For Teachers

Author Kate Hannigan discusses Boots, the third book in her League of Secret Heroes series

I’m so happy to present an interview with Author Kate Hannigan, who is known for her abilities to deep dive into history and write adventure packed stories for middle grade readers featuring girls with lots of agency. Today, we celebrate the recent release of Boots, the third book in the League of Secret Heroes which has been described as Hidden Figures meets Wonder Woman.

Congratulations, Kate, on your launching of Boots! You’ve been on quite a journey with your three main characters Josie, Akiko and Mae who have been fighting super villains, World War II enemies as well as racism and sexism. Welcome to the Mixed Up Files Blog. In this book, the girls find themselves in Chicago, Sweetwater, Texas as well as Paris–all significant places during World War II, during the time period that your series is set. Tell us a little bit about the research you did to conjure up each of these places.

I love diving into research—sometimes even more than the writing itself! So I had incredible fun pulling together this series. Spotlighting the real-life women from history drove the setting, so for CAPE(Book 1) it made sense to set it in Philadelphia since the ENIAC Six mathematicians were my focus. These women were programming the top-secret computer that was being built at University of Pennsylvania during the war. MASK(Book 2) is set in San Francisco because much of the story focuses on things happening on the West Coast during the war. And now with BOOTS(Book 3), I wanted to focus on the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and other women pilots during this time in history, so it made sense to feature Sweetwater, Texas—where the WASPs did their training—and Chicago, where I live, and the remarkable women pilots here.

I’ve long been fascinated with the WASPs and their role in WWII history, so when I read about their homecoming celebrations in Sweetwater, where former WASPs take part, I jumped on a plane to see for myself. There was incredible warmth to the weekend, as history buffs, aviation lovers, members of the Ninety-Nines(an international organization of women pilots), and families and friends of the WASPs gathered to celebrate their accomplishments. I was lucky to meet WASP Jane Doyle, who was 96 years old at the time, and interview her for the book. My superhero girls fly with Jane.

Each girl in addition to superpowers, has real life powers such as the ability to do math (Josie), crack ciphers (Akiko) or lockpicking (Mae). Are these any of your superpowers?

My sister’s superpower is math, and I could imagine her jumping into an exciting role during WWII if she were there at the time! For me, I love puzzles and grew up solving ones in the newspaper during breakfast. But I have to admit that my current superpower is a bit less glamorous: parallel parking. After living in San Francisco and now Chicago, there’s no space too small for me to tackle!

I loved reading about Aunt Janet and Aunt Willa, and the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). I must confess to not knowing very much about this history before. What do you hope readers take away about these fearless flyers?

First I hope young readers find these figures interesting and want to learn more. That’s the whole reason I write historical fiction: to show kids where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. And second, to show girls especially that they can succeed in male-dominated fields and that while it may seem that women haven’t been there historically, they have. Their stories just haven’t been told.

I love how you consistently don’t shy away from some difficult truths, especially racism and sexism. These are painful but you don’t talk down to kids. How do you handle discussing these difficult realities with your own family?

These are painful topics. And can make us feel small sometimes. But the only way to address difficult things is head-on. So I feel like finding something we can all relate to—wanting to sit down for pie at a restaurant—and looking at it from different perspectives can help us understand why things were the way they were and what we can do to fight unfairness when we see it.

The Infinity Trinity is such a wonderful concept–I appreciate how the girls operate as a superhero trio. How did you decide on three girls?

This was a deliberate decision. I don’t mean to shut out the boys, of course, but I do feel like males have been represented pretty well in literature, film, and everything else for . . . millennia! Haha! So I wanted to write a book where girls are the focus and girls have agency. Where they can feel like a part of something big, where they’re crucial to its success, where they have to use their own smarts and skills, and where they can kick evil in the throat. So as I began sketching out the story, I had to make some big choices: to see these kids battle evil and really wallop some baddies, I was heading into the fantasy genre; and to emphasize the role of women in this period of history, I was going to focus just on females. So I made the decision that the superhero trio, their comic book mentors, and the real-life figures from history they work with would all be female.

What are you working on next? Anything you can share?

I’m obsessed with the year 1920! A whole lot was happening then. So I’m working on a middle-grade mystery set at this time, with some fascinating historical figures walking around with my young detective. It’s been so much fun to research, and now I’m writing every single day to get a solid draft done. We’ll see what happens!

We can’t wait to hear an update. Thanks so much for being on the blog today, Kate!

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

 

 

 

A Little Space

It’s August. Summer is rapidly slipping away. How did the time fly by so fast? What about all those things I was going to do this summer? (Looks at 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List and sees very few things crossed out.) School is either here or just around the corner. Teachers, librarians, readers, and creators of all stripes are answering the call to duty. 

