Monday, September 30, 2013

Day In the Life of a Librarian

Life as a public librarian means no two days are ever the same. It's one of the reasons I love my job-I never know what to expect each day and each day brings something new. Here's a peek into a day last week: 

8:20-Arrive at work,  turn on computers, clean off keyboards, get department open and ready to go.

8:40-Meet with new staff member to go over training for the day. This morning I'm taking our new teen associate out and about to meet our school librarians for our partner schools. We're taking the librarians bookmarks of the state book awards to help promote the lists.

8:40-9:05-Drive and visit first area middle school and talk about ideas of what we could do to partner with them.

9:05-9:40-Drive to second middle school and meet librarian. Brainstorm more ideas for partnerships and talk about some book club possibilities.

9:40-10:10-Drive and visit third middle school. The librarian tells us about how they're integrating technology in the school and we talk about ideas for how we can bring programs for the after school crowd.

10:10-10:45-Drive and visit the high school. We talk more about programming and book club ideas and how we can promote the public library at the schools.

10:45-11:00-Drive back to the library.

11:00-11:30-Back at the library and catch up with staff member in the children's department with what's been going on. Community Relations drops off some invites for our upcoming party for our teen review board. Take invites over to teen department and ask teen associate to address the invites to get them ready to mail. We talk about the upcoming teen party and make sure the schedule works so we can attend. 

11:30-11:45-Help cover the desk, straighten up the department, check email.


12:30-1:15-Back from lunch. Check in with employee who came in for the afternoon/evening shift and talk about an upcoming program they are doing. Help cover desk for second employee to have lunch. 

1:15-2:00-Meet with other youth services staff to brainstorm ideas for our early literacy space. We put in picture book bins in November and we're trying to reorganize the flow of the department because right now it's a bit crowded and we're looking for ways to make it a bit more organized and make sense. We have early literacy toys, a puppet stage, tables and chairs and we're trying to make a bit more cozy and comfortable.

2:00-3:30-Work off desk in the workroom. I work on cleaning off my desk (it gets so messy and piled up!) and organizing my to-do list with upcoming programs, schedules, and meetings I need to plan. I take a look at tour/library visit requests and make sure everything is scheduled and write down the scheduled dates on the calendar. I make copies of the middle school and high school requests for the YA associate and assign staff for each tour. I talk to one of my staff about an upcoming bilingual babies storytime and look at materials she's gathered and brainstorm ideas of what to have out for the program. I also work on reading through some of the review journals that have stacked up on my desk and prepping everything I need for storytime tomorrow.


3:45-5:00-Work on the children's desk, answering patron questions and helping find materials, straighten up department, sign kids up for computers, assist with the self-check machine, check email.

5:00-Head home

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mock Caldecott List

It's time for me to get my library Mock Caldecott list together so I can start promoting our program to our schools and patrons. We plan our programs very early and many months out at my library, so I'm already working on this event for January and starting to get our promotions together so everyone can read the books leading up to the program.

Earlier this year, we hosted our first ever Mock Caldecott event and it was a huge success! We had a mix of kids to adults and it was a blast discussing books with everyone. I can't wait to repeat it again in January. Here's what we'll be reading and discussing:

Bluebird by Bob Staake

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin 

Journey by Aaron Becker

Locomotive by Brian Floca

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Stardines by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger

That Is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

I tried to give us a short list this year. Last year we worked with around 14 titles and it was just too many, so I thought we'd go with 10 this year and see how that worked. I'm also making a longer list for staff to use at a staff only event, where we can discuss even more books I wasn't able to put on this list.

What are your top picks for Caldecott this year? Anything I need to add?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is a school librarian at Modesto City Schools. He blogs at Heavy Medal for School Library Journal. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 

Since I'm so focused on literary merit on Heavy Medal, I've decided to spotlight a handful of books that I've found extremely popular with my middle grade students.

