5 Excellent Middle Grade Books for Girls and Boys

Today’s post comes from a wonderful source: The Children’s Book Review, hosted by Bianca Schulze.

Here are Bianca’s recommendations for five of the best MG books for children.

The art of creating life-long readers really comes down to getting the right books into the right hands at the right time. Once kids have the power to read, letting them choose books for themselves is a really important step in the process of learning to enjoy reading for pleasure. With the amount of wonderful middle grade books available, sometimes finding somewhere to start can be a challenge. Next time your child finds herself confronted with the question of “what to read next,” encourage her to select books that revolve around her passions and personal interests, or start by showing her some of these wonderful books for both girls and boys.

Matilda                                                         9780142410370_medium_Matilda copy

By Roald Dahl

Reading level: Ages 8-12

Throughout my childhood, I read many of Dahl’s books: James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, The Twits (my second favorite) and (my favorite) Revolting Rhymes. Dahl’s talent lies within his power to create poignant satire—his ability to touch the hearts of young readers through absurdity is unmarked. I was so thrilled to introduce Roald Dahl to my daughter with the book loving character Matilda who empowers young girls to be knowledgeable and brave! I know this book has played a large part in turning my daughter into a lifelong reader and, with any luck, a reader that will continue to have a wickedly good sense of humor. Thank you Roald Dahl (forever in my reading heart) for your extreme and creative writing. Read more … (http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2013/06/falling-in-love-with-reading-roald-dahls-matilda-25-years-of-matilda.html)

The Gollywhopper Games                                                           The-Golly-Whopper-Games

By Jody Feldman

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Where do I start? How about with a big fat ‘I loved this book’ and had so much fun reading it. Roald Dahl’sCharlie and the Chocolate Factory just happens to be the inspiration behind The Gollywhopper Games. Feldman, a librarian, came up with the idea for the story after a young boy returned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to her library and requested something similar. When there really wasn’t much literature to compare with the wonderful and magical world Dahl had created, Feldman set about writing The Gollywhopper Games. While the format of the two stories follows a very similar path, Feldman has managed to create an energetic and unique tale all of her own. Gil’s dad promises him they will be able to move away from the trouble that surrounds them if he wins the Gollywhopper Games—an amazing competition held by the ‘Golly Toy and Game Company.’ The competition involves trivia, puzzles, stunts, and the ability to work as a team— thousands of children battle for the ultimate prize. Making the best of a bad situation is certainly encouraged and the message is provided to kids that if you want something bad enough you just might be able to achieve it if you are willing to work hard and really set your mind to it. My hat goes off to Feldman for writing a book with such a creative magical essence that gets children thinking, learning and laughing. What more can you ask for? Read more … (http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2008/07/the-gollywhopper-games-jody-feldman.html)

Inside Out & Back Again

By Thanhha Lai                                                                 InsideOutAndBackAgain

Reading level: Ages 8-12

How much do we know about those around us? This is the question that debut novelist Thanhha Lai challenged her readers with in Inside Out and Back Again. Based on Lai’s own personal experience as a Vietnamese refugee, she has crafted a poignant story divided into four parts using a series of poems that chronicle the life of 10-year-old Hà, a child–refugee from Vietnam, during the year 1975—the Fall of Saigon. Along with her mother and three brothers (her father has been missing in action for nine years), Hà travels by boat to a tent city in Guam, is moved to Florida and then finds herself living in Alabama sponsored by an “American cowboy” and his wife. In Alabama, the family are treated as outcasts and forced to integrate quickly through language, food, and religion, to be accepted as a part of the community.

Told with pure honesty, emotions run freely from verse to verse and page to page. Hà’s voice is clear, allowing readers to make a leap from sympathy to deep seeded empathy by experiencing her joy, pain, anger, frustration, loyalties, challenges, loss, and determination. The clarity of Hà’s self-awareness and development toward self-actualization is reminiscent of Susan Patron‘s character Lucky, also a 10-year-old girl, from the Newbery winner (2007) The Higher Power of Lucky (2006). Both characters suffer loss, make mistakes, struggle through emotional challenges, and, through sheer determination, intrinsically blossom.

