Books Between Podcast

Books Between is a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8 and 12 to books they'll love.
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Oct 23, 2017


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two and a teacher of 23. And last weekend, I had the huge pleasure of meeting and having lunch with Amy Skelding from the KidLit Drink Night Podcast! We had apple cider martinis and spent hours chatting about Parks & Rec and Harry Potter and Wegmans and everything we’ve been reading and everything we want to read. So if you haven’t yet had the chance to check out her show, Alan Gratz - the author of Refugee and Ban This Book, is her most recent guest and he is just phenomenal. So make sure you subscribe to Kid Lit Drink Night.

This is Episode #37 and today I am welcoming author Orli Zuravicky to the show to chat about her paranormal middle grade series Happily Ever After, and then I am sharing with you three new books about the power and perils of friendship.

Before we start today’s interview, I am excited to tell you that this month’s episodes are sponsored by - a writing community and digital platform that is perfect for classrooms.  And their school platform can connect every child in your school to build that community of writers. Write About for Schools makes it really easy for kids to read and respond to each other’s published writing.  So, if you or someone you know is looking for a way to bring your school together by celebrating student authors, definitely check out And at the end of the show, I’ll share with you the fall themed creative writing that my students are writing about.

Main Topic - A Conversation with Orli Zuravichy

Today I am so happy to welcome Orli Zuravicky to the podcast. She is a senior editor at Scholastic and the author of several books including the recently published middle grade series Happily Ever Afterlife. Take a listen.

Happily Ever After Series

Your new middle grade series Happily Ever Afterlife was released last year and now has two new books coming out this fall.

For those listening who aren’t familiar with the series, can you tell us a bit about it?


One of the reasons that I love paranormal stories is that phase of figuring out the rules of the world the story is set in. For example, there is no interaction between the ghost world and the previous world, once someone becomes a ghost, they stay that age forever….

How did you decide on the parameters of the afterlife in this book?

With a book that is essentially about a middle school girl dying, it could have gone very dark. But it’s an upbeat and fun read. How did you strike that balance to avoid having the story be too morbid?

What is next for Lucy and the others students at Limbo Central Middle School?



So you work at Scholastic!

What do you do there?

What is your day like?

So I follow you on Instagram - which I recommend everyone do - and I have a couple questions:

What amazing polish do you have on your nails right now?


I notice you have a lot of Parks & Rec references on there -

Who is your favorite character?


Your Writing Life

You previously wrote a couple of board books..

What made you decide to try a paranormal middle grade?

Right now my 5th graders have been working on writing narratives - personal narratives and stories.

What is one piece of advice you would give them about how to make their stories come alive?


What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


Thank You!


Episode Links:

Orli Zurvicky’s website

Books We Chatted About:

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Eloise by Kay Thompson & Hilary Knight

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Baby-Sitters Club Series

Sweet Valley High Series

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Diary of Anne Frank

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


Book Talk - Three Novels about the Power and Perils of Friendship

In this section of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I am featuring three books about the power and perils of friendship. They are Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes, Brave by Svetlana Chmakova, and Real Friends by Shannon Hale.


Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker


Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first in a new series by debut author Shelley Johannes. It’s about a unique middle child who climbs out of every box imposed on her, loves the word WOW, and has a knack for seeing the positive possibilities in any situation.  Beatrice has big plans for her first day of 3rd grade, but…. those plans get derailed when her best friend Lenny shows up to school NOT wearing the black ninja outfit to match Beatrice’s AND with a new friend, Chloe. Suddenly, Lenny seems less interested in their top-secret playground mission and more interested in sparkly clothes and playing veterinarian with her cool new friend.  Here are three things to love about Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker:

  1. The playful language!  Johannes really gets the tone right here.  There’s light touches of rhyme and alliteration and it’s just fun to read!  Here’s a bit from the beginning to give you a taste:  “Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down. It worked like magic, and she never questioned it. It worked like poof. It worked like presto. It worked like shazam - on every problem, every pickle, and each and every jam.”
  2. The illustrations!  I just love the movement and the shapes and the orange tints throughout. There’s long-legged Beatrice suspending from trees, her strict triangular teacher, Mrs. Tamarack and cute wide-stanced Lenny. There are pictures on just about every page!
  3. Beatrice’s attitude!  When we first learn of her super secret spying mission, it’s not entirely clear what her plans are.  But, the way that plays out and how that ties in with the situation with the new girl, Chloe… I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for you, but…I love it! And I think you and your students will, too.


This book about an upside down zany girl who has a knack for seeing the upside in everything would be a great read aloud and perfect for kids in about grades 2-5.




Another new book touching on the themes of fraught friendships is Brave by Svetlana Chmakova. This graphic novel is set in the same universe at Chmakova’s debut middle grade graphic novel Awkward, but this novel focuses on the character Jensen. In his daydreams, Jensen is a swashbuckling hero with dreams of becoming an astronaut or saving his schoolmates from the zombie apocalypse! But, in real life, he’s having a tough time in middle school - math class is hard, his art club friends seem to be ditching him, and he’s being harassed by two boys at school. Here are three reasons to love Brave:


  1. The diversity of characters! Throughout the pages there is a huge range of skin tones and hairstyles. One of the trio of friends who run the school newspaper, Akilah, wears a hijab. She is absolutely my favorite character aside from Jensen. (And I really hope she gets her own book someday!) She’s bold and wants to be a voice for justice. And she also handles her friend and vlog co-host, Jenny, very well. Jenny can be, umm… a little intense. I also love the diversity of body types all throughout. Our main guy, Jensen, is overweight and some of the bullies call him cruel names because of that. Or rather - I should say - because they’re jerks and the insults just reference that. And I love how the story is not about Jensen wanting to lose weight to attempt to fit in. And characters that you think are going to fill a stereotype surprise you! Like Jorge - Jensen’s partner in English class who at first glance, seems like a big jock who just wants to do a project on baseball. But the sports part is actually not what he wants to focus on! The depth in the minor characters in this book are really remarkable.
  2. How this book really sheds light on the fact that friends can be some of the biggest harassers! And I think the author does a deft job of helping readers reflect on bullying through the survey Jensen takes as part of the social studies project Jenny is working on called The Lizard Brain Culture in Middle School. In a very accessible way, it brings forth ideas like normalized behavior and in our society where cultural norms and gender norms and political norms are changing quickly, I think the reflecting that happens in this book is a good thing.
  3. The small thread in this book about the dress code. At one point, Felicity gets suspended for wearing a skirt deemed too short. So, the school is in an uproar and they put together a petition to get her back. Personally, I loved that several of the teachers were just as upset and used the opportunity to have their class discuss it and discuss the long history of controlling what women wear.


Brave  warms your heart, makes you laugh, and gets you thinking about what you want to see in the world. The call-backs to the first book, Awkward, are fun if you’ve read it, but kids absolutely don’t have to have read Awkward at all to enjoy this book. If you have a child who loves to draw or one who has trouble finding that group to fit into or a child who has been a target of bullies, Brave would be a perfect story to share with them. And - I just saw the other day that the third book will be out next fall. It features Jorge and is called Crush. Can’t wait for that one!

Real Friends

And finally - THE hot graphic novel read of this summer (the one that my daughter was up half the night reading with her flashlight) was the autobiographical novel Real Friends written by Shannon Hale with artwork by LeUyen Pham. This book tells the story of young elementary school Shannon as she struggles to break out of her middle child loneliness and make good friends at school and at home. This book is about the power of friendship - in both a positive and a negative way.  Here are three things to love about Real Friends:

  1. How Shannon Hale understands those seemingly small but socially HUGE details that happen in the lives of friends. Such as who sits next to who at lunch, who gets invited to whose house, the intentional but unseen by teachers jabs in gym class, the ranking, and the lying… ugh… After Shannon’s first Kindergarten friend Adrienne moves and then comes back, she gets attached to what’s called The Group - these popular girls lead by Jen and her friend Jennifer.  Adrienne is clearly IN, but Shannon is sometimes OUT.  
  2. How this book is not just about Shannon learning how to make good friends, but also about her learning how to BE a good friend. Early on after her first real friend Adrienne, moves away, she makes friends with Tammy. A girl that I think is in foster care and there’s hints about how challenging her life is. Tammy joins Shannon’s class and they become friends but Tammy is FAR more attached to Shannon while Shannon is still pining for Adrienne and is cold to her and makes her feel bad when they say good-bye for that last time. I appreciated that this book was honest with her own mistakes. And when I was finished reading, I wondered a lot about Tammy.
  3. The Wendy section. The final chapter is about Shannon’s older sister Wendy who can be amazing but who also has this incredible mean streak - hitting and \ scaring and forced tickling. Shannon feels like there’s this wild bear unleashed in their home that no one else sees. And that doesn’t exactly change but evolves in a way that I think a lot of children can relate to who have complicated relationships with their siblings. That piece of the story reminded me a lot of Swing It, Sunny so if you have fans of that book, this would be another great title to have them check out.


So if you are looking for some great new books to introduce to your readers that have the universal and timeless theme of friendship absolutely check out Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, Brave, and Real Friends.



Alright  - that wraps up our show this week. We have some great interviews and book talks coming up this fall on topics like the Anne of Green Gables graphic novel and the timeless appeal of The Baby-Sitters Club. And our Q&A section will be back next episode!

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews, and a transcript of all the other parts of this show along with all of our previous episodes at  And, if you like the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to for supporting the podcast this month - when you visit their website you’ll find fantastic ideas to get your students excited about writing. Tomorrow I am surprising my students by bringing in 6 pumpkins - one for each group. Their goal - to write a story featuring that pumpkin. It could be spooky, it could be funny and it includes my students who don’t celebrate Halloween. We’ll have some special guest judges and the winner of each group gets to keep the pumpkin.


See you in two weeks!  Bye!

Oct 9, 2017


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two daughters and a 5th grade teacher in Central New York. My goal is to help you find fabulous books for your kids and help create a community where we all can support each other as we build those readers.

This is Episode #36 and today is all about graphic novels!

Before we start the show today, I am excited to tell you that this month’s episodes are sponsored by - a writing community and digital platform that is tailor made for students of all ages.  Their school platform can connect all your classrooms for shared writing topics. So if your school is like mine and has certain themes for each week, Write About for Schools makes it really easy for every class to read and respond to each other’s published writing.  So, if you or someone you know is looking for a way to bring your school together by celebrating student authors, definitely check out And at the end of the show, I’ll share with you what my class plans to write about this week.

Main Topic - CYBILS

Before we jump into the book talks for the show - a little bit of news. I am so excited to be a round one judge for the CYBILS this year in the graphic novels category, so I am taking a deep dive into as many middle grade graphic novels published in the last year as I can get my hands on. Phew!

So if you are not familiar, the CYBILS are the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards.  This award started in 2006 and aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. There are about a dozen categories and subcategories within Picture Books to Middle Grade to Young Adult.  Nominations take place from October 1st - October 15th so you still have time to go to and nominate your favorite books. Finalists in each category are announced on January 1st and winners are revealed on February 14th. So be on the lookout for those.

Last year’s middle grade winners included Ghost by Jason Reynolds, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan, Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, Book 2 by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third. So, some pretty fabulous choices.

I’ve been following the CYBILS for a long time and using their lists as a resource, but this is my first time participating as a judge, and I’m honored to be working alongside a great team, including our very own Mel Shuit from All the Wonders! So, in other words, expect to be hearing a lot more about the great graphic novels of the past year. Starting…. now.

Book Talk - Three Fresh New Graphic Novels

In this section of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week - as promised - it’s all about graphic novels! And since my aim is to keep you up to date on what’s new and fresh and really good in the world of middle grade, here are three new graphic novels to introduce to your readers.  They are Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer & Matthew Holm, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, and All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.

Swing It, Sunny

First up is Swing It, Sunny - the much-awaited sequel to Jennifer & Matthew Holm’s Sunny, Side Up. This book picks up with Sunny’s life in September 1976 - right after the summer she spent with her grandfather down in Florida in the first book. This story is all about Sunny’s life back at home, her complicated feelings about her brother Dale, who is now in boarding school, and the challenges of middle school. Here are three things to love about Swing It, Sunny:

  1. Seasonal Slice of Life stories. Unlike the first book which was set just in the summer, here we have Sunny starting school, getting fall allergies, reluctantly dressing up as nurse for Halloween, making loom potholders for Christmas gifts…. And small but poignant moments of that year in her life. My 10 year old was wishing for bigger events with a stronger resolution at the end. And for that reason she said she prefered the first book. But, personally, I liked the rhythm and pacing of this book with small moments told over the course of a year.
  2. How it explores a complicated relationship between siblings, and the impact that has on the rest of the family. After her older brother, Dale, ends up in a military boarding school for doing drugs and getting into big trouble - at one point Sunny says to her mom, “I miss him. But I don’t miss what it’s like when he’s here.” And I think a lot of kids - in some way or other - can connect to that.
  3. I LOVED all the 1970s details!!  I will out my age here and say that I was born in November 1976, a bicentennial baby, so this book felt like stepping back into the avocado green and rust brown and orangey yellow shades of my childhood. When having a TV dinner (cooked in the oven by the way!) was cause for excitement. I’m sure that qualifies this book for “Historical Fiction” status, and kids are obviously not going to have that nostalgic feeling that I had, but I loved all the TV shows referenced - Six Million Dollar Man and Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch and General Hospital… there are so many tiny little details from the antennas on the tvs to the Jiffy Pop pan, to the vintage Golden Grahams cereal box…  Ahhhh….. There’s so much more. But I’ll let you discover all of it.

Swing It Sunny is absolutely a must-have graphic novel for kids 8-12.  And they don’t have to have read Sunny, Side Up to enjoy this one, but if you have the first book on hand, I’d recommend starting there so you have the background about what happened the summer before.

Invisible Emmie

Another great new book is Invisible Emmie by debut author Terri Libenson. This book tells the story of the quiet, un-noticed, hero-in-waiting Emmie Douglass who is trying to deal with the challenges of seventh grade. Things like finding time to go to the bathroom between classes, the awkwardness of changing for PE class, not having a cell phone and feeling left out of things, and…. being completely embarrassed in front of your crush.  Here are three reasons to love Invisible Emmie:


  1. How relatable Emmie is - especially for girls! From the frustration with your curly hair to that anger at yourself for not speaking up in your own defense. I think most girls (and boys!) feel that pressure of fitting in and comparing yourself to your peers, your friends, and to that perfect version of yourself that you wish you were.
  2. How this book alternates between the main narrative of Emmie and the story of Katie. And I loved how Emmie’s parts are text with lots of illustrations in softer blues, and tans, and mauves. And the sections from Katie’s point of view are a more traditional graphic novel format with panels and done in brighter yellows and pinks and greens. The blend of those two styles is really well done.
  3. How Emmie’s and Katie’s stories come together in the end! As I was reading, I kept theorizing how they were going to connect, and then I started to notice some of the same characters show up in both sections.  That ending and the message of that ending was powerful. Loved it!

Terri Libenson’s  Invisible Emmie is funny, heartfelt, and great for kids who love books like Raina Telgemeier’s Drama or Bubbles by Abby Cooper. And I can’t wait to see what this author does next!

All’s Faire in Middle School

Our final graphic novel is one that my students and I have been anticipating for a long time - and oh was it worth that wait!. It’s All’s Faire in Middle School - by Victoria Jamieson. You might know Ms. Jamieson from her incredible Newbery Honor book - Roller Girl.  This novel is about Imogene - an eleven-year-old girl who has grown up and been schooled at the Florida Renaissance Festival where her father works as a knight and she helps her mother run their family’s arts and crafts store. But - this year two things are changing. One - she starts her training as a squire, which mean more responsibility at the faire. And two - she’s going to public school for the first time and starting middle school. I loved this book so much I am completely breaking my rule of three things. So, here are six things to love about All’s Faire in Middle School:

  1. The behind-the-scenes look at the renaissance festival. The jousting, the human chess game, the mud pit, the juggling, and the sword play.   And how Imogene is taught by the other actors to do what’s called “street” -  how to walk and talk and pull visitors into the fun as though they were all REALLY living in a Renaissance village filled with colorful characters.
  2. The Elizabethan flavored talk at the fair is so much fun to read. Here, let me give you a sample for you.. This is from page 27. This is when Cussy, an actor who plays a hermit, is teaching Imogene how to interact with the shopkeepers as she walks around the faire. “Good Morrow, and well met, baker! Prithee, hast thou any fresh loaves this morning?”
  3. The gorgeous chapter introductions that are in the style of an illuminated manuscript. They are so beautiful!  
  4. How this is a story about a family that is poor. Imogene is always a bit torn between her pride in her Ren Faire lifestyle and embarrassment that her family is picking her up in a beat-up old car. Or that she gets dropped of at the shabby apartment complex. Or that they can’t really afford those cool shoes and jeans that would help her blend in more at school. Yeah - relatable. For many many kids.
  5. The nuanced struggles and mistakes that Imogene deals with in middle school and at home. She makes BIG mistakes. At one point she harnesses her talent of drawing to be cruel in order to make others laugh. And has to deal with how much she hurt people.  At point she lies to her parents about school work, and gets in huge trouble.  And then - she does something so mean to her little brother that overcoming that one rash act is going to take a lot. But, you know - I see sibling conflict and peer conflict up close every day. And Jamieson gets it right.
  6. The small thread about the romance novel. There’s a scene where Imogene and her new friends sneak read part of a romance novel and later she writes the word sex in her journal and then quickly crosses it out. The words from the novel aren’t explicit at all but the context of that thread is so relatable for a lot of preteen and teenaged kids. That impulse to want to know more and yet not feeling really ready for that is handled so well here with a light touch that I’d say would probably be appropriate for most kids in grades 5 and above.


Honestly, I could go on and on about all the reasons I loved All’s Faire in Middle School but instead I think that time would be better spent having YOU just go get it and read it and put it into the hands of kids who are going to love it. And if you ever have the chance to go to a Renaissance Festival - please do it!!  My family always attends the Sterling Renaissance Festival in northern New York, and it is such a blast. We get our hair braided, enjoy a giant turkey leg, and just have fun transporting yourself to another era.  And make sure you check out Matthew Winner’s interview with Victoria Jamieson on episode 386 of the All the Wonders podcast where they talk about All’s Faire and her inspirations for this story. It’s so good!


Okay - that wraps up our show this week. We have some great interviews and book talks coming up this fall.  I’ll also be chatting about flexible seating, Shelley Johannes’ Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends - and of course - even more great new graphic novels.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at  And, if you like the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to for supporting the podcast this month - when you visit their website you’ll find fantastic ideas to get your students excited about writing. My school is doing the Positivity Project this year where each week we focus on one character strength. So my students will be writing about how they and others show Perspective.

See you in two weeks!  Bye!

Sep 25, 2017


Hi everyone! This is episode #35 and today I am sharing with you a LIVE recording of an interview I did with the incredible Mira Bartók where we discuss her debut middle grade novel, The Wonderling. This was recording at ALA on Sunday, June 25th and I have been eager to share it with you and since The Wonderling is released tomorrow, now seems like the perfect time.

Before we begin today’s interview, I am excited to tell you that this month’s episodes are sponsored by - a safe, digital writing community where students are just one click away from starting a new writing piece. And if your school uses Google like mine does, you will be happy to know that your students (and you!) can log-in with your Google account. I love that that my students can share their writing with peers locally or globally. And we all know that a real audience makes a real difference.   So, if you or someone you know is looking for an engaging and authentic way to help students write every day, absolutely check out And at the end of the show, I’ll share with you what my class has been up to lately.

A couple quick notes before I share the interview. First, I huge thank you to everyone who came to the live recording of our show, to Mira for being a great guest, and all the fabulous folks at ALA and Candlewick (especially Andie and Anna) who helped coordinate this. Second, this is a LIVE recording in a very large and noisy space so I hope you bear with the bit of background bustle that you hear, but I promise that hearing what Mira has to say is so worth it. Take a listen.

Interview Outline

I am really excited about the finished artwork in the final version of The Wonderling!

Did the art come first and inspire the story or was it the other way?

The Wonderling has this fantastic darker flavor to it at some points - in a similar way to Roald Dahl. And the cruel Miss Carbunkle reminds me of one of my favorite villains Miss Trunchbull.

Did you like darker books as a child?

One of the fascinating aspects of this book is the wielding of power. For example, Miss Carbunkle bestows small little favors or a bit of extra food to some of the prisoners in the orphanage as a way of pitting them against each other.  

Can you talk a bit about how power is used by characters in this story?

One of the aspects that I loved about this book was the role that music played in it. Songs are forbidden in Miss Carbunkle’s orphanage and then - music plays a bigger and bigger part as we get into the story.

Can you talk a bit about how music has played a part in your own life and how those experiences may have influenced this story?


The Wonderling isn’t even released yet (it come out September 26th) - but, did I hear that already it’s going to be made into a movie?

There comes a point in the story when Arthur realizes that he can understand the mice around him when others can’t and so he starts to translate for his mouse friend, Peevil. So they have this profound exchange about cats and Arthur says something like “maybe if I can understand them someday, they won’t hiss at me when I walk by.”

In our world, or maybe just in the context on this story - do you think that understanding each other and developing empathy is enough to avoid conflict or are there some problems too big for that?

There is a scene in the story where Arthur (still named Number 13) meets his first friend, Trinket, this fierce little bird-like creature. And she tells him the story of King Arthur and Merlyn and mentions that “there’s not really one way to tell it.”

When you were writing The Wonderling, were there other versions or storylines that you played with or did you come into it knowing exactly where you wanted to take the story?


A thought that struck me as I was reading The Wonderling was how powerful imagination can truly be.

How has that force played a part in this story and maybe in your own life?

As Arthur and Trinket begin their journey, they run across this boy named Pinecone. And he finds them sleeping under a tree and wakes them with a wooden sword and asks, “Are you a tinker, trader, forager, or foe?”

As a writer, are you more of a tinker, trader, forager, or a foe?

When we first meet Arthur in the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, that is his name from his tag around his neck. And even later when he’s in a rather dire situation, that number 13 get attached to him again - he just can’t quite shake it!

