Posts Tagged middle-grade readers

Mini-Museums for Middle Grade Favorites

Hello, fans of Middle Grade! I hope the school year is running smoothly for your students, your readers, or your own kids, whether they are learning in-person, remotely, independently, or in a hybrid or homeschool environment. While online learning and the use of technology are certainly helpful in this time of Covid, I know my own kids sometimes grow weary of screens and keyboards in their current environments. So I wanted to share a fun and engaging reading activity that can work equally well in both the home and classroom: A Mini-Museum display based on a great Middle Grade read.

As a teacher, librarian, or homeschooling parent, you can pose this idea before readers start or finish a book, or encourage readers to choose a favorite story with which they are already familiar. The Mini-Museum employs reading, writing, and creative/critical thinking skills, and culminates in a hands-on and 3-D product. You can include teamwork and presentation/delivery skills if you choose. The steps are simple and the supplies minimal—and the search for objects gets a reader out of his or her chair and away from the screen.

Step One – After (or while) reading a novel, the reader lists notable and important physical objects mentioned in the book that have some significant relevance and/or symbolic value to the plot, characters, theme, point-of-view, or setting. Eight to ten objects make a nice-sized museum collection, but the suggested or required number would be determined by your readers’ abilities, your environment, your time, and the book choice.

Step Two – Readers gather household, three-dimensional objects that are the real thing, a replica, or a constructed facsimile of each object on his or her list.

Step Three – Readers choose and prepare a display space. This can be a shelf, tabletop, or windowsill in the classroom, or a table or empty corner at home. Use cardboard boxes, recyclables, or piles of books to create museum stands and exhibit spaces. A variety of sizes and levels makes the overall look of the display more interesting and easier to see. Readers can cover these items with plain fabric or paper for a clean “museum look.”

Step Four – Readers fill the museum with their objects. Objects of greatest significance get the choicest spots in the display.

Step Five – Readers write brief descriptive captions to display near each object, like you’d see in a real museum. These can include the object name, the date of use (setting of book), the materials that form the object, and a few sentences on the object’s significance to one or more story elements in the book. Mount the typed and printed (or handwritten) captions on folded index cards and place each free-standing description near its object.

Step Six –Optional share and tell with the class! Thanks to smart phones and cameras, most readers can find a way to show their display distantly to their teacher and classmates.

If you’ve read or taught the excellent Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, you’ll recognize how these real objects make great representations of the novel’s important character and plot points:

  • Notebook (Stella uses one to practice writing late at night.)
  • Cigar box (Stella keeps her collection of inspirational newspaper articles in one.)
  • An edition of the Star Sentinel (This is the newspaper Stella creates.)
  • Small, unmarked bottle (Stella buys medicine for her sick brother Jojo.)
  • Clean rags torn into strips (Stella tends to her mother’s snakebite.)

Students can manufacture some objects when necessary, like Stella’s original newspaper the Star Sentinel, which she types on a donated typewriter. A description for the torn rags might be something like: “Extra wound dressings, circa early 1930s; wool and cotton. Stella uses dressings like these to help treat her mother’s snakebite. When she finds Mama unconscious in the woods, Stella brings water, whiskey, and dressings to clean and wrap the wound. Mama survives in part due to Stella’s quick actions.”

Benefits of a Mini-Museum Display:

  • It’s highly flexible with strong potential for individualization.
  • Visual-spatial learners will enjoy creating the display space.
  • Readers can work in groups or independently, depending on their situation and capabilities.

Thanks for reading and sharing this idea! Enjoy the holidays, keep safe, and stay well.

Author Spotlight: Summer Rachel Short… plus a Giveaway!

Today, let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Summer Rachel Short, author of the debut middle-grade novel, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover.

Described by Kirkus as “Packed to the gills with fun,” and by School Library Journal as “A fun debut novel with an action-packed climax that will leave readers eager to scope out the weirder side of nature,” the book is out now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

About The Mutant Mushroom Takeover

Ever since Magnolia Stone’s scientist dad left Shady Pines to find a new job, Maggie’s been stuck in her gramma’s mobile home with her grumpy older brother, Ezra. Now she’s on a mission to put her family back together by winning the Vitaccino Junior Naturalist Merit Award.

When Maggie and her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracy theorist, scout out a rare bioluminescent fungus, Maggie is certain she’s a shoo-in to win. But after animals around town start sprouting unusual growths and Ezra develops a bluish glow and hacking cough, Maggie wonders what they’ve really stumbled onto.

As things in Shady Pines become stranger and more dangerous, and conversations with her dad get complicated, Maggie must use her scientific smarts and Nate’s impressive knowledge of all things supernatural to put things back in order and prevent these peculiar glowing mushrooms from taking over their home.

Q&A with Summer Rachel Short

MR: So glad to have you with us, Summer. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me! I’m so glad to be here!

MR: So, I stayed up late into the night reading The Mutant Mushroom Takeover and it really gave me the heebie-jeebies! It also made me rethink my love of mushrooms. 🙂 What inspired you to write about bioluminescent fungus–and the “weird” side of nature–in the first place?

