For Teachers

Middle Grade Student-Produced Book Trailers

***When I thought about sharing this middle grade learning project with you all just a few weeks ago, I really wasn’t thinking I’d be opening with the following paragraph. Hopefully, everyone is weathering necessary school closings as best we can. Teachers, librarians, and parents have such a critical role to play in our world’s response to this pandemic; let’s keep teaching our kids that we all learn amazing lessons from books, both fiction and non-fiction, and that sharing good stories benefits all learners. I hope this book trailer project idea might work for your classroom situation in the coming weeks, whether you’re face-to-face with your kids or working remotely with them.***

In school? Teaching from home? Need an extra project idea to supplement your kids’ online academics? Whether you are a middle grade teacher, a librarian, or a homeschooling parent, it may be a good time to try a project that employs a little freedom and a lot of creativity: middle grade student-produced book trailers.

Student-produced book trailers are a fantastic way to inspire readership of new books, incorporate technology into learning, employ writing skills, and practice project planning and organization. If your school is in session, this is the kind of project that will energize your students despite the springtime sluggishness that tends to set in around now, or to regain the attention of those who’ve grown hard to hook. Or, if your school is among the many closing for several weeks and suddenly implementing online learning, your readers may need a project with wide parameters to which they can bring a highly individualized amount of knowledge and expertise.

A book trailer project addresses multiple areas of standards for learning, as well: reading, writing, speaking, listening, technology…and depending on the content of the book for which the trailer is produced, possibly history, science, world studies/cultures, and others!

Here’s a step-by-step that worked with my students recently:

  1. Ask students to think about movie trailers out there right now, and trailers they can recall from recent years. Students’ contributions  can be listed on the board, in the virtual classroom collaboration space, or on a group email. Have the class brainstorm and share characteristics that made those movie trailers memorable.
  2. Introduce the concept of a book trailer via discussion or info sheet. Depending on ages and interests, some students may not realize the wealth of beautiful book trailers available online that pique attention and provide visuals for a new book or series. Professionally-created book trailers by authors and publishers employ graphics, video, animation, words, music, and dialogue to craft cinema-worthy advertisements, and you can share wonderful examples with a few links.
  3. You will also find many student-produced book trailers, created for the classroom or out of fandom. Watching a variety of both professional and student-produced trailers will give you a clearer idea of the capabilities of your readers, and will allow you to generate a list of required or suggested elements for their student-produced trailers. For example:
  • Book choice (class novel, or independent read?)
  • Video footage, with or without dialogue
  • Still images, saved and cited with source, or taken by the student photographer
  • Labels, captions, and hooks written by the student
  • Quotes from the text, with chapter and page cited
  • Author info
  • An image of the book cover with author’s name
  • Music
  • Voice over
  • Reviews, either borrowed and cited or collected from classmates
  • “Coming Soon” list of similar titles or other titles by the author
  • Color, style, length, pace of the trailer
  • Questions or statements to hook the potential reader
  • Revelation of a certain number of plot points and characters…but don’t reveal the ending!
  1. What about books with characters, situations, or settings that students can’t portray in actual video footage, for whatever reason? Instead of live actors, students might try models or toys for a stop-motion process. Just as effective as costumed actors, isolating symbolic props in interesting scenes or lighting for close-up shots can be mysterious and thought-provoking. There are many more components to a book trailer than the video footage, so if your students don’t have the resources, scrap that part.
  2. Technically speaking…. On what software or web-based design program can your students produce the book trailer? If your students have dedicated laptops, they may have video-producing software at their fingertips. My students made excellent trailers using their laptop camera for video, then easily imported the segments into the video editor. Special effects and music made the video-making experience fun and frustration-free. For those with no laptop or software, kids who have hand-held gadgets (phone, tablet, iPod) will probably already be quite adept at recording video segments and emailing them to themselves for use. iMovie offers templates and tutorials as do free accounts on Animoto, Powtoon, and other web-based presentation programs. A slideshow book trailer is another great option for still images, original text, and presentation effects.

Once book trailers are completed and edited, you can think about ways to use these great middle grade projects in the future: library contests, summer reading program activities, back-to-school night for new students, or homeschool network or coop project sharing.

Thanks as always for reading, and I hope a book trailer project might work for your readers!