   Front Cover

HARRIS AND ME by Gary Paulsen would always be my first read aloud of the year when I was a classroom teacher because it was hysterically funny and the kids knew they could trust my book recommendations.  Underneath that hilarity, however, there's a very poignant story of a boy finding a place that he--finally!--belongs.  SKINNYBONES by Barbara Park is also pretty darn funny, and it's an easy sell because the kids have read JUNIE B. JONES.

SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF by Wendelin Van Draanen is my go-to mystery series for this age group, and I find that it appeals to both boys and girls because of the tomboyish nature of Sammy.  These feature a great mix of mystery, school story, and humor.

And speaking of school story, Andrew Clements has written so many good ones that it's hard to single out just one, but I'll go with his first one, FRINDLE, the story of a teacher, a student, and their battle over language that transforms them both.  Nice and short, too.

Honorable mention here for Louis Sachar and his brilliant THERE'S A BOY IN THE GIRLS' BATHROOM, now obviously overshadowed by HOLES, but a great book in its own right that showcases Sachar's brilliant ability to see the world from a kid's perspective.  

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin is an oldie, but a goodie--and it must be listened to on audiobook for the pleasure of the various accents of the narrator.


John Grandits puts the fun in poetry with his collections of concrete poetry, TECHNICALLY, IT'S NOT MY FAULT and BLUE LIPSTICK.

My students love graphic novels and nothing outside of a few manga series is hotter than Kazu Kabushi's AMULET series.

WARRIORS VS. WARRIORS by Steve Stone is a great nonfiction book with the premise of pitting history's fiercest warriors against each other in wonderful graphic filled pages.  A different kind of nonfiction book than I typically hawk on Heavy Medal, but the kind that evokes fights over who gets to check it out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm a Cybils Judge

I am pleased to share that this year I will be part of the Cybils! The Cybils are the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. 

This year I will be part of the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Second Round Panel with an amazing group of people. I can't wait to get started! But before we get reading, we have to have nominations!

Starting October 1st, you can visit the Cybils page and nominate titles in each of the categories-and there are tons of categories to choose from! Picture books Young Adult to Book Apps, there is a category for all ages. So be sure to let your voice be heard and nominate your favorite books of the year that you think the judges should be reading. It's a great way to get involved and the nomination lists area great tools for reader's advisory.

So happy reading and happy nominating!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

So You Want To Read Middle Grade: Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Kathryn Fitzmaurice is the author of the middle grade books, The Year the Swallows Came Early and A Diamond in the Desert. Her most recent release, Destiny Rewritten, was published in February and was an IndieNext Pick for Spring. You can find Kathryn at her website:
Middle grade readers, in my opinion, are full of optimism.  They mostly see the world in a positive light.  They believe anything can happen, and many times, they tend to dwell in possibility.  This is to say that most readers have faith that things will turn out for the better, that whatever situation occurs, even events that might cause pain, in the end, things will be okay.  Typically, the main character sees the world differently because of something they have learned, some true event or idea that has shifted their focus in a small but very identifiable way.  Some of them still make wishes on shooting stars, hoping that their wish might come true.  Many believe in best friends.  They’re in that “in-between” stage, not yet a teenager, but not a child, either.  Middle grade novels tell us stories about our lives, and most of them end with a sense of hopefulness, letting us know the that the world will keep on spinning, and our lives will move forward, no matter what has happened.  And while there are so many wonderful middle grade books that have been written, if I were forced to pick my favorites, I would choose the following:

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DiCamillo.  This is the book that made me want to write middle grade novels.  I remember reading it with my oldest son when he was in third grade.  When we got to the page where Opal listed the ten things about her mother and then memorized them, I put the book down and thought, how does Ms. DiCamillo write such truths?  How does she know the human heart so well to put together a brilliant sentence like this?  To quote the book, on page 30, “I wanted to know those ten things inside and out.  That way, if my mama ever came back, I could recognize her, and I would be able to grab her and hold on tight and not let her get away from me again.”  Really, anything written by Ms. DiCamillo should be read.  Each book holds a tiny lesson in hopefulness and perfection.  