Is 13 unlucky for you?

What are you reading now?

Audience Q&A


Okay - that wraps up our show this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to for supporting the podcast this month - when you visit their website you’ll find fabulous ideas to get your students writing this year. My class has started with Personal Narratives and I love that I can find and pin ideas to our class page to help students who might have a little trouble coming up with something on their own.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Episode Links:

Mira Bartok’s’ website:

Sep 11, 2017


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom an 8 and 10 year old, and just finishing my first week back to school with my new 5th graders. And….YAWN!  Is there any tured that’s like that first few days of school tired?  I am gonna get some coffee and I’ll be right back….

This is Episode #34 and today I’m talking about studying genre and then I welcome author Danielle Davis to the show to chat about her debut middle grade novel Zinnia and the Bees, and finish up with a question about book recommendations for an advanced 6th grade reader.

But before we jump into the show, I want tell you that this month’s episodes are sponsored by - a writing community and publishing platform that is just perfect for classrooms. It is incredibly easy to use and set up - and boy am I appreciating that at the beginning of the year!  I am also loving how engaged students are when they see their word count grow. And how that pushes them to write even more. And from my end, I love how I can analyze those word count statistics either as a whole class or filter for individual students.  So, if you’ve been searching for an engaging and authentic way to help your students write every day, definitely go visit to check it out. And at the end of the show, I’ll share with you my current favorite feature.

Main Topic - Studying Genre

As I start our new school year rolling and we are setting up our reading journals and discussing goals, one of the first things we do is have a quick crash course in identifying genres. So today I want to chat with you about why it’s a good idea for students to study genre, which genres to study, the difference between genre and format, and finally I’ll share some ideas and resources to get your students learning more about different genres.

Why study genre?

So, why study genre? We’ve already got a lot on our plate and a curriculum that is jam packed. Why is it important for students to know the difference between science fiction and fantasy? Or to know a mystery when they see one?

  1. Studying genre helps students expand their reading habits and get introduced to genres they might not have tried yet.
  2. Studying genre also expands students’ views of each genre and helps them realize that NOT all books in a genre are the same. Not all fantasy is about dragons or set in a medieval world. Some have cats like The Warriors series and some are even set in modern times!  And often, books are a blend of more than one genre - Historical Fiction AND Action-Adventure like the I Survived Series. Or Science Fiction with a twist of Mystery like Space Case.
  3. Studying genre helps with comprehension. Knowing how a certain type of book tends to go helps you figure out the plot, make predictions, and pick out themes and delve into character more deeply. For example, if you are reading a Fantasy you’re going to be on the lookout for a quest narrative, special magical objects, maybe a good character who turns out to be bad, and a theme that might be really about Good vs. Evil. If they are picking up a mystery, they’ll want to be searching for clues and twist endings. If reading historical fiction they might be looking for lessons that would resonate today. Studying past turning points helps us figure out who we are. Knowing those common tropes and knowing why those genres are important helps students dig so much deeper and can even change them as a person.
  4. And finally, learning about genre helps kids develop their own reading identity and figure out what they really like. Learning the language and vocabulary of genre is important so they have a name for the kinds of stories they want to read and can then go ask for it at a bookstore or the library or when they search online. So if they know that they like Magical Realism, they can ask the clerk to help them find more of those kinds of books.   Last week I was thinking about how the power of knowing the vocabulary can help you find what you like. My ten year old and I have recently been binge-watching A LOT of Project Runway. And I do not have any kind of background in sewing or fashion terms. For me, when I go shopping, I just kind of wing it and know what I like when I put it on. But after watching several seasons of Project Runway in a row you start to pick up the names of various fabrics and cuts and styles. And I realize - a-ha!  I do NOT like high-low hems or mermaid dresses. BUT - that kind of skirt that always seems to look okay on me? That’s an A-line skirt! SO now, when I go shopping and a clerk asks if they can help me, I will say, “Yes! Show me your A-line skirts and dresses, please!”  Basically what I’m saying is knowing the words for what you like is hugely helpful in efficiently getting you more of that.

Which genres to study?

I tend to focus on how the characters, setting, and plot are all clues to help you figure out the genre. And the fiction genres I focus on are realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, action/adventure, traditional literature (like folk tales, tall tales and fairy tales), science fiction, and fantasy. With a strong emphasis on how sometimes they can blend. And I don’t go into depth at 5th grade, but I do mention westerns, horror, and romance. And I’ll tell you - that Science Fiction/Fantasy genre always seems so imperfect.  I mean - a book with talking animals in it. IS that… fantasy? I wouldn’t put Charlotte’s Web with Eragon. So…. we do talk about how there is nuance and fuzziness in those categories and I introduce terms like speculative fiction, paranormal, magical realism and urban fantasy. I don’t expect mastery here. But - if they can read a book like, say, The Seventh Wish. And say things like “Well, it could be realistic fiction because it’s about a typical family in modern times going through real-life challenges but it might be fantasy because the fish gives out magic wishes.” That is what I’m looking for. Not certainty but the ability to have a discussion around genre and recognize the major elements of each one.

What’s the difference between genre and format?

One of the points of growth for me is really recognizing the difference between genre and format. Poetry and graphic novels are NOT really genres. You can have a novel in verse that is a memoir like Brown Girl Dreaming or realistic fiction, like Moo. And graphic novels span every imaginable genre from traditional literature in Fairy Tale Comics to fantasy in Amulet and science fiction in Hilo to realistic fiction in Roller Girl. And as much as I know that…. I still separate them out because their format does make them so unique. And so many of my students just gravitate toward those graphic novels. So I want to make it easy for them to find. And just last week, after much consideration, I finally caved and shelved Nine, Ten, Towers Falling, Eleven, and the other 9/11 books in historical fiction. (And now I feel really old!)

Some ideas & resources

We’ll wrap up this segment by sharing a few ideas about how to reinforce the study of genre in your classroom or library or with your kids at home! Here are 6 ideas to get you started:

  1. Keep track of those genres on a chart or graph. I have a circle tracker that I love to use that I’ll link to in the shownotes. It’s colorful and flexible and fun!
  2. Give students a stack of books and have them sort them by genre or identify the genre if they are all the same. And encourage them to use the vocabulary they’ve learned to back up what they’re saying. And look at the cover and back description of the setting, characters, and plot for those clues.
  3. Another way to go is to give them a stack and tell them the genre. And then THEY have to create a definition based on the books in that category. And then they can present to their peers. If you don’t have physical books to use, I’ve cut out pictures and blurbs from Scholastic flyers and you could also have them search a genre category on Amazon or Goodreads.
  4. Have students work together to create a genre display. Last year, right around Halloween I had a group of kids work on a mystery/paranormal display for our classroom door.  Kids could also work on a video project or a Google Slideshow to teach others about genre.
  5. I used Kahoot last year to reinforce genre and my students loved it! Kahoot is an online quiz site where teachers can create any type of quiz and students log-in with a Chromebook or ipad and take the quiz and get live results together. It’s fun, it’s interactive, and they have really awesome music on that site!
  6. Have kids make #BookSnaps highlighting the genre of the books they are reading!  I talked more about #BookSnaps in episode #19 which was all about alternatives to reading logs. But basically, kids take a picture of their book, maybe annotate it with a photo editing tool and post it to social media. So, you could direct them to simply post the cover and name the genre. Or you could ask them to find some evidence inside the book to back up why they think that book fits the criteria for that genre. And take a picture of page that offers a clue and then annotate it to explain. I use SeeSaw for #BookSnaps but older kids might like SnapChat or Twitter.

Those are a few things that I have tried and plan to explore this year as I help students grow into self-aware and self-directed readers. But - I know how incredible my listeners are and I am sure you all have some fabulous ideas about how to teach and reinforce genre. Please share them with the rest of us! You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at . And I’ll share out some of your ideas.

Interview - Danielle Davis

Today I am thrilled to welcome Danielle Davis to the podcast. She is the author of the recently released middle grade novel Zinnia and the Bees. We chat about knitting, composting, and the surprising origins of her novel!

Zinnias and the Bees

Your debut novel Zinnia and the Bees was just released this month and I am so excited for my students and kids all around the world to meet these characters.

For those listening who haven’t yet had a chance to read the book, can you tell us a bit about it?


This is an alternating point of view novel like none other that I have read...

How did figure out that you wanted to include the bees’ perspective?


What sort of research did you do to make sure you got those details right?


So, I have to ask about…. KNITTING!


Your Writing Life

Your blog is called “This Picture Book Life”.

So how did you end up writing middle grade?


How does the final version of Zinnia and the Bees differ from earlier drafts?


What is your ideal writing space like?


What’s next for you - another middle grade or will you venture into Picture Books?

Your Reading Life


You read a TON of picture books AND middle grade books!


What drew you to focus mainly on picture books?


Is there a type of story or a genre that others like a lot but you’re just not that into?


What were some of your favorite books as a child?


What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


Thank You!


Q & A

Our third and final segment this week is Question & Answer time.


Today’s question was texted to me from a friend at school. She asked, “I have a friend who’s looking for some book recommendations for her going into 6th grade boy. He is an advanced reader and loves sports and music.”


I had five suggestions - Ghost by Jason Reynolds which would appeal to the sports side - plus, it’s just amazing and if they like it, there is the newly released second book called Patina which is just as fabulous! Posted by John David Anderson is also incredible. And Solo by Kwame Alexander which would be great for a kid who likes music. But - that one veers a little more toward YA. So - while I love that book, maybe take a peek at the content and consider waiting maybe a year or two. I also recommended the March graphic novel series by John Lewis. I think that trilogy is so timely and should be read by everyone so I just have to give a push whenever I have the chance. And finally, I Am Drums by Mike Grosso is phenomenal for music lovers. I just loved that book and can’t wait to see what else he writes.




Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, let me know. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


And thanks again to for supporting the podcast this month - when you visit their website you’ll find fantastic ideas to get your students writing this year. Some of my favorite features are the feedback tools - including voice recordings for students to get immediate and personal suggestions from you right as they are writing.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:


Danielle Davis’ website:

Danielle’s This Picture Book Life:


Zinnia and the Bees Pom Pom Craft:


Zinnia and the Bees:


Books & Things Mentioned in the Interview:


Bees: Nature’s Little Wonders by Candace Savage:


The Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar:


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid:


The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender:


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender:


Alethea’s blog - Read Now Sleep Later:

Roald Dahl books:


Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say:


Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis:


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle:


The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros:


The Red Tree by Shaun Tan:


Benjamin Dilley’s Thirsty Camel by Jolly Roger Bradfield:


Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly


The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez:

Aug 28, 2017


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and yeah...starting to have those back to school bad dreams where I’ve arrived at school and I have no lesson prepared or all the furniture has been removed from my room or I’m suddenly teaching Kindergarten!

This is Episode #33 and today I’m talking about launching a reading community in those first few weeks of school and then I welcome author Celia C. Pérez to the show to chat about her debut middle grade novel The First Rule of Punk.

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is sponsored by - a writing community and publishing platform that is perfect for classrooms. If you are like me and are looking for an engaging and authentic way to make sure your students are writing every day, you are absolutely going to want to visit to check it out.   My favorite thing right now is the thousands of ideas across various genres and formats to inspire your students to write more and write more thoughtfully. So - at the end of the show, I’ll share with you a few of my favorite writing ideas I found on WriteAbout that will get my students excited about writing about their reading this year.

Main Topic - Launching a Reading Community

As the summer winds down and I head back to school, I have been thinking a lot about how I want to make this year different. Make it count. Make it matter. And be more focused and intentional about cultivating that reading community from the start. So today I’ll share some thoughts about how to really develop a strong community of readers before school starts, on that first day, and in those first few weeks.

Before School Starts

Cultivating that new community of readers started this week before I even met my students. I finally got into my classroom this week after our custodians have been busy waxing and cleaning. (Everything revolves around that waxing schedule, right? There was one year I came this close to shimmying through the window to get into my room!)

This morning, I was able to walk through the door - so things are good! And before my new 5th graders even step foot into the classroom, there were three things I knew I needed to take care of:

  1. Make sure I have scheduled time every day for them to read and for me to read to them. From the very first day. And treat those times as sacrosanct.
  2. Make sure they can see themselves in our classroom library. On recent episode (#28 if you want to scroll back in your feed and listen) I talk about the diversity audit that my students did to analyze the books in our library. And over the summer, I have been working on adding a better variety of titles. When I dust off those shelves and put those books in those genre bins and select some enticing titles to feature face out, making sure those books are as diverse as my class and as diverse as their world is crucial.
  3. Create those displays that will get them excited about the reading they’ll do this year. In the hallway right before they enter our room, they’ll pass this giant #ClassroomBookADay display that I have been diligently working on. A big shout out to Lori Lewis in the #ClassroomBookADay Facegroup group who shared (for free!) this cool display of polaroid picture templates for each of the 180 books we’ll be reading this year. So I have been cutting and trimming and measuring and tapping and it’s an impressive display and a promise of what’s to come. And as in year’s past, I also create a “My Reading Life” display for the door where I showcase covers of some recent reads and some all-time favorites. And eventually that will be turned over to my students for their own displays. And of course I always have my own “Mrs. Allen is Currently Reading….” chalkboard display.

On the First Day

That first day is so crucial in setting the right tone and really conveying your priorities by your actions and what you pay attention to.  On the first day of school, I have two goals:

  1. Get to know my students as much as possible. Pronounce their names correctly, start to learn their interests and passions and strengths. And start to build that trusting relationship. Because if I am going to ask them to open themselves up and take risks as readers (and writers!) this year, they have to know that I care about them and want to know their authentic self.
  2. I want them excited to come back.  Gone are the days when I used to start with an extensive review of the syllabus and grading procedures and setting up the rules. Nope. We are having fun. There will be music and movement and an engineering challenge.

And at least one read aloud - probably two! And a chance for them to do some book tastings and exploring what’s available in our classroom library. And - some down time when they can dive into those books and start to build back up that stamina for focused independent reading.

During the First Weeks

During those first few weeks is when that classroom culture of reading really starts to emerge as routines and relationships are established. Within that first week, I like to give a reading survey to get a sense of their likes and attitudes about reading. This is also really important because a carefully crafted survey can give you great data when you compare the answers to those questions at the end of the year. I used to give a paper one but now I use a Google Form. If you want to take a look at a really good sample, Pernille Ripp has a great one on her site that I will link to for you.

But don’t dismiss the power of casual conversation about books during those snippets of time throughout the day like arrival and dismissal and in the hallway. Absolutely share what you are reading but that authentic reading community happens when kids can share with each other their thoughts and feelings and reactions (both good and bad) to that book they brought home last night. A huge part of fostering that reading culture is providing engaging and authentic ways for kids to talk about the books they are choosing to read.

The days of me assigning a diorama of Hatchet or a cereal box craftivity about Wonder are done.  So instead, we’ll have book clubs, we’ll write blog posts and share them with a real audience, we’ll use WeVideo to do booktalks and post them on a YouTube channel, we’ll Skype with authors and other classes for the Global Read Aloud, we’ll create #BookSnaps of our favorite parts, and we’ll tweet our favorite lines and tag the author and cross our fingers for a response! And - most importantly - we’ll do even cooler things that are ideas my students bring with them!

So - I am so so excited for fantastic year of reflecting and growth and learning with my students and with you. I would love to know how you launch your school year to cultivate a community of readers.

You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at . I would love to hear from you.

Interview Outline - Celia C. Pérez

Today I am really really excited to welcome Celia C. Pérez to the podcast. She is the author of the recently released middle grade novel The First Rule of Punk. We chat about her inspirations for the novel, zines, and The Wizard of Oz!

The First Rule of Punk

Your debut middle grade novel, The First Rule of Punk, has been getting all kinds of buzz - everyone is talking about this book!  I just cannot wait for the world to meet Malú.

Can you tell us a bit about this girl - and a bit about her story?

One of the aspects that makes this novel so unique are the zines that are included between some of the chapters. And - I will be honest and tell you that the word “zine” was something I had heard of but the mental image I had was nothing close to the truth. So - for those, like me, who might not be aware...

What are zines?

And what was your process like for creating the zines that are in The First Rule of Punk?

When Malú and her mom move to Chicago, one of the first things they do is scope out and find the neighborhood coffee shop and the neighborhood library.

What was your childhood library like?

There is this tension between Malú and her mother about how to dress and behave. She thinks her mom wants her to be this ideal Mexican-American “senorita” and Malú want to dress in a more edgy style.

Did you feel that cultural tug-of-war in your own family?

I noticed this recurring thread of The Wizard of Oz in the book!

Are you a fan?

I was so intrigued by Malu’s worry dolls - can you tell us a little more about them?  

So, I have to ask…. cilantro or no cilantro?  

Your Writing Life

What were some of the challenges with writing this book?

What’s next for you - do you think you’ll stick with middle grade?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Thank You!



Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, let me know. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

And thanks again to for supporting the podcast this month - if you head over to their website you’ll find awesome ideas to get your students writing about their reading this year. One of my favorites is: “You have to choose a character from a book you’ve read to lead a group or team you are part of. Who do you choose and why?” (I know who I’d pick!) But I think the prompt I’m going to start with this year is the one called “My Life As A Reader – Memories of Reading” Definitely check that one out when you head over to the WriteAbout site.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:

Celia’s website:

Witch's Sister by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Encyclopedia Brown Series by Donald J. Sobol

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Tex by S. E. Hinton

Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton

That Was Then, This is Now by S. E. Hinton

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Red Velvet Underground: A Rock Memoir, with Recipes by Freda Love Smith

The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Aug 22, 2017


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians and anyone who wants to help connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom, a teacher, and really excited that I got to see the solar eclipse this afternoon! Here in Syracuse we had about 70% (ish) coverage and my daughters and husband and I hung out in the backyard with glasses our neighbors so kindly gave us and we saw the light dim and the shadows get eerie. I couldn’t quite get the colander trick to work but that’s okay - I loved all of your photos of your experiences that you shared online.

This is Episode #32 and today, as promised last week, I’m sharing with you a conversation with Betsy Bird - librarian, host of the new Fuse 8 n’Kate podcast, and the editor of the fabulous new short story anthology called FUNNY GIRL!  We chat about the book, what makes her laugh, our least favorite picture books, and, and......I challenge her to a fart noise contest!

Take a listen….

Interview Outline - Betsy Bird

For those listening who may or may not be familiar with you, can you give us a little introduction of who you are and what you do in the world of children’s literature?

Where does the name Fuse 8 come from?

Funny Girl

You’ve mentioned that Funny Girl was the result of noticing that kids wanted funny books and there weren’t too many options written by women. So you proposed the idea to your editor..

Once this project was a go, how did you go about finding authors to contribute and what was your criteria when you pitched the idea to them?

Have you read any of the stories with your own kids ?

So, you’ve mentioned that girls are often discouraged from using humor as a coping mechanism. In your own life - either now or as a kid - what were some times when using humor has helped you?

It was interesting - when I got the book and looked at the Table of Contents and I was browsing all the authors, i was thinking “Ooooo...this is going to be awesome!”

But - the authors whose stories made me laugh the most, were NOT the ones I was expecting! I actually loved that - it helped me find new people to get to know.

Aside from stories like those in Funny Girl, what are some things that make you laugh?  What’s your sense of humor like?

Fuse 8 n’ Kate Podcast

So you have a new podcast!  What made you decide to jump back into podcasting?  

What is a popular picture book that you don’t like?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

As a parent, how do you make time for reading with your family? And what does that that look like?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Where do you see a gap in the world of children’s books?

Thank You!



Alright - that wraps up our show this week. We have some great topics and interviews and book talks coming up including some thoughts on building a community of readers, conversations with Celia Perez about The First Rule of Punk, and Alan Gratz about Refugee AND Ban This Book.  So be on the lookout for those.

And if you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or connect on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:

Betsy Bird ’s Fuse 8 Production Blog on School Library Journal

Listen to Fuse 8 n’ Kate Podcast here on iTunes or Soundcloud

Betsy’s Books:

Giant Dance Party

Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

Funny Girl


Books and Other Things We Discussed:

Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly DiPucchio & Gris Grimly

Akilah Hughes’ YouTube Channel - Akilah, Obviously!

Accident by Andrea Tsurumi

If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Paeony Lewis’ blog post comparing Picture Books in bookshop chains in the US and UK

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

Curious George

Furious George Goes Bananas: A Primate Parody by Michael Rex

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Ghost Cat by Mark Abley

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

Cam Jansen

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Betsy’s blog post about Patina

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Betsy’s blog post about Orphan Island

Betsy’s Blog Post “Where Are All the Black Boys?”

Aug 14, 2017



Hello and welcome to Books Between - a podcast all about celebrating children’s literature! If you are a teacher, parent, or librarian who wants to help connect kids between 8-12 to books they will love - then you are in the right spot!  I am your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mum of an 8 and 10 year old, and baking brownies and bundt cakes and obviously binge-watching a little bit too much of the Great British Baking Show lately. And I will apologise to my British listeners for this atrocious accent. On the other hand, I do rather blame your show for my potentially not fitting into any of my school clothes since I have been craving nothing but carbs… So, if you hear me slip into a weird Britishesque accent today - I’m sorry. Too much Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry in my head!


This is Episode #31 and Today is all about exceptional anthologies and collections that your middle grade readers are going to love.


Main Topic - Exceptional Anthologies and Short Story Collections

Today we are talking all about anthologies and short story collections. First off, we’ll begin with definitions. I used to think those were interchangeable terms but I have come to realize they are not. Then, I’ll share with you some fabulous titles you might want to check out, including some really, really exceptional new releases. Then we’ll chat about some reasons why you should consider including more anthologies and short story collections in your school or classroom library.



According to my favorite dictionary (Merriam-Webster - mainly because they have a hilarious Twitter account!) an anthology is “a collection of selected literary pieces or passages or works of art or music” and then it goes on to say “a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors”   And that’s the key - anthologies include stories by different authors! The Guys Read Series is a good example of this.


On the other hand, a collection is a book of selected writings (maybe poems, maybe short stories, maybe essays…) all by the same author. Cynthia Rylant’s Every Living Thing is an example you might know.