Celebrating Girls in Sports

March is Women’s History Month, celebrating women of all ages, and it happens to be National Nutrition Month, which encourages healthy eating and being active physically.

So, let’s talk sports and sports books for middle-grade girls.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, established by tennis icon Billie Jean King in 1974, closely tracks and reports on girls’ and women’s involvement in sports. Their research is concerning.

Only 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 6-12 participates in sports. 40% of teen girls are not participating in sports. 43% of girls have never played a sport.

Although there are many factors that come into play (sorry!) in these statistics, I might suggest that if we can continue to provide young girls with stories of female athletes, both in fiction as well as nonfiction, we might inspire them to consider participating in athletic endeavors.

To that end, I’ve discovered several great titles that might just be the ticket in opening up the world of sports for the aspiring athletes in your life!

Shred Girls Lindsay’s Joy Ride by Molly Hurfurd (Rodale Kids, 2019)

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An empowering new series from the cyclist who runs Shred-Girls.com is guaranteed to give readers an adrenaline rush–and the confidence girls gain from participating in sports!

It’s time to ride and save the day!

Lindsay can’t wait to spend her summer break reading comics and watching superhero movies–until she finds out she’ll be moving in with her weird older cousin Phoebe instead. And Phoebe has big plans for Lindsay: a BMX class at her bike park with cool-girl Jen and perfectionist Ali.

Lindsay’s summer of learning awesome BMX tricks with new friends and a new bike turns out to be more epic than any comic book–and it’s all leading up to a jumping competition.

But some of the biker boys don’t think girls should be allowed to compete in BMX. Now it’s up to Lindsay, Jen, and Ali to win the competition and prove that anyone can be great at BMX.

Women in Sports by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ten Speed Press, 2017)

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Illustrated profiles of fifty pioneering female athletes, from the author of the New York Times bestseller Women in Science.

Women for the win!

A richly illustrated and inspiring book, Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. The book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline ofwomen’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women in Sports celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes.

Get a Grip Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit (Dial Books, 2020)

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In this perfectly pitched novel-in-letters, autistic eleven-year-old Vivy Cohen won’t let anything stop her from playing baseball–not when she has a major-league star as her pen pal.

Vivy Cohen is determined. She’s had enough of playing catch in the park. She’s ready to pitch for a real baseball team.

But Vivy’s mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl on the team, and the only autistic kid. She wants Vivy to forget about pitching, but Vivy won’t give up. When her social skills teacher makes her write a letter to someone, Vivy knows exactly who to choose: her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. Then two amazing things happen: A coach sees Vivy’s amazing knuckleball and invites her to join his team. And VJ starts writing back!

Now Vivy is a full-fledged pitcher, with a catcher as a new best friend and a steady stream of advice from VJ. But when a big accident puts her back on the bench, Vivy has to fight to stay on the team.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages (Puffin Books reprint, 2019)

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A story about the fight for equal rights in America’s favorite arena: the baseball field!

Every boy in the neighborhood knows Katy Gordon is their best pitcher, even though she’s a girl. But when she tries out for Little League, it’s a whole different story. Girls are not eligible, period. It is a boy’s game and always has been. It’s not fair, and Katy’s going to fight back. Inspired by what she’s learning about civil rights in school, she sets out to prove that she’s not the only girl who plays baseball. With the help of friendly librarians and some tenacious research skills, Katy discovers the forgotten history of female ball players. Why does no one know about them? Where are they now? And how can one ten-year-old change people’s minds about what girls can do?

Set in 1957—the world of Sputnik and Leave It to Beaver, saddle shoes and “Heartbreak Hotel”—Out of Left Field is both a detailed picture of a fascinating historic period and a timelessly inspiring story about standing up for equality at any age.

Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien

Takedown by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018) ***Note: Takedown comes out in paperback in April!

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Handpicked by Amazon kids’ books editor, Seira Wilson, for Prime Book Box – a children’s subscription that inspires a love of reading.

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

“Kids struggle every day with the dynamics of high expectations, performance standards, and social relationships. Takedown is a great example of how the sport of wrestling can help everyone involved conquer these challenges and appreciate some of life’s most valuable lessons.” –Kyle Snyder, Olympic wrestling gold medalist

Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports by George Zimmerman (Philomel, 2018)

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Behold the power of women! These are the inspirational real-life stories of female superstar athletes Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Carli Lloyd, and more — role models all. For sports fans, aspiring athletes and readers of sports biographies.