SRS: Thank you! I do hope you’ll be able to resume your love of mushrooms–once you’ve given your produce a solid once over, of course!

Things that are a little weird have always fascinated me, because they spark my curiosity and make me ask “how” and “why.” One of my first inspirations for this book was an old documentary on fungi that I stumbled upon on YouTube. There was an ominous voiceover, creepy soundtrack, and time-lapse video of fungi unfurling and spewing their spores on unsuspecting hosts. It was all so bizarre, and such an unknown world to me, that I wanted to know more. I kept researching, and eventually the bits and pieces coalesced into a story idea.

Maggie and Nate: The Dynamic Duo

MR: The novel’s protagonist, Magnolia “Maggie” Stone, is a STEM-savvy eleven-year-old aspiring naturalist. She’s brave, smart, and committed to discovering the truth about the mutant fungus. Her best friend, Nate, a wannabe YouTube star and alien conspiracist, is loyal to Maggie’s cause and hysterically funny. What allowed you to create such nuanced—and incredibly realistic—characters as Maggie and Nate? Also, do you have a favorite?

SRS: Thank you for saying that, Melissa. I love all my characters, particularly the main pair, Maggie and Nate. But in terms of who was the most fun to write, it’s probably some of the side characters, like Nate, and my villain. One thing I focus on when creating characters is paying attention to their dialogue. I read it out loud and then play it back to myself using the text-to-speech function on my computer. It gives me a feel for how the characters may sound to others.

MR: In the novel, Maggie’s older brother, Ezra, displays weird symptoms after coming into contact with the bioluminescent fungus. When Maggie and Nate go into the forest to investigate, they wear hazmat suits made from garbage bags, and wear protective goggles, to keep themselves safe. This sounds eerily similar to precautions taken during the coronavirus. Am I reading too much into this?

SRS: I didn’t know about coronavirus at the time I wrote those scenes, but there are some similarities in how the problem is tackled. Since the kids don’t have access to fancy hazmat suits, they improvise and create their own makeshift suits using household items. It was fun to brainstorm what a couple of kids without a lot of money could come up with on the fly to protect themselves from mutant spores.

Extra, Extra! Read All About It!

MR: Before writing The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, you were a science reporter for a newspaper, covering such diverse topics as nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. What was the strangest story you ever covered?

SRS: The nanotech tweezers is still one of my favorites. The professor I interviewed was working on a project at NASA at the time and was very excited about all the possibilities in the field of nanotechnology. The project focused on the creation of laser tweezers that would allow scientists to manipulate things like atoms and molecules without damaging them. It’s been a number of years, so I’m sure the science has continued to grow. It would be interesting to find out what can be done with nano-particles in 2020. Perhaps something that could end up in a middle-grade mystery?

MR: Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers a bit about your path to publication? Smooth sailing or bumpy terrain? Or something in between?

SRS: It’s probably somewhere in between. I started writing fiction many years ago, in college, with hopes to one day write a novel. But then I started my professional life, had kids, and life got busy. I put the dream on the back burner for a long time. Then, about five years ago, it was like a switch flipped and I started writing again; this time with more intention and focus. I felt determined to see things through, and approached the goal with more drive than I’d previously had.

It took about two years of writing–including finishing and querying a different manuscript–before I got the idea for The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I entered an early draft of the manuscript into a writing contest called Pitch Wars, and selected to be a mentee in the fall of 2018. Boosted by the advice from my mentors, I spent that winter revising the book. In early 2019, I landed my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and that summer we sold the book to Simon & Schuster. Now, about a year later, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover is out in the world!

Tips for Multitaskers

MR: I read that you have three kids. How do you balance your parenting responsibilities with your writing? It must be a herculean feat, especially in these difficult days of Covid. Any tips to share with other multitasking writers? 

SRS: It can be challenging at times. When I’m on deadline, I try to squeeze writing in whenever I can–early mornings, afternoons, late at night. Otherwise, when I’m drafting or working at a more usual pace, I carve out a window of a couple of hours most days and head to a quiet room in the house to work. Thankfully, my kids aren’t tiny anymore so they’re able to be independent for a bit.

The process isn’t always picture perfect. My house gets messy and sometimes our meals aren’t as great as I’d like. But the busyness comes and goes in waves, so I try to have grace with myself and not feel too guilty about dusty furniture or laundry in need of folding.

MR: What’s next on your writing agenda, Summer? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

SRS:  I’m currently revising the sequel to The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, which is set in Yellowstone National Park and features a brand new mystery for Maggie and Nate to solve. I won’t say too much, but there are large reptiles involved! The book is slated to release Fall 2021, and I hope to do a cover reveal in the next few months. (I’ve seen a sneak peek and it’s gorgeous!)

MR: Oh! Last thing. No MUF interview is complete without a…

Lightning Round!

Preferred writing snack? Dark chocolate.

Coffee or tea? Coffee with cream and cinnamon.

Favorite mushroom? Shiitake.

Favorite song? “West Coast” by Imagine Dragons.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay, unless they’re the really slow kind.

