For Teachers

Inspiration for Famous Authors

Writers are often told to write what they know. Even if they end up writing fantasy, some of their real life often creeps into the story. I recently enjoyed a Children’s Literature Tour of England and Scotland to see the homes and work spaces of famous authors, and I was surprised to see the little details (or sometimes more) from their homes or towns that crept into their work. See if you can recognize any of these places from the books.

Lucy Boston Children of Green Knowe

Tolly arrives at Green Knowe, and this is his bedroom. He leaves his window open a little bit so a bird can fly in. Here’s the bird cage and toy chest too. The room Lucy Boston described in the book belonged to her son, Peter. They’ve kept the room the same so visitors to the house can see what it looked like long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C. S. Lewis The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe

When Lucy walks into the wardrobe, she heads toward a lamppost in the snow and meets a faun. When Author C. S. Lewis walked along this path in Oxford, he passed this lamppost. Can you imagine him seeing it on a snowy day? What’s even more interesting is that the porch posts on a nearby house have fauns carved into them. Could that be where he got his idea?


J. K. Rowling  Harry Potter

So many scenes in the Harry Potter books and movies are drawn from Oxford. Do these scenes from the Buttery, the Sorting Room, and the staircase look familiar? How about taking a ride on a steam train? Do you think any of these inspired J. K. Rowling?



Howard Pyle  Robin Hood

This giant oak still stands in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England. Its branches are now propped up, but can you picture this mighty tree sheltering Robin Hood and his band of merry men?

Nancy Farmer  Sea of Trolls

The Holy Isle of Lindsifarne, a tidal island off the coast of England is cut off from the mainland during high tide. Visitors to the tiny town are trapped on the island until low tide. Isn’t this mysterious island the perfect setting for the Sea of Trolls trilogy?

You Don’t Have to Be Age 8 – 12 to Love Middle Grade Novels

I admit it—I LOVE middle grade novels, and I’m not afraid to show it. Years ago, I was reading a middle grade novel on an airplane with my daughter. She fell asleep and I kept reading…until someone tapped my shoulder. The woman across the aisle said, “She’s sleeping. You don’t have to read her book anymore.” I smiled and said, “Thanks, but this is actually my book.” Her mouth opened wide, but she didn’t say another word to me the entire flight.

Another time, I was reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate in public and couldn’t stop smiling. The woman next to me couldn’t wait to find out what book I was reading. When I showed her the cover and she saw a giant gorilla, she didn’t know what to say. But I gushed about how amazing Ivan’s voice is (I even read her the first few pages) and told her that it says so much about humans in such a unique way…she decided to borrow a copy from the library.

Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated book is told from the point of view of Ivan himself.

Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.

 

And now I’ll make another confession…I can’t remember the last time I read an adult book. There are so many incredible middle grade novels on my must-read list, I just can’t pry myself away from them. I love the heart, humor, unique viewpoints, and amazing characters. Here are some of my favorite books. I hope you’ll love them, too.

I love meeting all kinds of inspiring characters, like Auggie in Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Everyone needs to read this book! I instantly fell in love with Auggie and love how it shows the story from different viewpoints in addition to his. And yes, I still highly suggest reading it even if you’ve seen the movie—I think it’s even more powerful.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.

WONDER begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

 

Speaking of inspiring—have you read Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart yet? It’s easy to see the heart in this book from the second you glance at the cover which says: Be brave. Be bold. Be you. How inspiring, encouraging, and validating. The back says: Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t. Did this get your attention yet? Things have changed so much since I was in high school—and luckily, more and more people are realizing that nobody should have to hide who they are.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade. Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse. One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.

 

Feel like laughing? There’s so much humor and heart in This is Not the Abby Show by Debbie Reed Fischer. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite movies—The Breakfast Club. I loved this book from the very first chapter heading: Pretty much everything I do is inappropriate. I totally relate to that, and rooted for spunky, impulsive Abby through her hilarious journey.

Abby is twice exceptional–she is gifted in math and science, and she has ADHD. Normally, she has everything pretty much under control. But when Abby makes one HUGE mistake that leads to “The Night That Ruined My Life,” or “TNTRML,” she lands in summer school.

Abby thinks the other summer-school kids are going to be total weirdos. And what with her parents’ new rules, plus all the fuss over her brother’s bar mitzvah, her life is turning into a complete disaster. But as Abby learns to communicate better and finds friends who love her for who she is, she discovers that her biggest weaknesses could be her greatest assets.

 

Have you ever gone on a vacation that’s so amazing, you don’t ever want it to end? Then you’ll love The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. This book is full of heart, mystery, friendship, art, and really made me look closer at things I’ve wished for and choices I’ve had to make. It reminds me a bit of the movie Groundhog Day.

What if you could get a do-over–a chance to relive a day in your life over and over again until you got it right? Would you?

After finding a mysterious set of paints in her backpack, eleven-year-old Haleigh Adams paints a picture of her last day at the New Jersey shore. When she wakes up the next morning, Haleigh finds that her wish for an endless summer with her new friend Kevin has come true. At first, she’s thrilled, but Haliegh soon learns that staying in one place–and time–comes with a price.

And when Haleigh realizes her parents have been keeping a secret, she is faced with a choice: do nothing and miss out on the good things that come with growing up or find the secret of the time loop she’s trapped in and face the inevitable realities of moving on. As she and Kevin set out to find the source of the magic paints, Haleigh worries it might be too late. Will she be able to restart time? And if she does, will it be the biggest mistake of her life?

 

Are you in the mood for something that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and scary? Read Night of The Living Cuddle Bunnies by Jonathan Rosen. This action-packed book has the hottest holiday toy come to life (and the live version is far from cuddly), hilarious dialogue, water guns, bubble wrap…and a quirky new neighbor who might be a warlock.

Twelve-year-old Devin Dexter has a problem. Well, actually, many of them. His cousin, Tommy, sees conspiracies behind every corner. And Tommy thinks Devin’s new neighbor, Herb, is a warlock . . . but nobody believes him. Even Devin’s skeptical. But soon strange things start happening. Things like the hot new Christmas toy, the Cuddle Bunny, coming to life.

That would be great, because, after all, who doesn’t love a cute bunny? But these aren’t the kind of bunnies you can cuddle with. These bunnies are dangerous. Devin and Tommy set out to prove Herb is a warlock and to stop the mob of bunnies, but will they have enough time before the whole town of Gravesend is overrun by the cutest little monsters ever? This is a very funny “scary” book for kids, in the same vein as the My Teacher books or Goosebumps.

 

Do you remember how you felt on 9-11? What about soon after that? I never looked at the world the same way again. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were a child then…and classmates turned on your best friend just because he was an Arab Muslim? Read Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra to experience this poignant world.

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart–and outrun–the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI, and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. In the end, Jake must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

 

I hope you’ll proudly read middle grade novels everywhere you go, no matter what age you are!  And if you’re looking for more great ones to read, check out our New Releases and Unique Book Lists. They’ll keep you busy for at least the next few years.

What do you love about middle grade novels and what are some of your favorite books that you think everyone should read?

May New Releases!

I live in the upper northeast, where the winters are white and the temperatures are ridiculously frigid. That, however, does make for some amazing reading time – all snuggled up in a blanket, hot cocoa in one hand with a book in the other. But don’t let that fool you. There’s plenty of time for exploring new reads during the summer months, too. Here, we trade our warm gear for sun and summer reading via pool, boat, or ocean side; sometimes all three! Check out these book babies being released into the world this month.

Absolute Experts: DOLPHINS by Jen Swanson & Justine Jackson-Ricketts

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Kids who have a laser focus on dolphins will learn everything they’ve ever wanted to know about them in an eye-catching, page-turning book for aspiring experts, featuring exclusive content from a National Geographic explorer currently in the field.

Hey, dolphin fin-atics! Get ready to dive into the world of your favorite fabulous marine mammals in this action-packed book chock-full of awesome facts, photos, and fun! Join National Geographic explorer and dolphin expert Justine Jackson-Ricketts to get the latest, most up-to-date dolphin intel straight from the field, plus fun facts, in-depth info, and awesome trivia about every kind of dolphin under the sun (and beneath the waves). It’s the ultimate book to help YOU become an absolute expert on one of your favorite topics.