Growing up in a crime-plagued, gang-infested neighborhood, Venus and Serena Williams were led to believe their environment was not a place where dreams could come true. It took a relentless determination, a burning desire to be the best, and a willingness to conquer racial barriers for them to emerge as tennis legends. Simone Biles was raised by a single mother with addiction issues, forcing her grandparents to intervene. But Simone soon discovered balance beams and gymnastics mats, setting her on a path toward Olympic greatness. Carli Lloyd, meanwhile, believed her youth soccer career was really starting to take off, only to be cut from her team. Instead of quitting the sport she loved, Carli rebuilt her confidence from the ground up, ultimately becoming one of the leaders on the World Cup Champion US Women’s Soccer team.

The athletes featured in this book met earth-shaking challenges head on, and through hard work and perseverance, went on to conquer the sports world. This collection of mini biographies, complete with first-hand content drawn from interviews, is a source of inspiration and self-empowerment for kids and sports fans of all ages.

Also included in the book: Wilma Rudolph (track and field), Mo’ne Davis (Little League baseball), Swin Cash (basketball), Elena Delle Donne (basketball), Bethany Hamilton (surfing), Ronda Rousey (mixed martial arts), and Kerri Strug (gymnastics).

South Asian Storytelling: Author Interview with Sayantani DasGupta, and Giveaway

                                                                 

 

Today, I am delighted to welcome Sayantani DasGupta to Mixed-Up Files to talk about her experience writing her third book in the middle-grade adventure fantasy Kiranmala series, THE CHAOS CURSE. Sayantani’s novels feature a powerful girl character who carries a quest on her shoulders and must overcome the conflict between good and evil.

 

  1. Tell us about “The Chaos Curse,” and how your journey has been writing three novels in the Kiranmala series?

The Chaos Curse is the third in the Bengali folktale and string theory inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series. Kiranmala, the 12-year-old protagonist of the series, thinks she’s just an ordinary immigrant daughter growing up in New Jersey, until she realizes all her parents’ seemingly outlandish stories are true, and she really is an Indian princess from another dimension. This third and final installment of the series finds Kiranmala having to once again battle the evil Serpent King, who wants to collapse all the stories of the universe together, destroying the multiplicity of the multiverse. It is varied and heterogeneous stories, after all, which make the universe keep expanding. The Chaos Curse finds Kiranmala once again teaming up with some old friends, as well as some new ones, to try and stop the Serpent King and his nefarious Anti-Chaos Committee. Will they save the stories in time to save the multiverse?

 

 

  1. Your work is about a powerful twelve-year old girl Kiranmala who is proud of her ancestral heritage, connected to her family, and has a strong desire to fight for good over evil. Can you discuss how you broke stereotypes with this series?

It took me many years to find an editor for The Serpent’s Secret, as ten years ago, there didn’t seem to be any room in the publishing industry for a funny, fast paced fantasy starring a strong brown immigrant daughter heroine. The answers were often similar: “We love your voice, but how about writing a realistic fiction story about your protagonist’s cultural conflict with her immigrant parents?” In other words, the story that was expected and wanted was one that reinforced stereotypes about South Asian immigrant parents (as oppressive, or regressive, or rigid) and allowed a certain type of expectation about South Asian parents and children to be fulfilled. Many marginalized communities face this narrative demand – to tell stories of conflict, stories of suffering, stories of pain – for others’ voyeuristic pleasure. But for that very reason, in our stories, joy is an important form of resistance. To portray a strong, funny Desi heroine with doting, loving parents is to break a stereotype that mainstream America has about our communities. Other ways this series breaks stereotypes is to challenge the notion of fixed good and evil altogether. For instance, the rakkhosh monsters who are pretty uniformly baddies in the first book get more nuanced in the second and third. Like any beings, there are good rakkhosh and bad rakkhosh, and Kiranmala must get over her prejudice against them, realizing that heroes and monsters are not based on family, or appearance or community, but rather, what someone chooses to do each and every day with their lives.

 

 

  1. In a previous interview, you shared with me that as a child, Bengali folktales were an important part of you finding your own identity. How did you personally approach storytelling in this series and make Bengali folklore accessible to young readers?