But….I will say, I see those terms used as synonyms A LOT.


Fantastic Anthologies and Collections To Add to Your Library


And now - a selection - a sampling - a smorgasbord of anthologies and collections to add to your library or introduce to your children. And before we begin, I just want to give a huge thank you to everyone who offered ideas for this list when I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook for suggestions. In particular, you will not be surprised to know that Donalyn Miller was on it with a fabulous list of suggestions.


Let’s start with some classics and older releases.


Best Shorts: Favorite Short Stories to Share

This anthology was but together by Avi and includes stories by Natalie Babbitt, Rafe Martin, Lloyd Alexander, and lots more.  And it includes a great mix of time travel, and animal stories, and legends and a touch of the supernatural. In particular, “The Woman in White” by Patricia McKissack is one to check out.


Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant

This is a collection of 12 stories - each one about how people’s lives are changed by an animal. This is a classic collection - and if you have kids who are animal lovers, this is definitely one they might enjoy.


Gary Soto has a number of incredible collections - Baseball in April and Local News are among the ones that would be good for middle grade readers.


My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen

Up until last year, Hatchet was on our 5th grade required reading list and for those kids that really connected with that book, this collection was a great next book for them. Each story centers around Paulsen’s relationship with a special dog in his life. So this are also great examples of smaller memoirs.


Another great dog anthology is Because of Shoe edited by Ann M. Martin who also contributes a piece. This one features nine fictional stories that appeal to a variety of age ranges.


The People Could Fly  by Virginia Hamilton

Oh how I loved this book when it first came out! This is a collection of 24 retellings of black American folk tales - everything from animal stories to supernatural tales to stories of enslaved men and women seeking freedom.


In a similar vein, Patricia McKissack has two collections worth checking out -  Dark Thirty and it’s companion, which she wrote later, Porch Lies. Dark Thirty includes ten horror-themed stories with a Southern Historical flavor. And Porch Lies still has that eerie quality but also more humor.  If you have a child that likes the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Series, these would be a couple books to put in their hands next.


Then there is Red Ridin’ in the Hood by Patricia Santos Marcantonio. This one was strongly recommend by Matthew Winner and with one quick glance at the description online, I can see why. This is a collection of eleven classic fairy tales retold with a twist of Latino culture. Let me read you the description of the title story: "Red Ridin' in the Hood," moves the setting to the barrio, where Red decides to brave dangerous Forest Street in order to reach her abuelita and encounters the menacing wolf in a thumping Chevy lowrider.” I have GOT to get my hands on that!


If your students or children are into graphic novels, there are several really great collections.


The Comic Squad Series have been favorites with my 5th graders. Right now there are three of them - Recess, Lunch, and Detention which just came out last month so I need to pick that one up before heading back to school.


Also - definitely check out Fairy Tale Comics! This is a very cool collection with some awesomely weird stories in it. If your kids like that one, there is also Fable Comics and Nursery Rhyme Comics.


So - if your students and children are like mine, they LOVE the Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi. And I recently discovered - again thanks to Matthew Winner - that he has edited a series of graphic novel anthologies called the Explorer Series. (Why have I not heard of these before? They look incredible!) Each of the three books has a different theme. So the first is “Mystery Boxes”, the second is “Lost Islands” and the third one is “Hidden Doors”. The list of comic contributors is outstanding -  like Raina Telgemeier, Faith Erin Hicks, Dave Roman, Jen Wang…. I gotta go get these!

Been There, Done That - is a really special anthology which has fictional stories by award-winning and best-selling authors and also includes the real-life story that inspired those narratives.  I LOVE how this could show kids how you can mine your own life for stories. This is one of those books that I’m like - how did this get by me? This is GREAT!


The Guys Read Series - This group of seven anthologies is edited by Jon Scieszka and each one has a different theme like Terrifying Tales, The Sports Pages, Other Worlds, Funny Business, and the most recent one Heroes & Villains. And, despite their name, they include stories by both men and women. For example, Dan Gutman, Kelly Barnhill, Matt de la Peña, Neal Shusterman, Shannon Hale, and so so many more!


And now onto some really fabulous new collections and anthologies that your kids are going to love.


The Time We Ran Away  - This anthology is put out by Scholastic and I think is offered as the free book for Book Club orders over $50 this September.  It includes eleven short stories by best-selling authors like Angela Cervantes, Sarah Weeks, and Dan Gemeinhart.  I can’t seem to find it anywhere else (yet) so I think you’re going to have to get this one through Scholastic for now.


Flying Lessons  

This anthology edited by Ellen Oh includes new stories by Kwame Alexander, Kelly Baptist, Tim Tingle, Grace Lin among so many others. It was released last January.  And I got it the day it came out and had wonderful intentions of reading it right away. And then - how can you say no to a line of kids reading over your shoulder and wanting to borrow it? So - all I can say is that what I read was good and it was passed from kid to kid to kid until school let out. Clearly - it’s a winner.


Another new anthology that I LOVED this summer was Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids . Well - that pretty much says it all! This book is edited by Elissa Brent Weissman and I especially loved the images of the author’s hand written stories and diary entries and sketches from when they were young. And also hearing about the inspiration of a new typewriter or a teacher’s supportive comment on a report card or the chance to enter a writing contest. It’s fascinating to see the beginnings of these 25 writers’ journeys.  


If you have students who like something a little dark, a little twisted - then Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson is one they are going to love being scared by. This collection is “20 Chilling Tales from the Wilderness”  told from the perspective of a cryptozoologist - a person who studies legendary beasts like Big Foot or the chupacabras. One reviewer called these “faux-lore” which is perfect.  My ten-year old and I really love listening to the podcast Lore together and I think this will really be up her alley. It comes out August 22nd so be on the lookout for that next week.


And finally - Funny Girl - edited by Betsy Bird. In fact, in our very next episode, I have the great pleasure of sharing with you a conversation with Betsy Bird about this book and LOTS of other things.  We talk a fair amount about it  in our interview so I think I’ll just say here that you should definitely go get it. It is truly laugh out loud funny. And oh do we need some humor in our lives. So definitely get this one and I’m...I’m hoping for a Volume 2!

7 Reasons Why You Should Include More Anthologies and Collections


I am going to say up front that I don’t have a ton of these in my classroom. But - I loved them as a child and I’ve noticed lately that my own daughters have been picking more and more of them up. I thought - I need to really expand that part of our library. So here are 7 reasons why you might want to consider including more anthologies and collections.


  1. Anthologies are gateways to discovering other amazing authors. So a child might pick up Guys Read: Funny Business and be drawn to the Jeff Kinney story,  “Unaccompanied Minors” but then get introduced to the amazing Christopher Paul Curtis or David Lubar and suddenly discover their new favorite author.
  2. On the other hand, a collection of writing pieces all by one author is great when you want to go more in depth and dig into everything they have to offer. Often authors who are known for, say, novels or a certain genre - will play around in short pieces and try something new. Like poetry or a personal essay. I feel like a collection gives you a good sense of who an author is and more of a window into their life. Anyone who loves Gary Paulsen should read My Life in Dog Years.
  3. Anthologies and collections can help kids gain some reading traction if their stamina hasn’t been so great. They can get that satisfaction of finishing a story or an essay in a short amount of time and start to build up to longer texts. Especially at the beginning of the year or after a break, starting with something shorter can be a great idea. When I’ve had reading lulls in my ownlife, short stories can really kick-start me again.
  4. They are great for trying out new genres and new formats without the investment in a longer novel. My youngest daughter wouldn’t necessarily pick up a biography but she LOVED Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. And although most of my students really love graphic novels, I’ve had more than few turn up their noses at that format. So I’ve handed them books like Comic Squad or Fairy Tale Comics and ask them to just try one story.
  5. Anthologies and collections introduce a greater variety of stories and perspectives into your life. On the last episode when I was chatting with Jillian Heise about #ClassroomBookADay, I was thinking about how reading a picture book each day can bring more so much more diversity into a classroom. And collections can do the same thing. In fact I was talking with my husband about this last night and he said it perfectly, “Would you rather get a box of all the same chocolates or would you rather get sampler with a dozen different flavors?” Yeah - I’m going for the flavors! And I might leave the cashew cluster for someone else, but that’s okay.
  6. Coming at this from a teacher’s point of view, reading the short stories and essays found in anthologies and collections are wonderful to offer as models for students’ own writing. With my 5th graders, we use the TCWRP Units of Study and our first writing unit is Narratives. And of course, I want to give them lots of examples and mentor texts. So I’ll take the first couple of weeks to read to them lots and lots of short narratives to really imprint in their mind what a good narrative sounds like and feels like. What the pacing and plotting is like in all kinds of narratives - from funny to serious.
  7. And finally - anthologies and collections are perfect for when you don’t want to jump into a long book yet or you only have little snippets of time to read.  I think they are great for traveling. If you’re on the bus or a plane, you can finish a full a story and don’t have to worry about rereading to pick back up the threads of a plot. In a classroom, if students are in book clubs and a couple members of the group have fallen behind in their reading and need to catch up, you don’t want the other students to start a new novel. So offering them a book like Flying Solo or Funny Girl is a great option.



Okay - that wraps up our show this week. We have some great interviews and book talks coming up. Next week is the amazing Betsy Bird. And after that you can look forward to a conversations with Celia Perez about The First Rule of Punk and Danielle Davis - author of Zinnia and the Bees. I’ll also be chatting about Jason Reynold’s Patina and some really great new graphic novels. So be on the lookout for those.


And, if you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or connect on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at  


And, if you like what you hear and value the podcast, please leave a quick review or rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Jul 31, 2017


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to help connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I am Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two, and spending some rainy summer days with my gals playing Blokus and Canasta and Mario Kart and dreaming of the beach….

This is Episode #30 and today I am sharing with you a conversation with Jillian Heise about Classroom Book A Day. We chat about all the wonderful things that can happen when you read one picture book a day to your class. And yes - even upper elementary AND middle school kids!  I had considered holding on to this episode a little longer, but realized that lots of you start school in August and would want to start planning things. If you’re like me, you need some time to mull things over and see how everything’s going to fit together.

So before we get started, I want to let you know a couple things up front. First, at the end of the conversation we mention some resources where you can find out lots more information about #ClassroomBookADay - especially Jillian’s main post about it from her website where she so generously shares her slideshows. And the #ClassroomBookADay Facebook Group. I joined that last month and the community there has been extraordinarily helpful. So - if you are interested, I’ll see you there. And I’ll post links to those right in our show notes and on the All the Wonders site.


Second - Jillian talks about A LOT of incredible books today and I know that, like me, you’re going to get excited about them and want to jot down all the titles! But - I’ve got your back. Every single title mentioned is posted and linked right in the show notes.

Okay - let’s dive in!


Main Topic - Interview with Jillian Heise


Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got inspired to start the #ClassroomBookaDay.

#ClassroomBookaDay is about making time each day in your classroom to read a picture book.

What do you see as the benefit of focusing more on picture books?

I’ve seen these incredible displays of teachers’ #ClassroomBookaDay reading where they post a cover of each book on grid on a bulletin board.

How do you display the #ClassroomBookADay in your school?


How do you see the display of the books as an important of aspect of #ClassroomBookADay?


How do you make time to read one picture book every day?


What is your routine like for reading the books with your students?


What about folks who don’t have their own classroom - librarians, literacy coaches, administrators?


180+ days is a lot to fill!  How do you choose titles?


What are some of your favorite books for the first week or so of school?

Where can people go to get more information?


Aside from picture books, what have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?



Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or connect on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at  


And, if you like what you hear and value the podcast, please leave a quick review or rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:


Heise Reads & Recommends:

BALB Literacy Consulting:


Facebook #classroombookaday group:


Slideshare with Previous Presentations:




#classroombookaday Origin Story & Updates:


Nerdy Book Club Post -

PIcture Books Discussed on the Show:


To the Sea (Cale Atkinson)

I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen)

Mr Tiger Goes Wild (Peter Brown)

Explorers of the Wild (Cale Atkinson)

Pardon Me (Daniel Miyares)

That Neighbor Kid  (Daniel Miyares)

Float (Daniel Miyares)

That Is My Dream (Daniel Miyares)

Barnacle is Bored (Jonathan Fenske)

Poor Little Guy (Elanna Allen)

A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals (Lucy Ruth Cummins)

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole (Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen)

Creepy Carrots (Aaron Reynolds & Peter Brown)

The Monster’s Monster (Patrick McDonnell)

Blizzard (John Rocco)

Each Kindness (Jacqueline Woodson & E.B. Lewis)

The Invisible Boy (Trudy Ludwig & Patrice Barton)

14 Cows for America (Carmen Agra Deedy: Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah & Thomas Gonzaalez)

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey (Maira Kalman)

The Little Chapel That Stood (A.B. Curtiss & Mirto Golino)

My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not.) (Peter Brown)

Wild About Us (Karen Beaumont & Janet Stevens)

My Friend Maggie (Hannah E. Harrison)

Happy Dreamer (Peter H. Reynolds)

A Tiger Tail (Mike Boldt)

Strictly No Elephants (Lisa Mantchev & Taeeun Yoo)

Be a Friend (Salina Yoon)

Let Me Finish (Minh Lè)

School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex & Christian Robinson)

How To Read a Story (Kate Messner)

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale (Josh Funk & Rodolfo Montalvo)

Beautiful (Stacy McAnulty & Joanne Lew-Vriethoff)

Where Oliver Fits (Cale Atkinson)

Blue Sky, White Stars (Kadir Nelson & Sarvinder Naberhaus)


They All Saw a Cat (Brendan Wenzel)

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Drew Daywalt & Adam Rex)

Penguin Problems (Jory John & Lane Smith)

Not Quite Narwhal (Jessie Sima)

Jabari Jumps (Gaia Cornwall)

Dad and the Dinosaur  (Gennifer Choldenko & Dan Santat)

I Like, I Don’t Like (Ale Ale & Anne Baccelliere)


MIddle Grade Books Discussed:

Patina (Jason Reynolds)

Miles Morales: Spider Man (Jason Reynolds)

Wishtree (Katherine Applegate)

The Gauntlet (Karuna Riazi)

Fergus & Zeke (Kate Messner & Heather Ross)

Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker (Shelley Johannes)

The Bad Guys (Aaron Blabey)


YA Books Discussed:

War Cross (Marie Lu)

Legend (Marie Lu)

In a Perfect World - Trish Doller

The Names They Gave Us (Emery Lord)

Long Way Down (Jason Reynolds)

All American Boys (Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely)

The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

Dear Martin (Nic Stone)

Jul 24, 2017


Hello everyone and welcome to the Books Between podcast! If you love to read, if you are a fan of middle grade, if you want to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love, then you have found the podcast for you! I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of an 8 and 10 year old, a 5th grade teacher, and lately - spending a lot of time on the sidelines of lacrosse fields and tennis courts. But - that gives me more time to read!

This is Episode #29 and today I am welcoming author Corey Ann Haydu to the show to chat about her recent middle grade novel, The Someday Suitcase, and then in the book talk segment, I’ll be chatting about two fantastic new books about friendship.

Main Topic - Interview with Corey Ann Haydu

This week I am excited to welcome to the show Corey Ann Haydu. She is both a Young Adult AND Middle Grade author.  Her most recent YA novel The Careful Undressing of Love was released just this past January. And you might know her from her debut middle grade book Rules for Stealing Stars.  On today’s show, we chat about snow globes, guilt reading, cheese and - of course! - her latest middle grade novel The Someday Suitcase.

The Someday Suitcase

Tell us about The Someday Suitcase - what is this book about?

One of the aspects of this book that I loved was how it shows that a true, deep best friend can bring a little magic into your life.   

Did you have a best friend growing up?

Clover is a very science-minded person.

Do you have a science background?

There is often this mix and a bit of tension between magic & science in the book.  

Do you see science and magic as compatible?

I loved all the metaphors in this book - like the snow globe! At one point Clover’s teacher says, “Sometimes you have to turn something over and upside down to really see it.”  

How did you pick the snow globe to be a central part of the story?

This is a book about so many things! Friendship, and science, and codependency, and snow, and but maybe ultimately about realizing that a loss can also help reveal a different part of yourself that has been dormant.  I don’t want to reveal too much of what form that loss takes for Clover and Danny, but…

Can you talk a bit about how you decided on the ending?


Writing Life

You recently moved… I can imagine that a move might be fairly disruptive to writer.

What were the top three things you had to have in place so that you felt like you had a writing space again?

I saw somewhere (maybe Instagram) that you had posted this really inspiring quote from the book BONE by Yrsa Daley-Ward and it says, “If you’re afraid to write it, that’s a good sign. I suppose you know you’re writing the truth when you’re terrified.”

Did any part of writing The Someday Suitcase scare you?

When we first started talking a few months ago, you mentioned how your first school visits were a combination of exhausting and exhilarating.

When you are visiting schools, how do you keep that balance between bringing your full passionate self and also maintaining your energy level?


Your Reading Life

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

How do you decide what to read next?


Book Talk - Two Fantastic Books about Friendship

In this part of the show, I share with you a few books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. (Yes - I love the number three! But also - I just need limits!) This week I can’t wait to share with you two books that have been on my mind lately. Both feature girls just venturing into middle school. Both are about what happens when friendships collide over crushes. And both are ultimately about reclaiming a part of yourself that was lost. So, they are - 14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop and Bubbles by Abby Cooper.

14 Hollow Road

First up this week is 14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop. You might know her from her previous middle grade book, The Distance to Home. This novel is about Maddie. And the night of the sixth-grade dance, a tornado hits parts of her town and destroys her home. And the home of her neighbor and crush, Avery. So - it turns out that a kind couple in the area with rooms to spare lets both families stay in their home for the summer. So - Maddie has to live with her crush. And somehow convince him to like her back instead of that other girl he asked to slow dance with.  Here are three things to love about 14 Hollow Road:

  1. The parts about Hank, her sweet dog who goes missing the night of the tornado. And I won’t reveal what happens there but even though things can’t get resolved exactly happily, how that situation plays out with the collar and with Avery was touching.
  2. When Maddie gets her period! Oh. My. Gosh. And - oh the aftermath when she wants to go swimming but thinks people will see the pad but she’s not ready for a tampon and then wonders if people will know why she’s not swimming. And then she doesn’t even want to go to the pool party at all! The gals reading will either really laugh in recognition or get a sample of what’s to come. And - I just want to say one thing. Please don’t discourage boys from reading this book just because it of the period thing. Guys need to know what’s up - and really, what better way than a light moment in a story to start to figure things out? Let’s please work to end that stigma.
  3. Throughout this book there are these small tender moments. I don’t want to say too much but, there’s a scene where one character is feeling devastated and vulnerable and the other character in that situation just holds their hand. And it was a small moment, but exceptionally sweet.

14 Hollow Road is a fabulous realistic fiction novel about friendship and change and resiliency. And - I wish I could remember who it was to give them credit - but I heard another author say that the last page of 14 Hollow Road is perfection. And, oh -  were they right!


Our second book this week is Bubbles by Abby Cooper! (You might remember her debut novel Sticks & Stones from last year.) This book makes me appreciate the term “speculative fiction” because the premise of this is - what if you could see people’s thoughts above their heads? What insights could you gain? What obligations would that put you under? How accurate is it? you even want to know? Even before reading this book, I was firmly in the camp of “I don’t want to know what people are thinking!”  I’ve read those Sookie Stackhouse books - I know the bad is going to outweigh the benefit of knowing people’s thoughts. (By the way - Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series - not middle grade! Do NOT get those for your 8-12 year old. But you, adult listener - they’re fun. Especially #4 when the witches erase Eric’s memory and he doesn’t realize he’s the bad guy/vampire! Ahhh…. Okay - I digress!)

Anyway - on to Bubbles!  This book is about 12 year-old Sophie Mulvaney whose life is in turmoil when her mom loses both her job and her boyfriend within a very short period of time. And then Sophie get assigned a school project to do something that pushes herself to take a risk at a time when she’s not feeling very adventurous. And then - she starts seeing thought bubbles above people’s heads - and everything takes off from there! So, here are three things to love about Abby Cooper’s Bubbles.

  1. The little nuggets of history and trivia! It’s a small thing, but makes this book clever and unique. And when Sophie starts to feel a little stressed, remembering and connecting her life to historical facts is a way she copes. For example, at one point she says, “I was crankier than Napoleon must have been after the battle of Waterloo, which he lost really bad.” And then, actually earlier - at the beginning of Chapter 7, Sophie is considering whether or not to go see a therapist about her bubble issue.
  2. The natural portrayal of characters working on their mental health. Sophie’s mother is dealing with some depression after leaving her job as a TV reporter and a tough breakup with a guy who still lives nearby. And that manifests itself in ways that will be familiar to some kids - tiredness and withdrawal from the things she used to love. Sophie and her mom were the Adventurous Girls and now, she would rather stay home. And the solutions to those struggles are not presented as quick or easy, but doable with help. I really think this is a type of book that could help lessen the stigma of mental health issues and a book kids can relate to either because they see themselves or they might recognize things their friends or family are going through.
  3. How this book helps you realize that even if you could read people’s thoughts, you still don’t know the backstory behind those thoughts. And what’s really motivated people. This book really gives readers a lot to think about in that way. It would be a great book club read.

Bubbles and 14 Hollow Road both brought me back to those middle school days when your relationship with your friends is everything. And how threatening and scary and socially isolated you can feel when a friend seems to be slipping away from you. In Bubbles, Sophie’s friend Kaya seems to be taken over by another girl, Viv. And in 14 Hollow Road  Maddie’s feel left out when her best friend Kiersten is spending more time with Gabriella. And then throw an in-common crush into that mix and ugh! It’s awkward and confusing and just one of those rocky experiences you have to figure out. Also - both of these books get that shaving your legs dynamic absolutely right! At least - it resonated with me. When suddenly your friends start shaving and you feel a hairy troll and how it’s just hard to talk to your mom about. I think I snuck my mom’s razor and shaved my legs like a year before she technically allowed me to. (My mom listens to the podcast, so… sorry mom!) These two books would be great options for a mother-daughter book club. My friend, Julie, did that with Abby Cooper’s first book Sticks & Stones and oh I just love that idea!  



Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or connect on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. There’s always lots of great conversations happening there so, please jump in!

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at  And, while you are there, please take a listen to Matthew Winner’s latest episode of the All the Wonders podcast (#372) where he chats with Hena Khan - the author of Amina’s Voice.  

And, if you like what you hear and value the podcast, I would really appreciate a quick review or rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:

Corey Ann Haydu's website

Other middle grade books we chatted about:

The Girls from Ames: A story of women and a forty-year friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow

Braced by Alyson Gerber

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

A young adult book we chatted about:

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Author Leanne Shapton's website

Jul 10, 2017


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and lately I am ALL about the 80s. Have you seen the new Netflix series GLOW? It  stands for “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” - it’s full on 1980s amazing. Now, I never really got into wrestling myself but I love this show. It’s fun and self-deprecating and takes you back.  

Before we jump into the show I just want to mention that the day this episode is released - Monday, July 10th - I am in Michigan at Nerdcamp for the next two days! So, if you are there too - please come say hi! And if not, I’ll be posting lots of updates on my Twitter feed (@corrinaaallen) so you can see what NerdCamp is all about.

This is Episode #28 and Today I share with you my experience doing a diversity audit of my classroom library and then I welcome authors Wendy Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg to the show to chat about their new middle grade novel THIS IS JUST A TEST, which is set - in the 80s!

Main Topic - Diversity Audit

First up is how things went when I did a diversity check of my classroom library. If you listened to the last episode (#27 with librarian Sarah Threlkeld) you heard us chatting about this activity she did with her students to reflect on the diversity found in their school library. And I think even way back to Episode 18, I mentioned reading this fantastic blog post over at Lee & Low Books that shared how one teacher helped her class analyze the books in their room to find out how different genders and races are represented. I’ll include a link to that article and the main framework of what I did is pulled directly from there. So I want to be clear - this is not my idea, but I’m sharing how it went for me with the idea that you might want to try it, too.  First I’ll run through the process and then discuss my major takeaways, and how I’ll do it differently next year.


The Process:

First, I showed my 5th graders two infographics. Both have been shared widely on social media and you’ve probably seen them, but I’ll post them on the website so you can find them easily. The first one was a black and white image called “The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books” and it shows a bar graph of the percent of kid’s books in the past 21 years that contain multicultural content. And shows that sadly steady around 10% from 1994 to 2014. 2014 was a slight tick up to 14% but well below where it should be. This picture, which is put together by Lee & Low Books also includes pie charts that show the percent of the US population that are people of color and a projection that the U.S. population will be 57% minority in 2060, which really brings into focus the disparity.


The second infographic I showed them is from ReadingSpark and called “Diversity in Children’s Books 2015” and is in color with illustrations showing the percents of various groups featured as characters in kid’s books - 73.3% White and 12.5%  Animals/Trucks, 7.6% African/African American, 3.3% Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans, 2.4% Latina/o, and then 0.9% American Indian.


So, we gathered on the rug and huddled around the Promethean board where I had the images displayed. And I simply asked my students to look carefully at them both and to chat with a partner about what they noticed. I explained terms where necessary, but otherwise I just let them have a look and asked them to make some observations.


And from there, I pivoted the conversation to enlist their help in analyzing our own classroom library so that their information could help me when I ordered new books.  And - I was truly moved by their eagerness. These ten and eleven year olds were ready to roll up their sleeves and dig in to see how our books stacked up.  And we started by thinking about this, “What questions do you have about the diversity in our classroom library?”   And they said things like:

How many books do we have by and about Native Americans?

How many books have an African American main character?

What genre has the most diversity?

Are there more books about people of color than BY people of color?

Do we have more books featuring boys or girls?

I’ll be honest with you - their questions went beyond the scope of what I had planned. They went pretty deep and the data we pulled really only started to answer the questions they had.  


So once they had some questions in mind, I had them pair up and grab one bin of books from our classroom library to start sorting through. Our bins are sorted by genre. I used a Google Sheet to record the genre of that bin and some other information.  First, they separated out all the books with people on the cover and analyzed just those. Then they counted how many covers included a person of color and jotted that number down. And then they counted how many covers featured at least one girl. And from there, generated percentages using a calculator - which they enjoyed, but then I quickly learned that we needed a refresher on how to figure out percents.


As each pair worked, they added their data to a shared Google Doc so we could see the information come to life in real time.  It was exciting and the kids were so engaged! I think that when they feel like they are doing real work, important work, and are helping you out in a genuine way, they are all in. And some recognized the injustice in the situation and were eager to start to set things (not right) but on a better path.  


Our takeaways:

So - what did we discover? First up, I’ll give you some examples of the data (flawed as it is). Starting with gender.  One thing that stood out was that 81% of the biographies were about men. Not good. That’s changing immediately.  Also, realistic fiction seemed to have a better balance of girls and boys with most of those bins featuring kids of different genders. And Fantasy, which I thought was going to be worse, actually only between 9% and 50% only with boys on the cover. That was better than I was anticipating because sometimes that genre is known for a lack of gals. (And a quick side note about that. Now that I’m moving away from thinking about gender as a simple binary of boy or girl, I’m also wondering about better methods for categorizing and doing this type of analysis. So - if you have thoughts on that, please do let me know. There is a whole group of folks out there that want to be doing better and if you have an idea about how to make that happen, I’m absolutely listening.)

Okay - on to the data pulled about race and ethnicity.  The percentage of books with no people of color at all on the cover was pretty high. The best category seemed to be realistic fiction which had percentages like 21%, 43%, 63% and one bin at 93%. Some of the least diverse categories were Fantasy with 79% , 80% and 100% of the books in those bins featuring only white people, and graphic novels with 85%. So, now it’s pretty clear where are some particularly troublesome areas and when I go to purchase books, those genres will be my focus.

So, what did the kids say? Well, I think I’ll give you a sampling of some of their comments:

In the words of one of my girls, “We have a lot of books about white boys in this room!” Yes, we do! And most of them are fantastic, but adding other voices is only going to help so that every kid can see themselves and see the wide range of experiences in our country and in our world.

“A lot of books have shadow people on the cover.” They were referring to silhouettes, and this observation lead to some great discussion about what the publishers might intend with that. They were questioning how to categorize those types of covers and if we needed another category.


Another big topic that came up was that some forms of diversity weren’t being accounted for in this exercise. And that all stemmed from the debate about what gender pile to put the book George in. Do we go by the clues on the cover which might suggest a boy? Or do we account for what we know of the story (which is about a transgender girl) and my students said, “We need another category, Mrs. Allen.”  Many students mentioned that religion or disability wasn’t included in what we were looking for. Also, because we only used the visual of the cover, that is really limiting.  A cover that includes a girl or a person of color does not mean that character plays a big part or that they are portrayed in a great way. Were they just the sidekick?


Ideas for Next Time

  1. Do this earlier in the year. (We jumped in during the second to last week of school. I want this to be on kids’ minds much earlier.)
  2. Connect with another class doing the same thing and share results. I think that could be powerful.
  3. Include more categories (maybe religion, disability, LGBTQ)
  4. Do some analysis in other places  (This could be a great teacher/librarian collaboration in the school library. Also examine the public library, a local bookstore, Scholastic flyers, or online stores.)
  5. Take this to that next step and have kids research and recommend titles to fill out the gaps in our library. So that they are playing a part in creating a more diverse selection of books that they will love.

Mainly, I was just acutely aware of how limited this exercise was. And yet - I am so glad we did it. The data we gleaned is not going into some peer-reviewed journal, but it gave these kids (and me!) a taste of that data analysis. And, the best part,  it lead to even more questions - and now they know that it’s a question they should ask about the books surrounding them!  And our shared spreadsheet is messy - some percents aren’t accurate and some kids categorized a little differently. But, my hope, is that when they find themselves in a library or bookstore and pick up a book, they’ll remember this and maybe carry those questions and discoveries forward with them and start to (seek out - no! That’s too weak) start to demand more books that reflect our cultures and our communities.


And for us, let’s not shy away from this work, as uncomfortable and complicated as it sometimes can be.

And as always, I really want to hear your ideas about this topic. You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to hear and share your ideas.

Interview - Madelyn Rosenberg & Wendy Shang

Today I am so excited to welcome Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Shang to the podcast. They are the authors of the recently released middle grade novel This Is Just a Test.  We chat about their collaboration process, epic Thanksgiving dinners, Trivial Pursuit, and all our favorite fashions from the 80s.  Take a listen.


This is Just a Test

Your middle grade novel, This is Just a Test, was just released this past June 27th - congratulations!

What is this book about?


I loved David and his story but I think for me, my favorite part of this book was that it was set in the early 80s with big hair and boom boxes and Boy George!

What was your research process like in order to make sure that the setting was authentically 1983?

Some quick questions about the 80s….

Favorite 80s band?

Favorite Atari Game?

Favorite 80s TV Show?

Favorite 80s Fashion?


Trivial Pursuit plays a big part in this book because David and his two friends Hector and Scott are competing in this big Trivia Tournament and they play the game to practice.

What is your favorite Trivial Pursuit category?


Not everything about the 80s was light and fun - one of the major pieces of this book is the looming threat of the Cold War and David’s anxiety after watching The Day After - a pretty scary movie that shows the effects of nuclear war.

Did you see that movie and did it have the same impact on you?

Your Writing Life

How did you two come to know each other?


What was your collaboration process like for writing This Is Just a Test? Did you meet in person or do most of your work online?

Your Reading Life

What were some of your favorite books as a child?


What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?



Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at


And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:


Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin


Today Will Be Different - Maria Semple


Short - Holly Sloan


Unidentified Suburban Object  - Mike Jung


Jun 26, 2017


 Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, completely in love with the Wonder Woman movie! When I was a kid, I had the Wonder Woman lunch box and dressed up as her in one of those old vinyl costumes and I love how fierce yet moral she is in this movie.

 And - if any of you of are headed to NerdCamp in Parma, Michigan this July, I will be there and please do come over and say hi! It’s my first time and I’m so so excited to meet everyone and immerse myself among so many like-minded people.

 Also - something exciting showed up at my front porch yesterday. It was the June OwlCrate Jr. book box and I know that the theme this month is Gizmos & Gears but I have no idea what’s inside. Here, we’ll shake and take a listen…. As I mentioned last week, our episodes this month are supported by OwlCrate Jr. - a book subscription box just for kids 8-12 - or anyone who is still a kid at heart! Each month has a different theme and includes a fantastic newly released book with fun and creative goodies all connected to the theme of that middle grade book.  If you head over to you can see some samples of past boxes, and if you use the code BOOKSBETWEEN, you can save 15%. And - at the end of the the podcast today - I will be opening this book and together we will find out what’s inside!


This is Episode #27 and Today I am welcoming fellow podcaster and librarian extraordinaire Sarah Threlkeld to the show. We chat about her podcast, Happy Reading, Little House in the Big Woods, what middle grade books we’ve been reading lately, and geek out a little bit on library circulation stats.

If you haven’t yet checked out her middle grade podcast called Happy Reading - you are in for a treat and I know you are going to love it just as much as I do. I’ll put a link to her show in our show notes so you can find it right away.

Take a listen….

Sarah Threlkeld - Interview Outline


Happy Reading Podcast

How did the Happy Reading Podcast get started?

What are your plans for the podcast?


Little House in the Big Woods

Before you read the book, what was your impression of the Little House Series?

Okay, so - what did you think? 

How do we handle books like this (problematic classics) in classroom?

Librarian Life

I saw on Twitter recently that you were geeking out over your end of the year circulation stats! What info did you discover?

As a librarian, what were some activities or projects or ways to connect kids to books that worked well this past year?

 I heard you are starting a new full-time librarian job this year - what grade levels will you be working with?

 What are some things you are excited about doing differently for the upcoming school year?


Your Reading Life

What else have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

What books are you looking forward to?


Interview Links

Happy Reading Podcast:


Little House in the Big Woods


The Honest Truth


Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere


The Hour of the Bees


The Seventh Wish


The Explorers


Three Pennies


Forget Me Not


The Unbreakable Code


Mr. Lemoncello’s Library


Macy McMillon and the Rainbow Goddess


The Terrible Two Go Wild


Wolf Hollow


Beyond the Bright Sea




The Wild Robot Escapes


I Hunt Killers (YA)


This Would Make a Good Story Someday


Amulet Series



Mr. Schu’s Book Release Calendar





Okay - we have reached the end of the show and, as promised, I am opening up that OwlCrateJr box and we are going to find out what’s inside.



And thanks again to OwlCrateJr for supporting the podcast this month - don’t forget to head over to and use code BOOKSBETWEEN to get 15% percent off your subscription!


Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at


And thanks again to OwlCrateJr for supporting the podcast this month - don’t forget to head over to and use code BOOKSBETWEEN to get 15% percent off your subscription!


And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!

Jun 12, 2017


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of an 8 and 10 year old, a teacher to eighteen 11 year olds, and we are all in the home stretch for summer vacation. It’s almost here. And - if any of you of are headed to the ALA Conference in Chicago this summer, I will be be there on Saturday and Sunday to interview author Mira Bartok about her new middle grade book The Wonderling. So - if you will be there, look for that and I hope we can meet in person.

This is Episode #26 and Today I am welcoming author Caroline Starr Rose to the show and then in honor of Father’s Day coming up, chatting about some of our favorite fictional dads and two fabulous new books featuring awesome fathers.

But first I am excited to tell you that today’s episode is supported by OwlCrate Jr. - a book subscription box just for kids 8-12. My daughters and I have been loving it! Every month has a different theme and it is such a treat to have a package waiting on your doorstep with a box full of - not only an awesome newly released book but fun little items all connected to the theme of that middle grade book.  If you head over to you can see some samples of past boxes, and if you use the code BOOKSBETWEEN, you can save 15%. I hope you check them out - I really think you’re going to love it!  

This week I am welcoming to the show Caroline Starr Rose - author of the recently released middle grade historical adventure Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine. We chat about the inspirations behind her latest novel, encouraging kids to read more, and we reminisce about Little House on the Prairie.

Caroline Starr Rose - Interview Outline

 Your latest middle grade novel, Jasper and The Riddle of Riley’s Mine, was just released this past February.

Is this your first novel that is not written in verse?

Tell us about this new historical adventure - what is Jasper & the Riddle of Riley’s Mine about?


One of the things I really loved about this book was they way the boys speak - using “ain’t” and “them” instead of “those”, “it’s his own dern fault”...

How did you capture the voices of Jasper and Melvin?

I just noticed that you have a new picture book on the Pony Express coming out this fall, yes? 

I saw that you taught Social Studies and English.  

A lot of our listeners who are teachers and librarians and homeschooling parents are always trying to find ways to connect subjects to really maximize the limited time we all have.

When you were teaching full time, how were you connecting social studies and English?

Is there anything that you used to do as a teacher that now, looking back - you regret?   Anything you would go back and change?

Even though you aren’t in the classroom anymore, your passion for connecting readers and educators with the right book is clear. I especially love the “Classroom Connections” section on your website where you interview authors about their books and include a specific section on how that book would be a good fit in a classroom.

How do you think that we as parents and teachers can raise kids who love reading?

How is having a teenager reader different than having a middle grade reader at home? As someone who has gone through those years and is now out the other side, what can we expect?


You recently posted on your website a quote from Donalyn Miller (one of my inspirations as well!). It said, “I am as much a composite of all the book characters I have loved as of the people I have met.”

Which book characters are you a composite of?

 What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


Book Talk - Two Novels Featuring Fantastic Fathers

In this section of the show, I share with you a few books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week, with Father’s Day coming up, I thought I would focus on books with great dads. I know it’s such a trope with kids books that the parents get killed off or are otherwise out of the picture so that the main characters can go off on adventures unimpeded, but we’re breaking away from those books today. First, I’ll go into some detail about two newer releases that I have been loving - Amina’s Voice and Beyond the Bright Sea. And then chat about other favorite dads from both modern and classic books.

Amina’s Voice

This week I am starting with Amina’s Voice by an author who is new to middle grade - Hena Khan. This is a lovely and heartfelt story about a Pakistani-American Muslim girl, Amina, who is trying to navigate the complicated tides of middle school friendship where old friends are changing and old adversaries might be changing, too. Amina also has to deal with her rather traditional and more strict uncle visiting their family and figuring out for herself how to express her beliefs and culture. Here are three things to love about Amina’s Voice:

  1. Amina’s family! Her father - who is rather strict, does NOT care if he embarasses his kids by asking a million questions at Open House, but stands up for his daughter at a moment when she needs it. At first I wasn’t sure about him, but oh he grew on me! Her mom, who spends days preparing tons of traditional Pakistani food for their visiting uncle. That doesn’t quite go as planned. And Amina’s older brother, Mustafa, whose interest in trying out for the basketball team instead of joining something like Chess Club causes some friction at home. There was so much to relate to in those family moments in Amina’s Voice.
  2. That ending! I don’t want to give away too much but something bad happens in Amina’s Muslim community and the way things come together in the end makes me wish that every kid could read this story as a template of what to do in that kind of situation. It  didn’t shy away from difficult realities or make problems seem easy to solve yet it was uplifting and perfect.
  3. That this novel offers Muslim students and students from the Middle East with a main character whose background and customs might be a reflection of their own, or have pieces they can relate to. I so wish that I had this book six years ago to offer to my own Amina. She was a student of mine when I taught 6th grade and Muslim. And may have connected to this Amina’s story but she was from Bosnia so although the religious details about the Imam and Sunday school and learning passages from the Quran may have been a connection, the food and other cultural details might not have been. So while this book is absolutely a great addition to any library, I just hope that people don’t stop there and think they’ve covered a niche. It’s one girl’s story and I just can’t wait to see what else this new imprint of Simon & Schuster, Salaam Reads, will bring to the kidlit community so we have more and more stories to offer kids.  


Beyond the Bright Sea

Our second book this week is Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk whose novel Wolf Hollow won a Newbery Honor last year. And this book is, I think, another contender. It reminded me a little bit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with a touch of Orphan Island in there. This book about a 12 year old girl called Crow who as an infant washed ashore in an old boat on one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. She is now 12 and being raised by a reclusive fisherman and painter who she calls Osh. And the other people on this tiny close-knit island essentially shun her and will not touch her or touch anything she has touched because they think she came from Penikese Island - the nearby leper colony. And this chain of events suddenly takes off when Crow sees a fire on that nearby island and starts to get curious about where she came from. It’s so good! Here are three things to love about Beyond the Bright Sea.


  1. The timeless quality of the setting. It reminded me of Pax in that way because there are very few clues at first in the way the islanders dress or how technology is described. Eventually, you do discover precisely when everything is happening but the journey of figuring that out is part of what I liked about the book.
  2. It brought to light some real history.  It took me until half-way through to realize that the leper hospital described in the novel actually existed. And they did really dynamite it and burn it down and transform it into a bird sanctuary for awhile. But the small cemetery does remain. I love a book that brings to light a forgotten story from history.
  3. Crow’s adoptive father who she calls Osh. He has his own secrets, his own complicated backstory, but his quiet, earnest protection of her makes you love him immediately. He’s from another land, speaks in a native language that no one on this New England island knows and we really feel for him as he is so deeply afraid of losing Crow - the one thing that has keep him anchored and steady. And as she ventures out to attempt to find her parents, it’s hard for him at first. And - I don’t want to spoil anything for you but oh when you find out what his name means…. Love him!


Both Amina’s Voice and Beyond the Bright Sea are outstanding reads. If you have a kid who enjoyed Finding Perfect or Like Magic or Sticks & Stones - Amina’s Voice would be great next book to introduce them to. And if you have a child who enjoyed Midnight Without a Moon or Wolf Hollow - Beyond the Bright Sea might be the perfect next book.


Q & A

Our third and final segment this week is Question & Answer time.


This question stems from a conversation I had with some students who have started to notice that in lots of books they are reading the parents are missing, dead, or otherwise out of the picture. So that had me thinking about counter examples and I came up with some but wanted other opinions, too. So I put the question out there on social media and asked: “Which middle grade books have you read that had great dads?”



And actually - there were a ton! Let’s start with some classics:

  • Obviously one of the first mentioned was Ramona and Her Father. Loved him! I still remember that scene when he’s trying to draw his foot…
  • Pa Ingalls from the Little House series
  • Mr. Weasley from Harry Potter - such an honorable man who took on so much risk to protect Harry

And some more modern novels with dads we love:

  • Papa (Hans Hubermann) from The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorite fathers
  • And one new book that came up over and over again and one that has been a classroom favorite with my 5ths is The Crossover - what a great relationship he had with his twin boys.
  • Another book that was mentioned a lot was The Family Fletcher series and the two awesome dads heading up that family. I haven’t read it yet but that title is moving up my TBR list.
  • Melanie Conklin’s Counting Thyme and the newly released Moon Shadow by Erin Downing are both books that I’ve been dying to read that so many mentioned as having a great fathers.
  • The dad from Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the dad in The Penderwicks and Mr. Pullman from Wonder and the dad from Ida B and Wolf Hollow!


I know there are tons and tons more - so I hope you jump on social media share your favorite middle grade dads.


Alright - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question or an idea about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show along with all of our previous episodes at

And thanks again to OwlCrateJr for supporting the podcast this month - don’t forget to head over to and use code BOOKSBETWEEN to get 15% percent off your subscription!

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!


Episode Links:

Caroline's Official Website:

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine Teaching Guide

Where in the World Are We Reading? Activity

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmond Lewis (Jeannine Atkins)

Wonder: A novel (Emma Donoghue)

Insight (Tasha Eurich)

Three Pennies (Melanie Crowder)


May 29, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, and just back from a trip to our local greenhouse to pick out flowers for our window boxes. I always feel like summer is finally around the corner when I look out and see geraniums and petunias.


