Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Guest Post: Five Things I’ve Learned from Being an Advice Columnist by Carol Weston

I’ve been “Dear Carol” at Girls’ Life since the magazine’s first issue in April of 1994. For 23 years, I’ve been hearing from tween and teen girls. What have I learned?

 9781492654490-3001. School Can Be A Refuge

When I was 28 and Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You was first published, I had no idea I’d be answering letters for decades. I’d written the book in a big sister voice, and I set up a P.O. box in Evanston, Illinois, just in case any girls wanted to get in touch. Letters poured in—and I learned how complicated the world is.

So many experts say, “Talk to your parents.” And that sounds… sound. But I quickly came to realize that parents don’t always know best. Some parents drink, some hit, some call their kids fat or stupid or lazy, and some say, “I wish you were never born.” I was stunned the first time I got a letter from a girl who was pregnant by her stepfather. As “Dear Carol,” I now realize that many kids are mistreated at home, and that girls with nightmarish lives need all the compassion and support the rest of us can offer. Do you have a hunch that a particular student could use a smile and a kind word? You’re probably right.

For countless tweens and teens, school is a safe space where they can find themselves and learn to shine. When a girl writes me about a troubling situation, I ask if there’s a nearby adult she can confide in, a librarian, teacher, nurse, counselor, or clergyperson. I tell her that this person will listen and won’t judge. Needless to say, such trustworthy adults (who may be overworked and underpaid) are heroes. They turn kids’ lives around, though they may never receive a formal thank-you.

2. Kids Need Adults (Though They’d Rather Not Admit It)

At the mall, we see mortified tweens rolling their eyes and saying “Daaaad!” or “Mahhhm!” Yet when no one’s looking, these girls tell me they feel hurt because their parents pay more attention to siblings or because they won’t get off their devices. For young people who feel invisible at home, it’s extra important to feel seen, heard, or valued elsewhere.

Even when tweens are happy campers, they may not live in a home full of books, so a librarian’s recommendations really do matter. If English is not the student’s first language, he may know about Harry and Hermione but not about Charlotte’s web and Charlie’s chocolate. Librarians have the privilege of sharing the joy of reading with the next generation and turning kids into readers. When a librarian says, “I think you’d like this,” and hands over a carefully chosen book, it can be such a gift. Speed of Life can help a grieving student know that time doesn’t heal but it helps. Ava and Pip can help a shy student come out of her shell.

I was already out of grad school when my high school librarian invited me to join her weekly writers’ group. I did, and her group helped me define myself as a writer. In my Ava and Pip series, it’s the librarian, Mr. Ramirez, who encourages Ava to enter a writing contest. Ava doesn’t win, but by the end of the book, she decides that when she grows up, she wants to be an author of children’s books.

3. Plus Ça Change, Plus C’est La Même Chose

Politics and technology change, but the bulk of my mail will always be about friendship, love, family. Teens—like grownups—want to get along with the people they care about and see every day. Girls feel sad when their best friend from first grade makes a new bestie or posts about a party to which she wasn’t invited. They feel overlooked when their divorced dad talks with excitement about a girlfriend. They worry when they find out someone they like is smoking or cutting.

Readers used to send me stamped letters; now it’s mostly email. But the contents haven’t changed so very much. That said, childhood does seem shorter than ever. I routinely hear from 11-year-olds who earnestly ask, “At what age are you supposed to have sex?” And more teens confess, “I want to be famous,” hoping I know some secret shortcut.

I’m glad our books and lives are more diverse and multicultural than ever, and that, for instance, we say “blended families” instead of “broken homes.” But we’re not where we need to be. I used to start my author visits with the question: “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?” Today, because of fake news and disinformation, the answer isn’t always crystal clear, and critical thinking skills are essential.

4. We Can All Use Advice

Too many kids believe that if they have a feeling, they should take action. She likes Max? She should tell him! She’s mad at Kiara? She should confront her! She’s attracted to Taylor? They should take their relationship to “the next level”! I’ve told thousands of girls: don’t take action; take your time. No need to make fast decisions or speak your mind at every turn—especially if it might devastate the other person.

Most students are not going to bare their souls to someone they have to face in the halls. But if a student does share, and it feels appropriate, guidance can go a long way. For some, you might be just an ear. For others, you might be the one who reminds them to calm down—or aim high. It’s often the librarians who are aware of game-changing opportunities, contests, internships, travel experiences, even boarding schools. I went to a public school until twelfth grade, then spent senior year in France with School Year Abroad, SYA.org. I’m glad I learned about and applied to this wonderful program.

5. Novelists Get to Cause Trouble

Years ago, I naïvely imagined that there would come a day when I’d get to the bottom of my mailbag. I’d offer all of my best voice-of-reason advice and, ta-da, fewer teens would get pregnant or develop eating disorders. Today I understand how hard it is to make a difference—and how crucial it is to keep trying.

With nonfiction, I strive to provide answers. With fiction, it’s the opposite: I get to ask questions and pile on problems. But I can fix things too. And I can give hope.

