Posts Tagged contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction

Home Learning: A World of Opportunities to Read & Think

by Aixa Perez-Prado

Last March schools across the world closed due the Covid-19 pandemic. Teachers, parents and students were unprepared. Many had difficulty with the online learning that was offered. Even under ideal circumstances, hours of daily screen time will not be feasible for many young learners. Therefore, some families have chosen to try their hand at home learning, otherwise known as homeschooling. If you are one of these families, or if you simply wish to augment the remote learning your child is receiving from school with books that will help you do it, this article is for you.

Out of school learning time can provide kids with a chance to acquire knowledge in a manner that is free and flexible. Allowing kids the freedom to explore topics of interest instills a love for learning and inspires curiosity. But this freedom is not always available in a highly structured school day. Thankfully, it can be available at home. Encouraging kids to nourish their personal passions is one way to help them thrive during this crisis. Giving them books that will help them discover those passions, is another. Does your kid love… Planets and Stars? Mysteries? Birds?  There are so many books to choose from!

Opening up the home learning experience to embrace problem solving and critical / creative thinking activities prepares kids for learning anywhere. Giving kids the power to direct some of their own learning will help them obtain the identified 21st century skills: critical thinking, creative thinking, communication and collaboration.

Parents need to provide guidance, resources, great books, and encouragement to kids learning at home. However, they don’t need to provide all of the answers. The best teachers encourage learners to ask interesting questions and discover the answers themselves. They give learners the freedom to fail and try again. Making interesting and informative books available to kids is a great place to start a critical and creative thinking home learning life.

Check out my homeschooling tips and accompanying books below. They will help you help your kids flourish as critical and creative thinkers while learning at home.

Learning at home tips, and books to go with them:

Tip 1: Do not set unrealistic learning goals. Start small and build rather than the other way around. It is better for encouraging learning to start with small successes than to overreach and start by experiencing failure. Short stories can deliver meaningful content and help kids feel a quick sense of accomplishment. They can also be springboards for inspiring kids to read longer texts.

The Hero Next Door Cover

The Hero Next Door by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (ed)

All the heroes in these stories make the world a better place. They do it by using acts of kindness to help others. Published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, this vibrant anthology features thirteen acclaimed authors. Stories celebrate the hero in all of us. Authors includeWilliam Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Hena Khan, Juana Medina, Ellen Oh, R. J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ronald L. Smith, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Suma Subramaniam

Stories to Solve: Folktales from Around the World Cover

Stories to Solve: Folktales from Around the World by George Shannon

This collection of fourteen illustrated mysteries from world folklore give readers a chance to figure out the solution to a problem by thinking critically, before the solution is given. Backmatter includes origins of the tales and more information for further research.

Tip 2: Be present. Put away cell phones and turn off the TV as much as you can. Listen with empathy and understanding to kid’s concerns and ideas without being dismissive. Use what is happening in the world as material for your home learning.

.Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today Cover 

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights and the Flaws that Affect us Today by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson.

For a nonfiction possibility, this book offers a fearless glimpse into the Constitution including its failures and flaws. The text can be used to inspire kids to think critically.

The Kid Who Ran for President Cover

The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman

A humorous and fast-paced account of a kid’s run for president as a third party candidate. A great book to inspire dialogue with kids about this election season. Kids learn how government works. and fails, while thinking critically and creatively about what makes a good president.

Tip 3: Answer questions while being honest with what you don’t know. Investigate unknowns together, encouraging kids to question and problem pose, exercising their critical thinking skills.

Song for a Whale Cover

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Iris is a creative and critical thinking tech wiz. She can fix computers and repair old radios. But she’s the only deaf person at her school. Sometimes treat her like she’s not very bright and she often feels unheard, even by her mom. Then she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales. Iris immediately feels a connection. She has an idea to invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. What can she do?

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Cover

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kennedy

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is a critical thinker. She wonders about what she sees in nature. Calpurnia’s grumpy grandfather, a naturalist, helps her figure out why green grasshoppers get eaten more often than yellow ones. But Callie’s curiosity is not always rewarded by society. She struggles with society’s expectations of girls at a time when a girl interested in science is not well viewed.

Tip 4: Be flexible thinkers. Every family is different and diverse, you do not have to follow what any other family is doing. Kids learn in different ways. Families work together in different ways. Do what works for YOUR family.

.Millicent Min, Girl Genius Cover

Millicent Min Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

Millicent Min’s family is different from most of the families in her community. And so is the way she learns. Her classmates hate her for going to high school at such a young age. But Emily doesn’t know her IQ and actually thinks she’s cool. Millie decides to hide who she is and how her family works to finally make a real friend.

