For Teachers

Digital Media Ideas– I Was a Kid with Author Karen Romano Young

Big News, STEAM fans!

First of all, welcome to the every-once-in-a-while regular I Was A Kid posting from me, Karen Romano Young.  You may know me from novels like The Beetle and Me: A Love Story, graphic novels like Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles, and science books like the Try This! Series, Antarctica: The Melting Continent, and Whale Quest.   I Was A Kid is a new multimedia project dedicated to sharing the stories of STEAM students and professionals, such as…

Second piece of news: The National Science Teaching Association’s new president, Dr. Alicia S. Conerly, took office June 1.  Right on time is I Was A Kid with a STEAM profile of her.

Dr. Conerly grew up in rural Mississippi, and after a twisty path through potential science and medical careers and studies, became a science teacher dedicated to improving opportunities for kids like herself.  At a conference, a fire alarm placed her in the way of a woman who would become her mentor, helping her to find her way into the NSTA and the teacher-support grants that came with it… and onward to the presidency!

Visit Dr. Conerly’s profile on the I Was A Kid website at iwasakid.com/aliciaconerly. You’ll learn all about her, while getting a taste of what’s available through my project:  going on 50 profiles of folks from previously marginalized communities, including race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender, sexuality, physical and mental ability.

My project developed at an intersection of concern by the STEAM world about the need for new and diverse perspectives in their fields; from my wish to show today’s kids that they too can have exciting research and creative lives and adventures;  and from a long standing philosophy of representation in media for young people.

Here’s a third and key piece of news: all the materials at IWasAKid.com are available free, including downloads of comics and trading cards.  To stay up to date, follow @IwasakidSTEAM on Instagram — and watch for another I Was A Kid post in September.

Finally, how about some free I Was A Kid posters — all printed out and beautiful? Subscribe at iwasakid.com and you’ll be entered EACH MONTH to win a set of 12 posters.

 

Dive Into Summer!

Summer is a magical time. As the weather warms up and the days grow longer, there’s nothing quite like diving into a great book that captures the good vibes of summer. Whether it’s the thrill of swimming, the magic of summer friendships, or the adventure of summer camp, middle grade novels have a special way of bringing these stories to life. Here are five recently published middle grade books that will make you want to grab your swimsuit and dive right in!

 

Flip Turns by Catherine Arguelles (2022)

Thirteen-year-old Maddie just wants her classmate Lucas to leave her alone. He keeps asking her out—as if she hasn’t already said no a thousand times! Focusing on her competitive swim team, the Electric Eels, Maddie tries to ignore him, hoping he’ll stop harassing her.

But then, when someone starts sabotaging Maddie’s family-owned pool—glass on the deck, ketchup in the pool, followed by a “code brown”—Maddie worries it’s her “admirer” trying to get even. After Maddie’s parents rule the problems at the pool just harmless pranks, Maddie and her best friend, Ez, decide to investigate on their own. Could it be Lucas? And how can Maddie get him to leave her alone once and for all? The future of the Electric Eels and Maddie’s family legacy are on the line.

 

Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera (2023)

Natalia De La Cruz Rivera y Santiago, also known as Nat, was swimming neighborhood kids out of their money at the local Inglewood pool when her life changed. The LA Mermaids performed, emerging out of the water with matching sequined swimsuits, and it was then that synchronized swimming stole her heart.

The problem? Her activist mom and professor dad think it’s a sport with too much emphasis on looks–on being thin and white. Nat grew up the youngest in a house full of boys, so she knows how to fight for what she wants, often using her anger to fuel her. People often underestimate her swimming skills when they see her stomach rolls, but she knows better than to worry about what people think. Still, she feels more like a submarine than a mermaid, but she wonders if she might be both.

Barely Floating explores what it means to sparkle in your skin, build community with those who lift you up, and keep floating when waters get rough.

 

Camp QUILTBAG by Nicole Melleby & A. J. Sass (2023)

Twelve-year-old Abigail (she/her/hers) is so excited to spend her summer at Camp QUILTBAG, an inclusive retreat for queer and trans kids. She can’t wait to find a community where she can be herself—and, she hopes, admit her crush on that one hot older actress to kids who will understand.

Thirteen-year-old Kai (e/em/eir) is not as excited. E just wants to hang out with eir best friend and eir parkour team. And E definitely does not want to think about the incident that left eir arm in a sling—the incident that also made Kai’s parents determined to send em somewhere e can feel like emself.

After a bit of a rocky start at camp, Abigail and Kai make a pact: If Kai helps Abigail make new friends, Abigail will help Kai’s cabin with the all-camp competition. But as they navigate a summer full of crushes, queer identity exploration, and more, they learn what’s really important. Camp QUILTBAG is a heartfelt story full of the joy that comes from being and loving yourself.

 

The Firefly Summer by Morgan Matson (2024)

For as long as Ryanna Stuart can remember, her summers have been spent with her father and his new wife. Just the three of them, structured, planned, and quiet. But this summer is different. This summer, she’s received a letter from her grandparents—grandparents neither she nor her dad have spoken to since her mom’s death—inviting her to stay with them at an old summer camp in the Poconos.

Ryanna accepts. She wants to learn about her mom. She wants to uncover the mystery of why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents all these years. She’s even looking forward to a quiet summer by the lake. But what she finds are relatives…so many relatives! Aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins—a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults. People who have memories of her mom from when she was Ryanna’s age, clues to her past like a treasure map. Ryanna even finds an actual, real-life treasure map!

 

Camp Famous by Jennifer Blecher (2023)

Eleven-year-old Abby Herman is beyond excited that her parents are letting her go to summer camp for the first time ever. Maybe camp will be the place she’ll finally find what she’s always wanted: a best friend. But—surprise!—she’s not going to just any summer camp, she’s going to Camp Famous, the one exclusively for famous kids escaping the spotlight.

Desperate to fit in with the pop stars, princesses, and geniuses, Abby creates a fake identity as a famous author. Everything goes as planned: the other girls welcome her, she participates in camp activities, and she even inspires a pop star! But as camp comes to a close, Abby finds herself torn between who she has pretended to be and who she truly is.

These five middle grade novels beautifully capture the spirit of summer, the joy of swimming, and the importance of friendship. Whether you’re looking for adventure, inspiration, or just a good story to get lost in, these books are sure to make a splash! Happy reading!

 

Half Moon Summer by Elaine Vickers (2024)

Drew was never much of a runner. Until his dad’s unexpected diagnosis. Mia has nothing better to do. Until she realizes entering Half Moon Bay’s half-marathon could solve her family’s housing problems.

And just like that they decide to spend their entire summer training to run 13.1 miles. Drew and Mia have very different reasons for running, but these two twelve year olds have one crucial thing in common (besides sharing a birthday): Hope. For the future. For their families. And for each other.

 

 

Middle Grade Voice: Speaking the Joyous/Painful/Ironic/Perfect Truth

Happy almost-summer to everyone! I love writing May posts for From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors because it calls to mind the excitement and fulfillment of the end of the school year. For teachers, parents, students, public or school librarians, and MG writers alike, the advent of summer is a time heady with the potential adventure, change, and insights of the coming months. New, thrilling stories are practically a guarantee. Whether you read them, write them, offer them to readers, or watch them inspire your own kids on breezy summer days, middle grade works can add a lot to  your summer season.

We often discuss on this site how various elements of a story impact readers in different ways. For example, a historical setting teaches readers about an era or event. Sci-fi and fantasy genre scenarios engage the imagination in a rigorous workout. A coming-of-age theme offers a hook almost all readers can relate to. Another important, impactful fiction factor is voice.

Voice is an element of fiction that can impact readers in several ways. So much more than point of view or perspective, a character’s voice ticks many boxes: It indirectly characterizes. It engages readers and controls the mood and pace. And it delivers thematic messages about life in ways that connect to our experiences and emotions—in other words, the truth.

Strong voice is particularly effective in MG fiction. There’s this interesting paradox that occurs with MG characters in “voicey” works: Though their world view may be limited by young age and lack of independence and experience, MG characters are often highly effective at revealing the truth. They might comment as an afterthought or make a passing observance… and ironically, that offhand remark is both significant and revelatory. Or, they share a just-learned lesson in their coming-of-age, but as it is communicated by their voice, additional ideas and truths are conveyed.

Summer, with its reduced emphasis on structured lessons, is the perfect time to think about this somewhat nebulous story trait. Gathered below are some examples of voice in MG fiction, a few writing projects for students experimenting with voice in their own writing, and (for writers of MG) a brief list of tips for “turning up” your story’s voice.

Middle Grade Voice Examples

Strong voice can seem like a you-know-it-when-you-read-it element. For practice in recognizing voice, study some examples before assigning yourself a search-and-find mission in some favorite and some brand-new titles. Here are a few handy examples of MG voice:

  • Jessica Vitalis’s self-assured protagonist Fud in Coyote Queen:

“That doesn’t mean I sat around crying about how things were, because I didn’t. And I certainly didn’t think twice about magic. I was too practical for that.”

  • Jennifer L. Holm’s witty main character Beans in Full of Beans:

“When someone says they’re gonna help you, they’re just waiting to stick their hand in your pocket and take your last penny. I should know. I got relatives.”

  • Any characters from Christopher Paul Curtis. Here’s Elijah speaking certain truth in Elijah of Buxton

“But classroom learning just don’t work the same as when something happens to you personal.”

Voice Activities in the Classroom

As the school year winds down, consider having your MG students experiment with the concept of voice in their own writing. You might begin by having readers search for examples in novels they read throughout the year. Introduce the idea of voice with some focusing questions: What line or lines have vocabulary, word choice, and phrasing that tell you right away what kind of a person this character is? What line would be spoken only by this protagonist? Where is a question or an exclamatory remark that highlights the voice?

With some examples at their side, students can then try their hand at voice by writing a real-time scene from the viewpoint of a selected, existing protagonist.  Writers already may be savvy with writing from a character’s perspective; try to direct their focus on the voice of the character through word choice, vocabulary, cadence, pace, and sentence length. For a scenario that also boosts excitement for the end of the school year, students might place their protagonist in a “summer vacation” scenario.

How Writers of MG Achieve Voice

These are some common strategies for practicing and assessing voice in your MG writing.

  • While middle grade characters certainly keep secrets and remain private about some things, they typically are more open with emotion than teen characters.
  • Defy stereotypes. Offer your characters traits that conflict with common assumptions.
  • Focus on the foundational blocks of a good story: themes, plot, detail, description, characterization. Voice is the conveyance system that communicates the story to the reader in the most effective, most “hearable” way.
  • Don’t allow the writer’s goals for sharing pithy truths to become the character’s goals. The character’s goal is to pursue their objective and resolve their conflict.
  • Stick with on-level vocabulary choices.
  • Who are your beta readers? Have a few middle graders in the mix to comment on MG characters’ believability.

Thanks for reading, and have a story-filled summer!