Posts Tagged Curriculum Tie-in

Pairing Middle Grade Fiction with a Nonfiction Text

January. The time of year when things slow down. The holidays are over. School is back in session. Sometimes all you want to do is snuggle up with a cup of cocoa and watch television.

As a school librarian, I sometimes noticed a lull in book enthusiasm at this time of year. So to pep things up, I would pair a fiction reading with a nonfiction reading. For example, I paired Turtle in Paradise with an informational book on Key West (the setting) and followed through with a mapping activity of Conch Town.

Below are some fun pairings you can try at home or in the classroom. The nonfiction selections include books with fun information as well as cooking, creating, and art activities.

Clear Skies by Jessica Scott Kerrin (2019)  – 144 Pages

clear skiesIn the summer of 1961, eleven-year-old Arno Creelman wants nothing more than to be an astronomer. His claustrophobia rules out flying in a cramped space capsule. Instead, Arno dreams of exploring the galaxies with powerful telescopes on Earth.

Arno enters a local radio contest in hopes of winning a visit to a new observatory that’s opening near his town. The ribbon will be cut by Arno’s idol, Jean Slayter-Appleton, a renowned astronomer whose weekly columns Arno clips for his own notebooks. When he finally manages to phone in and correctly answer the skill-testing astronomy question, Arno is thrilled.

Then Robert moves to the neighborhood. He seems to challenge Arno in every way. He even believes in astrology, which Arno argues is not a science at all. Before long, Arno is feeling left behind, on the outs with his friends, and even abandoned by his beloved dog, Comet. How did Arno’s astronomical dream become a cosmic nightmare?


Can’t Get Enough Space Stuff: Fun Facts, Awesome Info, Cool Games, Silly Jokes, and More! by Stephanie Warrenspace stuff Drimmer (2022)

This book has everything to captivate space enthusiasts: Tons of fun facts, exciting games, hands-on activities, hilarious space jokes, stories from experts, and tidbits about the latest info on black holes, the International Space Station, and what life on Mars could look like. Key features include a glossary game for learning key space terms, stunning illustrations and photographs, diagrams and infographics, hilarious space jokes, articles by experts on outer space research, hands-on activities to try at home or school, and quizzes and games to test your knowledge.

Love astronomy? Try a few of these books.

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen (2021) – 144 pages

no vacancyBuying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who helps out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.


Bake It: More Than 150 Recipes for Kids from Simple Cookies to Creative Cakes! by DK Publishing (2019)bake it

If you are a pie aficionado like Miriam, try a recipe or two from this baking cookbook. It’s perfect for young bakers aged 9-12, whether you’re a baking novice or you can ice cupcakes in your sleep. It covers the basics as well as the latest cooking trends, from pinata cakes and edible flowers to drizzle icing and painted cake. Explore mouth-watering recipes including cookies, bread, pies, tarts, meringues and so much more. Accompanied by beautiful photographs of the baked items that are sure to engage and inspire budding young bakers.

Find more pie recipes here.

The Startup Squad by Brian Weisfeld (2019) – 176 Pages

start up squadAll the great leaders had to start somewhere. And Teresa (“Resa” for short) is starting with the lemonade stand competition her teacher assigned to the class―but making it a success is going to be a lot harder than Resa thinks.

The prize: line-skipping tickets to Adventure Central. The competition: Val, Resa’s middle school nemesis. And the biggest obstacle to success: Resa’s own teammates. Harriet is the class clown, Amelia is the new girl who thinks she knows best, and Didi is Resa’s steadfast friend―who doesn’t know the first thing about making or selling lemonade. The four of them quickly realize that the recipe for success is tough to perfect―but listening to each other is the first step. And making new friends might be the most important one.


Kid Start-Up: How YOU Can Become an Entrepreneur by Mark Cuban (2018)kid start up

Do you think it would be cool to run your own business? Do you want to help people with everyday problems? Do you want to make money?

Then you could be an entrepreneur like Resa and her friends. You don’t have to be a grownup to launch your start-up. This book shows you how to discover a great business idea and get it off the ground. You can try one of our ten kid-friendly businesses, including timeless ventures like starting a lemonade stand to more modern-day endeavors like launching an Etsy art store or creating your own. Because every billionaire was once a kid with great ideas―just like you!

Gossamer Summer by H.M. Bouwman (2023) – 192 pages

gossamer summerIt all started when Jojo saw a fairy but said she didn’t. After all, fairies aren’t real–and if they were, they wouldn’t look like that! No, Jojo did not see a small, green, muddy person. Her sisters have no problem believing, though. They beg Jojo to finish the story she started telling long ago, but since the death of their beloved grandmother, Jojo hasn’t felt like talking about magic, even if her sisters still believe.

Instead, her sisters decide to make fairy gardens to entice Theo, the new kid across the street, to come play. Their plan works, but it also catches the attention of creatures that bear an uncanny resemblance to the bedraggled fairies Jojo invented. Stories can’t come to life, though–can they? Yet the danger is real enough. With the questionable help of a self-important cat, the sisters and Theo, set off on an adventure to save the fairies from a flock of terrifying birds made of bones.


Enchanted Gardening: Growing Miniature Gardens, Fairy Gardens, and More by Lisa Amstutz (2016)fairy gardens

Not only do fairy gardens spark the imagination, they are tons of fun to make. Perhaps you can build a fairy house/garden just like Jojo’s sisters did. Readers of all ages will enjoy creating these charming gardens. Includes various projects for miniature and fairy gardens as well as other magically inspired gardens.

Find more ideas here as well as books on gardening.

The Remarkable Rescue of Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos (2023) – 192 pages

milkweed meadowButternut lives in the burrows of Milkweed Meadow with her nine rabbit brothers and sisters. Together they practice survival skills and tell stories. With dangerous scenarios blooming in her mind, Butternut always follows the lesson of her family’s stories: stick to your own kind … rabbits. But after befriending an unruly robin and a wounded deer, Butternut begins to question the lesson she’s been taught.

When the three new friends discover other animals in trouble, Butternut must decide whether she can help, rally her friends and family, and be as brave as the heroes in the stories she tells.

Beautiful black-and-white illustrations bring the animals to life in this heartwarming story about friendship, community, and doing what is right.


Learn to Draw Forest Animals: Step-by-Step Instructions for More Than 25 Woodland Creatures by Robbin Cuddydraw forest animals (2015)

If you love the animals in Milkweed Meadow, why not try to recreate them. Learn to Draw Forest Animals offers a comprehensive drawing experience that includes step-by-step lessons, as well as full-color photographs, fun facts, trivia, quizzes, and much more. Sixty-four pages of drawing instruction include animals such as a grizzly bear, a wolf, a red fox, and an antelope. The book opens with brief information for getting started and the most popular breeds, the tools and materials needed, and some sample drawing exercises to warm up. Perfect for young artists-in-training.

Read some interesting facts about woodland animals in the United Kingdom.

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (2018) – 160 pages

rosetownFor nine-year-old Flora, the Indiana village of Rosetown is full of surprises, many of which happen at the Wing and a Chair Used Book Shop. She loves reading vintage children’s books after school in the faded purple chair by the shop window.

But lately, those surprises haven’t been so great. Her dear old dog, Laurence, recently passed away. And not long after, her parents decided to take a breather from their marriage. Now Flora has to move back and forth between their two houses. Plus, she’s just begun fourth grade, and it is so much different than third.

Luckily Flora has two wonderful friends—one old and one new. And with them around to share thoughts and laughs and adventures big and small, life in Rosetown still has happy surprises!


Indiana (A True Book) by Tamra B. Orr (2018)Indiana

How much do you know about Flora’s state of Indiana? For example, did you know its state bird is the cardinal? This book will give you so many facts, you’ll become an Indiana expert. Get to know its history, geography, wildlife, and future outlook. Tour this Midwestern state and see everything it has to offer.

Read more fun facts about Indiana.

Haru Zombie Dog Hero by Ellen Oh (2023) – 176 pages

haru zombie dogEleven-year-old Luke and his dog, Haru, are best friends. Totally inseparable. But when their nasty landlord falsely accuses Haru of biting her, Haru is kidnapped!

