Posts Tagged middle-grade readers

EXTINCT! Facts & Fiction for Middle-Grade Readers

Many kids in this age group can rattle off more dinosaur names and the details about more species than most other twelve people put together. And they have learned much of this on their own, through eager reading! What could be more exciting during this pandemic, when schools are closed and normal summer activities are limited, than for young readers to find books that hold their avid interest for hours and days?

More books on the ever-hot topic of dinosaurs come out every year. I’ve been writing a book about extinct American animals and have been looking at just about everything available for middle-grade readers on the subject. I recommend the following page-turners:

Stephen Brusatte is a leading young paleontologist, but also an engaging author of books for children and adults. In his Day of the Dinosaurs: Step Into a Spectacular Prehistoric World (Wide-Eyed Editions, 2016), readers witness over 100 prehistoric creatures of the land, sea and air through 2nd-person narrative. Older middle graders might also enjoy his best-selling adult book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs (William Morrow, 2019)

Kelroy Pim and Jack Horner both fell in love with dinosaurs as kids and now have become leading scientists in the field. In their book, Dinosaurs—The Grand Tour: Everything Worth Knowing About Dinosaurs from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops (The Experiment, 2nd Ed., 2019), readers will find many of the mind-changing latest discoveries. The book also includes Jack Horner’s working field notes and suggestions for how and where readers might go to make their own prehistoric finds.

Extraordinary animals lived and went extinct millions of years before and after those great dinosaur beasts. This may be a whole new area for dino-fans to explore. Fortunately there are a number of wonderful books to help them get a sense of our vast natural history. One is Matt Sewall’s Forgotten Beasts: Amazing Creatures That Once Roamed the Earth ( Pavilion Children’s , 2019). The well-known and little-known creatures featured in this stunningly illustrated book span half a billion years, ending with the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger in the 1930s.

In their well-researched, humorous, and visually compelling book, Prehistoric Ancestors of Modern Animals: If Extinct Beasts Came to Life, (Hungry Tomato, 2017), Mathew Rake and Simon Mendez use digital photography to show what modern animals might be like if they still had the attributes of their prehistoric ancestors. See also their Prehistoric Giants, Prehistoric Sea Beasts, and Prehistoric Predators, all published in 2017.

 For comprehensive, visually appealing reference books for this age group, you can’t miss with anything published by the Smithsonian or by DK Eyewitness books. Some examples: William Lindsay, Prehistoric Life: Discover the Origins of Life on Earth from the First Bacteria to the Coming of Humans (DK Eyewitness Books, Reprint ed., 2012). Or Paul Taylor, A History of Life in 100 Fossils (Smithsonian Books, 2014).

Would readers like to dig up some fossils of their own? Thousands of prehistoric animal and plant remains lie underfoot waiting to be found all over this country (except maybe in Rhode Island where, because of glaciation, fossil hunters may only come up with a trilobite or two and some Carboniferous cockroaches).  Amateur fossil hunters, (including children!),  have made many scientifically important finds

Mathew Rake and Dan R. Lynch’s Fossils for Kids: Finding, Identifying and Collecting (Adventure Publications, 2020) covers all those topics, but also explains how to collect responsibly so that you preserve the scientific record. Albert Dickas‘s 101 American Fossil Sites You’ve Gotta See (Mountain Press Publishing, 2018) shows state-by-state where to see prehistoric animals on display, or observe expert digs in progress, or dig on your own.

Would they like to read fiction about fossils? Try Monica

Kulling’s Mary Anning’s Curiosity (Groundwood Books, 2017), a fictionalized account of the childhood of the 19th century shell-collector who revolutionized paleontology 
with her discoveries. Or read Roger Reid’s Time: A Jason Caldwell Mystery (NewSouth Books, 2011) set in a world-famous Paleozoic Footprint site in northern Alabama.

At a moment when there is much uncertainty in the present and about the future, it may be refreshing for readers to focus on the long time of Earth’s natural past. At the very least, they can have fun reading about some fascinating ages and creatures. Please pass this list of books along to any middle-graders you know. There are many more titles that I could have included, but they will find them. I wish there were a reading equivalent of “Bon appétit!”

 

 

Virtual Day Trips for Summertime Middle Grade Reading

Anybody else flummoxed by summer travel options? Staying home unexpectedly, or trip plans greatly changed? To leave home, or stay put?

No matter your actual travel outcomes, keep the adventurous spirit alive in your middle grader’s heart and mind with some virtual trips connected to “destinations” in these excellent MG reads. These ideas might inspire you as a Middle Grade parent, librarian, or teacher to seek out more “travel” locations in your readers’ favorites books. Better yet, challenge your kids, students, and MG library patrons to dream up virtual itineraries connected to books they’ve enjoyed and want to share.

Here are some examples of virtual tours or destinations tied to settings and plot in a few great MG reads:

In Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, main character Kim Hà lives in 1975 South Vietnam, just before the Fall of Saigon. Hà visits President Thiệu’s Palace with her mother and hears the President’s speech to the widows and children of men missing in action, like Hà’s father. The look of the Palace might surprise you—take a short trip and see the building, now Independence Palace, that still stands today. Scroll down for a Google map and take a “walk” around the exterior of the Palace.

Hà and her family then become refugees, fleeing their country shortly after that Palace visit. Before resettling in America, the family and many other refugees find safety on Guam. Travel to Guam in 1975 with the pictures and articles in this publication to get an idea of the sights Ha might have seen during that evacuation effort.

In Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, Elijah is the first child born into freedom in the community of Buxton. Buxton was a town in southwestern Ontario, Canada where many freed and escaped slaves settled during American slavery. The child of escaped slaves, Elijah sees the value of freedom when newly escaped slaves arrive in Buxton, and he learns it more deeply when he takes a dangerous trip across the border into America to help a neighbor. Readers can explore Buxton through this scrapbook about its inhabitants, its founder, and its Liberty Bell here at the Buxton Museum, and learn the history of this important place.

For travel of a more interplanetary nature, try Mars! In Kevin Emerson’s Last Day on Mars, Liam and Phoebe intend to catch the last ship off the planet as the human race evacuates to establish a settlement on a distant new world. Take a look around Mars, the planet upon which Liam and Phoebe grew up, and “walk” its surface from your home.

Reading Jennifer Holm’s Full of Beans? Head south on a photo journey to old Key West. It’s the 1930’s during the Great Depression, and New Deal representatives have arrived to bring tourism to the area in its new role as “Recovery Key.” Beans—cousin of Turtle, title character in Holm’s Turtle in Paradise—tries to sort out an honest role in his community amidst a host of adult untruths. Key West in the early 1930s will populate readers’ imaginations with images of streets, buildings, and cars as Beans might have seen them.

In One Speck of Truth, author Caela Carter writes a story of trust and family relationships. Main character Alma’s father is gone, and her stepfather is no longer a part of the picture. To confuse matters, Alma’s mom doesn’t always tell the truth, and her latest decision involving Alma is pretty baffling: the two are flying to Lisbon, where her father grew up. Alma wonders if the city and its sites might hold the answer she’s looking for. Here’s a peek at some interesting modern-day sites in Lisbon.

And here’s one more! Head to the Big Apple and take a peek at some of the (modernized) sights that Claudia and Jamie Kincaid might have seen during their great adventure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in MUF’s namesake,  E.L. Konigsburg’s classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Scroll down a bit for the Great Hall!

These examples of virtual day trips offer variety, visual interest, and a look into key historical backgrounds; hopefully they inspire you to explore settings in your favorite middle grade works as well. Safe travels this summer, everyone!

 

 

How do I motivate students outside the classroom?

Distance learning took many teachers by storm.

With the advent of Covid19, teaching went from being in front of a classroom of students to being behind a computer with periods of facetime. The magic of the classroom and active student engagement was gone. Every teacher was faced with the same question. “How do I motivate students outside the classroom?”

Before I describe the following Harry Potter contest, imagine using other books you’d like to feature. How could you incorporate a biography? A STEAM book? Historical Fiction? Think how this system could work in your own classroom between students, between classrooms within the grade level teams, or between grade levels in the same school. Have fun. Think outside the box.

Our school librarian was concerned that our students would opt for entertainment games instead of reading a good book. She and the other librarians in our school district came together and created a Harry Potter Contest. The contest was designed to be a competition between schools.

After creating the different elements of the contest, the librarians designed a website with weekly instructions and a leaderboard featuring house points. Before the contest began, the librarians sorted the schools into houses. My school was sorted into Hufflepuff.

(As a side note, we just finished the contest and it was a HUGE success. Students were engaged, books were read, lively conversations took place, and best of all, the schools came together in a friendly reading competition. Oh, and Hufflepuff won!)

Harry Potter Contest

Week One

  1. Reply to your Hogwarts invitation letter via electronic owl (Google Form)

Prompt positive responses are worth 5 pts; late responses will still be accepted, but will only be worth 1 pt.)

  1. Access a copy of the first Harry Potter book. The audiobook is currently available to stream for free online (in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese) from Audible Stories; and the ebook is free on Amazon for Amazon Prime members (please talk to your parent/guardian for assistance).
  2. Take a picture of yourself reading/listening to the first Harry Potter book (worth 1 pt). Submit to your house email box.

Week Two

  1. Read Chapters 1-4
  2. Find out what wand you would get by taking this quiz
  3. Design your own wand or Arm yourself with a wand such as a chopstick, stick, or pencil. Post a pic with a sign showing your quiz results (worth 5 pts). Submit your results to your house email box.
  4. Take the Ch 1-4 Trivia Quiz (Teacher created Google Form) Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBA). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Three

  1. Read Chapters 5-8
  2. Show your House spirit by making a House bookmark. Post a pic of you using your new bookmark (worth 10 pts)
  3. 3. Ch 5-8 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Four

  1. Read Chapters 9-13
  2. Create your Patronus animal out of origami
    • Dog (easy)
    • Cat (easy)
    • Horse (that flips) (medium)
    • Bird (that flaps) (medium)
    • Snake (medium)
    • Rabbit (medium)
    • Fox (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Phoenix (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Mouse/Rat (doable, but slightly tricky at times)

Share a pic of your Patronus (worth 15 pts)

  1. Chapters 9-13 Trivia Quiz. Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Five

  1. Read Chapters 14-17
  2. Make something for the Hogwarts end-of-year feast (for some inspiration, click here)
  3. Take a pic of your food/beverage for the virtual banquet table (worth 20 pts) Submit to your house email box.
  4. Ch 14-17 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by (TBA) to be in the running to compete in the Trivia Cup Final against the other Houses; the winner from each House will battle the other Houses in the Trivia Cup Final held at (TBA) with questions from the whole book.

    The winning school wins the HOUSE CUP!

    The winner is awarded the right to display the HOUSE CUP for one year, until the next competition.