My new novel, Speed of Life, begins eight months after the sudden death of Sofia’s Spanish mother. Sofia’s friends were there for her, but now it’s the middle of eighth grade, and they want her to bounce back. She cannot. Yet twelve months (and twelve chapters) later, Sofia is in a much happier place.

I was crying at the keyboard when I wrote the scene where Sofia speaks to her mother. But I had fun writing about Dear Kate acting rash. Yes, one character really is an advice columnist—and no, she does not have all the answers.

Carol Weston1_photo by Linda Richichi USECarol Weston lives in Manhattan and is the author of 16 books including Speed of Life, Ava and Pip, The Diary of Melanie Martin, Girltalk, For Teens Only. Her website is carolweston.com.

The Secret Sea Blog Tour – Interview with Barry Lyga

Secret Sea Banner

Author Barry Lyga has a new middle grade novel, The Secret Sea, coming out August 23. It is a complex and fascinating story of three friends who travel to a parallel universe. From the publisher:

Twelve-year-old Zak Killian is hearing a voice. Could it be a guardian angel? A ghost? No, that’s crazy. But sometimes the voice is so real. . . . It warns him of danger.

One day Zak is standing on the subway platform when the tunnel starts to fill with water. He sees it before anyone else. The voice warns him to run. His friends Moira and Khalid believe this is more than a premonition, and soon all three find themselves in an alternate universe that is both familiar and seriously strange. As Zak unravels the mystery behind the voice, he faces decisions that may mean the end of their world at home—if they can even get home!

In his most propulsive and heartfelt book yet, acclaimed author Barry Lyga explores the depths of friendship, the bonds of family, and the nature of the universe itself.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend its purchase for the Middle School audience. Today, as a part of his blog tour, Barry joins us to answer a few questions.

You’re back to middle grade! How is it after writing your YA novels? Do you find one or the other easier or more rewarding, or is the writing experience fairly similar?

Neither is any easier or more rewarding than the other, but the experiences are different. There’s more of a reader reaction to YA, since middle grade readers don’t always have social media accounts or access to email, for example. Each has its own complexities and difficulties that may be different, but in the end, they still add up to roughly the same sense of “Can I really do this?”

The Secret Sea is a very complex novel with many societal issues being addressed. Do you find that people are surprised by the complexity of your writing for middle grades?

It’s funny you ask that — there were a couple of conceptual and vocabulary issues in the book that I worried would be too much for the age range, but my editor didn’t flag a single one. I think she knew better than I did that the kids attracted to this book would be the ones who could either handle that stuff or look it up and keep following along. I really try not to write down to readers of any age, but especially in middle grade — these kids can totally sense when you’re doing that and they’ll never forgive you for it!

How long have you been interested in the concept of parallel universes, and what made you want to write a story featuring them?

I’ve loved parallel universes since I was a little kid reading Justice League comics co-starring the Justice Society from Earth-2! (And then they would team up to fight the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 — bliss!) I’ve been obsessed with parallel universes since then; I absolutely adore a good alternate world story. So, I’ve wanted to write my own since forever, really, and I finally sat down and did it with The Secret Sea!

9781250072832You delve into a lot of gender equality issues in this novel. Did you do a lot of research for this, or was it prompted by any particular experience?

There was no particular experience, other than just living in this world of ours and observing its steps toward a theoretical future of gender equality. I wanted the alternate universe to seem like the best place ever to be lost as a kid, with a dark side that isn’t immediately obvious. And I have to admit: I love the idea that the alternate universe has all this amazing technology and sophistication… and their worst nightmare is a super-smart, fiercely independent 12-year-old girl.

Do you have any particular memories of middle school you’d like to share with our readers?

I didn’t have a great time in middle school, honestly, but I met my best friend there, so that worked out all right! :)

 

#LastListEgmont: Jaguar Stones, Pirate Adventures, and a New Publisher, Matt Myklusch and Jon and Pamela Voelkel interview

Matt Myklusch and Jon and Pamela Voelkel first met on a panel at the Texas Library Association. At the time, the Voelkels were promoting their action-packed Jaguar Stones series, and Matt was doing the same for his superhero adventure books, The Jack Blank Adventures. Now, a couple years later, with Jon and Pamela Voelkel releasing The Lost City, the epic Jaguar Stones conclusion, and Matt launching Seaborne, the first book in a new series of his own, the three of them caught up to talk about their new books… and now, a new publisher too.

MATT: Congratulations on wrapping up the Jaguar Stones series! Finishing a book, just by itself, is a huge accomplishment. Finishing a series is massive. How does it feel to be done?

J&P: Hey, Matt, congratulations to you too! As we’re sure you found with Jack Blank, it’s bittersweet to finish a series. In our case, it’s a delayed ending because the Jaguar Stones was planned as a trilogy, but the story took on a life of its own. Now with the fourth and final book, The Lost City, we end exactly where we always wanted to be. (We wrote the very last paragraph way back when we were working on Middleworld, the first book in the series.) So we’re elated that everything worked out, but we’re sad to say goodbye to characters who’ve become part of our family. It’s been fantastic to hear from readers who’ve stayed with us through the four books and get their take. Happy to say that no one predicted the ending!