SOLO: A Star Wars Story by Pablo Hidalgo

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org This essential visual guide to Solo: A Star Wars Story™ explores the world of young Han Solo in unparalleled detail. An authoritative companion to the latest Star Wars™ movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story The Official Guide features the fascinating planets, vehicles, and aliens that Han Solo encounters on his early adventures. Explore key characters, locations, and props in captivating detail with extensive production photography and see the iconic Millennium Falcon as its never been seen before, in an exclusive cross-section artwork by Richard Chasemore.

POSITIVELY IZZY by Terri Libenson

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Award-winning comics creator and author of the bestselling Invisible Emmie Terri Libenson returns with a companion graphic novel that captures the drama, angst, and humor of middle-school life. Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.

Middle school is all about labels.

Izzy is the dreamer. There’s nothing Izzy loves more than acting in skits and making up funny stories. The downside? She can never quite focus enough to get her schoolwork done.

Bri is the brain. But she wants people to see there’s more to her than just a report card full of As. At the same time, she wishes her mom would accept her the way she is and stop bugging her to “break out of her shell” and join drama club.

The girls’ lives converge in unexpected ways on the day of a school talent show, which turns out to be even more dramatic than either Bri or Izzy could have imagined.

CINDERSKELLA by Amie Borst & Borst

Middle school is scary. So are skeleton girls. To win at both, you’ve got to put some skin in the game.          Cindy might appear to be your average twelve year old, but since her mother’s death she has a secret. Every night she turns into a boney, white skeleton.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Cindy’s dad is afraid of her. She has an evil stepmother who makes her do crazy chores, some of them with a toothbrush. And then there’s the werewolf with intentions of making Cindy his midnight snack.

The Spring Fling dance is fast approaching and Ethan, the cutest boy in sixth grade, doesn’t seem to know Cindy exists. She doesn’t think letting Ethan know she’s a cursed skeleton-girl is the best way to introduce herself. Determined to break the curse, Cindy travels to the Underworld where things aren’t quite what they seem, including Mr. Death, the strange and creepy undertaker.

With a jar of pickled pig’s feet, a wacky fortuneteller, and a cranky skeleton mouse, Cindy is afraid this curse has really gotten under her skin.

THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST by Jeanne Birdsall

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe finale you’ve all been waiting for: The Penderwicks at Last is the final, flawless installment in the modern classic series from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Jeanne Birdsall!

Nine years, five older siblings, a few beloved dogs, and an endless array of adventures–these are the things that have shaped Lydia’s journey since readers first met her in The Penderwicks in Spring.

Now it’s summertime, and eleven-year-old Lydia is dancing at the bus stop, waiting for big sister Batty to get home from college.

This is a very important dance and a very important wait because the two youngest sisters are about to arrive home to find out that the Penderwicks will all be returning to Arundel this summer, the place where it all began. And better still is the occasion: a good old-fashioned, homemade-by-Penderwicks wedding.

Bursting with heart and brimming with charm, this is a joyful, hilarious ode to the family we love best. And oh my MOPS–Meeting of Penderwick Siblings–does Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks at Last crescendo to one perfect Penderwick finale.

AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAisha Saeed’s middle-grade debut tells the compelling story of a girl’s fight to regain her life and dreams after being forced into indentured servitude.

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

THE HALL MONITORS ARE FIRED! A Branches Book (Eerie Elementary #8) by Jack Chabert

Pick a book. Grow a Reader!

This series is part of Scholastic’s early chapter book line Branches, aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!

In this eighth book, Sam and his friends keep getting into trouble. First, Sam is late to school, then Lucy slams a door, and Antonio trips his teacher. But none of this is their fault… It is all Orson Eerie’s doing! The mad scientist is planning to strike once again — at the annual Kickball Showdown! And he wants the hall monitors out of his way FOR GOOD. Will the principal fire them?! They need to come up with a plan FAST — before the big game! This will be the friends’ biggest, baddest, dustiest battle yet!