OKAY FOR NOW, by Gary D. Schmidt.  I have read this at least ten times, and each time I do, I find yet another completely brilliant sentence, or paragraph, or page. There’s a reason Mr. Schmidt has been a Newbery Honor winner and a National Book Award finalist.  Not only does he teach an English class in Michigan, he writes really fantastic books.  This novel is a companion to the WEDNESDAY WARS.  There are some of the same characters, but it’s about Doug Swieteck, and his move to upstate New York.  It’s about how he overcomes a father who has lost his way, and a brother who comes home in a wheelchair from the Vietnam War.  But it’s also about how Doug learns to draw, and, in the end, falls in love.  

Also by Gary D. Schmidt, WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS.  This book is half fantasy, half reality, but it’s simply wonderful.  Mr. Schmidt ties together the world of Valorium, which is under siege, and it’s hero sends out a precious necklace that pulls together the art of this race, with ordinary world of Tommy Pepper, who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Tommy has recently lost his mother, and the family is grieving.  It ends happily, they get to keep their house and Tommy’s sister, who has not spoken since her mother died, starts humming a song as she sits next to Tommy, who is playing a Bach piece on the piano.  My favorite part is the glossary in the back, which defines the words that come from the fantasy part of the book.  

EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, by Deborah Wiles.  This delightful novel was a National Book Award finalist, and so well written.  The first line: “I come from a family with a lot of dead people.”  Comfort Snowberger tells the story of life and death, and coming to terms with loosing her best friend and then, getting her back again.  Toward the end, a rather large rainfall produces a flash flood, and Comfort and her cousin, Peach, get caught up in this flood with her dog, Dismay.  After days of searching, they find Dismay’s collar, and deep down, Comfort hopes he is still alive, but the dog never returns back home.  At Dismay’s funeral, her best friend, Declaration, says, “I’m not much for dogs.  But Dismay introduced me to Comfort, my best friend.  And he made me laugh that day when everyone was so sad.  He helped me not to miss my mama so much that day.”  I happen to be a dog lover, so I know what she means when she writes this.  It’s true; a dog will always make everything better.

IDA B, by Katherine Hannigan.  I adore this book.  Ida B. is forced from being home-schooled to a real school, as well as doing her best to understand her mother’s diagnosis of cancer.  I cried a few times, (there are some sad parts, they are forced to sell some of their land) but I also laughed, because Ida B. sees the world in a very good way.  She makes it through tough times and in the end, she is hopeful.  She has her trees, which she names, and her mother seems to be better.

OUT OF THE DUST, by Karen Hesse.  This book won the Newbery Award, the Scott O’Dell Award, and was on many notable lists.  It’s about a young girl named Billie Jo who survived the dust bowl.  It’s written in verse, and was edited by Brenda Bowen.  (Ms. Hesse also dedicated the book to Brenda.)  My favorite line in the book is toward the end, on page 226.  “And I’m learning, watching Daddy, that you can stay in one place and still grow.”  This is just so lovely and true.  The whole book is brilliantly written.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Judge a Book By Its Cover: Hardcover to Paperback

I love comparing covers and judging books by their covers! We all do it and it's fun to analyze what works and what doesn't. Here are some recent cover changes I've come across:


I love the color and the eye on the cover just feels like this is going to be something spooky and mysterious.


I still like the color, but I'm not sure about the rest of the cover and I'm not sure why. I do like how this cover gives more of a feel of the 1920s, but I think the spookiness is missing. 


I think this one is pretty, but nothing special. It wouldn't catch my eye.


-I like how this one has a more futuristic feel, which I find appealing. It also feels a bit science fiction like and for some reason makes me think of Star Trek (which has nothing to do with the book and it's nothing like Star Trek) but it would make it pick it up. 


-This one is simple which I think makes it stand out.


-Again the simplicity of the cover works for me, although this cover makes me think it's a fairy tale retelling.


-I think this one is nicely mysterious if a bit plain.