MATT: I know that feeling! Personally, I felt tons of pressure when I was writing the final book in my Jack Blank trilogy. Did you guys feel anything different while you were writing this one?

J&P: For us, we probably felt most pressure for The End of the World Club, which was the second book. Middleworld – the first Jaguar Stones book and the first book we’d ever written together – got great reviews and we wanted to make sure the follow-up lived up to it. Moreover, our local children’s librarian had told us in no uncertain terms that she expected a proper story with a beginning, a middle and an end – not just a bridging book. By the third and fourth books, the story was writing itself. All we had to do was keep up with the characters.

MATT: I’m sure the series goes out with a bang. Tell me all about The Lost City.

J&P: By the end of the third Jaguar Stones book, The River of No Return, our readers have been on a wild ride through the Maya rainforest. Our two main characters – Max, a fourteen year old boy from Boston, and Lola, a Maya girl of about the same age – have failed once again to save the world from the ancient Maya Lords of Death. The forest is being destroyed, the wildlife is endangered, and Max has received an invitation to his own funeral.

For The Lost City, we turn everything on its head and journey from Central America via New Orleans to a Native American city on the Mississippi River. The bad guys have realized they can’t take over the world without mastering social media, so they trick Max and Lola into helping them. Meanwhile Lola, who used to be the brave one, loses heart, so Max has to step up to the plate. Literally – because the final showdown takes place in Fenway Park.

It was so much fun to write, and we hope our readers will agree that it’s the fastest, funniest, most  fantabulous Jaguar Stones book yet. The Lost City has everything: a parade of Maya monsters, a phantom riverboat, an alien spaceship, a howler monkey on rollerskates, the triumphant return of Thunderclaw the Chicken of Death, and the legendary Boston Red Sox!

MATT: I’m a Yankees fan, but I won’t hold that against you. It sounds a fun ride. Congratulations again on realizing your grand vision!

J&P: Thank you. We’re sad to say goodbye to the Jaguar Stones, but excited about our next project. You’re ahead of us in that respect, so please tell us what to expect! After pouring so much energy into your first series, how did you feel about starting something new?

MATT: On one hand, I was fired up to be flexing new creative muscles. I had lived with the characters of the Jack Blank universe, and been consumed by their story for so long, it was refreshing to turn the page and do something completely different.

On the other hand, I was starting from scratch again for the first time in years. I suddenly remembered what a giant task it is to create a whole world from the ground up. You need to figure out the rules of your world. What’s possible? What’s not possible? When you are writing the second or third book in a series, you go in with that infrastructure already built. With Seaborne, I had to get to know new characters again, each with their own voices, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. I had to figure out the right tone and voice for the story too. I’m always worried I’m going to ruin a great idea, so when it came time to start writing, I had a few false starts. It took me a little longer than usual to find my groove.

J&P: Now we’re intrigued! Tell us more about Seaborne. And by the way, we LOVE that cover!

MATT: Thank you! Me too. Matt Armstron, the illustrator, did a terrific job.

Seaborne is the story of a boy raised by pirates and forced into a life of crime. 13-year-old Dean Seaborne is a spy for One-Eyed Jack, the ruthless Pirate King. His job is to sneak onto ships and find out what they are carrying, or infiltrate crews before raids. Dean’s great at what he does, but he hates doing it. He feels like the angel of death, delivering ships into the hands of One-Eyed Jack’s men.

When Dean gets caught trying to run away, he nearly ends up fed to the sharks. One-Eyed Jack only spares his life because he’s got a line on the greatest treasure in all the Caribbean— an island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince. What he doesn’t know is, he might be exactly who he’s pretending to be.

J&P: Sounds amazing! We saw the National Theatre production of Treasure Island in London over the holidays and Seaborne has that same feeling of danger, thrills, and classic adventures. Was it easy for you to plunge into the pirate world? How was the writing process? Did you do anything differently this time around?

MATT: I learned to trust myself and my voice, for one thing. This book is set in the early 1700’s— the golden age of piracy. For some reason, that led to me writing the first draft in an “old timey narrator” voice that wasn’t my own. When people read it they felt like something was missing, and that thing was me. I got 100 pages in before I realized I was doing something wrong, but I think I got it right in the end.

Also, this was the first book I had to do a lot of research on. My earlier books had completely imaginary locations from start to finish. I had to educate myself for this one. Not too much, but more than I’m used to. You guys do a ton of research. Tell me about the background work you did for Jaguar Stones series.

J&P: In fact, we fell into the massive research project by accident. We’d originally planned a wild adventure story about a city boy lost in the jungle – with Maya pyramids as a cool background. Jon had grown up in South and Central America, so he already knew the terrain. We went down to Belize with our kids for one week, so Pamela could get a feel for it too. And that changed everything. We learned so much about the ancient Maya and met so many modern Maya people that they took over the story.

