“Handling Conflict in Middle Grade Novels”
On a school visit I did for The Eye of Ra (my middle grade time travel adventure novel), part of the reading included an argument between the two sibling main characters. In that reading, there was also reference to a first kiss (that elicited giggles) and the reveal of the tomb robber’s identity (that elicited gasps). Afterward, the students all wrote down on index cards something they enjoyed about the book and something they wondered about. Their feedback was awesome, but one of the cards stuck out to me in a unique way. A child had written that she really liked the scene where the two siblings have a fight. Of all the cards, and of all the important events that happened in that particular chunk of the book, this card made me contemplate where that child might have been in her mind’s eye in that moment during the reading. Had she had a fight with her brother that morning? Or her best friend? For whatever reason, that particular tiff struck a chord for that kid.
I love that index card and have it in my office because it reminds me that the emotional impact of our stories, the bond that can be established with a young reader (or any reader!), is such an important responsibility. How we handle and portray conflict must be realistic, but the most effective tension is nuanced. I try to avoid the over-the-top name-calling or blatant meanness for the sake of meanness. I give my kids the benefit of the doubt. Kids are smart; readers are smart.
Similarly, I recently received a comment from a reviewer who said he loved that The Eye of Ra “doesn’t have any objectionable content” (among other nicer things, ha!). And while I definitely appreciate and agree with this sentiment, it got me thinking about what that actually means. Objectionable content. There is danger, there is conflict, there is tension and frustration, but I try to handle those situations in a way that gets to the heart of the emotional matter without settling for “easy” triggering content such as bad words or name-calling. I mean, the world is full of conflict, there’s no denying that. And I’m not proposing we hide difficult topics from our children.
Let me give an example: I don’t claim to be a perfect parent or human, but in our house words like “stupid” and “shut up” are not a part of our typical vernacular. They’re disrespectful and they reflect more poorly on the person who mutters them than the person at whom they’re directed as an insult (again, I’m not innocent and careful to throw rocks in my glass house). Both of those words appear in The Eye of Ra, only a couple times, but they’re presented in a way that, at least for my family, is realistic in the context of the scene and the hot emotions, not just randomly for the sake of eliciting a response from the reader. They’re not flippantly lobbed around as casual words used every day and instead are treated as the stop words they are. Here are a couple of excerpts to demonstrate the point:
How could he have been so—so—stupid! Yes, he used that word.
“Shut up, Sarah!” As soon as he said it, he knew it was bad.
The latter demonstrates John showing empathy toward his sister. Upper elementary is when children first start to really develop a sense of empathy. This goes hand-in-hand with when they start to develop better skills at conflict resolution. Conflict happens. Kids fight. People fight. When we do, we might say things we don’t mean and we can become less mature and less respectful than we normally conduct ourselves. We need not hide that reality from children. Humans make mistakes. But those mistakes should be seen as opportunities for learning. And presenting conflict in a middle grade novel is a beautiful opportunity to showcase empathy and model effective conflict resolution techniques. Of course, I try to do so in a subtle way so the readers don’t feel they’re getting a lecture. I wrap it up in a “show not tell” approach where the character’s actions demonstrate the important human qualities of empathy and our ability to resolve conflicts.
In my book, John and Sarah argue and they do fight. They’re frustrated at their situation and they blow up and take it out on each other and say things they don’t mean. But it’s more of a reveal about their own emotional states than it is them trying to do harm to the other. When these characters lash out, there’s something going on under the surface that they don’t yet know how to express that is boiling over, and that drives the plot forward. Without declaring it loudly, our MG readers are capable of understanding that, along with tough topics like fighting and abstract concepts like empathy. And some exciting action and adventure certainly helps in getting the reader to step into the skin of, and empathize with, the characters!
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Published February 1st, 2020 by Crescent Vista Press
About the Book: Exploring a mysterious cave in the mountains behind their house, John and his sister Sarah are shocked to discover they’ve time traveled to ancient Egypt!
Now they must work together to find a way back home from an ancient civilization of golden desert sand and a towering new pyramid, without parents to save them. The adventures abound—cobras, scorpions, a tomb robber, and more! The two kids have to trust each other, make friends who can help, and survive the challenges thrown at them . . . or be stuck in ancient Egypt forever.
For readers graduating from the Magic Treehouse series and ready for intense action, dive into this middle grade novel rich with meticulous historical detail.
Thank you, Ben! This book will be an awesome ladder between Magic Treehouse and Percy Jackson!
“Discovering the World through Literacy”
A few weeks ago, I attended parent/teacher conferences for my fourth-grade daughter and second-grade son. Things certainly have changed in the days since I was a kid. The quantitative information, evaluation methodologies, and other assessment criteria provide some pretty amazing data. These data not only help […]
“Discovering the World through Literacy”
A few weeks ago, I attended parent/teacher conferences for my fourth-grade daughter and second-grade son. Things certainly have changed in the days since I was a kid. The quantitative information, evaluation methodologies, and other assessment criteria provide some pretty amazing data. These data not only help to give me a clearer picture of how my kids are doing. They also give me important insight as to where I, as a parent, am able to provide any needed, additional support.
As I’ve talked to a number of teacher friends, I’ve learned that while these data and information, are often very helpful, they can also be, at times, somewhat limiting. Much of these limits are tied to various federal requirements, state laws, and school board emphases. A lot of direction and input has been aimed at our schools. While they provide clear standards and quantitative systems of evaluation, they also can end up restricting what teachers can and can’t do. In addition, the added requirements often end up eating up the lion’s share of finite minutes in every day that a teacher has to, well, you know … teach.
One area that many teachers feel has gotten the “short end of the stick” in this new environment is social studies learning. Whether history, geography, sociology, or others, these bottomless subjects – subjects that relate so directly to the real world – end up getting put in second place to the traditional education areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as a renewed emphasis on strengthening STEM education topics such as science and computers.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that all of these are not only very important. They are essential in the world today, and in large part shape our success when it comes to society as a whole. But as one who studied the social sciences extensively, and who has spent most of my career in the field, I do wish my kids were learning more on these topics.
For me, the area of my greatest passion is anything associated with global education. Geography, cultures, foreign languages, geopolitics, and more. Since we all live on the same planet, I strongly believe that we are all better off when we know as much about it – and about the different groups of our fellow earthlings – as we possibly can. After spending a decade working as a U.S. diplomat, living in seven countries, and traveling to nearly seventy countries, this passion has only grown.
A few years ago, while discussing my desire for a greater emphasis on global education in schools, a teacher friend of mine offered up a novel idea – finding ways to teach about the globe through literacy (pun intended).
In many ways, this notion helped shape my vision for the “Magnificent Glass Globe” series. By writing age-appropriate fiction, keeping it fast-paced and entertaining, but at the same time packing it with tidbits of knowledge about the world, cultures, and real global issues, I realized just how much one could experience a place and expand their horizons when reading a book.
The idea wasn’t to make things too heavy handed. Not a preachy textbook disguised as an adventure. But realizing that both literacy and global education could indeed go hand in hand. Then putting the two together in real, meaningful stories about the world.
After all, our world is full of stories. Those stories relate to real groups of people. Those people live in real places. Those places have real histories, environments, and cultures.
At the same time, given the realities of today’s quantitative education focus on things like reading and literacy, I wanted to provide teachers with a tool that they could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone (or, as my bird-loving younger brother prefers I say, “feed two dogs out of one dish”).
My suggestion to writers is that, whenever cooking up a new story, they consider taking it as an opportunity to immerse readers in some corner of the social-science universe. Historical fiction is a great genre for this. So are cultural stories. Don’t shy away from digging into cultures and societies that may not be as familiar to you – that’s what research is for! Of course, follow the “nothing about them, without them” principle – when incorporating cultural variation into your stories, it is essential to get the input from those who truly hold identity within that culture. Luckily, there are millions of people around this world who are eager and willing to share their identity with you, and to help make sure that it comes out correct on the page.
My suggestion for teachers is to seek out good books that are filled with social and global topics. There are thousands of good examples out there. Teaching valuable topics like reading comprehension can take on another element of social understanding. The questions almost write themselves.
Finally, for readers, I encourage you to share what you are learning about the world in books. It can give others the chance to see that books are often more than just an entertaining jaunt through the lives of a set of characters. There is always a social foundation upon which our characters’ identities are built. This is valuable, real world information that can really make a difference as we get a better grasp on it.
It’s amazing how much one can truly learn through a story.
Book 1 Published April 4th, 2017
Book 2 Published March 3rd, 2020
by Tantrum Books
About The Magnificent Glass Globe #2: The Legacy of the Stewardship: Several months after their unexpected adventure in the Amazon, Ike is not happy. He’s tired of being picked on and being treated like a baby. But when the kids learn Anatoly has kidnapped a group of innocent children and is holding them ransom in the forests of Siberia, Ike knows he has to do something. But Anatoly demands a steep price; they must hand over the globe.
When Grandpa suffers a heart attack, Ike, Mary, and Helen decide to help the other kids. Reluctantly, they decide to use the globe once again. Only this time, they leave better prepared. Or so they thought. When they arrive in Russia, they quickly learn that their problems are much bigger than just Anatoly. When a mysterious group of people appear using a second globe, Mary is kidnapped, and now it is up to Ike and Helen to cross the vast country and find her.
About the Author: N. R. (Nils) Bergeson is the author of the “Magnificent Glass Globe” series. From an early age, he was fascinated with the wider world, prompting him to seek a career that would give him opportunities for ample adventure. This led N.R. to spend twelve years overseas – in Siberia, Romania, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. He’s traveled to more than 65 countries with his wife, Emily, and their three young children. N.R.’s love for writing complements his globetrotting ways well. He hopes his writing will instill a desire in his readers to take advantage of modern opportunities to see the world, learn new languages, and expand their cultural experiences. We live in a wonderful world, and it’s just waiting for us to see it.
Facebook: Nils Bergeson
Thank you, Nils, for the reminder to not forget about the social sciences!
“Something Old, Something New: Five Classics Reimagined as Middle-Grade Books”
There’s something utterly compelling about reimaginings. It’s like meeting up with an old friend many years down the road—the familiar elements of the original are comforting even as the fresh twists and changes bring delight. When I was a kid, I […]
“Something Old, Something New: Five Classics Reimagined as Middle-Grade Books”
There’s something utterly compelling about reimaginings. It’s like meeting up with an old friend many years down the road—the familiar elements of the original are comforting even as the fresh twists and changes bring delight. When I was a kid, I used to go through phases where I was obsessed with certain books for months at a time, so finding reimagined stories were a perfect way for me to explore a single novel with endless iterations. Plus, retellings help introduce young readers to books they’ll likely encounter in high school. So, whether you’re looking for a new way to relive a favorite novel, trying to spark a kid’s interest in a book for later down the road, or simply seeking an amazing story, look no further than these five reimagined middle-grade books based on classic literature.
Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca
Mimi comes from a big Indian American family and is used to feeling overshadowed by her talented older siblings. So, when a newly opened bakery hosts a baking competition, Mimi enters, determined to prove herself. Soon, her dad is consuming everything in sight, boys are obsessing over her older sister, and wild boars are popping up in the forests of Massachusetts. Full of both literal and figurative charm, this retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is simply delicious . . . and had my mouth watering the entire time.
The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg
There is no shortage of Sherlock Holmes adaptions that exist—and for a good reason. There’s something so intriguing about the aloof detective with almost unbelievable powers of observation. In Eulberg’s take, Shelby Holmes might be able to solve any case in Harlem, but learning how to make a friend is one challenge that eludes the tiny sleuth. Told from the perspective of her new neighbor, John Watson, this book features a case of dognapping and is a cute, fun addition to the world of Sherlock Holmes-inspired works.
Grump by Liesl Shurtliff
Whether or not you’re a fan of Snow White, you’re bound to enjoy the story of Borlen, a grumpy dwarf who dreams of living above ground. Readers will find themselves sympathetic toward Borlen even when he makes mistakes—such as entangling himself with the deceptively sweet Queen Elfrieda Veronika Ingrid Lenore (if only Borlen had noticed the acronym . . .). Plus, those who aren’t Snow White’s biggest fans will be delighted to find this Snow White is full of personality—a little bit bratty, but plenty charming, with the ability to make even a nickname like “Grump” sound endearing.
More to the Story by Hena Khan
Seventh grader Jameela Mirza aspires to be an award-winning journalist, so when she’s made features editor of her school newspaper, she’s delighted—despite clashing with the editor-in-chief, who continually strikes down her ideas. Even as Jameela struggles to make an article her Baba will be proud of, she must deal with his absence overseas and with her younger sister’s sudden illness. Inspired by Little Women and featuring a Pakistani American Muslim family living in modern-day Georgia, this heartfelt book shines due to Jameela’s realistic relationships (whether they be with her friends or family).
