Posts Tagged middle-grade readers

Tweens and Middle-Grade Books

Do you have a tween reader at home or in your classroom or library? Marketing-types define a tween as a kid between the ages of 10 and 14. But I think a tween reader is any kid that’s in-between the little kid stage and the hormonal teen stage—a reader as young as nine or as old as fifteen. The maturity level matters more than the number. It could be a thirteen-year-old girl who secretly plays with Barbies. Or a ten-year-old boy who says he’s too old for his stuffed animals, yet they find their way into his bed each night. That kid who claims to want their mother as a classroom volunteer, and when their mother makes a special effort to be there, that tween child refuses to make eye contact or answer a simple hello! Hmph. Not that I have any personal experience with that last type of tween.

So, we’re talking upper middle-grade. For tween girls, two publishers have a line targeted just for them—the Candy Apple line of Scholastic and the Aladdin Mix line of Simon and Schuster.

Here are some more great books for that in-beTWEEN reader:

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage

 

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

 

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

 

Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong–until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.

 

CLOSE TO FAMOUS by Joan Bauer

 

Foster McFee dreams of having her own cooking show like her idol, celebrity chef Sonny Kroll. Macon Dillard’s goal is to be a documentary filmmaker. Foster’s mother Rayka longs to be a headliner instead of a back-up singer. And Miss Charleena plans a triumphant return to Hollywood. Everyone has a dream, but nobody is even close to famous in the little town of Culpepper. Until some unexpected events shake the town and its inhabitants-and put their big ambitions to the test.

 

 

SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS by Ellen Booraem

 

Mellie has been trying, unsuccessfully, to live down the day she told her kindergarten class she had a fairy living in her bedroom. Years later, she is still teased. So when her parents inherit her grandfather’s inn and their family moves to a new town, Mellie believes she’ll leave all that fairy nonsense behind – only to discover that her family members have been fairy guardians for generations and the inn is overrun with small persons with wings (they hate to be called fairies). Before she knows it, the family and fairies are all facing an evil temptress in disguise who wants the fairy magic all for her own. Can Mellie set things right and save the day?

 

THE UNWANTEDS by Lisa McMann

Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths. Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artime. In Artime, each child is taught to cultivate their creative abilities and learn how to use them magically, weaving spells through paintbrushes and musical instruments. Everything Alex has ever known changes before his eyes, and it’s a wondrous transformation. But it’s a rare, unique occurence for twins to be separated between Wanted and Unwanted, and as Alex and Aaron’s bond stretches across their separation, a threat arises for the survival of Artime that will pit brother against brother in an ultimate, magical battle.

 

THE FARWALKER’S QUEST by Joni Sensei

 

Ariel has always been curious, but when she and her best friend Zeke stumble upon a mysterious old telling dart she feels an unexplained pull toward the dart, and to figuring out what it means. Magically flying great distances and only revealing their messages to the intended recipient, telling darts haven’t been used for years, and no one knows how they work. So when two strangers show up looking for the dart, Ariel and Zeke realize that their discovery is not only interesting, but very dangerous. The telling dart, and the strangers, leads them to a journey more perilous and encompassing than either can imagine, and in the process both Zeke and Ariel find their true calling.

 

 

INVISIBLE LINES by Mary Amato

Trevor is just plain funny, and he’s lucky he is. Because this year he needs a sense of humor. Moving to a new home is hard enough—the sign reads hedley gardens, but everyone calls these projects deadly gardens. And the move to a fancy new school is even harder—all the kids from Deadly Gardens seem to be in the same classes and keep to themselves, but somehow Trevor’s ended up in an advanced science class with kids who seem to have everything, and know everything, including how to please their strange new teacher. Someone else might just give up, but Trevor has plans. This is going to be his year.  And he is going to use whatever he has, do whatever it takes, to make it at this new school. He may not have what these other kids have, but Trevor knows he’s got some stuff to show. No one is better at juggling in soccer, and he knows he can draw—he calls himself the Graffiti Guy. But Xander, a star in the classroom and on the soccer field, has other plans for Trevor. He doesn’t like anyone trespassing on his turf and begins to sabotage Trevor at every opportunity. Who is going to believe Trevor over the school star? Is there any way that Trevor can achieve his goals against a guy who is as good at bullying as he is at everything else he does?

All descriptions are from IndieBound. Thanks to Genevieve leBotton, book guru at Indie children’s book store, Little Joe’s Books, for her suggestions for this list.

What do you offer your eager tween reader?

 

Karen B. Schwartz accidentally wrote a book for tweens (twice!). Her own tween boy swears he’ll never read his mother’s girly stories of crushes and first kisses. Mwah, sweetie!

