Posts Tagged Middle Grade


Poster introducing the Mind the Middle Project

Still reeling from Goodreads’ elimination of Children’s & Middle Grade and Graphic Novels in their 2023 Goodreads Choice Awards?

Still upset about Barnes and Noble’s drastic reduction of hardcover middle grade books?

Still shaking your head about Scholastic’s off-again, on-again support of diverse books?

Then we have just what you need: some good news about middle grade books! Courtesy of School Library Journal’s Teen Librarian Toolbox, we bring you the MIND THE MIDDLE PROJECT. The idea is to dedicate 2024 to highlighting middle grade and young teen literature.

Why is this important?

Well, beyond the obvious reasons, let’s take a look at some data. According to SLJ, “test scores for this age group are falling, and youth are reporting that they read less for fun.” Noting a powerful correlation between those two data points, an emphasis on the promotion of books for this age group is a genuinely great idea.

And the best news is that YOU are invited to become a part of the MIND THE MIDDLE PROJECT. Authors are invited to share book cover reveals, participate in interviews, and talk about the writing process. The idea is to connect kids and their gatekeepers with the books they’re looking for.

Teachers and librarians are invited to participate as well, by sharing themed book lists, book club information, and any ideas that inspire reading among this age group. 

How can you get involved?

Would you like to sign up to make a guest post on the Teen Librarian Toolbox? Visit this link and find out how!

Ready to sign up? There’s a Google Form for that!

Let’s give our support to SLJ and the Teen Librarian Toolbox as they promote books and inspire readers with the 2024 MIND THE MIDDLE PROJECT.

Interview with debut author Nancy Hudgins

Nancy Hudgins always wanted to write for children, but her roles as attorney, business owner, mediator, and mom kept standing in the way. A number of years ago, Nancy decided to pursue her dream in earnest. Nancy began taking the advice that many writers offered her; write, research, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attend conferences and connect with fellow writers.

Nancy’s work paid off, as her first book, Ursula Nordstrom: Books Good Enough for Children, will be published by Cameron Kids books in fall, 2025.

Nancy’s journey is inspiring…check it out!

Please share a bit about your publication journey…

Five years ago, I wrote a picture book biography of Ursula Nordstrom and took it to an Andrea Brown Literary Agency retreat. Amy Novesky led one of my critique groups. We both became animated talking about Ursula. My manuscript was an early (likely, dreadful) draft, but even so, Amy was encouraging and invited me to send her a revision. I was new to picture books and couldn’t figure out a way into the story, so I set it aside, but I loosely stayed in touch with Amy. She was always supportive of my writing. Much like Ursula was with her writers.

Fast forward to Publishers Weekly’s announcement of Beth Kephart’s picture book on Ursula, Good Books for Bad Children. So much for all my research! When I saw Cameron Kids was beginning to publish middle grade books, I asked Amy if she would be interested in a middle-grade biography of Ursula. She said yes, so I learned how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I sent the proposal to Amy in April and in June I had a book deal and a wonderful agent, Rachel Orr.

Why did you choose Ursula Nordstrom as the subject of your first biography?

I read Leonard Marcus’s Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom when it came out and loved Ursula’s sense of humor. Years later, when I began trying to write books for children, I remembered it and re-read it. As a prospective writer, it was hard not to like Ursula. She was so supportive of her writers and artists and so deft in helping them produce their best work. Her letters open a door to the way in which the iconic books she edited were made. I was curious about those details, and I thought kids who liked to read books would be curious, too. And maybe kids who aren’t so in to books could be intrigued by their origin stories.

Why is her story significant to middle-grade readers?

I think it’s likely middle-grade readers have been exposed to at least one of the books Ursula edited—picture books such as Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Little Bear, Bedtime for Frances, Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree, Stevie, In the Night Kitchen, and Where the Sidewalk Ends; middle-grade books like Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Harriet the Spy and Freaky Friday. That may draw them to this biography. Then, they’ll discover one woman published ALL of them! She was extraordinary. I’m hoping they’ll admire Ursula, as I do, and also enjoy the stories behind the stories. They may discover some classics they hadn’t read before, too. I also write about the editing process, which may help them in editing their own writing.

What resources have you used for your research?

I visited one of Ursula’s boarding schools in New England and explored the village on Long Island where she lived as a little girl. I did research in person at university and public library archives. Many archives now have online finding aids, which is a great way into the details of their collections. I also looked at magazines, journals and newspapers online. And, of course, books.

What is relevant about Ursula’s role in the publishing world to the industry today?

I don’t think I’m the best person to speak to this. It’s all new to me. I can say that Ursula was willing to challenge the status quo. She took risks. She backed up her authors and illustrators. She organized a public stand against book banning.

What have you learned about the process of writing nonfiction that you would like to share with our readers?