It’s go time!

There’s is excitement in the air with the prospect and potential of a new academic year. But the pangs of summer fading into the sunset settle deep into my gut. (Looks again at the 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List.) The innocent and once optimistic list of uncompleted writing and drawing tasks screams at me, “HAYS, DID YOU FORGET US?”

The tight-knit ball of creative anxiety in the pit of my stomach rapidly spins with enough orbital angular momentum to force the panic to rise. My heart races. My eyes flitter around the room. My sketchbooks, journals, notebooks, even my own published books gathering dust on the shelf, laugh at me. 

I run outside, look up into the expanse of a beautiful, northcentral blue Kansas sky, take a deep breath, and close my eyes. My heart no longer races. It’s beating with the steady rhythm of rolling down I-70 through the Flint Hills at dusk. 

John P Salvatore, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I return to my office. The Summer Calendar 2021 To-Do List hangs unchanged on the wall. But it’s just a list again. A suggestion of potential things. A creative direction. The journals and notebooks are raw stories, packed with potential which hopefully someday find their readers. My published books on the shelf remind me I can indeed do this creative thing competently enough to give them a shelf life.

Ah…the beauty of space. The absolute raw power of space to put everything into perspective.

Space. What an awesome word!

Space is a Swiss Army knife word with so many uses and meanings. Space is a word we should celebrate and appreciate. A word we should vault to the top of the toolbox.

I need to make a token to hang on the wall or wear around my neck to remind me of the value and importance of space and creative space. I need the reminder that when stuck, a step back to create space is necessary in order to move forward.

As the season turns and we make fresh To-Do lists, it’s the perfect time to remember and appreciate the spaces in your life. The other night, I sat for a few minutes on the patio and took in the night sky hoping for a glimpse of the conglomeration of planets on the western horizon or spotting a meteor or two from the eastern sky. Unfortunately, cloud cover and poor timing thwarted these efforts but all was not lost. Mesmerized, as always, by the Big Dipper, I stared at the northern sky for a few minutes. 

Beautiful space. 

A reminder we are all impossible beings floating across the universe at 492,126 miles per hour. Insignificant and yet significant in everything we do. 

Amazing space. My relaxed brain started firing off the important “spaces” in my life. I made a list. 

  • Creative space
  • Outer space
  • Inner space
  • Backspace
  • Negative space
  • Garden space
  • Yard space
  • Patio space
  • Deep space
  • Near space
  • Public space
  • Private space
  • Workspace
  • Office space
  • Family space 
  • Spacebar (How about a Space bar?)
  • Writing space
  • Headspace
  • White space
  • Green space
  • Space Jam
  • Spacesuit
  • Open space
  • Wide-open space
  • Tight space
  • My Space
  • Personal space 
  • Closet space
  • Dream space

How about you? Have you ever considered the importance of space in your personal, professional, or creative life? Do you have a go-to space to open the mind or recharge the soul?

Have a great end of summer and enjoy the promise of tomorrow! 

If you find yourself running into creative walls, remember to take a step back, give yourself some space, and identify the best way to move forward. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly,

Space out, y’all!

The original uploader was Triddle at English Wikipedia.(original:Photograph taken by User:Triddle and User:Codedelectron), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Back to School with Book Clubs and a Giveaway

An interview with Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts  

Our guest today is Lesley Roessing, the author of Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs Across the Curriculum.  As students head back to school, Book Clubs can be an important tool to promote social and emotional learning and to foster a love for reading and for learning. Parents as well as educators can use the techniques in the book to start and facilitate Book Clubs. 

Thanks so much, Lesley, for joining us at the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors!  I love how Talking Texts  provides practical guidance about how to use Book Clubs to engage students more fully. Your book also provides templates for doing exactly that. Can  you share with us  your inspiration for this book?

 

My inspiration was seeing readers, especially “reluctant” readers, engaged and motivated by collaborative reading and the small-group discussions that Book Clubs allow. This was true both in my middle school classes and classes from grades three through high school that have invited me to facilitate Book Clubs. Book Clubs give readers a choice of books at their individual reading and interest levels and a social, safe space in which to discuss their reading. Most classroom teachers agree that, in whole-class discussions, only three to four students talk and it is usually the same students. In small groups that have had training in social skills, I observe all students talking. Because of peer pressure or a wish to take part in their group, students keep up with Book Club reading.

 

Talking Texts provides detailed support for every recommendation in your book.  Why it is so important that students be allowed choice in reading?