After that, we went down to Belize or Guatemala or Mexico every year. Sometimes twice a year. We became the kind of people who hang out at archaeology conferences. Jon even took a course at Harvard to learn how to read and write Maya glyphs. In our minds at least, the Jaguar Stones became more than an adventure series; it became the story of a boy from Boston and a modern Maya girl who are trying to understand each other’s worlds.

For Book Four, The Lost City, we followed the Mississippi from New Orleans to an ancient American city called Cahokia, just across the river from St Louis. It’s an amazing place and it’s hard to understand why it’s not as famous as, say, Mount Rushmore or Plymouth Rock. It was fascinating to look at the parallels between the pyramid builders of North and Central America. We’ll really miss researching the Jaguar Stones books because they’ve taken us to places we could never have imagined. Book Four also took us to the legendary Fenway Park. Neither of us knew the first thing about baseball before writing the book, but now we’re both diehard Red Sox fans!

MATT: Again, I’m going to let that slide ;]

The only field trips I did for this book were to a resort in Turks and Caicos, but I did do some reading. I know nothing about sailing or ships, so I had to research that kind of thing. I wanted to get the lingo down right, but I decided not to bother learning which empires controlled which islands in the Caribbean back in 1704. It was easier to use fictional islands like St. Diogenes, and port towns like Bartleby Bay. No one can tell me I got the facts wrong about places that don’t exist.

I guess it’s not surprising that I still made some mistakes. For example, I thought a “league” was six feet, but it’s actually about 3 miles. (This was not a problem until I had my main characters swimming a league or two underwater in cave). One of my readers caught that error in an ARC that Egmont sent out. We corrected that in the final version.

J&P: Good catch! And now that our mutual publisher, Egmont, has been bought by Lerner, how are you feeling about the future? What does this news mean for Seaborne?

MATT: I know it means that Book 1 will have a home with a fully operational, US based publisher who has been putting out quality books for over 50 years. That’s a very good thing. There’s a much better chance that the Seaborne series will continue now. There are no guarantees, but the good news is that I approached this series the same way that Indiana Jones is a series. Each story was meant to be a standalone adventure, so whatever happens with Book 2, it’s going to be okay. The people who pick up this book are going to get a complete story with no loose ends.

My hope is that Dean Seaborne will keep sailing for adventure. I’m going to miss working with the Egmont team, but I’m very excited about the opportunities at Lerner.

J&P: What’s been astonishing is how Egmont authors have rallied together to promote each other’s books under the #lastlistegmont – and how much love we’ve all got from the publishing world. Speaking personally, we’ve been blown away by the support from bloggers, booksellers, librarians and booklovers we’ve never even met!

MATT: Absolutely. I love the way we banded together to help each other’s books succeed. And, we all got to share the great news about Lerner too. That was a nice moment. Speaking of the Last Listers, (or maybe now the Last Lerners?), anyone reading this can get information on all our books at egmontslastlist.tumblr.com. I would urge everyone to check out those books, and also visit JaguarStones.com and MattMyklusch.com for more on The Lost City and Seaborne: The Lost Prince. It’s been great talking to you guys again!

J&P: Maybe see you in Turks and Caicos next time!

MATT: Deal

Meet Our Guest Bloggers:

Matt Myklusch is a middle-grade fantasy/adventure author and the creator of SEABORNE (Egmont USA), and THE JACK BLANK ADVENTURES (Simon & Schuster, Aladdin). When he’s not busy writing about kite-boarding pirates, superheroes, and robot-zombies, Matt hosts THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY PODCAST, speaking with other authors about their creative process and path to publication. Matt lives in New Jersey with his wife and family, where he is always hard at work on his next book.

Jon and Pamela (J&P) Voelkel are the author-illustrators of the Jaguar Stones series; Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating. Their books tell the story of a city boy and a jungle girl – a mirror image of Jon’s wild childhood in Latin America and Pamela’s altogether tamer upbringing in an English seaside town. The Voelkels met in London, where they both worked at the same advertising agency, and now live in Vermont.

To research the Jaguar Stones, they and their three adventure-loving children have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on Today.

  • Twitter: @pvoelkel @jaguarstones
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/JP-Voelkel
  • Website: www.jaguarstones.com

 Publisher’s Book Descriptions:

The Lost City (Jaguar Stones book 4)

The epic conclusion to the exciting Jaguar Stones series and a rip-roaring adventure into the heart of America!

With his parents in jail and the Maya Death Lords in possession of all five Jaguar Stones, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy is pretty sure that he’ll never get to leave the rainforest. But the Lords of Death have a problem–a new king calling himself Great Sun claims to have the Jaguar Stones, too. And they want Max to prove the guy’s a fraud. Or else.

Now, Max, and Lola, the mysterious girl who befriends him, are off on another wild adventure that will take them from Central America to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.

But one thing Max should have learned after all of this dealings with the Death Lords — they never keep their promises.