Lai has created an emotionally powerful novel inspired by her own memories and each word is to be savored, pondered, experienced, and felt. Beautiful! Read more … (http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2011/04/review-inside-out-back-again-by-thanhha-lai.html)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick                                                         TheInventionOfHugoCabret

Reading level: Ages 9-12

The Invention of Hugo Cabret was the winner of the Caldecott Medal in 2008. This book is a massive 500 pages, so it can look quite intimidating for its intended age, however, more than half of the pages are illustrated. The illustrations are a vital component of the story and provide important clues to the ever-evolving mystery.

The tale begins like a movie and the pictures set the scene of a dark night with a full moon that, as the pages pan out, turns into morning in Paris. The story is about a 12-year-old boy, Hugo, who is an orphan living inside the walls of a Paris train station. Before Hugo’s father (a clock maker) passed away in a fire, he had been working on fixing an adult size wind-up figure. Hugo makes it his purpose to fix the figure. He believes that, once reassembled, the figure will reveal a message left for him by his father.

Hugo begins to develop relationships with a girl named Isabelle and her godfather George (whose character is based on the famous film maker George Mieles) who owns a toyshop in the train station. Hugo first encounters George when he is caught stealing mechanical pieces from the shop to fix his wind-up man. Little does Hugo know … George and Isabelle just may be able to help him complete his task.

This book is a wonderful choice for kids who enjoy mysteries—it will even capture the attention of those that are not overly enthusiastic about reading. The illustrations really add such a ‘cool’ dimension—and based on its beauty and shiny Caldecott Medal, this book really makes a beautiful gift. Read more … (http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2008/03/the-invention-of-hugo-cabret.html)


By Ingrid Law

Reading level: Ages 10-14

Ingrid Law’s first novel, Savvy, has a colorful array of characters who collaborate on an unexpected and heartfelt journey.  The story revolves around the Beaumont family, and in particular Mississippi (Mibs for short). Every family has its quirks, but none are quite as unique as the Beaumont’s. When a member of Mibs’ family turns 13 they receive a savvy—a supernatural gift. For some, a savvy can be a clever awareness and for others a major life change that has the potential to be a good resource once they learn to contain its unique power— such as creating hurricanes and electricity, like her brothers.

A few days before Mibs turns 13, her poppa ends up in the hospital after a car accident. The morning of her birthday Mibs awakens to believe that her savvy is just right for saving her poppa’s life, the only problem is that the hospital is miles from her house. Her solution … to sneak onto a bus belonging to a bible salesman—and this is where the real fun begins and the unforgettable adventure takes off! This is certainly a novel aimed at tweens, and manages to convey pitch-perfect messages dealing with peers, guilt and growing up. While the story is based on the family’s supernatural powers, the emotion and events are certainly the main features that carry this powerful story, and I am positive that any child who reads this will find an element to truly connect with. Read more … (http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2008/07/savvy-ingrid-law.html)

Bio: Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review, named one of the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) Great Web Sites for Kids. She is an aspiring author, a mother to two daughters, and has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, her goal is to grow readers by showcasing great books for kids! Visit: http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheChildrensBookReview

Twitter: https://twitter.com/book_mommy


Punch Up Your Prose – Lyrical Language Lab

This is such a wonderful post, I had to share it!

Writing and Illustrating

JulieRowanZoch Julie Rowan-Zoch visits this blog a lot, so I had a minute the other day and I checked out her blog and found the post below about her beta-testing a course on punching up your prose using lyrical language. I thought you might like to know about it, since we are all looking for language that makes our stories sing. But first, here is a little bit about Julie:

Julie Rowan-Zoch is an author/illustrator who studied Graphic Design, at FIT in NYC and the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Braunschweig, Germany. She has recently completed the artwork for three board books for Bailiwick Press, due out in October ’14. Julie Rowan-Zoch now lives and works in Colorado.