There is a decline in, or even a halt to, reading both for pleasure and academics at the middle grades, sometimes earlier. Aliteracy occurs when students are capable of reading, but choose not to read. Many students have told me that they don’t read, mainly because they don’t like the books the teacher chooses. We first have to grow readers, students who think of themselves as readers and are on their way to becoming life-long readers. I had many eighth grade students who admitted they previously never had read an entire book or had read only one or two books in the previous grades or rather fake-read those books. Those same students became readers of twenty to thirty books by the end of that eighth grade year. Choice was the prime motivator. There are very few topics or writing styles or genres that interest everyone.

This has been verified by research: “A meta-analysis of 41 studies examined the effect of choice on intrinsic motivation and related outcomes in a variety of settings with both child and adult samples. Results indicated that providing choice enhanced intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, and perceived competence, among other outcomes.”– (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

 

What is another advantage of Book Clubs?

After students have read and discussed their novels, Book Clubs can prepare a presentation of their books for the rest of the class through skits, puppet shows, narrative poetry, talk shows, and a variety of other means explained in Talking Texts. This synthesizes text for the readers while sharing texts with students who haven’t had the chance to read. This is particularly effective when clubs read articles about a topic being studied in class.

 

Can you tell us about your experience and review of research that resulted in your book and its appendices?

I would call it action research. During my time at the Summer Reading Institute of the Pennsylvania Writing Project, I read all the “experts” in reading. In my role as Director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project facilitating our Summer Reading Institute as well as teaching reading strategies to pre-service and in-service teachers, I kept up with the research, but most of my “research” was in my middle grade classroom and when facilitating Book Clubs in classrooms to which I was invited.

 

Can you share with us some best practices in setting up a Book Club?

a. Let the students choose their books, after a teacher book talk and a few minutes to read a page or two, and form Book Clubs based on the books rather than the other way around.

b. Teach social skills: how to prepare for a discussion with reading notes and bringing a well-designed discussion question (Book Clubs should be student-led); how to hold a discussion; how to extend a conversation when everyone agrees; and how to respectfully disagree.

c. Provide a range of reading levels and characters but if the books have something in common—a topic, a genre, a format—it allows for whole-class focus lessons and for inter-club discussions.

 

Can you provide insight on how educators can use Book Clubs to teach subject-matter content in any discipline?

Book club strategies and techniques can be used with articles and nonfiction books in any discipline as I explain in Talking Texts. My college students would meet for the first 15 minutes of class in Textbook Clubs, discussing what they had read for that class meeting and resolving any questions they had about their reading. Any questions they still had, they could write on the board to be covered in class. This would work for any grade level in any subject.

 

Book Clubs can be customized to any genre or interest. You regularly update your social media with lists of books organized by a variety of factors to provide a wide range of options for educators, parents and readers.  Where can we find your book lists?

I’ve included some lists in Talking Texts and I regularly post on Facebook when I think of a topic, like Bullying or Kindness, or format, such as verse novels, or genre, such as Historical Fiction. I share with other Facebook groups but always post on mine.

 

Do you have any advice for people organizing virtual Book Clubs?

I would suggest keeping those groups small. Educators who have held on-line Book Clubs said that they followed the strategies in my book and students meet in breakout rooms. If the teacher feels they need to observe, each Book Club would have to meet at a different time or day.

 

What would you most like for educators and parents to take away from Talking Texts?

That we need to not teach reading but reach readers. Students of all ages, but especially adolescents, are social and if we can make learning social, they will be more engaged. Also the power of Book Clubs is that they are student-led. If teachers put the students into groups and give the students questions to answer, they are no longer student-led.

 

What has been your favorite part about seeing Talking Texts make its way into the world?

I am happy that Talking Texts provides me with opportunities to share strategies and what I have learned through my many experiences. I really love that teachers who were nervous about trying Book Clubs say they feel confident and are excited to start Book Clubs and  that veteran teachers who have included Book Clubs in the past write that Talking Texts gave them new strategies and new ideas, such as article and poetry clubs.

 

How do you have students prepare for Book Club meeting other than reading?

Reader need to come to meetings with notes from or reflections on their reading. Short informal written reflections cause students to interact with text, thereby increasing comprehension. Having notes give readers something to refer to, a basis for discussion beyond the member-prepared discussion questions, and proof that they have completed the assigned reading for that meeting. Talking Texts includes many reader response forms that readers can use as well as forms to reflect on their Book Club meetings.

 

Thank you, Lesley!  To learn more about Lesley and her latest book lists, you can follow her on Facebook- @Lesley Roessing and Twitter @LRoessing.  We are offering a giveaway of Talking Texts  to one lucky winner. Enter here by August 16 for your chance to win.  Note:  Only residents of the contiguous United States, please.