Superpower? Snap my fingers and the house cleans itself.

Favorite place on earth? The Redwood Forest.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? Well, my husband is building a boat in our garage, so if I can take that then I’ll just make it a relaxing day trip to the island and have my other two items be a book and a snack.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Summer—and congratulations on the publication of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too!

SRS: Thanks so much for having me!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! A winner will be chosen at midnight EST, 10/30. Good luck… and may the best mushroom win!

SUMMER RACHEL SHORT Summer lives in North Texas with her charming husband, three hilarious kids, a fluffy kitty, and a big yellow dog. Before spinning tales about mutant mushrooms, she once worked as a science reporter for her university’s newspaper, where she wrote on topics like nanotech tweezers, poultry farm pollution, and the nighttime habits of spiders and snakes. For fun, she enjoys exploring new places with the family, playing tennis, and dreaming up ideas for her next book. Learn more about Summer on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi stories featuring South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Sheela Chari

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Sheela Chari, author of the new mystery series, The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel, for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

                                   

Hi Sheela, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me—it’s great to be back! Years ago, I was one of the original members, and I loved interviewing other writers! These days, writing, teaching, and being a parent has taken over much of my time. But it’s definitely fun to be in this familiar space again.

 

About THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel follows Mars Patel and his pals on their quest to find their missing friend, Aurora, who might be part of a chain of other disappearances around the world leading back to billionaire inventor, Oliver Pruitt. It’s a story filled with conspiracy theories, deceptive adults, and enterprising kids who know how to rely on technology and each other to solve problems.

Mars Patel was originally produced as a podcast mystery drama series for kids by Gen-Z Media.

Now, it’s also a middle-grade novel and series written by me!

When I was invited to write the novelization, I was asked to take an audio-drama and re-envision it in written form. I had to really think about who Mars, Caddie, JP, Toothpick and the rest of the characters were, and the stories of their lives not captured in the podcast. It was a lesson in character study and plotting, and even rethinking everything I knew about dialogue. In the book, you will find a traditional story littered with emails, texts, podcast transcripts, and other asides to capture the same chatty dynamic of the podcast. It was really my wish to reflect the very interesting, funny way that young people talk to each other today both online and IRL (that’s “in real life” for the uninitiated).

On Mars Patel identifying as an Indian-American spy kid

Representation have always been important for me. It’s the reason that I wrote my mystery novels, Vanished and Finding Mighty, which both feature Indian-American detectives, and are rooted in my experience of growing up Indian-American. I also make an effort for the other supporting characters in all my books to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness I see and cherish as a part of being an American immigrant. The Mars Patel series is a perfect representation of these ideals. Not only that, Mars gets to do those very things that ALL kids should be seen doing in novels: sleuthing, pranking, laughing, messing up, apologizing, doing better, taking risks, and growing up.

 

                                                         

 

On how reading mysteries was an integral part of your childhood

When I was young, I would pore over Nancy Drew books in my library and at home. Not just the stories themselves, but also those wonderful interior illustrations and cover art, observing how Nancy Drew, and her loyal friends, Beth and George, transformed from book to book. To me, they were heroes and old friends, and even the way I met my own best friend (we found each other in the Nancy Drew aisle of the Iowa City Public Library). From then on I would graduate to other mysteries and spooky stories (Lois Duncan comes to mind!). But I do believe this idea of mystery-solving and friendship finds it roots in those Nancy Drew mysteries and a shared love for them with a close friend.

On drawing inspiration from your own life when writing this book

The original podcast hints at a story set in the Northwest. I went a step further and set the book in Washington State, where I lived when I was in middle school and high school. Mars’s fictitious town of Port Elizabeth is based on all the trips I made to Seattle and the Puget Sound as a young person. So writing the book was truly a trip down memory lane for me. I also went on a recent vacation to visit an old friend in the Puget Sound, and it was very inspiring. I used all kinds of details — taking the ferry across the water to Seattle, that particular quality of rain, clouds, and occasional sun, the up-and-down hills, the inky waters of the Sound —to help me describe Port Elizabeth. It was so much fun!

On immersing yourself in a MG sci-fi with corporate conspiracies

Yes, in this story there are bad guys, surveillance, and a conspiracy to hoodwink kids. Even so, for me, Mars Patel is about looking to the future, where anything is possible, even a chance to start over as a society. It’s a book that celebrates technology, space travel, and innovation. Not to say there aren’t threats — Book 1 starts with a Code Red scene in school. Later books in the series take on the urgency of climate change. Even so, the story has always given me a surprising and upbeat way of looking ahead, of knowing that kids growing up now will have the mindset to invent and think differently. Thank goodness.

Sheela Chari is the author of FINDING MIGHTY and VANISHED, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her latest middle-grade novel, THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL, based on the Peabody-award winning podcast, is out this October from Walker Books US, an imprint of Candlewick Press. Sheela teaches creative writing at Mercy College and lives in New York.

Want to own your very own signed copy of The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on October 16, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive a signed, personalized book.