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
Drawing parallels to The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor’s Tale begins in the year 1242 in a packed French inn, where, with the help of various patrons, we hear the story of three miraculous children: Jeanne, a peasant who receives visions; William, a monk with unnatural strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers. Gidwitz’s writing is filled with flecks of humor, and readers will delight in zany adventures (like curing a farting dragon) even as more serious stakes keep them flipping pages. Plus, the aesthetic of the book is just as rewarding as the prose—with beautifully stylized chapter openers, unique border art, and black-and-white images scattered throughout.
Published February 4th, 2020 by Fabled Films Press
About the Book:Readers will cheer on Korean American Pippa Park in this compelling middle grade reimagining of Great Expectations. Navigating friendships and cyberbullying at a new school, Pippa reinvents herself and discovers who she really is.
Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”
At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.
As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.
Bonus Content: Discussion Questions, Author Q&A, and Korean Language Glossary and Pronunciation Guide
“Pippa is a magnetic heroine, funny and good-hearted.”―Booklist
About the Author:Debut author Erin Yun grew up in Frisco, Texas. She received her BFA in English from New York University and served as president of its policy debate team. This experience came in handy for her job as the debate consultant for the Tony-nominated Best Play on Broadway—What the Constitution Means to Me. Erin is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has written reviews and articles for BookBrowse. She currently lives in New York City, and yes—she used to play basketball as a middle grader!
Connect with Fabled Films Press and Pippa Park:
Twitter: @fabled_films | Author on Twitter: @ErinMYun
Facebook: @Fabled.Films.Press | Instagram: @fabled.films
Language Arts Educators Guide: https://pippapark.com/
Thank you, Erin, for sharing these fun retellings and introducing us to Pippa!
“Books that Build Empathy”
Books have the power to let us walk in someone else’s shoes—and to make us more empathetic to other people’s lived experiences in the world as we walk that path. Several authors whose books will be debuting in 2020 discussed the books that changed them, that made them cry, and that made them more empathetic to other people’s lives and struggles.
Where the Red Fern Grows
Against the backdrop of the Ozarks, ten-year old Billy raises two puppies into hunting dogs who grow to love and protect him at all costs. This classic read impacted several of the debut authors this year. Kit Rosewater, author of the forthcoming The Derby Daredevils, admits to secretly reading ahead when the book was assigned in school—and coming into class already an emotional wreck. “I was sobbing when we were still five pages out, to the point where the teacher sent me outside to catch my breath in the hall.” And Tanya Guerrero, author of How to Make Friends with the Sea, admits to “sobbing for an entire week” after reading this deeply moving tale. The book showed Guerrero “the power of great storytelling” and how close we can feel to the characters who come to life on the pages of a book.
About The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team: Kenzie and Shelly have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They hang out at the park, practice their super-secret handshake, and (most important) count down the days to their roller derby debut. It looks like their dream is coming true when Austin’s city league announces a junior league. But there’s a catch. To try out together, the Dynamic Duo will have to form a team of five players… in just one week!
As they start convincing other girls that roller derby is the coolest thing on wheels, Kenzie has second thoughts. Why is Shelly acting like everyone’s best friend? Isn’t she supposed to be Kenzie’s best friend? And things get really awkward when Shelly recruits Kenzie’s neighbor (and secret crush!) for the team.
About Kit Rosewater: Kit Rosewater writes books for children. Before she was an author, Kit taught theatre to middle school students, which even a world-renowned cat herder once called “a lot of work.” Kit has a master’s degree in children’s literature. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed.
About How to Make Friends with the Sea: Pablo is homesick.
He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.
Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip―and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.
He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.
About Tanya Guerrero: Tanya Guerrero is Filipino and Spanish by birth, but spent her childhood living in three continents—Asia, Europe and North America. Upon graduating from high school, she attended Boston University, where she studied Screenwriting. Over the course of eleven years, she’s worked as a photo editor in children’s educational publishing, operated her own photo studio and freelanced as a writer.
Currently, she lives in a shipping container home in the suburbs of Manila with her husband, her daughter, Violet, and a menagerie of rescued cats and dogs. In her free time she grows her own food, bakes sourdough bread and reads lots of books.
