice in America.”

 

 

Maps

When I was a wee lad (5’ 11”, 210 lb.), back in my junior year of high school, we took one of those classic tests designed to magically deduce one’s most likely path to career and life success. My 55-year-old self can’t recall a single question from the test now. In fact, most of the memory from this event consists of filling in the ovals (completely) on the answer sheet (in #2 pencil) and the resultant career of choice subsequently handed down by the gods of career aptitude.

First, I do recall that, as a kid who liked to draw, I took great pride in filling out my answer sheet ovals. They were always impeccable, even if the answers were dead wrong. Second, in the haze of time passed, I recall meeting with my guidance counselor to go over my now clarified path to a well-lived life. The result?

Cartographer.

Yes, that is what the computer algorithm decided my career should be. A quick check of the dictionary told me I should be a maker of maps. The gods of career aptitude must have a sense of humor, right?

When I broke the cartographer news to the family at the dinner table that night, my brothers and sister rolled to the kitchen floor in uncontrollable laughter. My ever-supportive mother gave an enthusiastic “How nice.”, while my civil engineer dad responded,  “A mapmaker? Hmmm…that’s different. So how are you going to make a living then?”

Even though I love maps, I did not become a cartographer. My collection of National Geographic maps handed down from my dad is one of my favorite treasures. Books with maps, both fiction, and nonfiction, line my bookshelves. Eventually, I became a molecular microbiologist, a writer, and a sports coach, not a cartographer. For years, I’ve always wondered about that career aptitude test and how it could have been so wrong.

A few years ago, though, I realized the computer wasn’t wrong at all. The testing algorithm rocked it. Maps are an integral part of everything I am and do. From mapping molecular processes in infectious diseases to mapping stories and illustrations to mapping out sports practices and gameplans. Turns out, I’m a cartographer through and through.

Maps, at their very core function, are tools to give us direction. A map can be a tool to help a hiker get from the parking lot to the mountain vista and safely back to the parking lot. Maps can help a writer build the foundation of the story they want to tell. They can also be tools to help worldbuilding (think J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth) or be used as a plot device (think HP’s Marauder’s Map).

In short, don’t short the value of maps in any aspect of your life. They are especially valuable tools to have in your writing toolbox to help turn those story ideas wandering aimlessly in the desert into an actual fully-fleshed oasis of stories. 

Below are some of my favorite maps I use in my life as a scientist, a writer, and a coach.

Science Maps

Writing Maps

Sports Coaching Maps

  • Football scouting and game planning – A coach scouts the opponent by mapping out what the opponent has done previously. It takes a lot of work and most colleges and professional organizations dedicate many manhours toward this endeavor.
  • Baseball spray chart maps – I love to keep baseball hitter spray charts. First, like scoring a game, it keeps one mentally sharp during the course of a baseball game. Second, it allows a coach the data to better position his defenders in the field. 

Your MUF July 2020 Aptitude Test questions are below. Please use a #2 pencil and fill out any oval shapes or other doodles completely. The gods of middle grade thank you.

  1. What are your favorite middle grade books which contain maps? 
  2. What are some middle grade books you wish would have had maps?
  3. How do you use maps as tools in your own life? 
  4. How do you use maps as a writer or a reader?

Have a great summer! No matter how crazy 2020 is going for you, here’s hoping you have a reliable map to help navigate your way to the other side.

Stay safe. Be kind. Make good things.