-This one is a miss for me. It now looks like a poorly made self published cover that was thrown together and instead of looking like a mystery it looks like a sad, depressing book.

What do you think of these changes? Any others you've noticed recently? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

YA Movie News

-Harry Potter is getting another movie. Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling announced Friday that Rowling is penning a script based on Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them, one of the Hogwarts textbooks. Rowling wrote the textbook for charity several years ago during the height of Harry Potter popularity. It will be based in the same world, but take place before the Harry Potter books and movies. I'm still not sure what I think of this news-I'm excited and nervous as to how it will turn out. What are your thoughts on the news?

-Willem Dafoe has joined the cast of The Fault in Our Stars, taking on the role of author Peter Van Houten.

-Disney Channel is working on a TV movie based on Boys Are Dogs by Leslie Margolis to air in 2014. The movie version will be called Zapped! Thanks to Publishers Weekly for the news.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

SMASH: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton, illustrated by Kyle Bolton

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Genre: Comic Book/Superheroes

Release Date: 9/10/2013

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Check out author Chris A. Bolton's Guest Pos

About the Book: Andrew is obsessed with Defender, the local superhero. But when a blast destroys Defender and somehow transfers superpowers into Andrew, suddenly Andrew is the new hero in town. He can fly, he has super strength, he can stop bad guys-and he has to be home in time for bed. Being a fifth grade superhero is a rough job!

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Superheroes are always a fan favorite and Smash pays homage to the superhero genre and comic book format. Smash  feels like a classic superhero tale-from the storyline of a kid getting powers to the fighting of the main jealous bad guy Magus, to the powers and secrets that Andrew now has, this is a great choice for readers looking for a hero tale.

The book is being marketed for middle grade readers and I think the artwork and story will appeal to readers wanting something that is not light and fluffy in the comic world, but instead something that is a bit more real and gritty. There is a lot of action in the book and it's not cartoonish at all, which I think readers will like. There is also a corrupt police chief, a mean bully, a dangerous bad guy, and dangerous weapons. The story is lots of fun, but it's not a sickly sweet tale of a superhero either. It's realistic and true to the comic book hero world without giving into slapstick humor. I would compare Smash to Batman as far as story and tone.

With more to come from Smash, comic book readers are sure to have a new hero root for.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from advanced copy sent by publisher

Friday, September 13, 2013

Guest Post: Asterix and the Library by Chris A. Bolton, author of SMASH

Please welcome Chris A. Bolton, author of the comic book, SMASH: Trial by Fire to GreenBeanTeenQueen!

I haven't been what you could call a "child" for, um, several years now. (How many? Never you mind.) But my childhood experience with my local library was so strong that, to this day, when I hear the word "library," my first thought is: Asterix.

Surely you know of Asterix the Gaul? The star of the French comics created in 1959 by writer René Goscinny and artist Albert Uderzo? Asterix is the short, shrewd, blond-haired warrior who, along with his enormous friend Obelix, stumbles into countless adventures, usually while battling the Roman army that surrounds their tiny Gaulish village.

Like soccer and Tintin, Asterix is hugely successful and wildly beloved all over the world -- but only moderately popular in the U.S. As a young boy who loved and devoured superhero comics featuring Batman or Spider-Man, I'd never heard of Asterix until one fateful Sunday afternoon when my mom took me to the public library in Eugene, Oregon.

At the time, I thought the library was a vast palace of books, nearly impenetrable in size. Now that I'm quite a big bigger and live in Portland -- a much larger city, which has a central library that is several stories tall -- I realize my mind was exaggerating this perspective a bit. (The Eugene library has even gotten bigger, having moved to a larger building in the 1990s.)

But, at seven years of age, I found the dozen or so shelves of the children's section quite daunting. Where would I begin looking? And more importantly, how would I ever stop?

In short order, a shelf of books caught my attention. These peculiarly-sized volumes were called "albums" in Europe and today would be labeled "graphic novels" (despite being not quite novel-length). But back in the mid-1980s, they were just oddly-shaped, taller-than-normal comic books with hard covers that stood out to me at a glance.