Bridge to Terabithia
One of the most impactful books to the debut authors of 2020 was Bridge to Terabithia, the story of the friendship between neighbors Jesse and Leslie, and their escape into a magical forest realm where they are able to assert the independence and adventure but find emotional sanctuary. KayLynn Flanders, author of the forthcoming Shielded admits to this being one of the first books she ever truly sobbed after reading. And Tanya Guerrero admits to an equal amount of suffering and sadness upon reading. But although the book deals with intense grief and loss, the story and the fantastic realm of Terabithia offered much more. Flanders shares that “while [Terabithia] gutted me in fifth grade, my friends and I were inspired by it. Every recess, we’d cross part of the playground into our own Terabithia, with new adventures awaiting us every day.” The best books deal with the hardest things in life, but they also give us pathways to endure them.
About Shielded: For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.
The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s—her brother’s—magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong—the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.
About Kaylynn Flanders: KayLynn Flanders is a graduate of Brigham Young University, with a degree in English Language and a minor in editing. When she’s not writing, she spends her time playing volleyball, reading, and traveling. She lives in Utah with her family, and thinks there’s nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment road trip. Her debut novel is Shielded.
Many writers empathize with the character of Jo—and with her loss of her manuscript at the hands of her jealous and angry little sister, Amy. But we empathize with Jo for more than that moment of loss—Lorien Lawrence, author of the forthcoming The Stitchers, remembers empathizing with Jo because she felt “like I didn’t fit in…I remember crying my eyes out in that last scene with Laurie.” She identifies what makes this book so eternal, and what we all hope for when we write characters—that we make them emblematic of the way we struggle with society’s expectations, with what and who we love, and how to navigate those wild. waters. In my forthcoming book, Wider Than the Sky, I explore just this type of relationship—and ask how we can navigate complex feelings of love and disdain, of adoration and fear. Little Women will always be an example of how we learn to care for others, even from within the complexities of our desires.
About The Stichers: Instinctive Quinn Parker and scientific-minded Mike Warren are two thirteen-year old friends who uncover a centuries-old-mystery that threatens their whole town. After learning the awful truth about their neighbors, ‘The Oldies’, and the gruesome secret of how they stay young, Quinn and Mike face a race against time to expose their neighbors before they become the next victims.
About Lorien Lawrence: Lorien Lawrence graduated with creative writing degrees from Wheaton College and Bath Spa University. After college, she lived abroad in England for a few years, before returning stateside and becoming a middle school English teacher. On weekends you can often find her exploring New England haunts, getting more inspiration for her novels.
About Wider Than the Sky: Wider Than the Sky follows the dual stories of twin sisters coping with the aftermath of their father’s sudden death. When their mother moves them to a ramshackle mansion in California, the twins discover that both parents were hiding secrets about their sexual identities
About Katherine Rothschild: Katherine Rothschild, MFA, PhD, is an English professor at St. Mary’s College, a former dance instructor, and an obsessive food truck-follower. Her first-person essays have been published by KQED/NPR and The San Francisco Chronicle, and her academic work is published by Purdue University Press. She has received artist grants from Vermont Studio Center and Kindlings Words. When she isn’t studying writing or classroom social justice, she’s hanging out by the lake with her family. Wider Than the Sky from Soho Teen is her debut young adult novel.
What books moved you, readers? What books made you more empathetic, more caring, more sensitive to others? What books can teach empathy?
Thank you to all the authors for sharing their choices and their upcoming books! Visit https://classof2k20books.com/ to learn more about these and all class of 2k20 authors and their books!
I hadn’t planned to write a MeToo story for middle grade readers.
I was waiting for my editor to get back to me with editorial notes for another middle grade novel I’d written, MY LIFE IN THE FISH TANK. My longtime publisher, Simon & Schuster, had offered me a two-book deal–FISH TANK plus whatever else I wrote next. Of course I was delighted with this deal, but also a little worried, because in winter 2018 I had no idea what that second book would be.
But as I waited for the editorial notes for Book #1, I had a lot of time to follow the news.
And all the news was about Harvey Weinstein and other famous men accused of sexual harassment–or worse–towards women with less power in the workplace.
Where did this behavior come from, I wondered. It couldn’t have started when these men were full-grown adults. It had to have an origin in boyhood, right?
I did some research online, reading articles by education experts that pinpointed sexually harassing behavior as originating in middle school. Seventh grade, these experts said. When I mentioned this to several teachers, they told me that actually, they saw it earlier–in fifth grade. Even in second and third.
I started thinking about own my middle school experience, how I’d taught myself to avoid taking the main staircase, which was where girls got groped. I thought about my daughter, who one day had asked me to drive her home from middle school, because she “didn’t like the bus.” At the time she didn’t tell me why, but later I learned that certain boys were “misbehaving” in a way that made her feel powerless and uncomfortable. And with only a driver on the bus to supervise, there was no adult to witness it, she thought.
I spoke to moms of current middle schoolers, who confided that their daughters had similar experiences. One of these moms suggested I interview a middle school psychologist in a nearby town who might be willing to speak candidly. So I reached out.
This school psychologist told me that sexual harassment happened in her middle school all the time. But typically “under the radar” of adults, she said–in the lunchroom, on the bus, at the lockers, where no adults are present. Usually she heard about it indirectly, not from the target of the harassment, but from the target’s friends, who were often confused and upset. She also heard about it when kids came to her about “friendship problems”–and with a little digging, discovered that one girl’s harassment was at the root of tensions within the group.
So by spring, I knew there was plenty of material for a middle grade novel. But was there one on this subject already on the bookshelf? There had to be, given the pervasiveness of the problem.
It shocked me to discover that there wasn’t a middle grade book about sexual harassment–or the middle school version of it, which included unwanted hugs, sitting too close, mean jokes about girls’ bodies. Of course, such microaggressions didn’t rise to the level of Harvey Weinstein-style assault. But for a girl going through puberty, self-conscious about her developing body, this behavior could be painful and humiliating. And when her protests were ignored or mocked, a girl’s self-esteem could plummet in dangerous ways.
I started writing, telling myself that I was merely scribbling notes for Book #2 in the two-book deal, and that I’d turn to Book #1 as soon as I had my editor’s notes.
But Book #2 was getting written fast–so fast it felt like it was pouring out of me. I even had a title–MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU–which helped me to focus on the story I wanted to tell. And as the spring turned to summer, and Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, I realized that this book needed to come out as soon as possible.
I called my editor, Alyson Heller at Simon & Schuster, to ask if we could flip the order of the two books in my contract–if MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU could be published ASAP, a whole year before MY LIFE IN THE FISH TANK.
To my great relief, she agreed, even though that meant S&S would have to accelerate its production schedule for a book they hadn’t read and that I hadn’t even finished.
But I quickly did. It was surreal revising and doing copyedits for MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU while watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on television–but I was able to include her testimony about the sting of “the laughter” in MAYBE’s climactic scene. (I doubt many kids will pick up on it, but there it is.)
I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for this book, the deeply emotional reactions it’s produced, the stories I’ve heard. I can’t say I’m happy to have written this story. It wasn’t easy to tell (despite the hopeful ending). But I am happy that this is a time when a book like MAYBE could have been written. And published. And read.
And I really hope the subject matter is discussed openly, in schools and around the kitchen table. Because as the #MeToo movement shows, exposing behavior to daylight is the only way to effect change.
Published October 1st, 2019 from Aladdin
About the Book: For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop.
The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?
But it keeps happening, despite Mila’s protests. On the bus, in the halls. Even during band practice-the one time Mila could always escape to her “blue-sky” feeling. It seems like the boys are EVERYWHERE. And it doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it?
Mila starts to gain confidence when she enrolls in karate class. But her friends still don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.
About the Author: Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List’s Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
Thank you, Barbara, for writing about this for middle schoolers! It is a topic that needs to be talked about; we’re glad this book exists!
I was so honored to be on the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award jury!
The Schneider Award is given to books that embody “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
Today I wanted to share our choices for the 2020 awards because I recommend them all with all of my heart!
Schneider Award for Young Readers Honor
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, Illustrated by Mika Song
Summary: In Classroom Six, second left down the hall, Henry has been on the lookout for a friend. A friend who shares. A friend who listens. Maybe even a friend who likes things to stay the same and all in order, as Henry does. But on a day full of too close and too loud, when nothing seems to go right, will Henry ever find a friend—or will a friend find him? A story from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum.
Schneider Award for Young Readers Winner
Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael López
Summary: Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful.