I grew up in the U.S. with very few positive ‘mirrors’ in the culture around me – not in the books I read, not in the TV shows and movies I watched. (Here, I refer of course to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops’ important framing of books as ‘mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors.’) It was only when I would go on my long summer vacations to India that I could see heroes and heroines who looked like me – brown kids being strong and heroic, saving the day. When I thought about adapting these stories to an American audience, I was at first nervous – would I be doing these cultural stories an injustice? But then I remembered that folktales are oral stories, and as such often change in the telling. Even my grandmother would often sprinkle in her stories with little morals she wanted us grandchildren to hear on that particular day because of some naughty thing some cousin had done. So in changing and adapting the stories, I still felt like I was being true to their nature as oral folktales. Just like so many aunties and uncles and parents and grannies before me, I was simply adapting my storytelling to my audience.

 

  1. Although the story is predominantly in English, you sprinkle Bengali in the books too. Tell us about the power of weaving Bengali words into Kiranmala’s world.

I think many of us immigrant kids or Third Culture kids aren’t just multilingual, but we speak a mash-up of multiple languages at once. We speak Spanglish and Hindlish and in my case, Benglish. Sprinkling in Bengali words without apology and without italics was a way of not only honoring the language of my family and community, but reflecting the real way that so many of us communicate. I knew that non-Bengali speakers would pick up words and meaning from context, and that young Bengali readers might be seeing familiar words in an English book for the first time. That felt like a really important responsibility – and so I tried very hard to use Bengali pronunciation to guide the way I spelled these words (rakkhosh for instance instead of the more Hindi-fied “rakshas” or “rakshasa”). I also narrated the audio books myself, and tried very hard to keep to Bengali pronunciations of all these words – I wanted young listeners to hear their language pronounced correctly!

 

  1. You discussed in my previous interview that you hoped to inspire children to have radical imaginations through your stories. How has that manifested in your school visits and public readings/signings?

When I talk about radical imagination, I am usually talking about kids from marginalized communities being able to see themselves as protagonists in stories, see their own strength and heroism reflected back to them in them in books. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, right? And every kid deserves to see someone like them as a hero. But what I have found in my school visits is something else very interesting. I do meet many immigrant kids or Desi students who come up to me, hugging my books, so excited that Kiranmala is a brown kid, like them! But I also meet many non-Desi kids who are equally excited about Kiranmala’s adventures, and this feels very radical. When a gaggle of young blonde boys runs up to me telling me how much they love the series, I see something radical here too – their unquestioned ability to not just accept but cherish a strong girl as a hero, a protagonist of color. When radically representational of our todays, I truly believe that stories can help make better futures for us all by making space in all our imagings for liberatory possibilities of leadership, family and community. In other words, if you grew up reading strong brown female protagonists as a kid, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to rally behind a strong woman of color president, right?

 

 

 

  1. What has writing this series taught you about yourself? And what advice do you have for children, young adults, and adults who want to pursue writing?

When I was in practice as a pediatrician, I used to write prescriptions for reading. This is because stories are good medicine, in all the senses of that word. This same notion brought me to Narrative Medicine, the field in which I teach. And it’s this same impulse that has pushed me to write for young people. I guess what I’ve realized is that storytelling is a critical act of healing – particularly the sort of storytelling that is filling in the narrative erasures of the past – the gaps in positive representation that so many of us suffered through. I’ve also come to realize that fantasy is an amazing way to talk about oppression, prejudice, racism, justice. But at the same time, particularly when you’re writing for young people it’s also got to be a cracking good story. Young readers are unfailingly honest. They’re not going to let you get away with lecturing them or talking down to them. They know when they’re being respected and a story is speaking with and for them.

 

My advice to people of any age who are writing is this – follow the joy, follow the passion. Tell the story YOU want to hear first and foremost. Don’t follow trends, or worry about publication at first. Tell the best story that only you can tell. As Toni Morrison says (and I always tell students), “If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And I truly believe each of us has the privilege and responsibility of telling our stories.

 

Enter the giveaway for a copy of THE CHAOS CURSE by leaving a comment below. You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be determined on Monday, March 9th, 2020, and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

If you’d like to know more about Sayantani and her novel, visit her website: http://www.sayantanidasgupta.com/writer/ Or follow her on twitter : https://twitter.com/Sayantani16