Music for Tigers Cover

Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman

Violinist Louisa ships off to Tasmania to spend the summer with her mother’s eccentric Australian relatives. And she’s not too happy about it. Life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is very different. There’s a quirky boy, a strange uncle, old journals and a Tasmanian tiger problem. Louisa has her work cut out for her! Can her music save the day?

Books that make kids think are one of the hallmarks of great learning at home, and at school. Check the books you already have at home and can use in a new way, or try a few of these great books to add to your home learning library.

 

 

 

 

Author Spotlight: Joy Jones… plus a GIVEAWAY!

For today’s Author Spotlight, I’m pleased to interview Joy Jones, author of the debut middle-grade novel, Jayla Jumps In (Albert Whitman, 2020). Plus a giveaway!!!!

About the Book:

When 11-year-old Jayla finds out that her mother used to be a Double Dutch champion, she’s stunned. Who knew her mom, who’s on doctor’s orders to lower her blood pressure, could move like that? Jayla decides to follow in her mom’s footsteps, thinking that maybe Double Dutch can make her stand out in her big, quirky family. As she puts together a team at school and prepares to compete, Jayla finds that Double Dutch is about a lot more than jumping rope—and it just might change her life, in ways she never imagined. Full of hilarious family dynamics and plenty of jump-rope action, Jayla Jumps Infollows one girl’s quest to get her mom healthy and find her place in her community.

And now, without further ado, let’s jump into the interview! 

Interview with Joy Jones

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Joy! First and foremost, I need to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. It’s filled with heart, humor—and, of course—Double Dutch. What was the impetus for writing this novel?

JJ:  I’m so glad you liked it! I want the reader to have fun. I always feel great when I jump Double Dutch; I’m hoping the reader gets to feel a little bit of that joy–and maybe even decide to actually try it!

When I first came up with the idea to jump Double Dutch, I was trying to lose ten pounds. Now, I’m trying to lose twenty. Hmm… the weight loss has been a little tricky but I gained a great deal of creative capital. I got a stage play and a book out of the deal.  So what happened? Well, some co-workers and I were talking about losing weight and I suggested we jump Double Dutch during lunch. Everyone said they were already too fat to exercise so we never did it. But I thought it was a pretty good idea. Since I didn’t get to do it in real life, I did it in my imagination and wrote a play called Outdoor Recess about a group of adult women who form a Double Dutch team. When I was promoting the play, someone suggested that I actually get some women together to jump rope–and I did. That’s how DC Retro Jumpers got started. {Check out this video of the Team in action!}

Years later, I would talk to my agent in passing about the various exploits of DC Retro Jumpers. “You should write a middle-grade novel about Double Dutch,” she said. But because I had already done a play on the theme, and as the team’s founder who was often promoting our activities, I didn’t think I had anything more to say about Double Dutch. But she brought up the idea again, and this time I decided I’d try writing on that theme. That’s how Jayla Jumps In was born.

Combatting Loneliness

MR: Speaking of your book, Jayla, the 11-year-old protagonist, often feels lonely, despite being part of a large extended family. As an only child myself, I can absolutely relate to this. Did you experience loneliness as a child as well? If so, how did it affect you—and how did you cope?

JJ:  I’m the oldest in my family so there were a few years when I was the only child. My way of coping was to inform my parents that I wanted a baby sister. When I was seven, they delivered what I requested–practically on my birthday! My sister, Lorraine, was born on November 22nd; I was born on November 23rd. (I think that was the last time my parents gave me what I wanted. ) I also have another younger sister, Vita, who is an August baby. But was I lonely as a child? No, I always had a book at hand whenever I wanted company, or was feeling bored, or had nothing to do and nobody else was around. Sometimes I preferred a book even when people were around.

A Jump on Health

MR: The importance of exercise and healthy eating factors heavily in Jayla Jumps In, when Jayla learns that her mom suffers from hypertension, a health issue that affects 1 in 3 Americans. If not treated, uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke. What prompted you to focus on this particular health issue? What is the message—and ultimate takeaway—for your middle-grade audience?

JJ: Being physical is such a wonderful thing! All you couch potatoes, stop rolling your eyes. A physical body was made to be physically active! You’re zoned out on the sofa only because you haven’t yet discovered the activity that’s right for you. When you move, you stimulate your endorphins–the ‘get-high’ hormones in your body. Vigorous movement feels glorious! It’s not work, it’s pleasure. You do like to feel good, don’t you? As I like to say, not everyone likes to exercise but everyone likes to play.

Too many people spend too much time padlocked to a screen, watching somebody else do something fun. For many adults, we have childhood memories of being outdoors, playing a game that doesn’t require batteries or using our imaginations to entertain ourselves. But too many young people haven’t experienced the fun of physical movement, of outdoor play, or of at least actively exercising their own imaginations, rather than passively consuming someone else’s creativity that’s been packaged for sale.

I also do yoga, take frequent walks, swim, and dance–my favorite physical activity. I hope by reading Jayla’s story, young readers get motivated to try some old-school, screen-free fun. I’m not at my goal weight, but I am convinced that my good health is in large part due to being physically active. My mother has hypertension–she’s 89–and although sometimes we have to nag her about being consistent with her medication,  she regularly exercises and is in pretty good shape. She can still fit into the wedding dress she wore in 1952!

Team Spirit

MR: You founded the DC Retro Jumpers, an adult Double Dutch exhibition team, in 2004. What was your motivation for forming the team? Did you jump as a child, or are you relatively new to the sport? Also, what is it about Double Dutch that appeals to you most? I’m guessing it’s more than exercise.

JJ:  Yes, I jumped rope as a child, but single rope more than Double Dutch. Although I enjoyed it hugely, I think I get even more enjoyment now. Jumping Double Dutch gives a rush that’s both easy and exciting at the same time. Plus, my ego gets stroked because often people are surprised–and impressed–to see someone old doing it. During DC Retro Jumpers demonstrations, I love it when someone comes forward to jump. Usually, it’s been years since they jumped or they never learned how. But once they start jumping and they find the rhythm, the joy that suffuses their whole being is gratifying to witness. People on the sidelines are cheering them on, and cell phone cameras are recording their triumph. The experience hits all my pleasure centers: fresh air, having fun, helping others, ego strokes.

Renaissance Woman

MR: In addition to being a middle-grade author, you are a playwright, a poet, an educator, a journalist, a trainer, a motivational speaker, and you write non-fiction for adults. You’re also active in the DC Retro Jumpers. How do you juggle so many balls—and keep them in the air? Also, what does your writing routine look like? Enquiring minds want to know!

JJ: Some years ago I was working a job that sapped my energy, and my soul. I wanted to quit and spend my days lazing around in bed and reading novels. But my wallet said, “No, Joy, that won’t work!” So I started saving money aggressively. I managed to accumulate a nice stash that allowed me to leave my full-time job for part-time work. I landed a job at DC Public Library (an ideal place for a writer!), working 20 hours a week. This allowed me to have time for my creative pursuits.

My writing routine? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. Even now that I’ve got a less stressful schedule, the writing happens catch-as-catch-can. I used to believe one needed long stretches of time to get writing done. That’s nice, but life seldom accommodates me in that way. Usually, I write in stolen snatches of time. I always keep a journal with me, so I can write while in a waiting room, on the subway, during slow moments at work. If you keep doing a little bit of writing, eventually the bits and pieces become pages–and then the pages become books. I begin in longhand, with pen and paper for the first draft, then go to the computer to edit and refine.

Question from Jonathan Rosen

MR: Oh, and Joy? MUF member Jonathan Rosen has a question for you, so I kind of feel obligated to pass it on…

JR: Hi, Joy! Which version of the song “Double Dutch Bus” do you prefer—the original 1981 hit by Frankie Smith or the remake by Raven-Symoné, as featured in the 2008 movie, College Road Trip? (I should mention that “Double Dutch Bus is my go-to karaoke song.) <MR: Sadly, it is.>

JJ:  Shhh… I don’t normally reveal this, but I can’t stand that song. I cringe any time it is played when we’re doing a demo. But I’m sure when you sing it on karaoke night you rock the mic. <JR: Yes, people have noted my rockstar quality…>

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Fruit.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Cat or dog? Traditionally, I’ve preferred cats, but over time dogs have become more appealing. But I’m too lazy to keep a pet myself.

Favorite song? (And certainly not “Double Dutch Bus”! I’m partial to R&B oldies. Too many favorites to single out just one.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay. Unless you count the way everybody is glued to their screens like zombies. In that case, the zombie takeover has already happened.

Superpower? I’m a pretty good listener; especially at hearing what’s not being said.

Favorite place on earth? Muir Woods in California. When I’m among those majestic redwood trees I feel like I’m in God’s living room, basking in His company.

Signature Double Dutch move? Pop-ups. That’s when you propel yourself straight up in the air while jumping. I never could do that as a child, so it’s been especially exhilarating to learn how to do it as an adult. Old dogs can learn new tricks!

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A library, a dance partner, and a box of Thin Mints Girl Scout cookies.

MR: Thank you for chatting, Joy—and congratulations on the publication of Jayla Jumps In. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

And now… a fabulous

GIVEAWAY!!!

Joy has generously offered to gift a lucky reader with a signed copy of Jayla Jumps In. Just comment on the blog (and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account) for a chance to win! 