Two memories jump at me as I write: the tape on the covers, and the shape of the characters' hands.

The Asterix volumes all had reddish tape along the spines, presumably to patch them together after countless eager readers had worn the bindings to splinters. The titles of the books had to be retyped on the tape in that ubiquitous Courier font indicative of typewriters. I'm sure hundreds of library books underwent his life-saving procedure, but I'll always associate the look and tactile feel of that tape with the well-loved Asterix books in the Eugene library.

And those hands! There's something of a consistent style to all the European comics I've seen from the 1950s and '60s. Most were probably inspired by Tintin, although very few that I've found seem to try and actually imitate Herge's distinctive visual style. But the look of Asterix was familiar to me from The Smurfs, the Belgian comic series created by writer/artist Peyo in 1958.

In the early 1980s, the Smurfs were enjoying a newfound popularity in the U.S. thanks to a hit Saturday morning cartoon series. Oh yes, I was a huge fan of the Smurfs! I watched the cartoon religiously and bought as many of the comics as I could find -- although, oddly, only a handful of Peyo's Smurfs books were translated into English and published in the U.S. until very recently.

As a budding artist -- until I grew frustrated with my limitations and turned to writing, a much better fit (while my younger brother, Kyle, became the family artist) -- I was captivated by the way Peyo draw the Smurfs' hands. Big, round palms with long, nimble fingers that broadened at the ends. Tight, compact fists that swung like little clubs. I filled mountains of scratch paper with drawings of hands, trying to copy Peyo's distinctive proportions -- the likes of which I had never seen in any other comic book.

Until Asterix.

I don't know if Uderzo copied Peyo (who was already well-known in Europe for his pre-Smurfs comics), or if they went to the same art school, or what. All I knew was, they both drew the same, magnificent hands!

The instant I pulled one of those red-taped spines from the shelf, opened the peeling cover, and laid eyes on those hands, I grabbed as many Asterix books as I could scoop into my skinny arms. Of course, there was a limit to how many books could be checked out at a time, so I had to put a few back. (Which was just as well; I never would have finished reading all of those volumes without racking up overdue fines.)

From then on, I returned to the library every couple of months. I found numerous other books to read and treasure. Many of those are now sadly out-of-print, although I've managed to hunt down some favorites on eBay (all ex-libris).

But I always walked out with a least an armful of Asterix books!

Looking back, I think what ultimately drew me to Asterix was the mixture of fun, cartoony art with action-packed adventure that managed to be both humorous and exciting. At the time, few American comics achieved -- or even attempted -- that balance of tones, much less that dynamic visual style. Spider-Man made a lot of corny jokes, but he took crimefighting more or less seriously -- and so did the comics in which he starred. Even when hugely outnumbered by Roman legions, however, Asterix and Obelix faced their challenges with unwavering grins firmly affixed -- and so did their readers.

Many years later, I had this balance of tones in mind when my brother and I developed our comic Smash, about a ten-year-old superhero. We wanted to put our pint-sized (and, come to think of it, Asterix-sized) hero in situations of real danger with genuine, life-threatening consequences -- while still finding humor in the characters and their predicaments. I'm sure we have a long way to go before we even approach the mastery of storytelling magic in Asterix, but we're determined to get there -- or, at least, as close as we can.

Today, I constantly visit my closest branch of the Portland library. Thanks to the internet, I can put a hold on the book or DVD I want, stroll into the building, find my reservations shelf, and head out with my checked-out treasures in just a few, short minutes. But I like to stop and linger now and then. Stroll through the shelves, browse unfamiliar spines, and see what jumps out at me.

Not long ago, I wandered into the children's books room. My gaze fixed on a shelf of graphic novels whose spines were instantly familiar (even without the distinctive red tape or Courier titles). I scanned a bunch of the Asterix books, admiring those beautiful hands and recalling those long-ago childhood memories.

