Posts Tagged book lists

Helping Middle Graders Find a Story They’re Excited to Write

“I don’t know what to write about.” This is often the first thing I hear when beginning a writing workshop with middle graders. It’s also a subject dear to my heart. Because the best techniques I know to help youngsters find a story they’re excited about are the same ones I’ve used with teenagers and adults.  Yes, my students have ranged from third graders to senior citizens. But although they are diverse in age, experience and ability, when we talk about how to find a great story, the most important tools I use with all of them are the same, Seminal Experience and Spiritual Geography.


In her book, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Author Kathleen Norris, defines spiritual geography as the way our external geography, or landscape, shapes our internal geography. When I work with middle graders and teenagers, I explain spiritual geography as a place that helped shape their lives and their character thus far. Some of my students have written about the countries they emigrated from, their neighborhoods, apartment buildings, and schools. Others have written about a library, a basketball court, a subway line, and a fire escape.


In much the same way, seminal experience—an event that has contributed to who a person is inside—can teach young people to write reflectively. My current crop of teenagers is writing about subjects that include the betrayal of a friend, being understood by a grandparent, overcoming a health challenge, and struggling to learn English. Their writing teaches them to better understand and appreciate their lives. They are learning what makes them happy and unhappy.


My favorite anecdote about a seminal experience comes from award-winning author Katherine Paterson. In her book, Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children, Ms. Paterson remembers the February 14th when she was in first grade, and came home from school without a single valentine. She writes: My mother grieved over this event until her death, asking me once why I didn’t write a story about the time I didn’t get any valentines.“But Mother,” I said, “all my stories are about the time I didn’t get any valentines.”


Here is a start on the many wonderful works of autobiographical fiction by MG Authors. You’re welcome to add your favorites in the comments section below.


Some Great Autobiographical Fiction


Bridge to Terabithia — Katherine Paterson

Lucky Broken Girl — Ruth Behar

El Deafo — Cee Cee Bell

Brown Girl Dreaming — Jacqueline Woodson

Hello, Universe — Erin Entrada Kelly

Inside Out and Back Again — Thanhha Lai

The Crossover — Kwame Alexander

One Crazy Summer — Rita Williams Garcia

Better Nate Than Ever — Tim Federle

When Pirates Came to Brooklyn — Phyllis Shalant (a.k.a. Annabelle Fisher—that’s me!)






Books to Help You Survive Summer Vacation- #Giveaway!!

Here we are about a month or so into summer vacation. How’s it going? Are you still excited to not have to drive your kids to school, pack their lunches, and drag them out of the bed in the morning so as not to be late? Good!  OR are the days starting to feel really loooonng and never-ending? Like you have nothing to do all day but be the cruise director for your kids? If you feel like the former– awesome! If you feel like the latter, don’t worry. You are not alone. When my three kids were young, summers sometimes seemed to stretch forever.

What’s a parent to do?  For one thing we got our kids BOOKS!  Books are awesome! They are fun for reading, but also for doing activities. We bought each kid a math workbook and had them do problems to keep their skills up. (It was also a great incentive for them to get some videogame or TV time) 🙂 If you’re looking for some FUN ways to do that, check out these Big Fat Notebooks by Workman Publishing.


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The BIG FAT NOTEBOOK™ series is built on a simple and irresistible conceit—borrowing the notes from the smartest kid in class. There are five books in all, and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History. Inside the reader will find every subject’s key concepts, easily digested and summarized: Critical ideas highlighted in neon colors. Definitions explained. Doodles that illuminate tricky concepts in marker. Mnemonics for memorable shortcuts. And quizzes to recap it all.

The best part is that they read as if they are written by a kid. Kids will LOVE them!


If Games, Puzzles, and Mazes are more your kid’s game, then check out this AWESOME new book by Mike Lowery, also by Workman Publishing.

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Pure interactive fun between two covers A book that begs to be doodled in with 96 wacky prompts, games, and crafts, and adorable creatures to boot, The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book is packed with activities that take delightful twists and turns, inviting kids to design, draw, and dream–and encouraging creativity on and off the page. Enter an ancient cave to decode a mummy’s message. Find your way through a beehive maze. Write a song for a cat rock band. Design a personalized spaceship–and so much more. Plus, plenty of goodies to return to again and again for hands-on play: paper dolls, finger puppets, bonus stickers, and a giant pullout poster designed to kindle curious minds and active imaginations.

A great boredom-buster for travel or rainy days, and a fun birthday or holiday gift. From the author and illustrator of the Doodle Adventures(R) series and based on the Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar, the book showcases Lowery’s inimitable quirky style and humor that clicks with all ages–get the whole family in on the fun.

This is TONS of fun for kids and it will keep them occupied for hours. (which means you get to dive into a book yourself!)

Want to win them all? Enter below.

(And hang in there, school is only a month or two away…) 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveaway

STEM Tuesday – Deep Space and Beyond — Book List

Young readers will head into deep space with these titles to explore asteroids, black holes, and the geology of the solar system. They will discover the enormity of the universe and the people who work to understand it. This list will inspire new adventures and help readers discover our place among the stars.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Impact!: Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World by Elizabeth Rusch and Karin Anderson

This Scientists in the Field series title introduces readers to the researchers who study asteroids. The author concludes the book with a list of methods that might be used for dealing with any asteroid that threatens Earth.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Black Holes: The Weird Science of the Most Mysterious Objects in the Universe by Sara Latta  

Young readers will discover the early expiration of black holes and the studies that have led to our understanding. Pair this book with the next title on our list to compare and contrast two information titles on the same topic.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano  and Michael Carroll

A humorous introduction to the complex science of black holes. Lots of space facts and answers about galaxies. Michael Carroll’s illustrations are coupled with real telescopic images to help readers visualize how light bends and identifying a supernova. Includes a timeline, glossary, and index.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space by Alexandra Siy

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager mission in this informative and engaging title. Learn about the scientists, how the probes work, where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt by Mary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman

In Carson’s Scientist in the Field title, young readers will explore Pluto through the discoveries made with the New Horizons mission and it robotic spacecraft. Readers will see how scientists built New Horizons, and follow it three billion miles across the solar system.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Science Comics:  Rockets: Defying Gravity by Anne Drozd  and Jerzy Drozd

Readers of graphic novels will enjoy exploring 2,000 years of rockets, including information on gravity, force, and acceleration in this nonfiction comic.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

A space mission has thousands of people working behind the scenes to bring astronauts to space and safely home. This book peels back the curtain to reveal those important jobs. Young readers might discover the career that speaks to them.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space by David H. DeVorkin and Robert W. Smith

This National Geographic book is a wonderful reference book for middle grade readers who will enjoy the story and photographs of this important telescope. Includes more than 150 photos!



Dr E’s Super Stellar Solar System by Bethany Ehlmann and Jennifer Swanson

Join National Geographic Explorer Dr. Ehlmann (member of NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity mission) and nonfiction author Jennifer Swanson on a tour of the soar system’s geology. A fun pairing of stories and facts.



STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award and other honors. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Check out her 2008 title LEAP INTO SPACE and her new release, BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of  a Sibert Honor Award for Sea Otter Heroes and a two-time recipient of the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy! and Sea Otter Heroes, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at