Seaborne #1: The Lost Prince

Middle-grade adventure readers will love this fresh take on classic pirate tropes. Fans of Percy Jackson and The Chronicles of Egg will enjoy Dean Seaborne’s adventures on the sea.

Dean Seaborne is thrown off his ship by the Pirate King and given one last chance to redeem himself before he meets Davy Jones’s locker. He has to spy on the Pirate King’s biggest rival, Gentleman Jack Harper, and find the treasure hidden on the mysterious island of Zenhala.

Once on Zenhala, Dean finds that the inhabitants of the island think he is the lost prince who went missing 13 year ago. In order to fulfill his mission for the Pirate King, Dean undergoes intense and fantastical trials to prove he is the lost prince. But the longer Dean stays on the island, the more he questions his mission.

Middle Grade Monday – The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

I am honestly delighted with this second entry in the distinctly well written Lockwood & Co. series by Stroud. It has so many elements to recommend it to my middle school readers! In case you missed it, I recently reviewed the first book in the series, The Screaming Staircase. When I opened the library’s latest book shipment, I was excited to find this one inside – especially since it was right before a scheduled break. I knew I would have time to read it before I put it out for circulation.

This entry into the series begins six months after the events of Combe Carey Hall as detailed in The Screaming Staircase. The agents at Lockwood & Co., Anthony, Lucy, and George have several more cases to their credit, but continue to be frustrated by the interference of Quill Kipps and his agents from the ultra-posh Fittes Agency. As the book opens, a minor lack of information causes the agents to get themselves in a sticky situation from which they are rescued by Kipps and his agents, who take credit for the operation. This leads to a not so friendly wager between the two groups over a yet to be determined contest of agenting prowess. We have little time to wait, as both groups are called in on a case by Inspector Barnes.

As set up during the last chapter of The Screaming Staircase, this case is heavily dependent upon a psychic relic containing a ‘source’ which has continued to speak to Lucy on and off throughout their cases. Its importance comes into focus on this case as they realize that their ‘skull in a jar’ is somehow related to the Bickerstaff case. Bickerstaff, being a mad scientist type who created a bone mirror to attempt to see into the afterlife, is uncovered, along with the mirror. George, who gets a glimpse of the mirror at the beginning of the case and almost loses his life to Bickerstaff’s ghost, becomes obsessed with the object and it’s properties, beginning to act strangely. Lucy and Lockwood, who dismiss George’s idiosyncratic behavior as a rule, don’t pay enough attention to the change in George’s personality. Of course, this almost leads to the demise of all three agents.

As it continues being the story of three relatively unsupervised 15/16 year olds, it adds elements that will only increase its appeal to middle graders. Some of the highlights of this entry into the series include the manipulative and creepy messages Lucy receives from the skull, a ghost who constantly relives being eaten alive by rats (sure to be popular with my students,) an informant with a serious lack of attention to personal hygiene, a death by stabbing, the black market in psychic relics, and the continued rivalry between the Lockwood agents and Kipps’ group from the Fittes agency. We also get a glimpse, at the end, of Lockwood’s secret room which neatly sets up the next entry into the series. I’m not sure how many volumes Stroud has planned, but if they all remain as strong as the first two I hope they continue for a long while. This series is a definite purchase for all collections serving students ages 10 to 14.

In My Mailbox: Looking for Middle Grade Fiction that Deals with Sexual Violence

I often get emails and comments in regards to The #SVYALit Project asking about Middle Grade titles that deal with sexual abuse and violence of pre-teen kids. And each time I get a question, I go looking for some great recommendations. I have even tried to ask author and Middle Grade champion Anne Ursu and she too has had a hard time coming up with some good examples. She found this great list, but it is short on Middle Grade fiction as well.

One of the titles, however, that gets mentioned frequently is I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson. I read this title a long time ago, and it is written with a beautiful tongue, as all Jacqueline Woodson novels are. And it is, of course, heartbreaking. The topic is heartbreaking.

“Death happens,” Woodson told Samiya A. Bashir in Black Issues Book Review. “Sexual abuse happens. Parents leave. These things happen every day and people think that if they don’t talk about it, then it will just go away. But that’s what makes it spread like the plague it is. People say that they’re censoring in the guise of protecting children, but if they’d open their eyes they’d see that kids are exposed to this stuff every day, and we need a venue by which to talk to them about it and start a dialogue. My writing comes from this place, of wanting to change the world. I feel like young people are the most open.” (from Woodson’s Wikipedia page)

The brief publisher synopsis reads like this: Marie, the only black girl in the eighth grade willing to befriend her white classmate Lena, discovers that Lena’s father is doing horrible things to her in private.

As two girls become friends, the other begins to realize that one of them is being sexually abused by her father. The process of getting to know one another and share these types of secrets, and then what do you do once you know the truth, is covered with sensitivity and grace.

“When I took these things from the house:
some tapes, some books, my winter clothes,
I did not know that these would become the
things I own.”

Jacqueline Woodson, I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This 

 
Lena’s story is continued in the follow-up title, simply Lena. In this, Lena and her little sister run away from her father and are searching to find safety, they hope, by seeking out their mother’s relatives. But being a runaway with no money is dangerous, but these girls will go to great lengths to try and find a safe place to lay their head.

