Posts Tagged Giveaways

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.

STEM Tuesday — STEM in Sports — Interview with Author Janet Slingerland

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 Janet Slingerland, author of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology?  

Janet Slingerland: The book looks at sports-related cutting-edge technology through the years. Like its name implies, these were the 12 break-through technologies that I thought had the biggest impact on the world of sports. It’s written for middle-grade readers (ages 8-12), but hopefully it engages readers outside that range, too.

MKC: Do you play sports or are you a big sports fan?

Janet: My father was a gym teacher and track coach, so it’s probably not surprising that I played sports. My favorite sport to play, by far, was volleyball. I’ve always enjoyed playing more than watching, although I have enjoyed watching a wide variety of sports over the years. I especially love the Olympics, where we see sports that are more difficult to watch on a more regular basis.

MKC: What was challenging about writing the book?

Janet: I found trying to select the 12 “biggest” breakthroughs to be challenging. To make the decision, I considered how many people the breakthrough impacted and in what way. Some made the sport more accessible to people. Others were geared toward elite athletes, but are life-saving. Yet others make sports more enjoyable (and understandable) for fans to watch.

MKC: This book is packed full of facts! Would you like to share a favorite research discovery?

Janet:  I think the thing that amazed me most was how long ago sports science originated. The study of how exercise changes the human body started when gladiators were fighting in the Roman coliseum. It may actually go even further back than that, but there are detailed records from gladiator times. Realizing the first indoor ice skating rink was built before electricity is a little mind-blowing, too. Here’s a really interesting article on the first skating rinks.

Janet Slingerland studied electrical engineering and programmed computers before deciding to share her love of STEM (and other things) with children. She has written more than 20 nonfiction books for grades K-12. Visit her at

MKC: What inspires you to write about STEM subjects?

Janet:  My background is in engineering and embedded programming (writing code for microchips that go inside things). I’ve always been fascinated by how science explains so many things that seem like magic. The puzzle-lover in me drew me to engineering. I started writing STEM books so I could share these loves with kids (and parents/teachers).

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about how everything is interconnected. So many people think they don’t like STEM, but it’s tied to everything. We hear music thanks to the physics of sound and the biology behind how our ears work. We see rainbows and blue skies thanks to the physics of light, the chemistry of the air the light passes through, and the biology behind how our eyes perceive color. Everything in our lives has ties to STEM.


Win a FREE copy of The 12 Biggest Breakthroughs in Sports Technology!

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 is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Serendipity Science — Interview with author Sarah Albee

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

Today we’re interviewing Sarah Albee, author of Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries.  The book is a fascinating compilation of discoveries, often made by ordinary people, that changed the way we view history.  Sarah Albee is known not only for presenting facts in an interesting way, but showing how everything we study is interconnected. In a way, she’s building higher order thinking in her readers one book at a time. Because the pandemic affected the release of a number of good STEM books, I wanted to bring this particular title to our reader’s attention.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Sarah, you’ve published a wide variety of books for children. How did you get started in publishing?

Albee books

Sarah Albee: My first year out of college I worked in Egypt for a year. After that I knew I wanted to work in publishing. I landed a job with Children’s Television Workshop which produced Sesame Street. Today it’s known as Sesame Workshop. It wasn’t easy to break into the television side of the business so I moved to the publishing division. I was hired as an editorial assistant. That’s when I realized I really wanted to write for children. One of my responsibilities was to fly to Bologna Children’s Book Festival in Italy each year. I speak Italian so I set up the booth and helped translate for my boss and coworkers. I worked for CTW for nine years and was promoted to Senior Editor during that time. Afterwards, I started freelancing for Sesame Street while raising my children. I wrote a lot of fiction and learned early on how to hit deadlines. It was incredible training. I put in my “ten thousand hours” as Malcom Gladwell would say, to develop my skills over time. I wrote constantly and became very efficient. That experience helped me grow as a writer.

Fun fact, I got to meet the Muppets!

CTB: Okay, let’s back up a minute. After college, you spent a year working in Egypt? Wow! What did you do for that year?

Sarah: I was lucky. I got an internship at the press office of American University in Cairo. I edited English language books for adults. Later, I got a freelance job illustrating books.

CTB: As a parent and an author I’m always pointing students toward the benefits of traveling abroad. Do you have a special memory of your time there?