This is Episode #25 and it’s early!  I had the opportunity to chat with Laurel Snyder about her new novel Orphan Island and so many other things - the need for more upper middle grade books, indie book stores, what she’s been reading lately. It was supposed to last for 30 minutes but, well, we got talking, and it was a great conversation and rather than chop it way down and pair it with some book talks or other information for a more traditional show, I thought I’d just give you an episode of all Laurel Snyder.


So here it is.


Laurel Snyder - Interview Outline


Orphan Island is released May 30th and I am really excited for that because now I will have MORE people to talk to about this story!

I’m wondering, what plans do you have for the Orphan Island publication day and having published several other middle grade novels and picture books - do you have certain traditions or routines on days that books are released?



What is Orphan Island about?


I saw your Nerdy Book Club post explaining why you decided to leave the ending rather open and keep some mysteries unsolved. It made me wonder….

Have you had the grownups clamoring for a sequel?



When you were first drafting this novel - did the backstory, the “rules of the island” ever change or did you know right away how it was all laid out?




One of the parts of Orphan Island that particularly resonated with me as a parent and teacher was that tension between being protective and giving children the freedom to make mistakes.

As parent, is that something you’ve struggled with yourself?


If you were to live on the island, what would be your favorite thing? And what would be the thing you found most challenging?



One of the goals of this podcast is to share ideas about how to help kids find (and eventually learn to discover themselves) books that they’ll love.


You mentioned before that you see a need for more really good upper middle grade books...



You’ve mentioned that you are are teaching creative writing this spring in the MFA program at Hamline University. I’ve heard so many people say that you never really know something until you have to teach it to someone else.

How has your writing changed as a result of your teaching?


I have noticed in my conversations with authors and educators and parents a feeling in the past six months that we are living through a critical time in our nation and therefore they feel a shift in their writing or teaching or parenting.

Have you felt that way yourself?




Your Reading Life


You have been an advocate of small independent bookstores. And I’m sad to say that we no longer have one in Syracuse.

What are your favorite indie bookstores?


What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?






Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our shows along with all of our previous episodes at


And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you soon!  Bye!



Charis Books -

Little Shop of Stories -


A Capella Books -


The Ivy Bookshop -

The Bird in HAnd  -


The Children’s Bookstore -


The Red Canoe -


Avid Bookshop -


Prairie Lights Book Store -


The Canning Season


York - Laura Ruby


Rebel Souls

May 22, 2017


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom, and a HUGE Guardians of the Galaxy fan! I just saw the second movie last weekend, and I loved how the writers constructed a story to make me love a character I had previously hated. And I loved how this story shows how an empathic character can be deeply powerful without toting a gun or fighting. Plus - my favorite band is Fleetwood Mac!

This is Episode #24 and Today we are discussing lots of ideas for summer reading and I’ll be chatting with author Nanci Turner Steveson about her new novel Georgia Rules.

Main Topic - Summer Reading

Our main topic today is summer reading! For me,  my school year up here in New York doesn’t end for another five weeks but lots of my friends are already wrapping up their school year so I thought it would be a good time to discuss this topic. And whether you are a parent, or a librarian, or a teacher there will be something in today’s show that you will find useful.

First, we’ll talk about defining the purpose of summer reading and the importance of planning. Then we’ll talk about ways to ensure access to books for kids and end with some fun summer reading ideas.


The first thing to really think about is what purpose summer reading should serve for kids. In my view, summer reading should be all about fun and free choice and continuing to build a community of readers. And not earning trinkets. The prize should be the book, the shared experience, not some cheap piece of junk from a chintzy looking treasure box.  Whatever you decide to do to encourage summer reading, please keep the focus on fun and not guilt tripping kids into reading. As we approach the end of the school year and kids dive into busy or unpredictable schedules, maintaining that reading momentum is key. If you are like me and saying good-bye to outgoing students, it feels a little like they are fledging and you’ll be encouraging more reading independence. Or, maybe you are thinking about activities with incoming students. In that case, your goal might be to welcome them into a new community of readers and to start to build or maintain those relationships heading into a new year.


One of the most effective things that you can do to get kids reading over the summer is to help them make some reading plans before school ends and to fill up their To Be Read list with titles they are excited about. Suggested book lists can be nice - especially if they are created by other students. (You know how it is - kids are going to listen to each other way more than they’re going to listen to us!)

If there are some movies coming out over the summer that are based on books, definitely mention those and maybe show the trailers. For example, I know there’s a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and Captain Underpants and then Wonder is coming out in the fall.

One thing that I like to do is to try to get kids hooked into a new series right at the end of the year so they are motivated to read the rest of the books into the summer. My school has started using the Units of Study from the TCRWP and our final unit in 5th grade is Fantasy Book Clubs. So they are totally getting hooked on Gregor the Overlander and Wings of Fire and Warriors and already starting to research the sequels.

And - speaking of Fantasy, have you seen the new Wizarding World Book Club being launched this summer through Pottermore? That sounds awesome and every year I have three or four kids who are just getting started in the Harry Potter series so I feel like I relive reading that series every year.  I’ll include a link in the show notes for all of my fellow Potterheads to check out.  So making a great TBR list is one major part of planning summer reading.

Another part is to think about some Summer Challenges. Maybe share the Reading Without Walls Challenge which encourages readers to expand their reading horizons by reading a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know about and a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun. Scholastic also has a Summer Reading Bingo Card that might be fun to print out and try with spaces like Read With a Flashlight, Read Outside, or Read Aloud to an Adult - those are fun but what might be even cooler would be to have kids design their own Summer Reading Bingo cards!

One last word about planning. Definitely share your own summer reading plans with your students and your kids. They are really more likely to follow through if you join them and make your commitment public.


Alright so you now know your purpose and you and the kids have a plan. Let’s talk about helping them have access to those amazing books they want to read. One great idea that I know a lot of teachers and librarians are doing is to coordinate a Book Swap at the end of the year where kids bring in books from home, share them in some central spot and then take what they want.

Another idea for teachers is to give each child in your class a book as an end-of-the-year present.  I did this for the first time ever last year. I went to my local Scholastic Warehouse during their year-end sale, and I picked out a book that I knew the child had not yet read but I thought they would really like. And I brought with me my clipboard of Status of the Class sheets from the entire year so I had a record of exactly what they had read and I had a decent idea of what they would like. Then I added a personalized note inside, wrapped each one up, and added a Krazy Straw and a some ribbon. Now, depending on your class size or your budget, that is not always an option. When I taught in a middle school with over 60 students, I just couldn’t do that.  Now, I have just one class and also I don’t buy lots of other things so I can splurge a little at the end of the year.


Another way to get more books into kids hands over the summer is to open up your classroom library or the school library over the summer. Some schools I know have library hours once a week. Some handle the issue of access by letting each child take out ten books over the summer. If you can do this, I think it’s a fabulous idea. Why let the books just sit around?


However, if that is not possible or you’re not there yet another thing you can do is send home a resource sheet to let parents know where they can get books over the summer. List the locations of local libraries, of any Little Free Libraries in the area, and also the links to online places where they access books and articles. Definitely don’t forget about digital reading. Places like Wonderopolis or Newsela or any other online databases or subscription site they use during the school year. Often those passwords will work right over the summer. And don’t forget to plug the audio books! Sometimes a summer trip is the perfect time to try out an audio book.


Bringing books out into the community is another fantastic way to get more books out to more kids. You could set up one or more Little Free Libraries near the school. A lot of my local libraries are placing satellite Little Free Libraries around in various parks. If you’re up for a bit of planning - and maybe it won’t happen this summer but put it in the back of your mind for next year - a bookmobile would be another great method of outreach and making sure that every kid can bump into some books over the summer! Julie, a librarian friend of mine, took a bookmobile out to a local breakfast spot on the weekends. A local ballpark where they have summer rec games going on would be another great spot. I’m thinking of summer festivals and 4th of July spots or the Farmer’s Market!


Basically, you want to make sure kids have books in their hands before they leave school and know exactly where to go to get more.


8 Summer Projects & Activities

Let’s talk about some cool summer projects and activities that you can do with students or your own kids. Here are eight ideas for summer reading projects:

  1. Have students write a letter or postcard to you over the summer telling you about a book they loved. You can supply a template if you want and a pre stamped and self-addressed envelope before the end of school.
  2. Do a Library Crawl! I chatted with you about this back in January on Episode 14, but my daughters and I challenged ourselves to hit 16 libraries during the summer of 2016. And we posted pictures on social media along the way, included some Little Free Libraries, and it was a lot of fun. This idea is more geared toward parents but you might find a way to do something similar as a teacher or librarian.
  3. Host a meetup at your local library or bookstore. Set a few dates ahead of time and join your students for a quick get-together to share what you’ve been reading and pick out some new titles. Usually libraries have summer programs going on, so you could time those meetups to match the library schedule.
  4. Meet at school for a Breakfast & Book Swap! Make some pancakes, chat about books, and get some ideas of what to read next.
  5. Share your reading on Social Media. You could encourage kids to share pics of their books on Snapchat or Twitter or Instagram and maybe use a school hashtag. Also - if you use Google Classroom or Seesaw, often students can still log-in to use those over the summer. So, why not take advantage of that and continue to share what you’re reading through June, July, and August?
  6. Summer Book Clubs! If you have multiple copies of the same book, put together a book club that meets a couple times over the summer.
  7. Is an idea called Books on Blankets that I first saw on Stacey Reidmiller’s site Literacy for Big Kids. And basically, they host a get-together once a week over the summer with a read aloud, popsicles, and kids get a free book! Families bring a blanket and sit out on the grass and enjoy a great story together.
  8. Is a similar idea but instead of having a read aloud at your school, do a read aloud station at, say, your local Farmer’s Market. It doesn’t have to be for the whole day - maybe just half an hour! Or really, any place where lots of kids gather over the summer. Just gather some books in a totebag, lay out a beach blanket, put up a sign, and start reading!

You may not be ready to take on some of these ideas, yet. I am definitely not quite ready for some of them. But, every year I feel like I’m adding another piece. But - please keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything yourself. I certainly would find it hard to commit to going to my school once a week for the entire summer. But, I could get together with some my colleagues and some PTO members and we could each take one week.  


My challenge to you and to myself is to find one area where you could encourage more pleasure reading this summer. And I know you’ll get just as much out of it as your kids will.


And of course, I want to hear about your summer reading plans and ideas. You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook - our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to see what you’ve got going on this summer.

Interview - Nanci Turner Steveson


Today I am excited to welcome Nanci Turner Steveson to the podcast. She is the author of Swing Sideways and the newly released Georgia Rules.  We chat about why she set her new middle grade novel in Vermont, the theatre, and her favorite kind of pie. Take a listen.


Welcome to the podcast!

I heard that your first novel, Swing Sideways, was nominated for the Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Award! Congratulations!


Georgia Rules

Your second middle grade novel, Georgia Rules, is released today.  I am so honored to be chatting with you on your launch day!

Tell us about Georgia Rules - what is this story about?


At the beginning of the book, the catalyst that prompts Maggie and her mom to move to Vermont is that her step-father has decided to divorce them and have a boyfriend move in. And I just want to say that situation of a family breaking up and one of the parents moving on to a same-sex relationship is becoming more common - or at least more openly acknowledged. And I am glad that it’s in this book - I think Georgia Rules is the first book I’ve read that’s shown a breakup in that way.

There is this tension between the more formal “Georgia Rules” that Magnolia has been brought up with in Atlanta and the more casual, country vibe of Vermont.

Which one is more in line with your upbringing?


I loved the Vermont setting - it reminded a lot of Central New York actually.

Have you ever lived in Vermont?


The Parker family is known for their pies.

What is your favorite pie?

Your Writing Life

You’ve mentioned that you got a late start in publishing and that your first novel, Swing Sideways, wasn’t published until you were older.

Were you writing all along and just stuck with it until you had a breakthrough or did you also come to writing later as well?


What drew you to writing middle grade?



I’ve noticed that you are involved in the theatre! =

What do you do - act? Or more technical aspects?

What sort of chapter books did you like to read when you were a kid?


What about have you been reading lately?


Thank You!



Okay - that wraps up our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Also, this past week I was honored to be a guest on the What Book Hooked You? podcast where I chatted with Brock Shelly about The Book Whisperer and lots of other things. I’ll link to that in the shownotes if you want to check it out.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along with all of our previous episodes at


And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!


May 8, 2017



Hi everyone - welcome to Books Between - a podcast focused solely on middle grade readers and to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect them to books they will love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher and still basking in the glow of getting to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson LIVE when he came to Syracuse! He talked about science in the movies and was utterly hilarious. If you ever have a chance to go see him, please do it!


This is Episode #23 and Today I am welcoming author Victoria Coe to the show and then chatting about two excellent new May releases that you won’t want to miss, and then answering a question about middle grade classics in the classroom.


Main Topic - Interview with Victoria Coe


Today I am honored to welcome Victoria Coe. She is the author of the amazing and fun Fenway & Hattie series which was just picked as one of the 2017 Global Read Aloud choices.  We chat about pets, Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, what makes an author visit go smoothly, and lots of other things! Take a listen.


Global Read Aloud

We’ve been working on having you come on to the show for a few months now but I am actually glad that the timing worked out for now so that I could talk to you about the Global Read Aloud! I admit, I actually screeched when I saw the announcement that Fenway & Hattie was selected for 2017!


How did you find out that Fenway & Hattie was picked?

From the very first pages, I knew the Fenway & Hattie was a book that begged to be read out loud! Even when I was reading it by myself alone, I found myself mouthing the words and already figuring out where I would pause to let my students figure out what’s happening.


Could you tell us what the book is about for those listening who haven’t read it yet?


It wasn’t until I finished reading the book that I noticed the “1” written on the spine, so I was really excited to know that it will be a series and we’ll get to spend more time in Fenway’s world! I know the second one has come out already - Evil Bunny Gang.


Did I see that Book 3 was announced recently?


In Fenway & Hattie, one of the funny aspects of the story is the names that Fenway gives to the family. So, the dad is “Fetch Man” and the mom is “Food Lady”.


So - in your home, what would your pets call you?

There is just something about dog books that have the potential to connect so deeply with an audience. In fact, you wrote a post on the Nerdy Book Club site called “How Ribsy Changed My Life”.


What was it about that dog and that book that fascinated you?


I follow you on Instagram and Twitter and I have to say that I love and appreciate that you and so many authors share aspects of their life - your writing process, your inspiration, your frustrations sometimes!  Recently I’ve seen a lot of pics of school visits.


What is a Victoria Coe school visit like?


So we have a lot of teachers and librarians listening who plan author visits.


What are some things that you appreciate and like as a visiting author?

One thing that I am always trying to encourage in my students is developing a rich reading life.


How do you make time for reading in your life and what have you read lately that you’ve really liked?

Book Talk - Two Excellent New Novels


In this section of the show, I share with you a couple books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I want to share with you two fantastic novels just released last week. Both are books about the seismic changes that can happen when someone new comes into your life.  They are Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder and Posted by John David Anderson.

Three Pennies


I will start with Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder. This novel is about an eleven year old girl named Marin who was abandoned many years ago by her mother and has been bounced around the foster system in San Francisco since she was four. And she’s come up with these rules for survival which essentially boil down to this; BE INVISIBLE. Don’t bother the adults, don’t fight with other kids, but that makes for an incredibly lonely existence and a situation where a kid can all too easily get swept aside and forgotten. And at age 11, there’s little chance she’s going to get adopted. All Marin has from her mother are three things: fading memories, a ceramic piggy bank with one coin rattling inside, and a copy of the I Ching. Marin is constantly casting her three pennies and using the book to try to find her way back to her mother. But, the I Ching is also called The Book of Changes and Marin’s eleventh year is full of unexpected turns. Here are three things to love about Three Pennies:


  1. Dr. Lucy Chang! She is Marin’s latest foster parent - a kind but clinal woman. And single. The reason why she’s single comes out in a dinner conversation where Marin tries to be rude to Lucy (because she fears being adopted and losing hope of that reunion with her mother.) Lucy is a science-minded surgeon and precise, but I love how she uses that in the service of being kind toward Marin.  For example, she shares these great analogies of the human body. Let me read you a couple.
  2. The owl in the story. Every few chapters we get a brief scene from the point of view of a young rehabilitated owl living among the tall buildings in San Francisco and observing what happens below. It’s a quieter and softer part of the book but I love how those chapters weave through the main parts of the story and especially how the owl connects and comes together with the other characters at the end.  
  3. And I can’t talk about that owl without mentioning the stunning cover art by artist Victo Ngai. It is vibrant with the golds and warm browns of this owl with piercing teal eyes. It’s a stunner of a cover and the artist has done work for The New Yorker and The New York Times - and her work is amazing. I’ll post a link to her site in the show notes so you can check it out.


Three Pennies is a beautifully written and gentle book about finding family. If you have kids who might love One For the Murphys or Counting by 7s, but you want something a little shorter and maybe easier to read on that same theme, this book is a great option.




Next up this week is a book I have been waiting to get my hands on - Posted by John David Anderson, who you might know from his most recent middle grade novel - Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. This story is about a tight-knit group of four middle school boys. Their nicknames are Frost, Bench, DeeDee, and Wolf. The story is told from Frost’s point of view. He earned his nickname (from Robert Frost) because he won a poetry contest in 5th grade. His parents are recently divorced. His close friend is Bench and he got his nickname because he’s always warming the bench for every team he’s on. He’s big and kind of their protector. No one messes with them when Bench is around. Then there is DeeDee who’s small, kinda geeky, dramatic and the Dungeon Master when they play D&D. Hence his nickname, DeeDee. And finally, Wolf. He is a lanky, quieter kid who’s a piano prodigy and got his name from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Each of them are kind of outcasts and outsiders in their own way.  But - they have found each other - their tribe as Frost calls it - and support each other. Until a new girl, Rose, shows up and things get thrown into turmoil in unexpected ways. Interconnecting with that dynamic is the fact that all cellphones have been recently banned at Branton Middle School and post-its have become the new contraband form of communication. And what starts off as DeeDee posting fun sticky notes on his friend’s lockers snowballs into this mess of a situation where their friendship is really tested. This is one of those books that the more you read, the more you want to slow down and savor the story, the language - and just spend time with these characters. Well - some of them.  There are so so many things I want to say to rave about this book! I have to limit myself to three - but honestly I could list at least 30. So, just as a small sample, here are three amazing things about John David Anderson’s Posted:


  1. How much Anderson GETS middle school and the inner life of middle school kids. Before coming to teach 5th grade in an elementary school, I was a 6th grade teacher in a middle school for 8 years. And I used to joke that middle school is the Social Serengeti. There are predators and prey and you better do whatever you can to get cover within a group. And Posted absolutely captures this. Frost calls it the Middle School Minefield. And, oh the antics these four boys get involved in! From making homemade dynamite in their driveway to accidentally microwaving a can of Spaghettio’s and almost burning down the house. These are the stories every kid can relate to - and I’m sure they have some similar ones of their own.
  2. How well Anderson builds suspense by withholding information and slowly revealing it in pieces later on.  For examples, there are these various messages written on post-its throughout the story, phrases thrown at one of the characters, and an awful text that gets a girl suspended (which is the catalyst of the cell phone ban).  Anderson doesn’t reveal what those messages are at first, but describes everyone’s reactions to it.  Or he tells the consequences of a conversation, but the details come out more slowly - I LOVED it!Just like he did with Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Anderson is masterful at sliding the pieces of the puzzle into your view until you start to see the picture yourself.
  3. How this book reminded me of the Netflix series Stranger Things. I know that sounds odd because they’re two completely different genres! But - both are about four close friends used to their own routines when a vulnerable yet powerful girl is suddenly in their midst. And how they handle that disruption and the decisions they make about who to protect could either fracture their friendship or bring them closer together. And - there’s lots of Dungeons & Dragons references!

When you get a new book by an author whose previous work blew you away, you’re almost expecting to be let down. Posted was everything I was hoping for, and I think this one might actually be even more of a winner with kids because the conflicts are centered so clearly on their lives. Ya gotta get this one!


Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.



This question comes from Annamaria on Twitter “Hi, @Books_Between  I'm looking for "classics" to fill a bookcase in my classroom. Have Dahl, L I-Wilder, CS Lewis, few others. Rec's? Thx!”



Alright - yes! Here are a few titles and authors you might want to add.

  • The Indian in the Cupboard (and the sequels)
  • Harriet the Spy
  • All the Beverly Cleary books! (Ramona books, Ribsy books, Mouse & the Motorcycle)
  • The Wizard of Oz series
  • Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
  • The Wind in the Willows
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • A Wrinkle in Time - that one is also a series
  • E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little)
  • The Hobbit
  • The Hundred Dresses
  • Louisa May Alcott (Little Women and Little Men)
  • The Boxcar Children Series
  • Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 and Bud, not Buddy)
  • Black Beauty
  • Lots of the E.L. Konigsburg (books like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
  • Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess
  • Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Series
  • Some really like the Betsy-Tacy series - I haven’t read them but would feel remiss if I did not mention them
  • Mary Poppins Series
  • Anne of Green Gables books
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
  • All the Judy Blume books! (well, wait - careful, she does have some adult books out, but definitely Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber)  


You know, in looking at this list, there are so many that I grew up loving but I recognize that in many “classics” lists, the titles and authors do lack diversity and also, where you do find some diverse characters, they’re often not portrayed that well. So in considering including classics in your library, that is an aspect to think about.


So, listeners - I know I have forgotten some. What other “classics” would you add to this list and especially, what are some more multicultural “classics” that should be included?  We will absolutely revisit this again with some updates.




Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, please let me know. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between. Also, we have just launched a newsletter. So if you are interesting in more middle grade goodness, I’ll post a link to sign up for that in the shownotes.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along with all of our previous episodes at


And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!




FENWAY AND HATTIE resource padlet:


Info about my author visits:


author page at where you can click on all three books for a description and order/preorder links:

Apr 24, 2017


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between podcast! If you are a middle grade teacher, a librarian, a parent of a child between 8 and 12 - or anyone who just loves to chat about kids’ books - then you are in the right spot!  Our focus is generally middle grade books but occasionally we veer into picture books or YA.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher and enjoying our Spring Break! It’s been low key but relaxing.