There’s always more than one side to a story. Try to find as many viewpoints as possible. You can’t do too much research. I’m happiest when I find something that challenges the assumptions I have based on what I’ve previously read. It’s hard to curate someone’s life. I want to get it right.

And finally, based on your journey, what advice do you have for writers?

Find curious, discerning, thoughtful critique partners! They’ll make you think. Remember your audience. Sometimes I get carried away and write pages about something I’m interested in for some arcane reason. During revision, I realize I’ve written those pages for me, not for my readers! They get cut.

Perspective in MG Lit: Lessons in Empathy

I read an APA article recently that quoted a Stanford psychologist who referred to empathy as the “psychological ‘superglue’” that helps us all to react with kindness, understanding, and support. Empathy is one of greatest, most important life lessons for anyone, any age, any background; it fosters cooperation, inclusivity, forgiveness, and volunteerism; it can serve as both a preventative and an antidote for conflicts and disagreements on matters personal, political, familial, environmental, and worldly.

Many schools and classrooms actively or subtly coach the development of empathy. The middle grade ELA classroom offers prime opportunities for coaching empathy because many MG readers are still developing the cognitive and social tools needed to perceive someone else’s point of view. And let’s face it, the middle grades (well, school in general) can be a hazardous proving ground to navigate with the potential for strong emotions, communication struggles, and impulsivity; generally speaking, middle graders can benefit from lessons in empathy to better weather the storm.

Since the ability to perceive issues and conflicts from another’s perspective is key to an empathetic reaction, teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents have consistent opportunities to coach empathy in group study by introducing, reviewing, and analyzing point-of-view as a story element. Discussing the viewpoints and perspectives of fictitious characters (rather than friends, family, and other real people) can provide and promote a safe space for exploring emotions and observing the empathetic reactions of peers. In thinking how that article and others might be useful in MG lit instruction and the coaching of empathy, here are some interpretations and takeaways:

  1. Offer the chance to students to practice empathy toward a variety of characters. It might be easy to empathize with the comfortable familiarity of the I-voice character, the character who looks and speaks in ways similar to their own appearance and speech, or the central character whose conflict is often made clear. Discuss instead why readers might try to empathize with the antagonist, with a character who is different from the reader in multiple ways, or with a character whose actions cannot easily be explained by a clearly stated conflict. Readers should strive to see implied motivations, points of connection, and new, potentially challenging perspectives.
  2. It’s actually not about “stepping into someone’s shoes.” Readers shouldn’t try to empathize by imagining themselves (as exactly who they are) in the problem or conflict, because each reader’s experiences, being different, have the potential to change or remold the problem or circumstances around their own preferences, needs, and background. Instead, practice “other-oriented” empathy, which would encourage the reader to focus closely on how and what and why the character is feeling—and how, therefore, the character’s actions might be explained or interpreted.
  3. As teachers, librarians, writers, and parents, we want readers to have an appropriate emotional reaction to a book; readers shouldn’t, though, let themselves become burdened with a character’s suffering or sadness.

Some classroom activities that may help to develop empathy:

  • Rewrite a scene from a secondary character’s perspective.
  • Focusing on a character’s drastic or surprising decision, create a “Top 5 Reasons Why” list to explain implied or explicit reasons for the choice.
  • Represent a character’s emotions in a symbolic, stylized collage, design, piece of music, or poem.
  • Review the subtext of a scene and a character’s movements and body language to practice interpreting nonverbals.
  • Extend reader understanding of a character’s role in the story (or a key figure’s role in nonfiction) with a character interview (crafting that character’s first-person responses) or a diary entry (written as that character).

Some works that offer the potential for empathy-building strategies, discussion, and activities (though, happily, most MG reads in general fit this bill 😊):

Jacqueline Woodson’s Remember Us: Almost-seventh grader Sage must balance the comforts of the past with the inevitable (and sometimes exciting) potential for new changes.

Landra Jenning’s Wand: Eleven-year-old Mira struggles under the heavy weight of grief since her father died and feels unhappily out of place with her stepmother and stepsisters. When a mysterious girl steps out of the woods and offers Mira three wishes, she hopes fervently that magic might be real.

Jarrett Lerner’s A Work in Progress: In a mix of prose, verse, and sketches, middle schooler Will seeks acceptance from peers and a crush named Jules; plagued with body image concerns, Will determines to transform his physical appearance.

June 2023 releaseJ. Anderson Coats’s A Season Most Unfair: Set in medieval times, Tick—short for Scholastica—is proud to help with her father’s candlemaking business, even though she isn’t permitted to take the role of an official chandler (candlemaker) apprentice. When her father allows a boy named Henry to apprentice the trade, Tick knows she must prove to her father that she is a capable chandler—in spite of being a girl.