Then, a boy of about eight or ten walked in and darted straight to that shelf. He skidded to his knees and pulled out the Asterix books, one at a time. As he flipped the oversized pages, his eyes were as huge as a Roman centurion's when Asterix bore down on him with fists cocked. I walked away to leave the boy to the lifetime of wonderful memories he was creating at the library.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Anne Clark

So You Want to Read Middle Grade? Booktalking Minus the Eye Rolls. Hopefully.

Anne Clark is a children’s librarian with the Bay County Library System in Michigan. She blogs about working with kids from birth through sixth grade (and related shenanigans) at So Tomorrow (

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga. Choose-your-own adventures are always a hit with middle grade kids, who have so few choices in their schedule-packed days. Meanwhile is a choose-your-own adventure graphic novel that starts with our hero picking an ice cream flavor. I don’t want to spoil any of the 3,856 possible endings, but you should give it a try. I booktalked this to elementary students (100 at a time) using an Elmo and I thought that I would be killed in the ensuing stampede of boys coming at me.

National Geographic Kids’s Weird but True series is another great choice to share with a group of students. Each page has 1-4 facts with full color photographs. The facts run everything from “piranhas bark” to head-scratchers like “a month on Venus is longer than a decade on Venus” and cover geography, science, performing arts, and other high interest topics. This is also a great “bathroom book” if you’re looking to add to your commode collection.

The Twits by Roald Dahl. If there is a child in your life whose tastes run to the weird or macabre, than Dahl is the writer for him/her. I was that kid and I devoured all of his books for kids and was very confused by the ones that are definitely not for kids. Many of his stories run on the shorter side for novels, so he is a great pick for reluctant readers. The Twits is no exception.  It’s also a great story, about a married couple who hate everything in the world with one exception—they love to play mean pranks on each other. I like to have the kids at my booktalks guess some of the pranks, like Mrs. Twit putting worms in Mr. Twit’s spaghetti or when he gets revenge by convincing her that she is shrinking. The kids really get into whether the Twits will ever get their comeuppance.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (Book 1 in the Chronicles of Prydain). I stumbled upon The Chronicles of Prydain at my childhood public library in middle school and I could not have been happier with that serendipitous find. Alexander was truly one of the great fantasy writers and this series (about an assistant-pigkeeper who longs to be a capital-h Hero) is a master at the top of his game. Don’t watch the truly dreadful Disney film adaptation. Or do because it’s hilariously awful.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater. Speaking of books that have been turned into movies, the Jim Carrey vehicle ostensibly based on Mr. Popper’s Penguins barely resembles its source material. The novel is, as always, much better. The plot is simple: Mr. Popper, a house painter, is surprised to receive a penguin delivered to his house. His family is at first delighted but naturally some problems pop up. This is one of my favorites to recommend to families who are looking for a more wholesome, classic story. It’s definitely a charmer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

YA Movie News

-School Library Journal has a great roundup of YA novels that are hitting the big screen.

-Rob Thomas (of Veronica Mars fame) is working on a modern day interpretation of Les Miserables for the small screen. The script has been ordered from Fox, so we'll see if it takes off! Thanks to Cynopsis for the news.

-The TV version of Jim Benton's Dear Dumb Diary series debuts as a musical film on Saturday September 7 at 8pm (ET) on the Hallmark Channel. Thanks to Cynopsis for the news.

And just for fun, the season four trailer for Downton Abbey was release. We have to wait until January to watch it in the US though.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School by Fowler DeWitt PLUS GIVEAWAY

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Genre: Humor/Mystery

Release Date: 9/3/2013

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About the Book: Wilmer Dooley is a scientist. His father always says "observe!" and that's just what Wilmer loves to do. So when Wilmer notices the kids at school start turning strange colors and have an excess of energy, Wilmer decides to research this strange new plague outbreak and he's sure to win the Science Medal with a cure! But Wilmer's nemesis is on his tail and the science teacher Mrs. Padgett just knows Wilmer is up to no good. Can Wilmer solve the mystery, save the school, and maybe even win the heart of his crush Roxie?