AUC courtSarah: Yes. I was walking across campus one day and saw a basketball sitting on this beautiful court. I played basketball at Harvard and was in good shape. So I started shooting baskets. As luck would have it, a coach was walking through the court and saw me playing. He wanted to talk but I didn’t speak Arabic and he didn’t speak English. He found a student who could translate for us. Because of that chance encounter I ended up playing semi-pro basketball. It was one of the best experiences of my time there. The women on my team all spoke Arabic, but not all spoke English. Some spoke French. So the time outs were held in all three languages. I became good friends with the other women on the team. Egypt is a very private society so the games became a great way to talk and learn more about the culture.

CTB: We share a similar view on pursuing knowledge for the sake of it instead of a specific career. That’s not as common as it should be in society.

Sarah: I consider myself a generalist. Throughout history, enlightenment thinkers saw acquiring knowledge as an end to itself. I look at the way we educate children today. They go to math class, then English, then Social Studies, etc.  It’s an artificial construct. We don’t make connections between the individual disciplines. Instead we treat them as separate topics.

Albee BuggedCTB:  You take a different approach when writing nonfiction. I’ve noticed a trend across your body of work. You go well beyond basic facts to make connections other people might not consider.

Sarah: Yes. That’s why it’s hard to find a place for my book on a classroom or library shelf. I try to connect dots. When I write a book about insects it’s put in the science section but it’s really about history too.

CTB: Then we both agree that, ideally, we need to think more broadly about how we teach children.

Sarah: Exactly. When I’m researching a topic I’m thinking, “What else was happening at that time?” Here’s a good example: We teach children about the Roman empire but at that same point in history the Han Dynasty in China was much larger. In another example, Beethoven was composing his third symphony at the same time Lewis and Clark were leading a western expedition.

Hobble skirtI like vertical and horizontal history. I ask myself, “What was being invented at the same time?” “Who was friends with whom?” Want to know why was there a sudden explosion of self portraits during the Renaissance? It corresponded with the invention of mirrors in the 15th century. Suddenly people could see what they looked like. Another fun fact I uncovered was at Harvard. The Widener Library was finished in the early 1900’s but the risers on the staircase are shallow – about 4 inches tall. I wondered what happened in history to cause that. It turns out that was the era when hobble skirts were popular.  Women had to take tiny mincing steps to walk in them so architects built that into their design.

CTB: Let’s talk about ACCIDENTAL ARCHAEOLOGISTS which fits the this month’s STEM TUESDAY theme perfectly. It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection.

Albee ArchaelogistsSarah: Thanks. I’m really proud of this book. I got the idea while working on North America – a fold out timeline of America, published by What On Earth Books in tandem with the Smithsonian. I was researching Mexico in the 20th century. One year a construction worker was burying electrical cable beneath the streets of Mexico. While digging he uncovered an enormous stone. It turned out to be a section of Templo Mayor, the main temple for the ancient capital city of Tenochtitlan. So I thought, “There has to be other stories like that.” In the book, I open with a discovery then discuss where, who, what and why it’s significant. I try to contextualize the information for kids – the history, the science and the human connections.

ruinsI went into the research thinking archaeology is the ultimate objective truth. People talk about only using primary sources, but those can sometimes be flawed. I use a combination of primary and secondary sources. For example, a professor who spent their life studying something may be a reliable source in addition to information in a diary. The truth is that sometimes archaeologists can be biased. The field has such a checkered history about sexism and racism. Here’s an example: the Zimbabwe ruins are stone structures in what was once Rhodesia. These magnificent edifices were precise and put together without mortar. It’s genius. They were discovered by male archaeologists in the late 1800’s. Someone decided that African people couldn’t have possibly built something that sophisticated so it must have been a different civilization, maybe the Phoenicians. Later, a female archaeology team proved without a shadow of a doubt that based on dating, the ruins had been built by African people. The Zimbabwe ruins didn’t make the book because the discovery wasn’t accidental. But it’s an excellent example of how bias can shape perception and that bias is then carried into books until unbiased research proves the assumptions to be wrong.

I’ve learned that you do your best to triangulate all the sources of information to get as close to the truth as you can. That’s the underlying theme of my work.

CTB: That’s the hard part of what we do. Evaluating information in context. What might be underlying the information we are reading and whether it is biased based on the time the documentation was created.