Luke and his friends go on a serious mission to find and bring Haru home again. They discover mysterious experiments happening at the old laboratory at Painted Lake, owned by an evil multibillionaire named Mr. Thomas Sinclair. Luke and his friends soon fear that Sinclair’s scientists could be doing illegal testing that may endanger Haru and their whole town. As more strange clues emerge, the boys realize their world is changing fast, and soon Painted Lake is plagued by zombie attacks. But the love between Luke and Haru endures, ultimately helping to save them all.

Other novels with dogs as main characters can be found here.


Should Animal Testing Be Banned? (Points of View) by Riley Lawrence (2018)animal testing

Animal testing is a controversial practice, and many people have strong feelings about it. How do you think Luke and Haru feel about it? The scientists?  Why not have a debate.

Understanding both sides of an issue is crucial for the development of an informed opinion about how you feel. Through unbiased main text and fact boxes, readers are presented with information and statistics used by those who support and oppose animal testing, and they are encouraged to use what they learn to decide where they stand.

Here are more topics to debate.

If you enjoyed this post, try some Pairings of your own. What nonfiction book might you pair with one of these popular novels?

pairing bookshelf2

More Than a Middle Grade Book Club

For Narnia!

Jonathan Robbins Leon, Osceola Library Youth Specialist, gets into the spirit for book club meetings. Photo by: Osceola Library. Used with permission.

I sat down this week to chat with Jonathan Robbins Leon, a youth specialist at the Osceola Library, about how he incorporates STEM and history into his book club for middle graders, and he passed along some great ideas for parents, teachers, and librarians who want to add a little something extra to their middle-grade book discussions.

MP: Tell us a little bit about how you started the book club?

JRL: We started this last August. The sessions run from August to May. It started out as a home-school book club to tie books into home-school lesson plans. Last session, I chose 8 random books, but this year, I decided to do a series.

MP: Why did you decide to do a series, and which series are you focusing on this year?

JRL: This year, I did the Chronicles of Narnia. It has worked out well. It gives the kids a goal to work toward, finishing the series, and we’ve had a lot more regular participation than just choosing different books for each session.

MP: So, the kids read along with each session. What if they haven’t finished a book yet?

JRL: The activities that I chose go along chronologically with the events of the books, but the kids don’t necessarily have to have read the book in order to enjoy the activity or participate.

MP: That sounds interesting. Can you give us an example?

JRL: In The Magician’s Nephew, there’s discussion about the dying sun on Charn. So, we talked about the life cycle of a star and built solar K’nex machines. Also, we talked about World War II, which is the setting for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We talked about what it was like during World War II. The kids planted mini victory gardens and learned how to sew a button. We also handed out recipes for war cakes that would have been made with what was given on a ration card.

MP: Have any interesting observations come out of these sessions?

JRL: During our World War II session, we talked about the roles of women during war time and how some women fought during the war, and one girl raised her hand and asked “Then, why does Lucy get told that she needs to wait during the battle?” It led to an interesting discussion about gender roles.

MP: Any tips for teachers, parents or librarians thinking about coming up with their own extension activities?

JRL: This first one is obvious but read the books. The first session of the book club, I’d read the books, but a long time ago. So, the meetings weren’t as detailed as they were for this session because I read the Narnia series knowing that I was going to be planning the book club around them. I made pages of notes as I was reading. Also, break it down into how many meetings you’re planning to hold. Make sure the final meeting of the book club has all the fun stuff so that it’s a reward for finishing the whole session.

MP: Were there any other lessons that you learned from planning this session that you’d like to pass on?

3-D Printed Narnia Charms

3-D Printed Charms that correspond with each Narnia book were incentives given to kids who finished a book. Photo by: Osceola Library. Used with permission.

JRL: This session we added an incentive, a little 3-D printed charm, for each book read. This has helped to keep the kids reading along with the activities.

MP: Are there any resources that you can recommend to help planning a program like this?