“It seemed like someone was always leaving someone, like that’s the way the world worked—people were born and people died, people left and people came. It was like the world was saying you can’t have everything you want at the same time.”
Jacqueline Woodson, Lena 

Woodson is a fabulous and gifted author and she has written eloquently on this topic, you’ll definitely want to read these. And if you know of more middle grade titles that can help adults talk about these tough subjects with middle grade readers, please leave us a note in the comments.

In addition to the topic of sexual violence, Woodson tackles inter-racial friendships, racism and discrimination, runaways, poverty, and more. Definitely check them out.

TPiB: STEM Projects with Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab

Just as I was thinking to myself, “self, you need more sciency things in your programming”, Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Plugfelder and Steve Hockensmith showed up on my doorstep.  It was like a gift from the STEM fairies.  And the Tween spawn of me saw it and immediately grabbed it to read (she is the original book thief I tell you).  She really enjoyed reading this.  I asked her and this is what she said: “It was a lot of fun.  I liked it.  I especially liked . . .” Well, I can’t tell you that part because SPOILERS.  Let me just say, this is a great Middle Grade read that combines fantastic fun, zany inventions, and a little science to help readers add a little mystery to their day.I highly recommend it.

The best part, the book has its own science experiments built in and outlined right there in the book for you.  Who doesn’t want to learn how to build rockets and robots?!  The science projects outlined in the book include:

  • Low-Tech (Practically No-Tech) Bottle Rocket and Launcher
  • Mints-and-Soda-Fueled Robotcat Dog Distractor
  • Semi-Invisible Nighttime Van Tracker
  • Christmas-is-Over Intruder Alert System
  • Do-It-Yourself Electromagnet and Picker-Upper

I can totally see (and am in the process of actually planning) hosting a MG book discussion group of these titles and doing the activities outlined inside the book.  There is another book coming soon, Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage (February 2014) and you can find more science fun at NickandTesla.com.  This series is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to read more.

Here are a few more ways you can incorporate science into your programming (or at home):

Strawberry DNA Extraction
I recently took Thing 2 (now 5) to the Dallas Arboretum and they have added an entire science garden.  I’m not going to lie, this was the best thing ever and I want to write a grant to remake the entire library into an interactive science space like this.  If you can get to the DFW area, I highly recommend that you visit.  While there, we did an experiment where we extracted Strawberry DNA and viewed it up close over an overhead projector.  You can find instructions to duplicate this experiment here.

Tech Take Apart/Robot Building Days
The simplest tech programming I have ever involved included a two-day workshop.  The first day, we took apart a bunch of donated tech we had collected (cell phones, computers, printers, etc.) to explore what they looked like inside.  One of our staff members was able to identify the various internal parts for us.  The second day, we used the components to make various “robot” creatures.  We didn’t make actual electronic robots, although with the right tools you certainly could.  But this allowed our tweens and teens to tap into their creative side while exploring tech innards.  Plus, it was a great way to get rid of all of our outdated or non functioning technology.

Snapcircuits
To give tweens and teens a simple chance to explore electronic science, you can always just purchase these basic Snapcircuits kits.  We have one at home and you can do over 300 things with it.  There are various different kits you can buy, so choose wisely.


Legos and Tech
I outline some great ways you can use Legos to help tweens and teens explore technology at this Makerspace post.

Raspberry Pi
School Library Journal recently ran an article that outlined how to get started exploring tech using Raspberry Pis, which are these small little motherboard things.  I also have one of these at my house (spurred on by the article), but we have yet to do anything with it.  The tween wants to use it to create an alarm system for her room.  I’m pretty sure her little sister is somehow involved in this desire.  Christie and I have gotten the funding to add a Raspberry Pi component to our Makerspace, which I will share with you next week.

As part of Quirk Books Week, Quirk Books has generously donated a prize package for one lucky winner that will include 2 of the above cookbooks, a copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, the first book of the Lovecraft Middle School series, and a copy of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. I’ve tried to give you as many ways as possible to enter so pick the one (or ones) that work best for you and do the Rafflecopter thingy below.  The giveaway closes on Saturday, December 14th and is open to U.S. Residents.  The books will be sent to you from Quirk Books and they are worth it.

Scholastic Book Fair: September

Now that school is back in session, it’s time to resume our Scholastic Book Fair here on TLT.  Here are five new titles from Scholastic.

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

“So everyone just sits there and says nothing? How’s anything ever going to get better?” 

Red Porter’s daddy has died.  While Red and his mom try to figure out how to deal with their grief, they are also wrestling with truths happening in their community and the injustice they see around them.  Set in Virginia in the 70s, Seeing Red tackles issues of racism and segregation through the eyes of a hurting young man.  This is a powerful statement about speaking up in the face of injustice, even in the most difficult of times. Erskine is the National Book Award Winner of Mockinbird and Seeing Red does not disappoint.  It has a starred review in Booklist which declares “This is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.”