FROM THE KANE CHRONICLES BROOKLYN HOUSE MAGICIAN’S MANUAL (An Official Rick Riordan Companion Book): Your Guide to Egyptian Gods & Creatures, Glyphs & Spells, and More by Rick Riordan

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Greetings, initiate! Carter Kane, here. Congratulations on reaching Brooklyn House in one piece. This accomplishment signals that you’re descended from Ancient Egyptian royalty, and you have magic powers. But what good is power without knowing how to use it? That’s where this training manual comes in. Packed with quizzes, stories, and insights about Ancient Egyptian deities, creatures (the friendly and the deadly), the mysterious Duat, and more, this primer will prime those with the blood of the pharaohs to take their first steps down the path of the gods. You’ll hear from me, other magicians (including my sister, Sadie), and even a few of the gods themselves. But beware of tricks and surprises: anything can happen in the world of Egyptian magic.

THE ALCATRAZ ESCAPE (Book Scavenger Series) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSleuthing duo Emily and James tackle their most challenging mystery yet set on the haunting Alcatraz Island in Book 3 of the New York Times bestselling Book Scavenger series!

Legendary literary game-maker Garrison Griswold is back in action―this time with “Unlock the Rock.” For his latest game, Griswold has partnered with the famous–and famously reclusive–mystery writer Errol Roy to plan an epic escape room challenge on Alcatraz Island.

Emily and James are eager to participate, but the wave of fame they are riding from their recent book-hunting adventures makes them a target. Threatening notes, missing items, and an accident that might not have been an accident have the duo worried that someone is trying to get them out of the game at any cost.

When Emily’s brother is caught red-handed and blamed for all the wrong doings, Emily is certain Matthew is being framed. With Matthew’s record on the line, Emily and James can’t afford to leave this mystery uncracked.

MINECRAFT: Guide to Enchantments & Potions by Mojang Ab, The Official Minecraft Team

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe official Minecraft: Guide to Enchantments & Potions will teach you how to enchant your equipment with useful effects and brew all manner of potions to protect yourself from harm.

The world of Minecraft is perilous: Danger lurks around every corner, and you’ll need powerful tools and equipment if you want to survive.

With insider info and tips from the experts at Mojang, this is the definitive guide to Minecraft sorcery.

THE NERDIEST, WIMPIEST, DORKIEST, I FUNNY EVER by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Everybody’s favorite kid comic, Jamie Grimm, is out to conquer the world–with laughter, of course!

Comedian Jamie Grimm can’t help feeling like he’s reached the top–he has his own smash hit TV show and he’s won a national funny-kid competition. But now he’s taking his fame and fortune to international levels by competing in the upcoming world kid comic contest! Will Jamie prove that he’s the funniest kid on earth–or does he stand (or sit!) to lose his crown?

ENDLING: THE LAST by Katherine Applegate

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFirst Katherine Applegate thrilled readers with the action-packed Animorphs series. Then she stole our hearts with the award-winning The One and Only Ivan. Now she takes us on an unforgettable journey in this first book of an epic middle grade series!

Byx is the youngest member of her dairne pack. Believed to possess remarkable abilities, her mythical doglike species has been hunted to near extinction in the war-torn kingdom of Nedarra.

After her pack is hunted down and killed, Byx fears she may be the last of her species. The Endling. So Byx sets out to find safe haven, and to see if the legends of other hidden dairnes are true.

Along the way, she meets new allies—both animals and humans alike—who each have their own motivations for joining her quest. And although they begin as strangers, they become their own kind of family—one that will ultimately uncover a secret that may threaten every creature in their world.

Building upon the success of her critically acclaimed novels such as The One and Only Ivan, Crenshaw, and Wishtree, while also returning to her action-packed fantasy roots of Animorphs, the Endling series is Katherine Applegate at her finest. With its enthralling characters, unique setting, and gripping adventure, this series is the perfect next read for fans of Rick Riordan, Brian Jacques, and Tui T. Sutherland.

Well, there you have just a few of the exciting new reads releasing in the month of May. Have a wonderful month. #ReadOn