JRL: Think outside just what goes on in the book, and find ways to connect the time period of the book, the culture, and the author’s background. Teacher’s guides are incredibly helpful for this because they’ll often have extension ideas. Also, consider inviting guest presenters to add depth to the meetings. We’ve Skyped with Big Cat Rescue about lions, and had a magician come in and teach some beginning magic tricks.

MP: Any other suggestions?

JRL: Make sure that you have enough copies of the books for everyone to read. Also, if you can, find young reader copies for younger siblings that may want to participate. Finally, at least in a library, if you are having guest presenters, advertise them separately from the book club as well to get more interest. For example, our meeting with the magician was bigger because some people only came to see the magician, but we had several people join the book club afterward and stick with it.

MP: This sounds awesome! Do you plan on repeating the program with other series?

JRL: We’re definitely going to continue this next year. I’m thinking about doing either A Series of Unfortunate Events or Harry Potter.

For more information about Osceola Library’s home-school book club, visit their page here. Or for more ideas to pump up your own middle grade book club, check out our list of Author Websites with Discussion/Activity Guides as well as our reference page For Teachers and Librarians.

STEM Tuesday – Shining the Light on Technology, Engineering, and Math — Interview with Author Elizabeth Rusch

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Elizabeth Rusch! She’s the author of this month’s featured technology/engineering book, The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the OceanThis fascinating installment in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series tackles the engineering challenge of turning ocean waves into useable electricity. As Horn Book‘s glowing review explains, “Rusch fully explores the engineering process, capturing the determined, entrepreneurial spirit of the profiled engineers as well as the need for creative problem-solving and ingenuity, a test-and-retest mentality, a high tolerance for failure, and perseverance through the quest for research funding.” The Next Wave received starred reviews from both Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: Why did you decide to write The Next Wave?

Elizabeth Rusch: I keep a folder of clippings of newspaper and magazine articles that interest me. Once in a while, I read through them to see if there are any topic hiding in there that I might want to cover. About ten years ago I found that I had clipped a bunch of articles on scientists developing these cool devices to harness the movement of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. One Oregon scientist Annette von Jouanne was not only inventing clever devices but also finding ways to support other engineers and inventors in their work. I thought she would be a perfect place to start. I interviewed her and accompanied her as she tested a new device that bobbed up and down in the water and wrote an article about her work for Smithsonian magazine. As I was reporting and writing that piece, a little voice kept saying: Kids would find this fascinating – they love the beach, the ocean, invention, and environment. So I expanded my research to include the stories of other ocean energy inventors, such as “The Mikes” —Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes—childhood friends who were developing and refining a device that sits on the ocean floor that they first designed in college.

MKC: What was writing about engineering like?

Elizabeth: I loved covering a new, evolving renewable energy field. Engineers have already pretty much figured out great ways to harness solar and wind energy but ocean energy was and is still wide open. We don’t yet know the best way to take the up and down motion of waves and turn it into electricity. That means that all devices being invented and tested are wildly different. So I got to witness history in the making. Mike Morrow invited me to his lab, which was big cluttered shed in his backyard. It was like being in the garage with Steve Jobs as he invented his computer. I also observed tests in these huge wave flumes and basins and out the open ocean. Each test was really suspenseful because no one knew how the devices would perform. So I was crossing my fingers and cheering right along with the engineers.

Download an accompanying Common Core Guide and Discussion and Activity Guide for The Next Wave.

MKC: Are STEM topics especially interesting to you?

Elizabeth: I don’t actively set out to write STEM books. I am drawn to important, compelling stories that have been overlooked – and it just so happens that many of those stories are in STEM fields. I love stories of invention because they are at their core stories of the human spirit and our quest to understand the world and solve problems we face. To me, inventing something is essentially an adventure requiring creativity and heroic effort in the face of daunting obstacles. A fun example is my recent book The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano. While it is a picture book biography about music and history, I was delighted to see it was named a Best STEM Trade Book by NSTA-CBC.  So I guess what I’m saying is that to me STEM is just in integral part of the human story – and I love telling human stories.

Win a FREE copy of The Next Wave!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow science nerd and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson