For Teachers

Second Chances

I’m writing this as the Olympics end and the athletes go home victorious or defeated, no in-between.  Much as I complain about how hard writing is, I’m thinking lordie lordie, at least nobody watches me do it. No audience cheers or groans as I walk the beam or leap hurdles or execute somersalts from insanely high platforms, all while wearing little more than my own thin skin.  No cameras record and replay ad infinitum my failure to achieve sufficient altitude or my clumsy flip turns.

Of course, writers stumble, fall and land on their own butts all the time, but we get to do it in private, no witnesses.  Happily, the desk doesn’t record how many times we knocked our heads against it, and the keyboard has no comment on how compulsively we dust it while trying to come up with the ending to a scene. Only the coffee mug witnesses the grinding of the teeth, the biting of the nails.

Even better. Writers get to revise.  For us, there’s always more than one chance. Even after something is published, even when we’re reading it in public, we’re apt to slip in one more little edit. No tenth of a point deduction!

I recently read “Splendors and Glooms” by stellar MG author Laura Amy Schlitz. This new novel has a complicated plot told from multiple points of view. A writer could envy how easy Schlitz makes it look—the book features a master pupeteer, and that’s what she seems, pulling all those strings, never getting them tangled. But here is what she has to say about the actual writing and revising:

“This book took me six and a half years to write, and I almost never knew what I was doing…I’d kill off a character in chapter 11, write nine more chapters, and realize I needed the dead man alive again. So I’d throw out the nine chapters—not one of which had been easy to write—and go back to the beginning…It’s hard to keep going back to work that makes you feel profoundly stupid. I kept hoping the book would get easier, but it never did…People who wanted to help me would ask me questions about the plot, and I would glare at them and shriek, ‘I don’t know! I don’t know! It doesn’t make sense!’”

Yikes. I’ve been there (though I tend to shriek behind closed doors).  Getting lost, getting stuck—it’s a maddening, disheartening state.  Yet we’ve always got that second, third, fourth chance to work through it. Revising, as any author will swear, is where the real writing happens.

Lots of writing blogs and books offer revision tips. One I’ve found particularly helpful not just on revising but many aspects of writing and publishing is Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein’s “Second Sight”.  Her chapter Twenty Five Revision Techniques offers tried and true advice like taking time off from the project so you can see it with fresh eyes and compressing the story to one sentence, but also some original and fun exercises to help you judge the success of character, plot and pacing. I especially appreciate the encouragement of Tip # 25: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  We may fudge the take-off or wobble on the landing, but we can work on that. In the end, the main goal is to take our work as far as we can.

Kate Messner is a teacher and a writer who maintains a terrific website, I love this quote from her: “I’m an okay writer but I’m a really good reviser.” Kate’s book “Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers” is aimed at teachers taking kids through the writing cycle, but with insights from thirty-five writers including Jane Yolen and Kathi Appelt, it’s a treasure trove for anyone who writes or wants to.

Paul Theroux said, “Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.” I think he was talking about reading, but the words apply as well or even more to writing. Got some of your own revision strategies, or a book or site to share?

Tricia is the author of the award winning middle grade novel “What Happened on Fox Street” and its sequel “Mo Wren, Lost and Found”.  She’s currently deep into revising her new middle grade novel, “Pinch”, but you can find her at    

For Teachers/Librarians Update

Summer is a great time to clean up – in your classroom or library, at home, and especially here at the Mixed-Up Files!  We’ve been busy updating the For Teachers/Librarians page to help you make middle-grade books an even more effective and engaging part of your classroom and library/media center!

You’ll notice that, like all thorough cleaners, we’ve tried to reorganize and streamline the information.  We hope you find that the alphabetized list of categories helps you scroll quickly to the topic you’re looking for.  We’ve also updated all of the links and added some new ones!

Please help us continue to grow by adding your requests/suggestions in the comments section below!

Here’s an overview of the specific additions you’ll now find on the page (marked on the For Teachers/Librarians page with New!):


  • MUF Blog Posts on author visits: We’ve collected all that we’ve had to say about author visits in one place.

AUTHOR WEBSITES with discussion/activity guides

  • Additional links to middle-grade authors who offer helpful classroom activities and discussion guides on their websites:  Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Judy Blume, Jack Gantos, Jean Craighead George, Will Hobbs, Deborah Hopkinson, Gary Paulsen, Rodman Philbrick, Gary D. Schmidt, Jerry Spinelli, and Jane Yolen


  • American Indians in Children’s Literature: Debbie Reese helps teachers and librarians find resources and consider issues related to the representation of American Indians in children’s books.
  • The Reading Tub: Extensive collection of middle grade and YA book review blogs (previously under General Resources)


  • MUF Blog Posts on Book Clubs:  Collected MUF posts related to starting and sustaining book clubs for middle-graders.
  • Book Clubs for Kids from PBS Parents:  Great resources for teachers and parents.
  • Literature Circles Resource Center: Resources and information on book clubs and literature circles from the College of Education at Seattle University.



We hope you find some gems that will make your classroom or library the sizzling spot for middle-grade readers and writers!  We urge you to offer your own suggestions in the comments section below.  And finally, a hearty thanks to our MUF colleagues who developed this wonderful resource page in the first place!


Bruce Eschler and Katherine Schlick Noe took off their writer hats and put on their well-worn teacher beanies to update this page.  Bruce teaches junior high school students most of the year, writes speculative fiction for kids as much he can, and is hoping he’ll soon be done with his pesky doctoral program. He has occasionally been spotted at Katherine teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold, was published by Clarion Books in 2011. Visit her at

Number Crunch: Non-fiction for Math Lovers (and others)

Mixed-Up Files Reader, Michael M. comments:

I’m sure you’ve noted a heightened emphasis in the new Common Core Standards on NF and longer texts beyond articles. It’s particularly challenging, as much of the available NF is not expository pieces with the charts and tables that the CCS requires.  If you have any “go-to” people, that would be huge. Thanks for a great blog and a wonderful resource!

Michael, thanks for the comment and the compliment of our little piece of the blogdom. While I wouldn’t consider myself a “go-to” person, I’m interested in the same topic as a writer, school-based occupational therapist and general research geek. It’s a good thing since I can see from my calendar, it’s a topic I’ll be hearing a lot more about in upcoming professional development meetings. There will be lots of other people trying to figure out the practical implications of the standards and the best resources to implement them. Publisher’s Weekly had a great article about that very subject.

For this post, I searched for non-fiction books about math that included the graphs and charts you referenced in your question. For my needs, I also looked for high interest subject matter that had practical real life applications. I wanted books that did not look like textbooks in any way and were easy to access. I was able to find all of these books at my public library.

For our Mixed-Up fiction lovers (and as a nod to my previous post about book twins), I also included a few examples of fiction that reference math concepts. Hopefully MUF readers will add to the list in the comments below. Don’t worry, Michael, we’ve heard your plea and will include more non-fiction book lists and references in the future.

Tiger Math by Ann Whitehead Nagada; Cindy Bickel
Children learn to graph as they follow the growth of an orphaned Siberian tiger cub.

A Siberian tiger cub born at the Denver Zoo is orphaned when he is just a few weeks old. At first T. J. refuses to eat his new food, and it requires the full attention of the zoo staff to ensure that he grows into a huge, beautiful, and very healthy tiger.

Through photographs, narrative, and graphs, young readers follow T.J. as he grows from a tiny newborn into a five-hundred-pound adult. A heartwarming story about one tiger’s fight for survival that also introduces a basic math skill. (descriptions and cover photos from Indiebound unless otherwise noted.)

Joanne’s comments:  This is part of a series that includes books by the same authors including Panda Math, Chimp Math and Polar Bear Math. The right side pages follow the story of the animals. The left side pages include the math concepts such as charting growth patterns, figuring out how much food the animal needs, the feeding schedule etc.  The math concepts in the series include time, division,  graphing and fractions.

Growing Money by Gail Karlitz
Never before has there been a time when the economy has been so much a part of our daily lives. Today’s young investors want to know the basics of finance, especially how to make money grow. This complete guide explains in kid-friendly terms all about savings accounts, bonds, stocks, and even mutual funds!

Joanne’s comments: Money is motivating for most kids and this book is a great resource with lots of interesting information and facts.  Charts and tables are sprinkled throughout including comparing the cost of everyday items in the past to current prices and demonstrating the effect of interest on savings.

The Big Push: How Popular Culture is Always Selling by Erika Wittekind

Buyer beware! Why do you really buy what you buy? Did you see a commercial for a cool mountain bike? Did your favorite celebrity wear a fantastic pair of shoes on the red carpet? Learn how products are advertised using all types of media. And be aware of popular cultures influence on consumers including you! (description from

Joanne’s comments: I am  veering a bit off topic here, but I found this book when I was looking at books about money. I thought it was fresh, relevant and was something that many kids could relate to. The charts and graphs were not plentiful but were interesting. The book was targeted toward the tween age group. Being a smart consumer is another aspect of managing one’s money and is definitely a needed life skill, so I believe it meets my criteria for this list.

Basketball: The Math of the Game by Thomas Kristian Adamson

How far is it from the three point line to the basket? What is the difference in diameter between a basketball and the rim? How do you calculate a basketball players field goal percentage? With every bounce of the ball and swish of the net, math makes its way to the court! (description from

Joanne’s comments: This book is part of a Sports Illustrated for Kids series including other books featuring baseball, hockey and football.  I read Football: The Math of the Game by Shane Frederick and was pleasantly surprised at the level of difficulty of the math–definitely upper middle grade math including pre-algebra, mean, median, mode and range and calculating momentum. It has the familiar glossy magazine format with lots of photos, but there is a solid amount of text, tons of graphs and math problems based on real football situations.  Another example is the  Sports Math Series by Ian Mahaney including  Read more