Blog: julierowanzoch.wordpress.com

facebook: Artist: Julie Rowan-Zoch

The illustrations below are from the three board books coming out.

julierowanzochfrom You're Here

Renee LaTulippe’s new course – THE LYRICAL LANGUAGE LAB 

The course is designed…

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Read Aloud Day

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 is the Annual Read Aloud Day. Join in the National Celebration by reading some of your favorite books at your child’s school, the local library or even at the park. What better way to get children interested in reading than by sharing a good book with them.  When our kids see us reading, they will learn the value of the written word. Check out my previous posts for some great Picture Books to read aloud.

Leeza Hernandez, Award-Winning Illustrator and Children’s Book Author


Photo by Linda Littenberg

I am thrilled beyond words to be doing this interview today.  I met Leeza at last year’s annual NJ SCBWI conference, but have been fortunate enough to have sat in on some of her amazing workshops at past SCBWI conferences.  

Award-winning illustrator and children’s book author, Leeza hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999.  In 2004, she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books, and has never looked back.  With a few books now under her belt, she’s currently working on a follow up to Dog Gone! called Cat Napped! and a sequel to Eat Your Math Homework, called Eat Your Science Homework (both titles are due for release in 2014).  Leeza also illustrated, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo, written by acclaimed actor and author John Lithgow.  

Leeza is…

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Neat Trick: How to Separate an Egg

When I first saw this video, I couldn’t believe it was possible.  But, rest assured, it is. This has to be the most fun and easy way ever to separate a yolk from the white of an egg.  Even if your recipe doesn’t require it, you and your kids will want to try it out before you make an omelet or scramble up some eggs. Here’s the link:


Winter Birding: There’s Still Lots of Time

According to the latest statistics, an estimated 85 million of us enjoy observing, photographing and feeding wild birds throughout the year. But, with still a few weeks of winter left, you can up your bird citizenship by participating in the GREAT ANNUAL BACKYARD BIRD COUNT. This activity takes place this year from Feb 14-17.  All you need to do is visit  http://www.eBird.org   

This website of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has made field work so easy with its BirdsEye tracking app. People from all over the world can submit data on bird sightings and find out about migration patterns as well. The bird count project at Cornell runs from November 9 through April 4, so there is plenty of time to get involved.  Visit: http://www.cams.allaboutbirds.org

You can also share your photos or enter contests like the one at:  http://www.hbwcontest.com

Here is a photo of a downy woodpecker that often visits our oak tree.

woodpeckerFinally, do you know why flocks of birds arrange themselves into perfect V’s instead of S or M or O, or any other letter?   Just recently scientists have found that birds position themselves like this, and time their wing beats so precisely that, according to aerodynamic theory, they minimize energy use. Each bird can monitor subtle changes in its wing mates flight and adjust its own path and stroke accordingly.  So if you thought birds were “bird-brained” guess again!  They are reacting in very sophisticated ways to maintain V formation. Our feathered friends are pretty amazing!

VTCFA Writing for Children & Young Adult Shared

Here’s some great advice for those of us who struggle with the writing process.

Writing and Illustrating

gregory MyersWinter Gregory Myers kind of sums up this winter for us in this illustration titled, “Haru” It was commissioned by Tokyo Journal as part of a series on the seasons in Japan. Gregory is a freelance illustrator who studied under Czech artist Petr Herel at Canberra School of Art, and Akira Kurosaki at Kyoto Seika University. He is based in Sydney, Australia.
KatiaRainasmallKatia Raina is in her second year of the Vermont College BFA Program and she recently came back for their two week residency program. I am sure all of us would love to be able to attend, so it is very nice of Katie to share some of the things she has learn over at her blog, The Magic Mirror.

Here is an excerpt:

These are the lessons and discoveries that stuck with me, synthesized from faculty and graduate lectures, conversations with fellow students, workshops, my experience from the previous…

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INTERVIEW: Robin Newman Chats about her Journey into Picture Book Writing

Had to share this fabulous interview.

Laura Sassi Tales

Image 1 Join me in welcoming picture book author Robin Newman. I’ve gotten to know Robin through the blogosphere and Twitter.  In addition to loving writing, I recently discovered we share something else in common.  We both spent several of our childhood years in Paris!  Today we’ll be chatting about her journey as a picture book author.