This is Episode #22 and Today I am welcoming author Adrienne Kress to the show and then chatting about three fantastic books featuring famous people or people who should be famous.

Main Topic - Interview with Adrienne Kress

Today I am honored to welcome Adrienne Kress. She is the author of the newly released action-adventure mystery called The Explorers: The Door in the Alley. And in our conversation we chat about traveling, the difference between writing Young Adult vs. Middle Grade, and high tea. Take a listen.

A few weeks ago as I was preparing to read The Explorers and I knew we would be chatting, I hopped on your website and whoa! You are a woman of many talents - not only an author but an actor, a playwright, producer/director…

How do those roles all work together? What is your day like?

I was reading your bio section in the back of the book and you mention that both of your parents are English teachers and yet I read an article where you described yourself as a reluctant reader as a child.

What was that like for you?

Let’s talk about The Explorers ! Your middle grade book is coming out Tuesday, April 25th.

Tell us what it’s about!

I am excited to get the final version and see the artwork - not only how the artist envisioned the characters and setting, but I was really intrigued by the placement on the pages…

Can you tell a bit about that process?

One of the things that fascinated me about The Explorers Society with the huge multi-floor library built around this giant tree and rooms dedicated to the interests of the explorers. One person explores deserts and one focuses on leaves and another one is interested in sewers.

If you were to join the Explorers Society, what would you dedicate your life to exploring?

You ended this novel with one heck of a cliffhanger!!!

When is Book 2 coming out? Do you know yet?

Not only do you write middle grade books, but you also have YA books out as well.

When you set out to write a book, do you already know ahead of time whether it will be Young Adult or Middle Grade? What is that process like for you?

Coffee or Tea?

What is your reading life like now?  What have you read lately that you’ve really liked?

If people wanted to follow you and find out more about your work , where should they go?


Book Talk - Three Books Featuring Famous People or People Who Should Be Famous

In this section of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week we are focusing on stories about amazing people - both historical and modern. They are Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Who Wins? 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to Head, and Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

This week I’ll start with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. I’m almost embarrassed to admit where I saw this book first. Umm… it was a Facebook ad. I guess that tells you two things - 1) I spend too much time on Facebook and 2) Facebook knows me disturbingly well!  And - and I guess I’ll add a third - sometimes Facebook ads really do work. I saw Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls scroll across my feed and thought - “Yes! I want that book for my daughters. But - I also want it for me.”  So, let me tell you about it. It is 100 tales of extraordinary women illustrated by 60 female artists from all around the world. It’s written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo - both women entrepreneurs whose idea for this book stemmed from the fact they wished they had grown up with more female role models. The book became the most funded book in crowdfunding history.

Here are three things to love about Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls:

  1. How each one-page biography is written like a mini fairy tale. It’s such a different take on a biography compilation. Let me give you a few examples: “Once there was a little girl who didn’t speak for five years. She thought her words could hurt people and promised herself to never make a peep again. Her name was Maya.” That’s Maya Angelou.  Here’s another one. “Once there was a girl who wanted to drive a car. She lived in Saudi Arabia, a country where religious rules forbid women from driving. One day she decided to break the rules.” - That’s Manal Al-Sharif, the women’s rights activist. I just love them - and there’s something about telling these women’s stories like this that elevates them to a heroic level and makes you feel like you can slay your own dragons.
  2. The variety of stories and the women you get to learn about. For instance, the book includes artists like Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel but also tattoo artist Maud Stevens Wagner. There are well-known political figures like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Evita Peron but we also get know about Somali politician Fadumo Dayib and Indian Queen and Warrior Lakshmi Bai. There are mathematicians, and surgeons, and drummers, and spies, and chefs, and mountaineers, and one elementary school student - Coy Mathis, born in 2007. And I’ll leave her story for you to discover.
  3. And finally - at the very end there is a place to write your own story and draw your own portrait. How powerful is that?


Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls would be a great gift - especially for girls, but could absolutely be enlightening for boys as well. As I was reading some to my daughters, I had my teacher hat partially on and was thinking that this would be great for Women’s History Month next year. We could read one brief story every day and expand our knowledge of some women who should be known and celebrated for their accomplishments.

Who Wins? 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to Head

Next up this week is 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to Head created by Clay Swartz and illustrated by Tom Booth. This is an awesomely fun mix-and-match flip book set up as a game where we imagine important historical figures competing in a variety of interesting scenarios. It’s a really sturdy spiral bound book made up of three panels. On the left and on the right are the people. The bottom half features a drawing of that person facing inward toward their opponent and some quick descriptors. For example, we have Harry Houdini (Mr. Magic: Entertainer, Illusionist, Adrenaline Junkie) facing off with Cleopatra (Queen of the Nile: Pharaoh, Feminist, Diva). And  - the bottom lists how each person rates across 7 categories: Wealth, Fitness, Wisdom, Bravery, Artistry, Leadership, and Intelligence. For example, Houdini rates as a 7 for wealth and Cleopatra is a 9. Houdini is a 10 for fitness while Cleopatra is only a 6. So you have some basis for debate. Then the top of each side includes a short biography of each person and a couple “Little Known Facts”.  Then - the middle describes the battle scenario. There are things like: Summiting Everest, Slam Dunk Contest, Rap Battle, Brain Surgery, Wrestlemania, Selling the Most Girl Scout Cookies. On this page, Houdini and Cleopatra are going head to head about who could Sneak Into Area 51! Hmmmm….  I don’t know. Houdini’s really good at escaping from places, and didn’t Cleopatra sneak into see someone rolled up in a rug? Or am I just thinking of the Elizabeth Taylor movie and that is actually a myth.  That’s a tough one.

But that’s what’s fun about this book!  If you’re not already sold, here are three more awesome reasons to love 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to Head:

  1. You - and your kids - are never going to get bored with this book! There are 100,000 possible combinations, and I can attest that with my own kids, the conversation starts with the match-up and then spirals into discussing other situations.
  2. And did I mention? It’s full color!! It’s gorgeous and really designed well. The three panels are not just basic rectangles - they are done in a zig-zag pattern that somehow keeps the pages from sliding over each other too much. They nestle together.
  3. The potential to springboard some cool projects and discussions off this book! Again, I’ve always got my teacher hat on and I kept thinking that it would be really cool to act some of these out. Thomas Edison vs. Mother Teresa in a Hot Dog Eating Contest! Or… if your school is like mine, we often have a biography unit. Perhaps your students could take their biography subject and give them a rating in a few categories and have them face off in different situations. And it doesn’t have to be a lengthy thing, maybe just a quick find a partner and “Okay, Who would do better living on a desert island? You’ve got two minutes to chat and back up your ideas.”  Or - for your own children, this would be the perfect book to stash in your car.

Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring

Our last book this week is Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Alberti with illustrations by Tony Cliff.  This is an interactive historical narrative about an African American spy, Mary Bowser, who infiltrated the Confederate administration. She posed as an illiterate slave in Jefferson Davis’ White House during the Civil War and sent information to Union Generals. Truly an unsung hero of American history. This is based on true events and the history is accurate, but it is dramatized into a suspenseful story.  Here are three things to love about Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring:

  1. The interactive part. Readers actually get to solve a mystery in this book! It comes with spycraft materials like a cipher wheel, red acetate paper, and a white vellum sheet that when you line it up correctly can be used to help crack the code on certain pages.  It is SO cool! And comes with a sealed answer key if you get stuck.
  2. How this book angles history from the perspective of a black enslaved woman. History is told by those in power and for far too long, we have been denied the point of view of most women and most people of color, and I am so glad children get a chance to meet and know Mary Bowser.
  3. And finally, what I liked most about this book was that I couldn’t read it. Now, what I mean by that is that I attempted to read it, but it very quickly got snatched out of my hands. I started reading on the couch and as soon as the words, “OOOoooo...there’s codes in this…” came out of my mouth, my daughters were huddled behind me reading over both my shoulders. Then… they climbed over the back of the couch and into my lap to “help” me flip through the pages. And then they saw the grid of letters and snatched it away to go solve it without me! Argh!

Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is a little bit like a combination of a Mail order Mystery and Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. If you know a kid who loves a mystery, who loves cracking a code, who loves a suspenseful story - then this one is a winner.

A couple quick announcements before we close today. I’ve skipped the Question & Answer segment the last couple of weeks mainly because I didn’t want to have the episodes run too long. I know several of you have sent questions. Thank you! And I’ll be back on track answering those next time.

Also - I discovered new website for you to check out! It’s It just launched a few weeks ago and it’s a great site if you’re looking for more middle book recommendations or engaging literacy ideas to try out in your school.


Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I really love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along all of our previous episodes at

And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Apr 10, 2017



Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 21 of Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books!  I am Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, and a big podcast fan.  And I’ll tell you - I have been absolutely sucked into the new STown podcast for the past week! And have probably spend too much time and stayed up far too late looking at pictures of hedge mazes, sundials, and antique clocks. So, I know you like podcasts - definitely go listen to STown.


Since April is National Poetry month, our show today is all about celebrating the power of poetry! I’ll share with you a couple poetry resources to help you enjoy poetry more with your students and kids, and then chat about some fabulous books - from picture books to poetry anthologies to novels in verse.  


Main Topic - Celebrating the Power of Poetry


I will straight up tell you that I was slow to appreciate poetry in the way it really deserves. I was always a voracious reader even as a kid, but I rarely ever picked up any poetry when left to my own devices.  I guess I always thought of it as a complicated puzzle or containing some secret message that I was just too obtuse to figure out.  I even had this ridiculous idea that all poetry was romantic.  Yeah - I know - WRONG!


So, I have been on a mission lately to shed my own misconceptions and make SURE that I am not passing those along to my own children or my own students. It is still very much a work in progress for me, but I thought today I’d share with you a few ideas about how to include more poetry in the lives of your kids - not only during National Poetry Month, but all year long.


Rethinking Poetry

First off, I think that rethinking reading poetry is the biggest step. Helping kids understand that poetry can be about ANYTHING (not just love) is a major step. The best way to to do this? Start by reading lots of varieties of poetry with them. I know we are all pressed for time, but reading a short poem every day (or even start with every week!) would take less than a minute and can often be done in those “gap times” like waiting in the hallway or waiting for the bus to arrive. (And later on, I’ll share with you some places to get those poems.)  Also, I used to think that as a teacher, I would have to hammer the heck out of a poem and make sure my students had yanked that thing apart and knew the theme, the rhyme pattern, the symbols, the point of view of the author and on and on and on until… well, it just wasn’t enjoyable anymore. For me or my students!


The event that recently cemented for me the fact that teaching poetry doesn’t have to be like that was Laura Shovan’s live Facebook Event hosted by The Nerdy Book Club. It was called “It’s National Poetry Month: Let’s Teach Poetry!” and you can find an archive of that event through their facebook page and I’ll also include a direct link to it in our show transcript. So anyway - Laura Shovan is a poet-in-the-schools for the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artist-in-Education program and the author of the novel in verse The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. In this video, she walks through how to teach the poem “Weather” by Eve Merriam. The whole thing is worth checking out, but I just wanted to share with you a few highlights:

  • Read the poem aloud and ask students what THEY notice, what stands out to them, what got them thinking or feeling. And every time I have done this over the past week, my students will catch aspects of the poem I would never have considered.  I love the advice of having students take the conversational lead.
  • Reinforce the vocabulary of poetry naturally through the conversation around the poems, rather than a separate stand alone lesson. Incorporating terms like “couplet” and “stanza” into the discussion can save time and solidify their meaning for kids.
  • The idea of poetry as layers - layers of sound, of story, of point of view. And how reading a poem several times allows you (and your kids!) to discover more within those multiple readings.


And Laura Shovan makes this wonderful analogy of a poem as a waterfall - some students are going to want to jump into the water and experience it with all their senses, some are science minded and might want to take samples to examine and pick apart under a microscope, and some students want to stand back admire the beauty of that waterfall with awe and wonder.  And all of those responses are are just fine. And we don’t have to do every single one of them every time we read a poem together. If you want to learn more, check out Laura’s website at -


Another fantastic resource that links reading and writing poetry is Kwame Alexander’s Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop. And I highly recommend this if you want to harness the power of poetry to boost the level of writing excitement with your kids. This is a teacher’s guide that will get your kids writing, publishing, and presenting their poetry - and the best part is that it’s not JUST another book on teaching poetry. It includes videos of Kwame Alexander - both for teachers and for your students to watch. And if you’ve ever had the chance to hear  him speak, you know the energy he brings.  It’s like having a Newbery-Award winning author right in your classroom giving you a mini-lesson on poetry. Actually it’s not LIKE that, it actually IS that!  Absolutely check that out!


I’ll close by quoting a bit from Kylene Beers’ forward of Page-to-Stage, “Poetry - what I’ll call the neglected genre - draws us into ourselves as it simultaneously lets us give back to the world a fresh understanding , a new vision, a re-vision of one moment. Kwame puts it better when he explains that poetry lets us ‘write our own journeys, find our own voices.’”  


So I’m excited and inspired to include more poetry in my classroom and get kids writing more.  As always, I would love to hear what you are doing to foster a love of poetry  with your students and kids.  You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook - our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to hear and share your ideas.


Book Talk - Fabulous Poetry Books & Novels in Verse


In this part of the show, I chat about books centered around a theme and of course this week is all about fantastic poetry books, anthologies, and novels in verse for middle grade readers. And - since National Poem in Your Pocket Day is Thursday, April 27th - this will give you some awesome options for you and your students to tuck in those pockets.


Poetry Books

Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics by author Margarita Engle with illustrations by Rafael Lopez. I really love this book - the drawings are fantastic and bold and each poem is from the point of view of the person being featured so it really feels personal.


One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance the latest by Nikki Grimes which is a collection of her original poetry interspersed with classic poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Grimes is amazing - just go ahead and get all the Nikki Grimes - you can’t go wrong with her work!

Speaking of can’t go wrong poets, Kwame Alexander has two new poetry picture book collections out.  The first is called Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures and features photographs of endangered species. This one good for young readers as well as older kids. Then he’s also collaborated with some other poets  (Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth along with artist Ekua Holmes to put together a beautiful collection of poems celebrating poets called Out of Wonder.


Another poet to look for is  Lee Bennett Hopkins - his work is simply outstanding. I love his general collections but his themed books are really cool. Check out My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States - a collection of fifty poems celebrating various regions in the country. Or Marvelous Math - a collection of math themed poems, or Spectacular Science - a book full of poems on all sorts of science topics. What is cool about these books is that if you have them on hand, you can easily flip and find a poem that relates to a subject you are studying in class. A poetry break during Math or Science?  Yes, please!


And if you are looking for something clever and funny, take a look at Keep a Pocket in Your Poem by J. Patrick Lewis. They take classic poems and pair them with a parody poem. So for example, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is paired with “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening” . It’s cute, funny, and may even inspire some of your kids to give a parody poem a try!


And if you want to enjoy some excellent poetry with a jazzy, hip hop flair - please, please go snag a copy of Hip Hop Speaks to Children: a celebration of poetry with a beat. It’s edited by Nikki Giovanni and includes a CD with many of the authors reading their poems - including Eloise Greenfield, Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, James Berry - and so, so many more. A couple things I really loved - one, they make the explicit connection between music, lyrics, and poetry and include lots of poems that we might originally view simply as songs.  Like “Rapper’s Delight”! And Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”! It’s so, so good! And secondly, some of the tracks include the authors introducing their poem and giving you a little background. For instance, before Pedro Pietri reads “Love Poem for My People”, I was really stuck by how he mentioned that he wrote it many years ago and is STILL working on it.  Powerful, powerful messages for kids - you definitely want this one on hand!

Novels in Verse:


Well, you can’t talk about novels in verse without mentioning the amazing Sharon Creech. There are of course Love That Dog  and Hate That Cat - perennial classics in any classroom or library. But, I want to give a plug for her latest novel, called Moo. It’s the story of twelve -year-old Reena and her seven-year-old brother, Luke who are suddenly uprooted from their life in New York City and wind up moving to very rural Maine, and reluctantly trying to bond with a super ornery cow. There were certain aspects that reminded me a bit of Home of the Brave. I think those two would make a great novel-in-verse pairing.


And of course, I would be remiss If I didn’t mention Kwame Alexander’s two novels in verse - The Crossover and Booked. I feel like I have gushed so much about those two books on this podcast and how much students love them that I am almost risking overdoing it. So, you already know they are amazing, right?


Also previously mentioned on the podcast, but definitely need to be included on this list are Ellie Terry’s Forget Me Not, which is a novel that is half verse / half prose from two points of view.  If you want to know more about that novel, I went into more depth in the last show which was Episode 20.  And in Episode #8, I featuring Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, which is fantastic not only for the story but because it has dozens of poetry prompts right in the back. LOVE it!


Another author that writes poetry for kids across a wide range of ages is Nikki Grimes. I already mentioned her picture book work, but her novels Words With Wings and Garvey’s Choice are phenomenal. And accessible to kids who might find the brief poems and open space of each page really appealing. They are quick but powerful reads. A short poem, a short story, can pack a lot of punch.


And of course, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and her earlier book Locomotion and so many others are written with such passion and love that they stay with you, long, long after you’ve set aside those books.


A couple novels in verse that I haven’t read yet but have been bubbling up are The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I keep bumping into rave reviews and reflections on these two books - argh - I think I just need to take a reading sabbatical and work through my To Be Read pile. Wouldn’t that be nice?  


Well - I could go on and on - and I know I’ve missed a lot on this list, but I do need to cut myself off at some point. But, that leaves the door open for YOU!  What poetry books or novels in verse are your favorites and why do you love them? I’ll open some threads on our various social media sites and let’s continue the conversation there!




Okay  - that wraps up our show this week.  If you have topic or a book you think we should cover, please let us know. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thanks again for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at including links to every book and every resource I talked about today. And, if you’re enjoying the show and finding some value in what you hear, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!


Mar 27, 2017


Hi everyone! Welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and you! Thanks for joining us today! This is a show all about middle grade books, and raising enthusiastic readers.   I am Corrina Allen. I’ve been teaching for over 13 years mainly grades 5 and 6. And I am a mother of two girls. And we just celebrated my oldests 10th birthday this weekend. She got her ears pierced and I had an amazing FAIL attempting to make a pink and blue checkerboard cake for her. Pictures are on Twitter if you want to see the carnage. All I gotta say is that Wegmans came through in the clutch with an amazing vanilla whipped cream cannoli filled caked.

This is Episode #20 and today we are discussing the new Beauty & the Beast live action movie and featuring two brand new sweet contemporary fiction novels.

Announcement - Book Drive

But first, I have a quick announcement and an opportunity to do something really kind. Some of you may have heard the story about the Pleasant Run Elementary robotics team called the PantherBots. They were competing at their district's high school among a bunch of other schools and got first place. And during the competition and after the challenge as they were leaving and in the parking lot, this group of 9 and 10 year olds and their families, were told “Go back to Mexico” and subjected to other racist comments. Two of the kids are African-American and three are Latino.

So - the reason that I am bringing this to our attention is that author Shannon Hale is calling for a book drive in support of the team and the school. I’ll link to her page  directly, if you want more details, but let me read to you her request:

Hey friends! Like me, many of you were horrified by this news report:

We want to show love for this school and their outstanding robotics team in the form of a book drive. This is a Title 1 school with a very diverse population. Authors, you can sign books to Pleasant Run. Anyone else who can donate is much appreciated! Picture books, early readers, chapter books, and middle grade books most welcome, especially those written by and featuring people of color. Also early readers in Spanish would be a bonus as they have a dual immersion language program for some kindergarten classes. Mail books to:

Pleasant Run Elementary

1800 N Franklin Rd

Indianapolis, IN 46219

If you have books more appropriate for middle or high school, this diverse district would love those too!

And then Shannon lists their address which again, I will link to for you.

I saw that and I knew that you all would want to help. Maybe you have a book on your desk or bookshelf right now that you could spare.

Hey - send it media mail - it’s cheap. For a couple of bucks you can let this community know that they are supported, we have their back, and do something tangible to bend that arc toward justice.

So, I’m going to get on that this week and mail out some awesome books, and I hope you will, too.


Main Topic - Beauty & the Beast

Today I’ll be giving a brief overview and review of the new live-action version of the familiar fairy tale, listing a few other versions middle grade readers might want to check out, and discussing some ways you could do some analysis and comparing with your kids and students.


Have you ever been to a Movie Tavern? They recently opened one up near us and it is decadently wonderful. You can have a full meal, maybe a cocktail (I personally like the milkshakes), and enjoy a movie while you relax in a recliner. It is everything that is wrong and right with America.


Anyway - my mother treated myself and my sister-in-law and my kids to a girls’ brunch and Beauty and the Beast viewing last weekend, and I thought I’d let you all know how it is. I’m making the assumption that you’re familiar with the story so expect a couple plot spoilers.


First off, I do want to acknowledge that the Beauty & the Beast story is - shall we say “problematic”?  I enjoyed the Disney version when it came out when I was a teenager, but later as an adult the sexist and kind of abusive aspects of it always rubbed me the wrong way. So, I was looking forward to seeing how this new movie featuring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast chose to depict the story.