In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges—and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.
Schneider Award for Middle Grades Honor
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
Summary: Emilia Torres has a wandering mind. It’s hard for her to follow along at school, and sometimes she forgets to do what her mom or abuela asks. But she remembers what matters: a time when her family was whole and home made sense. When Dad returns from deployment, Emilia expects that her life will get back to normal. Instead, it unravels.
Dad shuts himself in the back stall of their family’s auto shop to work on an old car. Emilia peeks in on him daily, mesmerized by the sparks flying from his welder. One day, Dad calls Emilia over to take a closer look. Then, he teaches her how to weld. And over time, flickers of her old dad reappear.
But as Emilia finds a way to repair the relationship with her father at home, her community ruptures with some of her classmates, like her best friend Gus, at the center of the conflict.
Schneider Award for Middle Grades Winner
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
Summary: The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.
From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.
When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?
Schneider Award for Young Adults Honor
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais
Summary: Deaf teen Maya moves across the country and must attend a hearing school for the first time. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she also has to adjust to the hearing culture, which she finds frustrating—and also surprising when some classmates, including Beau Watson, take time to learn ASL. As Maya looks past graduation and focuses on her future dreams, nothing, not even an unexpected romance, will derail her pursuits. But when people in her life—deaf and hearing alike—ask her to question parts of her deaf identity, Maya stands proudly, never giving in to the idea that her deafness is a disadvantage.
Schneider Award for Young Adults Winner
Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein
Summary: 14 year old Erica “Ricky” Bloom, is newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and pretty pissed off about it. Her body hurts constantly, her family’s a mess and the boy she’s crushing on seems completely clueless. The best coping mechanisms she can come up with are cursing and cutting school. But when her truancy is discovered she must struggle to catch up in school to avoid a far worse horror: repeating ninth grade.
Congratulations to all of the honorees! (P.S. It was amazing calling them all!)
To see the other other books awarded at the American Library Association Youth Media Awards, visit http://ala.unikron.com/about2020.php.
Now onto 2021 where I’m lucky to be co-chair of the jury!
Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books
GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.
Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists […]
Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: October 1, 2019 by Philomel Books
GoodReads Summary: A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.
Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.
Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.
My Review: This book rocked me. It is so beautifully written, and I felt so lucky to be able to share it with others at NCTE this year. Because I have so many teaching ideas for this book, I am organizing this post a bit differently and focusing on many more teaching tools than usual. I hope that the information below helps other teachers use this book in their classrooms. It is so worthy of being read, studied, and loved.
Inquiry to Consider the Complexity of The Fountains of Silence:
The Connection of People: Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Fuga, Julia, Puri
“Some friendships are born of commonality. Others of proximity. And some friendships, often the unlikely ones, are born of survival” (p. 53).
Place as Character
The Castellana Hilton Madrid and Madrid
“After all, a hotel is a house of secrets” (p. 171).
“Madrid’s soil is untender, strong, and enduring like many who walk upon it” (p. 457).
“Estamos más guapas con la boca cerrada. We are prettier with our mouths shut” (p. 240, 243, 300).
“What lies outside the country’s borders is untouchable for families like hers” (p. 47).
“Julia needs the wages to feed her family and pay their debts” (p. 63).
“The family business needs you” (p. 82).
“It’s warrior skin, very strong” (p. 113)
“There is a category of unspeakable things, a dark drawer where inexpressible truths live in exile” (p. 240).
“Ana is tired of silence, tired of unanswered questions, and tired of secrets. A girl of patched pieces, she dreams of new beginnings. She dreams of leaving Spain” (p. 24).
Fountains of Silence
Analysis of the power of the title. Whose stories are heard? Whose are silenced?
Culminating Project Idea: Multigenre Inquiry Project
The Fountains of Silence is story which uses layered writing to illuminate the fear and terror that people experienced under Franco’s fascist regime. The novel reveals the brute strength and resilience of the people during the time period. Select a time and place in history to research. Consider researching a time and place which is deeply connected with your own story. Read the narratives of the people and develop a multigenre project which reflects your learning. You might include fictional narratives of stories you create, nonfiction excerpts that you find in your research, a photo essay which includes photos you find in your research. Whatever the final form, your culminating project should include various types of writing and media and demonstrate your knowledge about the time and place you selected to research.
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