JOY JONES is a trainer, performance poet, playwright and author of several books, including her MG debut, Jayla Jumps In (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020). She has won awards for her writing from the D. C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and the Colonial Players Promising Playwrights Competition, plus awards from both the D. C. Department of Recreation & Parks and the D. C. Commission on National & Community Service for outstanding community service. She is the director of the arts organization, The Spoken Word, and the founder of the Double Dutch team, the DC Retro Jumpers, which has led exhibitions and classes throughout metropolitan Washington and abroad. Joy often leads workshops on creative writing, communications and black history. Learn more about Joy on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Of Real Places, Real Events, and Fictional Adventures – A Selection

Sometimes places take on special meanings to people who live or visit there; especially during the times of growing up.

Considering the places I have lived in, visited, and found fascinating, while growing up, and recently, I thought middle grade readers might have fun reading interesting fictional stories about young people’s experiences connected to actual unique happenings in particular places; with happenings being one time big events, annual events, events connected to special landmarks, and so on.

Here is a potpourri of stories I’ve discovered, set in places I have lived, or remember visiting, sometimes during special events. These stories are fictional, but realistic; mostly; as happens in “The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” in NY City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the shadow or spotlight of the Brooklyn Bridge, 12 year old Francie lives in poverty with her mom, dad, 11 year old brother, then baby sister in Williamsburg Brooklyn NY around 1910; in the shade of an ailanthus tree (a favored decorative street tree sometimes called “tree of life”). She helps her mom with chores, enjoys going to a library, goes to a school that isn’t nice, but then, thanks to her dad, gets to a nicer school. Then her dad dies. She must get a job; her brother only can go to high school. Eventually, a sergeant offers to marry her mom, adopt the little sister, and send the brother, and Francie, to college, after she takes some courses. // (Wikipedia notes: the ailanthus tree is “an analogy for the ability to thrive in a difficult environment.” It was common in neglected urban areas. Author Betty White wrote in the novel: “There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth….” — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Introduction)

On his 11th birthday, a boy living in New York City hopes for a dog as a present. He and his classmates are suddenly sent home early from school. His mom calls, delayed at work. She warns: don’t watch the TV; take care of your little sister. Then a stray dog shows up at the door. The boy will surely have an unusual birthday in a place and on a day that he is witness to a monumental happening and deals with being in the midst of it.  

12 year old Nikki lives with her dad just across the street from Central Park in New York City, on 77th Street by the Explorers Gate park entrance. She often visits the park, and is acquainted with the park’s tour guide, Mrs. G, and regular or special events. Things aren’t always what they seem to be in the park though, as Nikki notices at quiet times strange incidents happening. Then a treasure hunt turns into something much more, with the statues right in the center of it all.

Is there really something haunting Sleepy Hollow in New York near where the author of the well-known story lived long ago? Are things not just the ‘for fun’ spooky festivities at a camp? What are some rather strange things that are happening? Three young people decide to find out.

A boy who lives in Hawaii is sent to spend the summer with some grandparents who live in the Adirondack Mountains in New York. He really doesn’t want to go. He finds, however, that this place offers him something unique to experience and take part in.

Three young people are invited and excited to take part in an archaeological dig in one of the first settlements of the American colonies, but then something unusual is found. The young people are determined to solve the mystery.

In Monticello, in Virginia, three young people find a journal written by the 2nd U.S. president’s (Thomas Jefferson’s) granddaughters, but then it’s stolen. The young people strive to get the journal back where it belongs, although danger lurks.

In the mountains of Virginia, (the Blue Ridge Mountains?), two brothers explore the woods outside their new home. Exploring, not only amid the trees, but also caves, rushing waters, and hidden passages, the boys discover something that causes them to eagerly search for clues to find a special type of treasure lost years ago.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, some young people discover that the real Liberty Bell is missing. They are determined to find the real one before the next July 4th celebration. Along the way they get clues from some unique characters. Who are they?!

A boy and his cousin, living along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, decide to visit an island said to have something strange about it.

12 year old Melanie is bored by her hometown’s (New Orleans’) celebration of Mardi Gras, but then she finds a code on a Mardi Gras float. As her interest in the holiday reignites, she decides to find out what the code means, along with some help from some friends.

Nancy and her friends visit New Orleans during a Mardi Gras event, While there, they find out about an art theft. Nancy is determined to locate the masterpiece, and happens to discover a secret too.

Follow the adventure of a fictional First Daughter of a first fictional woman U.S. president. The girl finds a diary (fictional) of a real First Daughter: precocious Alice Roosevelt, who lived in the White House starting in 1901 at age 17

Through this guide, young visitors can get ready for a trip to Washington DC, by delving into the scavenger hunt around the city’s landmarks.

It’s so awesome that interesting places can be brought alive in fascinating ways for young readers through adventures in the literary world!