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Science and humor make for an awesome blend in Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School. Wilmer is an incredibly likable character-his scientific observations and his crush on Roxie make him incredibly endearing-he reminds me a young Leonard from Big Bang Theory. Wilmer loves to observe and make scientific discoveries, but he's the only one in school to seem to notice that anything strange is happening. All the other kids are excited about their new colorful looks and polka dotted faces.

Wilmer has some arch rivals to fend himself from. Mrs. Padgett is an unlikable mean teacher who is up to no good and is not a fan of Wilmer as his science abilities. She doesn't like anyone who is smarter than she is. She makes for a hilarious, over the top villain and readers will enjoy laughing at her attempts to stop Wilmer. Wilmer also has to contend with Claudius Dill, who readers will recognize is not as sweet as he appears to be. Wilmer and Claudius have a rivalry and readers will cheer for Wilmer to discover the cure and solve the mystery before Claudius does.

On top of all the science and mystery, there's a cute romance as Wilmer is trying to win over the girl he likes. Filled with humor, an eccentric cast of characters, and a lot of fun, middle grade readers are sure to get a kick of this adventure-and maybe even interested in science! I hope there's more to come from Wilmer and the rest of Mumpley Middle School.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from finished copy sent by publisher

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, one lucky winner will receive a copy of the book Contagious Colors Band Aids!

Leave a comment below with your favorite color to win!

-Contest open to US Address only
-Ages 13+
-Contest ends 9/11/13
-One entry per person please

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So You Want To Read Middle Grade: Kellie Celia

Kellie Celia is the Marketing Communications Manager, Publishing for Walden Media focusing predominantly on Walden Pond Press, a middle grade imprint co-published by HarperCollins and Walden.

There are many ideas out there about what type of book is “truly middle grade”: Books written with middle schoolers in mind; books for upper elementary school students; rare titles that can appeal to the 9-year-old and the 13-year-old reader alike. Some folks might say middle grade is anything more complex than a chapter book without the sex and romance of a young adult novel. Others might claim middle grade is defined by the age of the protagonist; any main character over 14 immediately pushes a book into young adult territory. Still others might classify middle grade by awards—if the reading level of a book is 3rd grade or above, but it is still eligible for the Newbery Award, then it can be considered middle grade.  And I say, great! Any of these ideas could work.  

But in the deep recesses of its heart, middle grade is so much more. Middle grade books keep a child reading after the excitement of learning how to read wears off, but before the demands of high school kick in. Middle grade represents changing circumstances, relationships, and bodies; fear of growing up too quickly or never growing up at all; an escape for kids who have few options or for kids who have all the options in the world. It represents that moment when, as a child, one is “on the cusp,” or, as Anne Ursu puts it so brilliantly in Breadcrumbs, “a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it’s very hard to get back to the world you left behind.” It’s kind of an ephemeral feeling, but when you sense it, you know you have a great middle grade book in your hands.  On that note, I’d love to share some of the titles that kept me reading, and those books I see and hear are helping kids today do the same.

While I love and highly recommend all middle grade titles at Walden Pond Press, I know my bias towards our books might impact my choices for this post. For that reason, I have not included any of the books we publish here.  