So here are my thoughts:

  • I loved the opening which shows the prince (played by Dan Stevens) getting ready for a ball and dressing in full Louis XVI-style regalia with powdered wig, full make-up, and a little black mole. It reminded me a bit of the series Versaille on Netflix. So far so good!
  • I’m also noticing now that the cast seems a little more diverse than the original. Madame de Garderobe is played by Audra McDonald and Plumette is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw - both women of color. The background characters are a bit more diverse so that seems to be going in the right direction but I would have like to have still seen more.
  • The other thing that struck me here was the witch’s curse is SO brutal to the poor innocent people working in the palace. Aside from the turning-into-furniture bit, the fact that she erased the memory of them from their loved-one’s minds is just heartbreaking. To know that your family will forget you.
  • Then we meet Belle, Emma Watson sings - I thought with a clear, beautiful, natural voice. Overall, I thought her performance was outstanding. Although - there is a moment early on where she is twirling atop a grassy hill singing in her barefeet and my 7 year old leans over to me and says, “She’s going to get a tick on her feet!”
  • Belle’s inventor role is explored a lot more here - it’s not just her father. So thumbs up for that. She invents a washing machine which gives her more time for her books and to get in trouble for teaching a young girl in the village to read. (Good point for discussion right there.)
  • And - Gaston. His handsome hyper-masculine character is utterly obnoxious and he treats Belle like the ultimate prey. He is just vile! But - Luke Evans does a fantastic job with him. His backstory is more filled out., which is interesting. He was a soldier, and there’s hints of PTSD there with this darker interpretation.  And the “Gaston” tavern number is so much better than the original - full of people and the characters are vibrant and it’s funny. I think probably the best song sequence of the movie.
  • During this scene, I also like the new envisioning of the LeFou character (played by Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf). There’s more depth to that role and of everyone, he maybe changes the most throughout the movie. Now, he’s the character that the director has said is involved in a “gay moment” in the movie. And - I guess you could interpret LeFou’s actions toward Gaston in that way, and there’s a scene at the end where he dances briefly with another man. But I think the controversy, if you can even call it that, is really overblown. I’m glad Disney didn’t edit anything out for release in other countries, but on on the other hand, I don’t want to give them too much credit either. The situation is treated like a joke and maybe just another in a long line of gay characters depicted as fools. But generally, I really liked that performance and want to see more of Josh Gad.
  • Back to the plot! Belle’s father (played by Kevin Kline) is attacked by wolves - this might be the scariest moment of the film and he takes refuge in the castle, takes a rose from the garden, and the Beast freaks out and imprisons him.   The horse leads Belle back where she tricks her father, takes his place, and the story carries on from there.
  • In the castle - Chip is simply adorable and if I were Plumette, I would totally go for Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, too. I was skeptical of how live people would interact with dancing teapots and clocks and such, but it was done well and not as creepy as I worried it would be. And the “Be Our Guest” routine was lovely.
  • The relationship between the Beast and Belle has always seemed a weird portrayal as romance, but I had a couple thoughts as I watched this version. First, it reminded me a lot of Pride & Prejudice where it takes Elizabeth Bennet going to Mr. Darcy’s home and seeing how his staff universally loves him and sacrifices for him, that starts to shift her viewpoint. And you see this in the Beauty & the Beast film when Mrs. Potts describes his childhood to Belle and explains how he’s better than his horrendous first impression. Second, never underestimate the allure of a magnificent library and the power of reading aloud to connect people. Belle reads to him and reconnects him with books and that was a point where she started to see his humanity.
  • Expanding on Belle’s backstory and explaining what happened to her mother and the symbolism of the rose was another really great part of this movie. It’s a short scene, and I don’t want to spoil it for you but explains why her father is tormented by the memory of her mother.
  • A quick word about the famous yellow dress. Here it is thankfully toned down and simplified - no mass of ruffles. I was more enthralled with the jewelry, to be honest with you - especially her climbing earrings. I’ve been seeing more and more of those - you know, the ones that go up the ear. I love those, but I don’t think I could pull them off to be honest with you.
  • And I’ll end my thought with a couple serious notes. First, ugh, Gaston’s firing up the villagers who’ve known Belle all their life really brought home how easy it is to get people roused by claiming there’s something dangerous.
  • Okay - so, I am known as a bit of a crier at movies. And I held it together for most of the film. Until the end when Mrs. Pott’s is frantically searching for Chip as all the enchanted servants are turning completely into just objects. And she, essentially dies with her last thoughts a desperate worry for her son. But then, as you know - they are released from the curse. And Emma Thompson, who plays Mrs. Potts, wraps her arms around her son and says, “You smell so good!”  and wow - you just realize how these people have suffered - not being fully human. So that was my tissue moment.
  • In short - I thought this was a great movie - I liked it way better than the Disney version. And I think I’ve even forgiven Dan Stevens for leaving Downton Abbey.


Analyzing & Comparing other Beauty & the Beast versions


If your school follows the Common Core Standards, one of our major goals is to help students learn how to compare different versions of a story and analyze multimedia representations of that story. Even if your district hasn’t adopted those standards, it is still a worthy goal and one of the more fun ones to teach. And fairy tales like Beauty & the Beast are perfect texts to explore.  They’ve often changed (a lot!) over the years, and each generation and place has it’s own interpretation. What’s more interesting than simply having your students or children point out the differences, is asking them to think about WHY the author decided to change it. A quick word of caution though - those original fairy tales were DARK and much more violent. So definitely preview anything and use your own judgement about what’s appropriate. It’s probably best to start with just comparing one scene a couple different versions and then you can select something that’s okay for your age group.  


For example, in the earliest French version of the story from the mid 1700s, the rose doesn’t drop any petals to mark time, and the Beast proposes to Belle every night in the castle. Also, there is a magic ring that will guide Belle back to the palace. Oh - and all those enchanted objects like Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, and Cogsworth? They are nowhere to be found in any version before the Disney movie.  Same with Gaston and LeFou. Not mentioned at all.  Instead, the villains of the original story are Belle’s sisters who conspire to keep her away from the Beast out of jealousy.  The whole story about how Disney decided to come up with Gaston is a fascinating read - they even had a contest among the animators to see who could draw his chest hair the best! (Links to that story in the show notes!)


Alright -there’s obviously some great fodder for discussion and analysis. Also - while you wait for this new version to be released outside of the theatre - use the soundtrack and a print out of the lyrics!


In  the meantime, here are a few more versions that are worth checking out.


Let’s start with some Picture Books:

  • Beauty and The Beast: A Pop-up Book of the Classic Fairy Tale by Robert Sabuda  This is a gorgeous book illustrated in the style of stained glass.
  • Then there’s the new 2017 picture book called Beauty and the Beast by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Meg Park. This one has a stronger focus on Belle’s courage and the illustrations in blues and purples are beautiful.
  • Then there’s the version by by Max Eilenberg  and Angela Barrett who’s the illustrator with lush watercolors and a curiously creepy depiction of the Beast.
  • If you’ want to see something more gilded and ornate, then the version illustrated by Kinuko Craft is worth exploring with your kids.
  • There’s also a Beauty & the Beast version set in West Africa by H. Chuiku Lee.
  • And Laurence Yep has a Chinese adaptation called The Dragon Prince


If you are looking for a chapter book version:

  • I noticed in our recent Scholastic form some backstory books by Disney featuring the villains and the one called The Beast Within tell the story of how he came to become so bitter and monstrous.
  • Disney has also released As Old as Time: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell that is a different take on Belle and includes more of her mother.
  • And finally - for something modern and fun, Wendy Mass’ s third book in the Twice Upon a Time series is a Beauty and the Beast adaptation and is getting really good reviews

But, I am sure there there are many more! I’m always looking for another great fairy tale adaptation, so please let me know your favorite.  You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook - our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to share your ideas.

Book Talk - Two New Contemporary Fiction Novels


In this part of the show, I chat about books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week the two books on my mind the most are two new contemporary fiction releases:  A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry.


A Boy Called Bat


Our first featured book this week is a sweet, sweet book called A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold. It’s about a 3rd grade boy named Bixby Alexander Tam (B-A-T - Bat for short), his older sister, Janie, and their mom who is a vet. Well, one day Bat’s mom brings home a tiny newborn skunk and immediately Bat is entranced and just wants to take care of him - feed him formula and help him figure out how to go to the bathroom, keep him cuddled up in a sling, and basically be with him all the time. But - this baby skunk is scheduled to go to the rescue center in a month. And Bat is going to do whatever he can to keep this skunk himself. It is an adorable book with some deeply poignant touches. Here are three things to love about A Boy Called Bat:


  1. How this book understands the challenges of kids with divorced parents. For Bat and his sister, that means every other Friday they go to their dad’s to spend the weekend. His dad calls him “sport”, which he hates, and makes a weird, smelly chili in the crockpot and Bat has to watch baseball on tv. And the change in routine makes Bat feel uncomfortable. And as a kid of divorced parents, I could really relate to some of those scenes. And I am sure that kids you know could also connect to those sections.
  2. Bat’s relationship with his older sister. Like a lot of siblings they are a mix of friendly and frustrated. Janie is, I think, in middle school and watches Bat a couple days after school when their mom has to work late. And Bat is particular about his snacks and wants to tell the same stories over and over again and sometimes it’s hard for Janie to be patient. Especially when Bat does something to one of her t-shirts. But then…. there are sweet moments, too. One especially stands out when they are both at their dad’s apartment, stuck watching baseball, and Bat braids Janie’s hair for her. And it’s a small but a sweet moment between siblings that are very different.
  3. Bat - he is earnest and kind of quirky. His social interactions are sort of awkward. For example, he’s sometimes too honest and doesn’t quite get most figurative language. He’s definitely a literal thinker. He sometimes flaps his hands when he gets upset, and loud noises tend to bother him. And as those behaviors started to build up throughout the book, I started to wonder - what’s the deal with this kid? Does he have Asperger's or autism? I kept waiting for the author to clarify that, but the more I think on it, the more I’m glad that Elana Arnold did not pin a diagnosis on this boy. And simply let us come to know and love him as an individual. And yet - I’m glad to have another book in our library like Rain Reign or A Whole New Ballgame or Counting by 7s with a character that might be on the autism spectrum that kids can get to know. And it’s at a lower reading level than those other books - probably best for about ages 7-11. But would make a great read aloud for Kindergarten or 1st grade.


A Boy Called Bat is a heartfelt book with characters you love, and I hope that we haven’t seen the end of Bixby Alexander Tam.

Forget Me Not


Our next new release is the middle grade debut by Ellie Terry called Forget Me Not. The setting is Utah and our main character is Calliope - called Calli by her family. Callie is smart, into astronomy and poetry and sensitive. She also has Tourette syndrome (TS) and was given some advice by her doctor and mother to hide that fact from people. But she is so eager to connect with and make a long-lasting friendship. Because Calli moves a lot - her mom likes to just pick up and go once her relationships turn sour - Calli is in this position of starting a new school and trying to mask her tics and noises. But, she has formed a bond with Jinsong - her classmate and neighbor. However, he is not so sure about being open about their friendship, especially as his friends start to target her. Here are three reasons you and your kids will fall for Forget Me Not:


  1. How this book is like a duet between the voices of Calli and Jinsong. The chapters alternate between their points of view with Calli’s section in verse and Jinsong’s parts in prose - each with their own font. I really liked how that helped you differentiate between the two characters.
  2. I appreciated how this was an honest take on bullying in schools. The children who are harassing Calliope are being cruel, but often have their own story that if you got to know them, you might have some empathy. I know that there is absolutely never any excuse for harassment but sometimes those kids that can be the nastiest are going through some tough stuff. Also - considering the bystander angle, this book really shows how hard it is to stand up to people when they’re being mean - even if you’ve signed one of those pledges like Jinsong has as part of his role as student body president. His choices and regrets I think are a more honest portrayal of how those situations really tend to go down.
  3. The gorgeous cover. And I know it’s a seemingly small thing, but when a cover is done right - it draws you into the book and after you read it, the images reveal something deeper than you first noticed. This was one of those books that as soon as I saw the cover, I was entranced by it. So this cover is a deep shaded midnight blue with bright reddish poppies circling the title along with blue forget-me-nots and orange paper lanterns, moon, stars, telescope, rock - all the little mementos from Calli’s story. The more I look at it, the more I just love the sense of a bright garden in the moonlight.


Ellie Terry’s Forget Me Not is warm and good-hearted and offers a unique point of view for kids, and I love that this novel can shape their opinion about those with Tourette syndrome and hopefully widen their perspective beyond the unfortunate stereotypes. Terry herself has TS, and I’d love to read you just a bit from the Author’s Note in the back:



Alright - that’s it for our show this week. Don’t forget to show the students and robotics team at Pleasant Run Elementary some love.  If you have topic you think we should cover, I would really love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thanks again for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at  And, if you’re enjoying the show and finding some value in what you hear, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Mar 13, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two daughters and a 5th grade teacher in Central New York. My goal is to help you find fabulous books for your kids and help create a community where we all can support each other as we build those readers.


This is Episode #19 and today we are discussing ways to get away from reading logs and featuring three incredible science fiction/fantasy graphic novels.


Main Topic - Rethinking Reading Logs


Our main topic today is rethinking reading logs. This topic has been on my mind for a couple of years but I recently got fired up about it again when I came across a great article by Shaelynn Farnsworth called “6 Alternatives to Reading Logs”. (As always, I’ll link to that in the show notes.)


First, we’ll define what a reading log is, chat about why they are popular and sometimes valuable, we’ll discuss some potential problems with traditional reading logs, and then I’ll share eleven great alternatives that you can start using tomorrow.


What is a Reading Log?

Traditionally, reading logs are a worksheet where students record the titles of books they’ve read, including a daily tally of minutes or pages. Usually, teachers ask parents to sign them. For example, my 2nd grade daughter has a weekly sheet where she colors in a box for every ten minutes she’s read at home. She writes a reflection on the bottom and we’re supposed to sign it every week. Lately this kind of reading log has gotten some pushback - from both teachers and parents. You probably have an opinion about them.


Why are Reading Logs popular?

What’s the purpose and the benefit? Some of it may have to do with teachers just going on autopilot and using practices they are familiar with from colleagues or their own schooling. That’s why I used them for so long. I think also we teachers are looking for tangible evidence that kids are reading and reading outside of school. Also, reading logs are a way to communicate the importance of reading to students and parents and an attempt to get families involved in nightly reading routines. Because many strong readers do record at least some aspects of their reading, and we have this instinct to track habits we want to encourage in ourselves - your eating habits or steps on a Fitbit. Also - sometimes Reading Logs are used to try to motivate kids to read more and to award prizes. I think that can work for short periods of time - we recently had a two week reading challenge at my school where everyone - kids and staff - were challenged to read 100,000  minutes in two weeks. It was quick and fun but not for the whole year. Tracking reading can be a powerful tool when kids know the purpose and it’s for their own reflections and not a “gotcha”. If you want to learn more about some authentic ways to track reading, we covered that in Episode 8. I’ll drop a link to that in the show notes or you can just scroll back down in your app after you’re done with this episode.


What are some downsides to Reading Logs?

Reading Logs - especially the year long parent signed minute tracking type can be problematic. You and I know that lots of them are faked. Heck - I’ve even “fudged” my own children’s! Now - to be clear - I didn’t lie about how many minutes she read or faked a signature or added on more time. But sometimes it got to be Sunday night and we’d forgotten to jot down the minutes and so we’d estimate how much she read each night and use different colored pens so it’s not obvious we filled it all in the night before. If I am doing that, you know for darn sure that most families are doing something similar at least some of the time. And if there’s a penalty for not turning them in, it creates a situation where kids are punished for home environments that make it difficult for them to get daily signatures. And it can create contention at home. And I never want reading time to be a battle. Also - when the numbers of minutes or books read are publically displayed with a child’s name attached  - that can be embarrassing for kids. I have a FitBit and I am trying to get in more steps daily. I recognize that my health is important, but I’m not doing great with that yet. Do I want my stats posted all over the walls of the school for everyone to see? No - I do not. So please don’t do that to kids.


What can we do instead?

Because responding to reading, signaling the value of reading, and getting students, families, and communities involved in building reading habits are worthy goals. I’m coming at this from a place of wanting to do better myself and specifically to use more technology.  So here are 11 ideas you can start using tomorrow instead of reading logs:

  1. Reading Journals Have children keep a journal of their reading instead. Keep it simple and have them record a quick thought about their reading a few times a week and then share. That’s even more powerful if you keep a reading journal, too!
  2. Status Updates Do a daily “Status of the Class” where each kid (and yourself) does a quick share of the title, page number and what’s happening in the book they are currently reading. For my class, that’s our daily routine after lunch as kids are getting resettled.
  3. Quotes Have students share thought-provoking quotes from their novels or powerful facts from their nonfiction reading on a “Graffiti wall”. Basically you dedicate a white board or put up some black bulletin board paper and get some fun markers and have your class (and you!) mark down your thoughts.  Status of the Class and the Graffiti wall, I think were both originally mentioned in Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.  If you have not read that book yet, please please go do that before anything else.
  4. Books Talks Invite students to give brief book talks sharing and promoting books they’ve recently read. Often, kids are going to listen to their peers more than you. I like this idea because it helps them practice showing excitement about books, and I hope they’ll carry that enthusiasm out into the world and feel more comfortable talking up books with their family and friends because they’ve practiced doing that in the classroom.
  5. Blogging Get students blogging about their books and reading lives. There are so many possibilities here: book reviews, top ten lists - or top 3 lists (keep it simple!), drawings, you know those BuzzFeed quizzes that ask you which Harry Potter character are you most like? Students could make their own! There are so many cool things kids could do that if you just put it out into the world with a real audience, their engagement and incentive to actually do deep reading and quality work will go up. For me, this is my main goal the rest of this school year. And I am inspired by fellow teachers who have spoken about the powerful things that happen when outside people and authors comment on those blog posts and engage with their students.
  6. Seesaw - I have fallen in love with this app. It’s awesome. Essentially it’s a digital portfolio that students all ages can use. It’s free and kids can get to it on tablets, phones, computers, or Chromebooks. The feed can stay private to your class or be published on a blog. There are SO many ways kids can respond to reading with Seesaw - I’ll just name a few.  They could take a picture of themselves holding their current read and then add an audio clip of them reading aloud a favorite scene. They could snap a picture of a page and annotate it with drawing tools - maybe circling some powerful language or a favorite quote. They could record a video of themselves doing a booktalk. It’s an incredible tool.
  7. Social Media Have students share their thoughts about their personal reading on Social Media - whether that’s a class Twitter account, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat - and whatever else is the next new thing! You could have kids snap a pic of the cover of their book and write a 140 character review. Or share a powerful quote. If they have photo editing software or are using Seesaw, they could mark it up and annotate it. In Shaelynn Farnsworth’s article “6 Alternatives to Reading Logs”, she mentions the hashtag #BookSnaps to connect with other readers and for you adults listening - check it out to get some really game-changing ideas. I want to make sure to mention #BookSnap founder Tara Martin - she’s my exciting new Twitter Professional Development find this week so absolutely go follow her and get inspired.
  8. Interviews - Students can interview a classmate (or sibling or parent) about a favorite book or a current read. Come up with a couple questions, record the interview in a journal, or record a video, and share. This one takes more time and you probably won’t be to do it everyday but it’s a fun way - maybe every month or every quarter -  to change it up and have kids practice having conversations with each other about books and reading.
  9. Online Trackers - Instead of a traditional reading log, have students track their reading on a site like Biblionasium or if their older, Goodreads. These are sites where kids can make recommendations, write reviews, participate in challenges, and really take something boring and dry and turn it into a practice that can last beyond the school year.
  10. Book Trailers - This is a huge favorite. Have kids create a video promoting a book they love. If they can share it with a wider audience than just your classroom, even better.
  11. Pictures from Parents & Family - A couple weeks ago we had a week long Winter Break at my school. And the day before, I sent an email home asking families to send me a funny or interesting or cozy picture of their kid reading over winter break. I just did it on whim, and honestly - I wasn’t expecting too much. BUT - over break, my email box was flooded with pictures of kids reading in snow forts, reading to their little sister or their puppy - one boy was reading on the ferry with the Statue of Liberty in the background. I was crying over these pictures - I was so moved by how many families embraced this and were joyful about sharing those images with me. Now we are going to take those photos and make a video to promote reading in our school.


I hope that you were also inspired by these ideas and now have a seed of something exciting you want to try in your school or with your kids. Some of these ideas I’ve been doing, but I’m starting to see that any one of them will eventually lose its appeal and it’s good to have a variety so kids can see all different ways that reading can be important in their lives and maybe they’ll carry on one of these ideas on their own. And as always, we are learning together and helping each other out, so please share with us your ideas for alternatives to traditional reading logs.  You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook - our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to share your fabulous ideas.

Book Talk - Three Amazing Science Fiction / Fantasy Graphic Novels


In this section of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week is all about the graphic novel - specifically science fiction / fantasy graphic novels. And I can attest - these books are going to be winners in your classroom, library, or home. They are Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Hilo by Judd Winick, and the newly released One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale.




I am starting with Amulet. I am going to admit that I was slow to the Amulet series and didn’t even have a set in my classroom until this year. I know, I know - how I could have overlooked this series is, in hindsight, beyond me. But at some point last summer a friend chided me saying, “Really, you teach 5th grade and don’t have Amulet in your room?” She was right!  Alright - some background about the plot. The story revolves around a young girl named Emily.  After a horrific family tragedy in which her father dies, she and her younger brother Navin and their mom move to a mysterious house once owned by Emily’s eccentric - and missing - great-grandfather. While cleaning up and investigating the house, Emily and her brother find a powerful amulet, end up trapped in another dimension, and have to save their mother from a gruesome tentacled monster - all while fighting their own monsters along the way. With some help from some unexpected, umm….  creatures. Here are three things to love about Amulet:


  1. The color palette. This is just a gorgeous book to immerse yourself in! There are cool shades of blues and grays, touches of teals mixed with warm ambers and browns and pinks. Like the colors of a hazy sunset over a blue-gray ocean. Just vibrant, rich warm and cool colors playing off each other.
  2. The creatures and plants in the Amulet world are COOL. Giant pink parachuting mushrooms, a skulking silver eyed elvish villain, adorable rose colored slugs, a menagerie of weird robots, and an unexpected pink bunny(?) named Miskit. I think he’s a bunny - my students thought he was a robot maybe I’m wrong there.    
  3. How completely Amulet sucks kids in. When I was basically TOLD to get this series for my students, I had planned to read book one first. Uh - no. They immediately snagged it from me and from there every book in the series was passed from kid to kid to kid - this web of children all connecting around this one incredible story. At one point in my class, over half my students were reading an Amulet book. It’s one of those moments in your class when you see them forming a community of readers and it just makes your heart sing. So - finally, last week, most of my class was far enough into the series that book one, which is called The Stonekeeper by the way, was finally available. I took it home before anyone could snag it again. And my 9 year old swiped it from the coffee table. And my 7 year old snatched it after that. Honestly, it’s a miracle I’ve gotten to finish the thing!