 

 

 

The Three Biggest Mistakes Authors Make on School Tours

As a teacher, I spend 180 days a year with tweens and teens. I’ve observed students in many teaching scenarios, including while other adults (guest authors or newbie teachers) tried instructing or entertaining them. The sessions that tend to bore the kids and stress out the presenter fall prey to three mistakes—all of which come from not understanding the audience.

Teaching or presenting to tweens and teens can be an intimidating task. After all, kids can be honest—i.e., brutal—about whether they like your book, subject matter, or you, and/or are often noticeably uninterested in what adults try to share with them. As a veteran teacher, I mentor new teachers and student teachers who have some of the same fears authors bring along when entering the classroom or auditorium. The advice in the post is the same advice new teachers get. Even when an author may have some background experience working with large groups of kids, it’s important to note that no author’s presentation—just like no curriculum lesson—will ever go off perfectly or exactly the same each time; this is because each group of students is different. So in order to ensure that luck is on your side more often than not, you can prepare each presentation based on the needs of the audience rather than the topic.

There are three things to keep in mind any time you’re teaching or presenting to kids or teens—three big mistakes not to make:

Mistake 1: Thinking It’s About You/Your Book

But wait, didn’t the librarian or that teacher invite you to come to the school because their students love your book or they’re going to love your book? And don’t you have this great activity that will help    students learn the craft of writing or what makes compelling characters? This all may be true, but you need to remember that with tweens and teens, the entire world revolves around them—not you. (Unless you’re J.K. Rowling; but even then only some kids are persistently orbiting the Potter Universe.) There are likely to be students in attendance who are reluctant readers, who haven’t heard of you, or aren’t thrilled about your genre. So you have to do the heavy lifting: you need to figure out a way to make what you’re presenting seem connected to them and their world, to make it relevant for them. For example, when I teach junior high students about the elements of fiction each fall, I start with movies, not novels or short stories. Why? Because I know all of my students watched one if not one hundred movies over the summer. Movies are what the majority of them know and are passionate about when it comes to their experiences with “story.” When discussing fiction genres, we talk about music genres. When discussing conflict, we talk about sports and teams. Help the kids see that what they care about is actually connected to what you’re trying to explore with them, thus making it relevant. Figuring out how the content of your presentation relates to something teens already    care about will get them involved—which does wonders for author anxiety and your success in school tours.

Mistake 2:    Failure to Ask Questions

One of the best ways to get kids and teens involved and to help them make connections with your content is to ask them questions. There might be some trial-and-error on your part as you experiment with the right questions to ask, but teaching and presenting are just like writing: it takes practice to do them well, and that includes learning from previous attempts. Use both closed and opened-ended questions (yes/no answers and opinion-based answers, respectively). For example, recently I went to hear two of my author friends present at a library. In part of the program, they talked about books they were forced to read in school. One of them asked the simple question, “Anyone here ever been force to read a book they didn’t like?” Then he paused as many hands from the audience flew up, tightening the kids’ connection with the presenters. Later, as the duo started discussing heroes, they asked the group of tweens and teens “what makes a hero” and then took three to five minutes and let the audience do the teaching. From my seat in the back, I could see how engaged and attentive the kids were. Most of them had never read either of these authors’ books, but because the authors brought the kids into the presentation, their audience was hooked.

Mistake 3: Forgetting to Mix It Up

Remember that kids have limited attention spans. Each of us can focus on a task or subject for only a limited amount of time before our minds wander and we become distracted. I’ve even heard that companies like 3M and Google dedicate something like 15% of the employee workday to free time—knowing that employee concentration suffers otherwise. For tweens and teens, the magic number is also fifteen—ten to fifteen minutes, that is. Every ten to fifteen minutes you want to switch topics, move to a new activity, or change your instructional approach from lecture to discussion or from discussion to something hands-on, etc. Whatever you’re doing, figure out a way to break up your gig into ten-to-fifteen-minute segments.

Now it’s time to practice what I preach. You’re blog reading attention span is almost up. I hope these ideas help. Let me know what’s worked for you in reaching your audience. As a teacher and writer, I love to teach and I love to learn—everyone can improve their craft.

Bruce Eschler teaches junior high school students most of the year, writes speculative fiction for kids as much he can, and is hoping he’ll soon be done with his pesky doctoral program. He has occasionally been spotted at www.bruceeschler.com.

Indie Spotlight: bbgb (Bring Back Great Books) in Richmond, VA

Have you had the pleasure of visiting a real children’s bookstore lately (not just the children’s section of a chain store, with its standard and predictable book selection)? Independent children’s bookstores can be found all over the country, thank goodness–new and old ones, big and small, each unique and waiting to be discovered by lovers of children’s books.  This month we’re talking with Jenesse Everston, Co-owner with Jill Stefanovich of bbgb (bring back great books) in Richmond, Virginia (http://bbgbbooks.com).