THEN: The books the kept me reading through my “middle grade years” and continue to do so for so many kids today. I’ll assume many of you are familiar with these titles, so I won’t summarize them so much as explain why they help meet middle grade’s overarching goal: keeping kids reading.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Kids kind of love puzzles, at least, puzzles that they are motivated to figure out. Ask a sixth grade sports fan to show you how to calculate his or her favorite baseball pitcher’s ERA and he or she will likely jump at the chance. Ask him or her to show you how to multiply fractions and you may get a different response. Nothing beats a motivator like murder, money, and compelling characters. And this is what The Westing Game has in boatloads. The “I have to find out what happens” factor is tantamount here.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Books like Hatchet and The Sign of the Beaver speak to that “what if?” scenario/fantasy that almost every child has about being completely on their own. There is also something about being out in the middle of nature that is terrifying yet strangely compelling. I think it’s this factor that makes books like this one so timeless.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
There is nothing quite like How to Eat Fried Worms. It’s the Captain Underpants or Walter the Farting Dog of yester-year and, even for adults, quite a clever read. You can’t help but turn the pages to find out how many ways the author can cook up to eat worms – fry them, microwave them, top them with all sorts of condiments, you name it.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
To this day, this is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. You know that moment I described earlier in this post: the feeling that the characters in middle grade are “on the cusp”? There is no book that captures this moment better than Walk Two Moons. Timeless. Heart-wrenching. Compelling. And a great read-aloud. I’ve seen tough fifth grade boys who are reading at a second grade level end up being completely floored by this book. They always cry when Gram dies.  

Goosebumps Series by R.L. Stine
What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? It’s spooky, but not too scary, funny but not stupid, simple but still entertaining. Plus, there are probably hundreds of books in the series by now. All a kid needs is to start with one book and he or she could go on reading for years.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, drawings by Stephen Gammell
Nothing has “creep” factor like Schwartz’s Scary Stories collection. The illustrations still haunt me to this day (I haven’t seen the new version will illustrations by Brett Helquist, which I’m sure is great, but the original is one of a kind). My quasi-friend Paula and I spent just about every 4th grade bus ride from school reading these stories to each other over and over again. Paula was kind of a bully, but every time I brought this book with me, she left everyone alone and was completely engrossed.

NOW: Here are some of the more recent releases that I see keeping kids reading through their MG years. I’m sure everyone already knows about the Wimpy Kids, Big Nates, and Origami Yodas out there—all fantastic MG options, but I’d like to highlight a few titles that perhaps aren’t always front of mind.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
One of my favorite middle grade books in recent memory. There is something about this story that captures that tween voice perfectly. It has an old school feel, but is still contemporary, there is a little adventure, a little mystery, a lot of laughs, and a tremendous amount of heart. The reading is still very accessible for children who may be struggling somewhat, but is not dumbed down. In short, a perfect combination of all things middle grade making it compelling readable for most kids.

Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
I don’t know about you, but the story of Amelia Earhart captivated my friends and me when I was in elementary school. We could have spent weeks reading about her life. And there is something about the mystery surrounding her disappearance that still holds kids today, couple that with behind the scenes pictures and information about her life and you have a winning trio.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
See my comments on The Westing Game. While a fabulous story in its own right, the motivating factors behind The Westing Game are very much at play here too.

Brixton Brothers Series by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
There is something about the detective story, especially when you add in a dose of Mac Barnett humor, that just connects. Throw in some undercover librarians and you have one healthy dose of fun on your hands. Definitely a series that I can see most kids getting into.

Time Warp Trio Series by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
Because this is a younger series, I can see some people placing it more in the chapter book realm. But let me go back to my feelings about middle grade – if you have a 6th grade child devouring this series, it’s serving the purpose that middle grade is made to serve: keeping that child reading. And I have seen this series, first hand, be devoured by third graders and sixth graders alike.

Lunch Lady Series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Again, not a series everyone would call “middle grade,” but this compulsively readable graphic novel series is original, hilarious, and empowers the iconic figure of the lunch lady.

Gregor the Overlander Series by Suzanne Collins
This series makes the concept of “dark underworld” accessible for younger kids. It’s nearly as compelling as The Hunger Games, and definitely a better fit for the middle grade space. I think this series sometimes gets overlooked since it was published before Collins became a household name with The Hunger Games, but it is an important piece of middle grade literature and guaranteed to spark interest.

I also don’t want to disregard all the magazine, online, non-fiction, and comic book reading that is going on in the middle grade space. All of this reading also goes to serve the purpose of middle grade and is definitely not to be discounted. The more options these transitioning students can read, the better the chance we have of creating a lifelong reader out of every “middle grade” child.
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