First off, congratulations! You’re really making a splash in the Kidlit world with not one, but two, debut books coming out in 2015.  Can you tell us a little bit about each book?  

Thank you!  2013 was an over-the-top, you-have-to-wake-me-from-this-dream kind of amazing year!

I have two books coming out with Creston Books.  Woo-hoo!  The first is a picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald (spring 2015), about a crabby witch whose quiet neighborhood has been turned upside down with the arrival of noisy, inconsiderate neighbors.  So Hildie…

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Valentine’s Day Banana Muffins

Of course we all love chocolate and flowers and cards for Valentine’s Day.  But how about making something special for breakfast to show your love?  This is an easy recipe for BANANA MUFFINS that you and the kids can make in a few minutes.

Mash 3 ripe bananas on a plate using the back of a fork.  Set aside. (see photo A)

Photo A

Photo A

In a large bowl, beat 1/4 c. oil, 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce, 1 c. sugar until fluffy.

Add 3 beaten eggs and the mashed bananas. Stir until combined.

Add 2 c. flour ( I like to mix different flours together. For the muffins pictured I used 1/2 c. oat flour, 1/2 c. whole wheat, and 1 c. white) and 1 tsp. baking soda.  While mixing,  add 1T water.

Bake in greased or lined muffin pans filled 2/3’s full.  OR you can make 2 loaves from this recipe if you like.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes for muffins and 40-45 for loaves.  Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the dough. If it comes out dry, it’s done. (See photo B)   banana muffins

These yummy muffins freeze well.  Variations: You can try adding 1/2 c. chopped nuts or chocolate morsels to the batter before cooking.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Make Two Valentine Cards: Here’s How

My “Scrappy” friend Shiela Fuller has created two hand-made valentine’s kids can make for Valentine’s Day with only a few, simple materials.  The first is a more traditional design for older children.


8.5 x 5.5 sheet of cardstock or heavier weight paper folded in half,  decorative sheet of paper, construction paper of various colors                                    card 1

Buttons, various sizes and colors,  dental floss, embroidery yarn, or thread, adhesive.


-Cut two 1.5 x 4 inch long strips from the decorative paper

-Cut two 1.5 x 3 inch long strips from the decorative paper

-Cut two small hearts, using the paper folded in half cutting technique, @ .75 inches across the widest part

-Using the paper folded in half cutting technique, cut three hearts from the construction paper. Each heart should be slightly smaller than the one previous with the widths measuring @2.75, 2.5, 2.25 inches across the widest part of the heart.  Glue each heart on the fold and then attach them to each other. (the edge of the heart will not be glued)

-You can thread your buttons or glue them individually to the center of the triple heart. You can glue your pieces of paper to the card base similar to the sample or you can rearrange and create your own design. Be creative.  Add glitter, ribbons, sparkles, etc.

The second card is a bit more whimsical and just as easy to create.

 Wool  Ewe: The perfect card for even the smallest of hands with minimal assistance.


5.5 x 8.5 sheet of paper folded in half,  adhesive, cotton balls, paper scraps


With the glue stick, draw one oblong shape for a sheep’s body and a circle for a sheep’s head, filling it in with glue.    (Figure A)

Figure A

Figure A

Stick cotton to both glued areas. It should look like this (Figure B)

Figure B

Figure B

Using the paper scraps: cut two ears, an eye, a nostril, four peg legs, a tail and a beautiful heart.  

Write WOOL EWE on the outside and BE MY VALENTINE on the inside.                 card 2

You  can add some decorative ribbon to the body and tail of the sheep.  If you don’t have any, drizzle a little liquid glue and then sprinkle glitter. Use your imagination!

 Shiela Fuller began crafting with her children while homeschooling in the early 1990’s.  Preserving her family’s memories, through scrapbooking, is an important part of her legacy. She has been a consultant for Close To My Heart since 2007.  You can contact her at: http://www.shielafuller.ctmh.com