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

A “mesmerizing” adventure.

This one we read as our family read aloud and we all liked it.  We includes 2 parents, a tween, and a 4-year-old. It begins with an awesome, perilous bus ride through New York.  Jackson Opus doesn’t know it yet, but he doesn’t just have a strong power of persuasion, he has the power to hypnotize others.  He is soon invited to participate into a special program, who may or may not have good intentions.  It’s hard to tell when know one will tell him what, exactly, is going on.  You can always count on Korman for fun and he does not fail to deliver here.  First book in a new series, definitely recommended.  A great read for young Percy Jackson fans.

Whatever After: Dream On by Sarah Mlyowski

Good night, sleep tight
Don’t let the magic mirror bite . . .

Okay, let me start by saying I thought that this series was 3 books and done, so I was surprised to find this title at the Tween’s bookfair this past weekend.  When she saw it she immediately said we had to buy it.  We read it that same day.  This time Abby and Jonah are having a friend sleepover, a sleepwalking friend named Robin who accidentally walks through the magic mirror.  This series continues to be a fun, playful and empowering twist on fairy tales.

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K by Greg Pincus

“For every kid who equates math with torture but wants his own way to shine, here’s a novel that is way more than the sum of its parts.

Gregory K is a writer living in a family of mathematicians.  He wants to go to author’s camp, but first he has to pass math class.  What’s someone in his position supposed to do? Tell a lie or two, of course.  Gregory figures the probability of being caught is zero, proving how bad he actually is at math.  This book was fun, and we loved how they used mathease (that’s what we call math speak, right?) to bring humor to this story about a boy who often feels like he doesn’t really fit in with his family.  In some ways this is kind of a Math Curse for older readers, trying to make math fun and in reach while still being an enjoyable read.

The Pet War by Allan Woodrow

“It’s on!”

We have a dog in my house. The Tween is in love with dogs.  She asks me pretty much every day if we can get another one.  The answer is no.  Otto and Lexi can not agree: Otto wants a dog, Lexi wants a cat.  I’m on the mom’s side, she wants to know who is going to pay for everything.  Soon the challenge is on: whoever can raise the money first gets to choose the family pet.  I didn’t read this title, but the Tween wants you to know that it is “funny” and “cute”.  She totally recommends it.

MG Book Review: Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

So much fun! As a casual enthusiast of Star Wars, I was fully engaged by this story of Roan, a young boy from Tatooine (sound familiar?) Roan comes from a family with a long history of serving as Star Pilots. His Father and Grandfather are Star Pilots, and his older brother is attending Pilot Academy. At the beginning of the novel, Roan is understandably disappointed to receive a rejection letter from Pilot Academy Middle School. It’s all he’s ever dreamt of – becoming a Star Pilot in the family tradition. What will he do now? His only alternative is Tatooine Agriculture Academy. He will be stuck on Tatooine forever, as a farmer.

More Star Wars fun here and here.


Mysteriously, just before he leaves to attend TAA, Roan receives a letter inviting him to attend Jedi Academy, on the strength of Master Yoda’s recommendation. What follows is Roan’s immersion into an almost foreign world. All of the other Jedi Academy students have been there since toddler-hood, why has Roan only now been accepted? We see the world of Star Wards through Roan’s eyes, visiting familiar places like Kashyyyk (home world of the Wookies), and learning more about what early training of the Jedi involved. Roan is a typical, slightly confused, moderately sarcastic, very funny and engaging middle schooler. This title is an excellent introduction to both the world of the Jedi and the world of Middle School. I would highly recommend its purchase for 3rd through 8th grades.

On a side note, this is an ‘alternative format’ novel, written as a mixture of journal entries, cartoons, letters, and other ephemera. Anywhere that this type of novel is popular (almost everywhere) would be best served by purchasing multiple copies.  Check out more great alternate format reads for Middle Grade readers here.

Kicky Says:  So, the tween got a copy of the book and read it 3 times in 2 days.  That’s right, I sat there and watched her finish the book just to open the front cover and start it all over again.  She says it is “really good” and “very funny”.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy (ISBN 9780545505178) from publisher Scholastic will be available on August 27, 2013

Book Review – A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland

Sunday Fowler is the middlest of middle children from Middlesburg, Middletonia, Middletown. At 11 (almost 12!) she is too young for her two older sisters, and too old for her three younger brothers. Everyone in her family either dismisses her, forgets her, or takes her for granted. In fact, in the first couple of chapters, they manage to leave her behind at a gas station, drive for two hours, and never realize she is gone. And she never tells them. Typical middle child ‘peacemaker’ behavior.

I was so pleased (once I got past the two hour abandonment, which frankly left me sobbing) to find that, although A Summer of Sundays contains almost everything I’ve come to expect and be left bored by in a middle grades novel, the author has instead turned what is fairly typical into an engaging story that is sure to resonate with children. Sunday Fowler is determined to leave her mark on the summer and be ‘recognized’ – Lindsay Eland definitely left her mark on this reader.

What worked for me in this book:

The characterization was top-notch. Even the minor characters were fully realized. The different members of Sunday’s family were at once both recognized ‘types’ and fully realized characters. The family dynamic was healthy and realistic. The story line was recognizable enough to follow while filled with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader’s interest.

What didn’t work for me in this book:

Ummmm…sorry. I’ve got nothing.

How I think it works as a purchase:

This is engaging, solid, realistic fiction for the 8 to 11-year-old set. There is something in it for everyone. It has broad appeal and will leave the reader to more closely examine their own world and the people in it they may be overlooking. And it will give hope and companionship to those readers in an age group that often feel overlooked. In essence, it meets the requirements to be included in my favorite literary quote from Matilda. Find it (and more about me) here.

A Summer of Sundays was just released by Egmont on July 9, 2013 and is available widely.

Summertimes by Lindsay Eland, author of A Summer of Sundays


For some reason when I picture summer evenings, I often think of porch lights—that little glow in the evening dusk and on into the thick night. Porch lights are a little smile on a house, a twinkle that blinks a warm welcome to neighbors or passersby.
            My parents have talked about these.
            How porch lights here turned on every evening and the adults pulled out deck chairs or settled onto swings to watch the kids gather around, scheming. Neighbors took walks and stopped by a porch-lit home to chat, share a cup of coffee, a laugh, some talk about the football game, gossip about this and that. It was a coming-together.
            But those sorts of porch lights—collecting stray bugs and bits of moonlight—are more or less a thing of the past.
            We live farther from each other, retreat into our homes for our evening routines of television shows, movies, coffee, or checking the latest on Facebook, YouTube, iTunes, Twitter, or our favorite blogs.
            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lamenting these times—they are my times, and each time has its own beauty and its own ugly—like in every bit of change.
            But where are the porch lights now? Are there any left shining out in the darkness?
            Because we humans need light—we crave it.
            In the winter, light offers warmth. In the spring, the promise of growing. In the summer, light means long days and late nights. In the fall, light is the orange glow of a pumpkin or candles on a Thanksgiving table.
            “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.” ( From The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo)
            I couldn’t’ve said it better.
            Books—stories—are lights.
            They do not ignore the darkness but scatter it with light. 
          They illuminate life, ignite dreams, expand our creativity, and tickle our imaginations. They connect us together in ways that nothing else can—in ways that nothing ever can.
            They crisscross time and space and people and cultures and ages like nothing else and allow us to share and experience and touch something magical with another human being—with millions of other human beings.
            They tell us all that life was, and is, and can be, and is meant to be. 
            And libraries’–beautiful, lovely, sweet-smelling (you know the smell I’m talking about), magical—have always been places filled with that light of ideas, people, culture, knowledge, and creativity. A place that brings us humans—in all our Facebooking and blogging and watching, and texting—together. Libraries are like lighthouses—shining out across a stormy, unpredictable sea.
            Sunday, the main character in my book A Summer of Sundays, knows the power of libraries to bring communities together. Through remodeling the local library, she sees friendships healed. Friendships made.  Ideas, secrets, and lives exchanged. And she discovers herself and where she fits in her world.  
            So where are those glowing porch lights now?
            They’re there.
            They’re called The Little Free Libraries.
            Have you heard of them?
            They are beginning to pop up everywhere—in the middle of neighborhoods, by the entrance to dog parks, on the corners of intersections, by the swing sets at playgrounds.
            The Little Free Libraries form a movement that has sprung up from those book lovers who know the power of books and whose desire is to connect people with literature, with information, with stories, and with humanity itself.
            And these little libraries are giving people what libraries have always given and offered and shared—a place to bring ideas together, strengthen communities, and enrich lives.
            They are small boxes—almost like large birdhouses—with books inside. You take a book in exchange for a book that you slip inside for someone else. Sharing with one another.
            Some neighborhoods decide on a theme for their library: mysteries, children’s books, books by a specific author, sci-fi books, books on a specific culture, books that all have a title that starts with a letter of the alphabet.
            These Little Free Libraries are the new porch lights.
            People are beginning to emerge from their houses, from behind their screens, and gather around these libraries, chatting with one another about books. And chatting about books (as it always has) brings up ideas and discussions, laughter and sharing, friendships and creativity—bringing people together.
            It’s really extraordinary, isn’t it? This power of light—the power of books—the power of libraries—in not only the great, wide world, but in our own small world of a few neighborhood blocks.
            Visit www.littlefreelibrary.org and find out how you can turn on your own glowing porch light in your neighborhood. Then watch what happens.  

About Lindsay Eland: I was born in Cincinnati, grew up in various towns in Pennsylvania, went to college in Oklahoma, and found home in Breckenridge, Colorado. I love to write, read, hike, drink espresso, and attempt to keep my plants alive. I am a laugher and a dreamer. Mix all these together and you get me–a lucky writer of middle grade fiction.  Lindsay is the author of Scones and Sensibility and A Summer of Sundays, both published by Egmont USA.