Cowboy George McJunkinSarah: Yes. Here’s an example in the book. I read about a Black cowboy, George McJunkin who lived in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. He was enslaved as a child but was later freed. He worked to become a cow wrangler but was a scientist at heart. Fluent in Spanish, he had his own science equipment. He was also well respected and helped to resolve land disputes. He was the “go to guy” for things like that. In 1908 there was a big flood near the ranch he lived on. He went to check his fences and discovered a huge gully had opened up. Inside he saw huge white bones. Right away he knew they are ancient and might be bison. There was something cool about them. They were larger than contemporary bison. So McJunkin wrote to a museum and to several men and tried to generate interest in the discovery. But cars weren’t common and it was too hard for anyone to travel there easily. After his death, cars were more widely available, The two men he’d contacted drove out to investigate McJunkin’s discovery. Those men then contacted a museum. Not only had McJunkin found these bison, but after one of the skeletons was removed scientists found a spear point between the ribs. That changed what archaeologists knew about Native Americans. It proved that humans had coexisted with these animals much earlier than thought. It moved the date back by 10,000 years. McJunkin got no credit for the discovery. He was a Black male and a cowboy. There had been a bias towards the contributions of people who weren’t part of the majority. Only now is he finally being recognized.

CTB: Book research is great but sometimes the best resources are serendipitous and you find help in unlikely places.

Golden BuddhaSarah: My husband teaches at a high school. I was researching a story about a giant solid gold buddha in Bangkok. It was about nine feet tall and originally covered in concrete plaster. It wasn’t very attractive and was moved several times throughout its history. In the 1950’s it was being moved to a permanent display. As it was being lifted the cable broke and the buddha fell to the ground. The plaster cracked and revealed a statue underneath made of solid gold. Most of the stories I’d read were not from reliable sources. My husband introduced me to a student from Thailand. I asked for her help finding Thai sources. Turns out she lived close to the temple. When she went home on break, she began sending me photos, descriptions and notes from her conversations with monks at the temple. To get this right I then had to learn more about Thai history and who might have covered the statue. It turns out the Burmese were invading the territory so monks covered the statue with concrete plaster to keep it from being stolen. After a while, knowledge of what was underneath the plaster was forgotten.

CTB: So what’s up next? Is there a book we should be putting on our radar?

Sarah: Fairy Tale Science: Explore 25 Classic Tales through Hand’s On Experiments comes out in Fall of 2021. I’m so excited about it. It features twenty-five (25) tales, some well known, some international and lesser known. I start each tale with a synopsis which is tongue in cheek. Then I pull out the scientific questions. For example, could a pair of glass slippers sustain the stress of ballroom dancing? Could hair really hold the weight of a prince climbing up a tower? Is stone soup a mixture, or does it undergo a chemical change? Then I follow up with experiments the readers can do.

CTB: It’s a brilliant way to engage students by using something already familiar. But identifying science in fairy tales had to be a daunting task (and I’ll confess I’m sad I didn’t think of that first.)

Sarah: The book was hard to write because the research involved physics, chemistry, botany and astronomy among others. I thought, “What am I doing? I can’t write this!” But scientists tend to be specialized. Einstein, for example, was a genius but he had a hard time explaining his concepts to regular people. He didn’t understand why other people didn’t understand his research. So I decided I was the right person to write a book like this because I had to understand the science in order to explain it to the reader. If I’m looking into a subject I have to learn about concepts like buoyancy and sheer stress fractures. It was a super fun book to write. Plus I had the advantage of talking to a retired scientist who loved to talk about physics. At one point we were talking for an hour and a half each day. This book is very much in my wheelhouse. There’s a lot of making connections and finding something familiar to kids to draw them in.

CTB: Well now I want to dive in too. I’d like to thank Sarah for stopping by for an interview. In children’s literature, she’s become a science and history interpreter. Always well researched and engaging, keep an eye out for Sarah’s future titles to round out your S.T.E.A.M. book acquisitions.

Win a FREE copy of Accidental Archeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries.

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!


Albee Science

Photo by Peter Frew

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 100 books for children. A graduate of Harvard University, her substantial body of work includes numerous preschool titles for Sesame Street, early readers and nonfiction for middle grade. Her work has been recognized by Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections, Notable Social Studies Trade Books, and Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards.  To learn more about Sarah visit You can follow her on Twitter @sarahalbee

Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram