For Teachers

Literary Activities for African American History Month

African American History Month starts next week, and schools across the country have a variety of activities planned to celebrate. In addition to being a middle grade writer and blogger, I am the PTA President at my kids’ elementary school, and so I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in our school’s planning for this special time. Of course, reading had to be a big part of it!

We decided to welcome parents into the classroom to read works by and about African Americans. First, we met with principal, and discussed our mutual goal of enhancing kids’ understanding of the breadth of the contribution of African Americans to American history. Often, kids point to the same five or seven famous African Americans, without a sense of how many more people have shaped our society in a broad range of ways. We then put together a list of books that included biography, fiction, poetry, and more, all by or about African Americans. We worked with the librarian to find out which of those titles our library already contains, and created an Amazon wishlist of the remaining. We will send that out to parents, to see if anyone would like to contribute. The librarian will collect the selected books onto a few shelves of the library for parents to choose from when they come in to do their reading at the appointed time.

As we planned, we came across a number of other ideas and resources for those putting together literary activities for African American History Month. Here are a few:

I hope this African American History Month is filled with fun, discovery, and plenty of great books!

Middle-Grade Meets the Moon

By the time this post goes live on Monday, January 21st,  we will have all experienced (or slept through) the Blood Supermoon Lunar Eclipse of 2019.  The eclipse is, of course, the passing of the moon through Earth’s shadow. The “blood” comes from the crimson and oranges colors that can be seen, and “supermoon” refers to the how large the moon appears due to its relative proximity to Earth.

NASA has prepared some very useful tools for parents and teachers, and even though the event has passed, everyone will be talking about it. What better time to investigate further? Look for NASA’s Teachable Moments for the 2019 total lunar eclipse here  and lunar eclipse moon lessons guide for teachers is available here.

And, what better time to bring the moon into our to-be-read lists?

Let’s make a list of middle-grade books that capture our imaginations using the mystery of the moon – at least in their titles. I’ll start. Please comment below with additions to this list!

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a Newbery Honor winner and it received the 2010 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature.

From Indiebound:  In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune.

 

 

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 Newbery Medal winning middle-grade tale of Abilene Tucker and a Kansas town called Manifest. Abilene navigates Manifest’s present and past mysteries in order to find the answers she’s been looking for.

This is one of my favorite middle-grade novels.

 

 

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, proud of her country roots and the “Indian-ness in her blood,” travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared.

As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe’s outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold—the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.

 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is the winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal.  Wait. I’m seeing a pattern here. Are you? Wow! There are a lot of Newbery books with “moon” in the title!  Anyway, this book didn’t stop at the Newbery. It has racked up Best Book of 2016 Awards from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Chicago Public Library, Entertainment Weekly and New York Public Library. Filled with mystery and wonder, magic and suspense, this is a book comes along once in blue moon. (I had to. I’m sorry.)

 

I haven’t read The Moon Within yet, but only because it isn’t out yet! The pub date for the Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within is February 26, 2019.  But, what a cover! WOW!

From Indiebound:Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be? 

 

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer that picture books belong in middle-grade readers’ hands. So, although this is a picture book, I’m featuring Margaret and the Moon.   Written by Dean Robbins and Illustrated by Lucy Knisley, it is the true story of Margaret Hamilton, whose code writing for NASA helped put a man on the moon.

 

 

 

The Far-Out Guide to the Moon was written by Mary Kay Carson, who is one the Mixed-Up Files STEM Tuesday contributors.  A wealth of information and facts, the book makes an excellent addition to middle-grade reading lists.  Strike now while the lunar interest is hot and everyone is talking about the eclipse we had last night!

 

 

 

 

What titles would you add to our Middle-Grade Meets the Moon list? Drop them in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

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.