Sue Cowing for MUF:  I was happy to hear about your new store (from middle-grade author Wendy Shang). What’s the creation story?
Jenesse:  Jill and I first met on the playground while our children were toddlers.  We chatted about books and art and travel and recognized straightaway that we viewed life from very similar perspectives and shared a similar aesthetic. Then and there we agreed that one day we should open a shop together!
As it happened, I moved to Europe for five years.  While there, the children’s bookshop in our town came up for sale.  Jill and I had been loyal customers for several of its 26 years in existence, and we couldn’t imagine life without it.  One skype conversation and one week later…we became the new owners, and we would manage the shop together long distance for the next 15 months until I moved back.

bbgb, a name you can play with. . .

MUF: I understand you remodeled the store to bring all the shelves down within kids’ reach and then turned the space above into a gallery.  What else have you done to make the store unique and inviting?
Jenesse: Our customers are so patient with us, we have to say.  We have moved fixtures so many times as our shop collection and mission has evolved!  We worked hard to mix open space with little hidey-hole spaces to accommodate the spatial preferences of our readers.  We have child-sized fatboys, a small bench and table, and a large bench and table.  We want to create an environment that supports a variety of interactions around books.

MUF: You strongly emphasize matching books to kids. How does that work? Suppose a ten-or eleven-year old walks into your store today, looking for something good to read. . .
Jenesse: We engage them in conversation!  We can see those eyes roving the shelves and know how daunting it can sometimes be when faced with so much choice.  We find out the types of books they’ve read, they like to read and move from there.  So many of our customers are regulars; we stay attuned to their preferences while we nudge them into new areas.

MUF: One of the best things about operating an independent bookstore must be that you absolutely get to choose which books to carry (or not) and how to feature and display them in the store.  So what do you base your choices on?  Do you carry some titles that most bookstores don’t?
Jenesse: We true back to those notions that have engaged us as readers: the sense of wonder, the perspective-changing, the smile or sigh engendered by our experience with books.
Our collection is very tight.  We tend to rotate titles so that our customers are always finding a treasure.

MUF: As middle-grade authors, we have to ask, do you have certain favorite tiles, fiction and nonfiction, that you like to recommend to boys and girls in this age group?
Jenesse: Oh goodness!  It absolutely shifts depending upon the child, our current interests and what we find is relevant in the context of the world at that moment.  
Our list of favorites is long and constantly changing, to be honest.

MUF: Have middle-grade authors appeared at your store?

Jenesse: Yes. We are currently preparing for Tom Angleberger’s launch-week visit for his third installment in the Origami Yoda series:  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.

MUF: Your summer reading program sounds. . .rewarding.  Is there still time to join up?
Jenesse: Well, we are well into the summer, but we just enrolled 3 more!

MUF: I can imagine what fun it was to watch Arietty in a children’s book store!  Is movie night a regular thing at bbgb?  What other events do you have coming up?
Jenesse:On Tuesday, local artist Mim Scalen, conducted a postcard art workshop with a group of participants aged 7 and up.  We’ve had mother-child yoga, games nights, movie nights, local artists and artisans, knitting workshops…We want to support other small businesses in our community and love to collaborate.  In addition, we like to keep our own kids engaged with the shop!

creating postcards

MUF: If a family from out of town came to visit your store, would there be kid-friendly places nearby where they could get a meal or a snack after book-browsing?
Jenesse: Our location really ties us into our community.  We are just blocks from the Fine Arts Museum, coffee shops, and one of the largest retail streets in town, which full of restaurants gift shops, toy stores…

MUF: And if they could stay the whole day or even the weekend, are there some unique family activities indoors or out that they shouldn’t miss?

Jenesse: We are in a unique situation where the city is grounded by an urban university which is strong in the arts.  In addition, we sit on the James River, which is home to herons, bald eagles, and where you can raft as a family.  Plus, Richmond is a real restaurant town.  Fantastic choices and family-friendly at all levels, from coffee shops to fine dining.  We do love our town.

MUF:  Thank you, Jenesse , for giving us this glimpse of your lively new store and your community!

Wrapping things up. . .

Readers, Can you think of your own  clever phrases bbgb could stand for? Have you’ve been to bbgb or does it sound like a place you’d like to visit? If so, leave a comment here for Jenesse and Jill.   And if you have a favorite children’s bookstore you think should be featured in these posts, please let me know. 

Sue Cowing is the author of YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, a middle-grade novel (Carolrhoda Books, 2011, Usborne UK, 2012).  She lives in Honolulu, 2,000 miles from the nearest children’s bookstore, but she’s planning a trip. . .