Amulet is clearly a must-have graphic novel for any classroom library grades 3-8. It’s kind of like a mix between Journey to the Center of the Earth and Zita the Space Girl. And - a bit of advice. Don’t even bother just getting book one - get the whole series because you and your kids won’t be able to stop.




Our next science fiction graphic novel is Judd Winick’s Hilo. This is a fun, fast-paced, sometimes wonderfully silly series of three books (so far!) about a young kid named DJ who discovers a robot boy, called Hilo, who fell to earth. And DJ and his friend, Gina, have to help this kid figure out who he is and what he’s doing on Earth. And of course - have awesome adventures fighting off menacing robots. My kids and my students really enjoy these graphic novels. Here are three reasons why we all love Hilo:


  1. The diverse cast of human characters. Our main guy is DJ Lim - an Asian-American kid surrounded by high-achieving siblings and just discovering his own confidence. The story is told from his point of view. The scenes at DJ’s home with his family are some of my favorite parts. His best friend is an African American girl named Gina. It’s nice for middle grade kids to see a strong friendship between a boy and girl. And Gina has some similar struggles going on with her family. She also feels a bit in the shadow of her driven cheerleading twin sisters. DJ and Gina make a great duo.
  2. The “fish out of water” details in the story. Hilo is a robot from another dimension who looks and sorta acts like a boy, but he doesn’t really know his powers and certainly doesn’t know how to behave in the human world. Or at school. He is very, uh enthusiastic about eating weird combinations of food like rice and milk - and he’s enthusiastic and loud about everything really! He takes apart DJ’s dad’s car and paints his house polka dots.
  3. The humor and hilarious catch-phrases. Hilo shows up wearing silver underwear  - at one point his head flies off his body. There are fart and burp jokes galore and Hilo loves the words Outstanding and Hazzah! Really  you’ll be smiling through this whole book.


Judd Winick’s Hilo series is cheerful, positive, laugh-out-loud funny and great for kids who love books like Big Nate and Bone. It’s kind of like a cross between Calvin & Hobbes and Mork and Mindy.

One Trick Pony


Our final featured sci fi / fantasy graphic novel is one that I have been waiting and waiting to read. It is called One Trick Pony - by Nathan Hale. You might know Mr. Hale from his awesome Hazardous Tales historical graphic novel series. If you don’t - you’re gonna love those too! This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future where alien invaders are devouring every last trace of human-made metals and electronic devices. All that’s left of humanity are small bands of survivors trying to outwit and outrun the aliens.  The main character is a girl named Strata who finds  a beautiful and rare robot pony when she’s out scavenging with her brother and her friend. Strata insists on keeping the horse even though the presence of something technical makes them a target of the aliens who are soon chasing after them. Here are three things to love about One Trick Pony:

  1. Kleidi, the robot pony. She is gorgeously golden and pops out in Nathan Hale’s distinctive two tone yellow/gray coloring for this novel. She adds comic relief when she only listens to Strata and no one else. And plays a surprising role at the end of the book. I gotta say, the ending shocked me - in a good way. It took a twist I was not expecting at all.
  2. The aliens. These are seriously scary multi-limbed, disjointed, frightening giant blobbing aliens called Pipers that release bubbles to capture electronics they scavenge from the earth. And if you’re holding to that technology - you could lose your limb. They are like a cross between the creature from the Alien movie and an Hieronymous Bosch painting. It’s creepy good!
  3. The concept of the caravan. The main character, Strata, lives with this traveling band of “digital rescuers” who save data and technological devices before the aliens can get to it in the hopes that one day civilization can be rekindled. That idea is so, so powerful and timely when you think of efforts to suppress scientific data now. Our own digital rescuers are heroes. I know all you teachers and librarians and book lovers listening can relate when I say that the burning of the library at Alexandria stills shatters a part of my soul to think of all that knowledge lost. And I love how Nathan Hale captured that concept in this graphic novel.


In One Trick Pony, Nathan Hale has masterfully combined two seemingly disparate elements - a girl and her pony story and a fierce science fiction battle book. And it is wonderful! It releases tomorrow - Tuesday, March 14th so go treat your kid, your class, yourself with this fabulous book.



Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I really love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at While you are there, check out the recent post featuring 20 Books About Refugee & Immigrant Experiences. And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!


Feb 27, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade readers between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls, and enjoying a gloriously (and weirdly) warm Winter Break. It hit 70 degrees today. In Syracuse. In February. Hey - I’ll take it!

This is Episode #18 and today we have a interview with genre fiction book critic Paul Goat Allen, I’ll discuss three novels featuring spunky female leads, and then I’ll answer a question about the books featured on our last episode on March Book Madness.

Main Topic - Interview with Paul Goat Allen

Today on the show I am welcoming book critic extraordinaire, genre fiction writing professor, writer, and my husband - Paul Goat Allen!  

Here are some of the books we talking about in the interview segment of today’s episode:

  • Fenway & Hattie by Victoria Coe
  • Wings of Fire Series by Tui Sutherland
  • Harry Potter Series by JK Rowlings
  • Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • Percy Jackson Series  by Laurel Snyder
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
  • Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • A Canticle for Leibowtiz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein
  • The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
  • The Earthsea Trilogy  by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkein

The elements on the  “The Genre Fiction Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs”

  • Readability (narrative clarity, fluidity,a coherent storyline, brisk pacing)  
  • Immersion (focus on world building, overall description)
  • Characters Depth ( three dimensional , interesting, and emotionally connective characters)
  • Plot Intricacy (Impressively constructed storyline replete with plot twists)
  • Originality & Innovation (innovative narrative element - unconventional protagonist, new twist on an old mythos, etc.)  
  • The Message (profound, spiritual, existential enlightenment)

Book Talk - Three Novels Featuring Spunky Girls

In this part of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I’ll be talking about three fantastic contemporary debut middle grade novels featuring female protagonists who are full of spirit and determination. Even if, for a couple of them, it takes some time to embrace and harness that inner courage. The books this week are Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat, and A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

This week, I’ll be going in order of release date so I’ll start with the September 2016 debut Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat. Doesn’t that subtitle perfectly capture that middle school feeling where everything seems awful but the adults in your life just blow it off as no big deal?  That is precisely the problem the main character, Abbie Wu, faces as she grapples with starting middle school. To Abbie, middle school is just another awful “middle” thing - like the middle seat in the car, the Middle Ages, and… being the middle child. She is stuck between her soccer star perfect older brother and her cute can’t do anything wrong younger sister. I knew this book was a winner when my daughter started reading it over my shoulder. Here are three things to love about Frazzled:


  1. How perfectly this book captures the frustrations of that first middle school year. Like the awful lunches, that awkward feeling of not knowing the kids in your class, and not knowing which electives to pick. Abbie’s two best friends are Logan, genius gamer kid who joins the Coding Club. And Maxine, confident Teen Vogue reader who, of course, chooses drama as her elective. But Abbie doesn’t have a clear “thing” that’s she good at like her friends and so she gets stuck in the doldrums of Study Hall where eventually she becomes the center of a Lunch Revolution.   
  2. Frazzled is fun to read! Now, I love a heavy, deep books, but with the world as complicated as it is right now, it is a joy to jump into such a book that makes me laugh out loud. There are playful and clever illustrations on every page, and I love Booki Vivat’s hand lettered style to the drawings with different textures and patterns to the words. And the self-deprecating honesty of Abbie’s character and how she describes the personalities of her family and teachers is just perfect. This is the type of humor that adults and teachers will like, too. Well - at least I did, anyway! I guess I can’t speak for anyone else! For example, here’s Abbie describing her new Vice-Principal:  “A woman in a frumpy suit walked up to the podium and introduced herself. Mrs. Kline looked nice, but she also looked really tired, kind of like the “before” version of ladies on those makeover shows or like one those grown-ups who always complains about needing coffee.”   
  3. How Frazzled handles anxiety with a light touch. I read a statistic recently that anxiety is the number one mental health issue facing kids today. From what I observe in my own classroom - it is A BIG problem. And I appreciate that a kids’ book tackles it from a place of humor. For example, the giant “Welcome Packet” that arrives from Poindexter Middle School that has Abbie’s mom excited about school shopping has Abbie in near panic mode from information overload. Abbie has nightmares before school starts and attempts to stay home from school. Her Aunt tries to get her to meditate.  At one point, Abbie says, “Like whenever we talk about school, Mom always tells me the same things over and over again - “It’ll be great!”, “Nothing to worry about!”, “Just be yourself!” - as if saying it will somehow make it more true.”   For a worrier like Abbie, when you are surrounded by ever cheerful people telling you that “Everything will work out for the best!” it can feel like you are not even being heard.


Frazzled is a fantastic book for kids dealing with everyday middle school frustrations and anxieties. AND - I hear there is a second book coming out September 26th, 2017 so keep that on your radar!


Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Our next debut middle grade book featuring a determined female protagonist was released in October of 2016 - Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley. This book, and this girl, just worked their way into my heart last fall.  Gertie is one of those kids that you just want to yank from the pages and take home with you. She lives in an Alabama town with her father and her Great Aunt Rae. Her mother, basically abandoned her when she was a baby, but she still lives in the same town. However, Gertie is rocked to find out that her mother is getting married and moving away. So - she has this mission to become the greatest 5th grader ever. To show up at her mother’s door and just say, “Ha! I don’t need you anyway!” Well, obviously, things don’t go as planned. Especially when an overachieving new girl shows up - literally in Gertie’s seat - to thwart her plans.

Here are three reasons why I adored Gertie’s Leap to Greatness:


  1. Her Great Aunt Rae. This lady is gold. She is Gertie’s main caretaker since her dad is on an oil rig for weeks at a time. She lets her have Twinkies for breakfast and every day as Gertie leaves for school, she calls out “Give ‘em hell, baby!” And there’s a moment toward the end when she has Gertie’s back in such a fierce way. Every kid should have Aunt Rae!
  2. How well this book understands how kids can turn on each other - or as Gertie says, they’re “fickle”! I teach 5th grade and can attest - those social dynamics can be complicated. One day things are good and then the social landscape shifts and you are on the outs with your former friends. Even Gertie has this moment when she says an unforgivably awful thing to Audrey - the 5 year old her Aunt Rae baby-sits. And she has to come to terms with that.
  3. The Swiss Chocolate Meltdown. Oh. My. God!!  I know it was wrong, but I just wanted to cheer! I don’t want to say too much but it reminded me of the chocolate cake scene in Matilda. Oh, it’s good! Read the book just for that scene!


Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a fun and touching story that’s like a beautiful blend of Ramona and Raymie Nightingale.  These three girls would absolutely be friends - or drive each other crazy. Either way, there would be an adventure. I don’t think this one is scheduled to have a sequel, but I for one would love to jump back into Gertie’s world again.


A Rambler Steals Home

The final book this week is A Rambler Steals Home - Carter Higgins’ middle grade debut. Even though I read it during one of the worst snowstorms we’ve had up here in New York, it immediately swept me away to hot Virginia summers filled with baseball and frog-catching.  The story centers around the traveling Clark family - the dad, Garland, the young brother named Triple, and our main character - 11 year old Derby. Their family drives around in a Rambler car, selling Christmas trees in the winter and selling hot chocolate and gingersnaps and apple cider and cinnamon sugar donuts out of an old concession stand trailer. But - in the summers, they make their home in Ridge Creek, Virginia where they set up a concession stand in the parking lot of a minor league baseball team. But this summer, Derby is confronted with some difficult changes and some secrets to uncover. Here are three things to love about A Rambler Steals Home:

  1. The sweet, homey pace of the story. Now - don’t get me wrong - I do not mean that the storytelling is slow but rather we savor the details of eating an oatmeal cookie on a front porch. We linger over sweet potato fries and a swipe of Christmas Nutmeg lipstick. This is the perfect book to read stretched out in a backyard hammock.
  2. The names are awesome! Carter Higgins has that same magical knack for naming characters as Kate DiCamillo. So, I already mentioned Garland, Triple, and Derby. Derby’s middle name, by the way, is Christmas. But we also have Goose and Scooter and Ferdie and the Skipper and Betsy and Lollie. And of course, a banjo named Twang. How perfect is that?  And not only do these characters have fabulous names, but you enjoy spending time with them. They are the kind of people you just want to surround yourself with in your own life.
  3. The gorgeous, poetic, twangy flavor of the language. Like this line describing the baseball team: “The Rockskippers scattered the field in their blue-and-whites while they stretched and spat and scratched.”

This book is heart-warming and charming and one you and your kids won’t want to miss. It is due to be released Tuesday, February 28th - the day after this episode is out so tomorrow - head over to your favorite bookstore and grab yourself a copy.

So if your middle grade girls - and guys! - are looking for a novel with a spunky female lead, they will really like Gertie’s Leap to Greatness , Frazzled, and A Rambler Steals Home.

Q & A

Our last segment of the show is Question & Answer time.



After our last episode about March Book Madness was released, I posted a picture on Twitter featuring last year’s tournament bracket from my class to give an example of what a starting bracket could look like. And one of our followers, Eric Carpenter, replied “hope you talk about why only one of these 16 books in this bracket is by a POC. #OwnVoices “



So - absolutely.  And just so you all can picture what Eric was referring to, I’ll add a photo of that bracket to the shownotes and the website, but here are the list of the 16 books included on that bracket: The One and Only Ivan, The Honest Truth, I Funny, Big Nate, Hatchet, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, Home of the Brave, Auggie & Me, The Crossover, The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Flying Solo, El Deafo, Wonder, and Sunny Side Up.

So - he’s right. The Crossover is the only book on that list from a person of color. So - why is that? I’ll start by describing how those books were chosen and then analyzing why there might be a lack of diversity, and then discuss some ways to change that.  


First - how were the 16 books selected?

Those 16 titles were nominated and voted on entirely by my students last year. I give them total control over that process, simply asking them to nominate books they’ve read and liked. Their favorites. I think kids having ownership of that is important. If I picked the books, I don’t think they’d be as excited about participating. However, I think there is a way to honor students’ choices while still including a more diverse range of authors and characters that not only reflects the community but our society. More on that a little bit.


Second - why was there a lack of diversity in those choices?

Well, I have a few thoughts on that. One might be that the books my students included may reflect the general lack of diversity among the most “popular” middle grade titles. A second thought is that some of the books, like Hatchet and Wonder and Flying Solo and Home of the Brave may have been nominated because my students read them in class as part of the curriculum and book list that my school follows. And only one of them features a non-white main character (Home of the Brave) but that book, while excellent, is still not written by a person of color. Essentially, those books are not featuring enough diversity and not enough stories told by diverse authors. Another piece to that, and probably the largest one - my students are simply not surrounded with enough diverse books written by Native Americans, written by black authors, written by men and women from ethnic, cultural, and religious minority groups. Among many, many other diverse groups. And within my classroom, that is entirely on me. But taking that responsibility means that I have the power to change it.


Alright - if our students and kids aren’t listing diverse books as their favorites, how can that be changed?

A couple very quick ideas knowing that this is just the beginning of a much longer conversation:

  • As you stock your classroom library, as you make purchases for the kids in your life, pick more diverse books written by authors writing from their own experience. Over the last few years, as I have committed to having a vibrant classroom library, my focus needs to shift from just getting any books to being more aware of who is represented in that library. And making better choices. One good place to start is and by following the Twitter hashtag #OwnVoices  Scholastic also has a We Need Diverse Books catalog that’s a good resource, too.
  • Don’t just stick those books in your library - read them aloud, book talk them, and build that excitement. If you are excited about a book, the kids will often latch onto it, too.
  • Reexamine those books that are in your curriculum. Like a lot of other districts, my school is thankfully moving away from the one-book-fits-all approach which leaves more space for student choice and for teachers to select more diverse books. Be an advocate for that in your schools. And parents - please speak up, too!
  • Finally - bring this conversation to your students and your children. I plan on sharing Eric’s tweet with my class and asking them to think about it. And in considering March Book Madness, perhaps instead of simply asking students to nominate favorite books, I could have framed the tournament a little differently and asked them to nominate favorite books that represent the diversity of our community and society. So you are still having the books be their choice, but guiding them to be more aware. Also, I read this fabulous blog post last year on Lee & Low Books where a teacher had her students pull every book from her classroom library off the shelves and work in groups to analyze the diversity in the books they had available. It was a powerful exercise - both for that teacher and her students. So I’ll link to that in the show notes so you can check it out yourself.


Now, I acknowledge that we are really just scratching the surface of this topic and we will be chatting a lot more about it on future episodes. And I’d like to get your input and ideas about that. What do you see as the challenges to getting your students to read more diversely? And what concrete things can we do as teachers and librarians and parents to help kids develop deeper connections to more diverse books?




Okay - that wraps our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we need to cover, I want to hear from you. Please email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And, if you are liking the show, if you are finding some value in them, I’d love it if you left a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!



Feb 13, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom, a college basketball fan, and a lover of all things science. Coming from my dad’s side, I grew up on a steady diet of Syracuse games and highlighted brackets scattered all over the house every spring. And on my mom’s side, I grew up with a steady diet of David Attenborough documentaries and trips to just about every planetarium and nature center in the state.


This is Episode #17 and today I’m chatting with you about March Book Madness and featuring twelve fabulous books about science and scientists.


Main Topic - March Book Madness


It is almost that magical time of year when a little March basketball mayhem can be harnessed into a fun competition that celebrates children’s literature. Of all the book related activities that I tried with my students last year, participating in March Book Madness was by far the most engaging thing we did. My 5th graders loved it, the students across the hall were talking about it, the teachers walking by our class were making predictions - it was fantastic. It got kids reading and promoting books to each other. And mostly - it was just fun.

So today, I’ll discuss three things: what is it, how can I participate, and where can I get resources and more info? A quick heads up before I begin - as always, I have your back and every resource and website I mention will be linked in the show notes and on


What is March Book Madness?

March Book Madness is a bracket-type tournament modeled after the NCAA tournament where you have books going head-to-head to see which one will advance to the next round. Typically, you start with 16 books and then week by week narrow them down to the final match-up. Usually the brackets are created with a big display in a classroom, hallway, or library. I think a public place is best so you really create that community buzz about the books.


For each round, you have students vote on each match up to determine which book makes it to the next round. Last year, I had a meeting with my class to determine which books to start with. They each had their reading journals in their lap and we hashed out the top 16 books that most of the class had read. Our picks last year were: The One and Only Ivan, The Honest Truth, I Funny, Big Nate, Hatchet, Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, Home of the Brave, Auggie & Me, The Crossover, The Hunger Games, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Smile, Flying Solo, El Deafo, Wonder, and Sunny Side Up. Generally if a lot of books in a series were recommended, we just put in the first book to represent all of them.


Before we got going, I had every student fill out a bracket to predict who would win and the kid with the most points for each round would get a free book from our next Scholastic order. Once we got going, we voted via a Google form and my rules were that in order to vote on a match-up, you had to have read BOTH books. So - that really got students reading books that they might not have picked up themselves so they could participate and vote for their favorites, too.  But - you can handle that however you think is best. Last year in our class, The Crossover narrowly beat out The Honest Truth. And I can’t wait to see what they pick this year.


How Can I Participate?

It’s easy, hardly any supplies are necessary so it’s an activity with lots of bang for your buck. So - option 1 - poll your class and decide on your 16 starting books that way. Or, option 2 - participate in the 2017 March Book Madness already set up online by the amazing Tony Keefer and Scott Jones. If you head over to these two 5th grade teachers from Central Ohio have set up this awesome website with three different tournaments you can join - Picture Book, Middle Grade Novel, or YA.  I think my class will be doing their Picture Book  tournament this year as well doing our own middle grade one. They conduct voting through Google forms also and you can have students vote individually or submit your choices as a class. There’s really no wrong way to do it, as long as you and your kids are having fun and talking up books. Also on their site, they have printable forms for each bracket showing the covers of the books AND for the Middle Grade books - there are book trailers for each one. That’s a great resource any time of year!  If you decide to join in with them, the voting there starts on March 1st, 2017. So if you are interested, head over to that site and check it out. Their sweet sixteen books this year are: Roller Girl vs. Counting by 7s, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library vs. Sisters, Brown Girl Dreaming vs. The Honest Truth, Echo vs. A Night Divided, The War That Saved My Life vs. Booked, Fish in a Tree vs. Pax, The Fourteenth Goldfish vs. El Deafo, and Absolutely Almost vs. Crenshaw. Whoa - some tough match-ups this year.



Okay - once you decide which books you are starting with, the next step is to gather a few resources and make a display. I’m going to offer you some advice - keep it simple and use the free resources already out there to save yourself some time. Last year I found a free download from Catherine Reed of The Brown Bag Teacher that looked great. (I’ll link to that resource in the shownotes.) And then I made some quick orange paper basketballs with white letters on them saying Tournament of Books and printed off the covers of our 16 starting titles, So then I was ready to set up our brackets in the hallway. I ended up using black electrical tape for the lines connecting our brackets and that worked out great.  I really do recommend you put your bracket in a public spot and not just in your classroom. I promise you - kids, teachers, parents - everyone will be talking about it. And if you are active on Twitter, join in by taking photos of your brackets and tweeting using the hashtag #2017MBM.


If you have done a book bracket before or are thinking of participating this year, I would love to see what you’ve got going on. You can tag me on Twitter or Instagram - our handle is @books_between and if you have an engaging activity that gets kids reading and talking about books, I would really love to chat with you about it so please email me

Book Talk - Fabulous Science Books


It’s time for our book talk segment! In this section of the show, I share with you several books centered on a theme. This week, I am recording on Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12th, celebrated across the world as Darwin Day. It is a day to to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin. So today I am sharing with you 12 science themed books.

You know, science sometimes has this bad reputation somehow of being cold and distant and just about hard facts. But to me, science has always been a story. It’s personal and ever so important.


Science is about changing your ideas in the face of facts. It’s my grandmother helping my 16 year old self admit that, yeah… it wasn’t actually a raven I saw in our backyard and just a big crow.


Science is exploring and observing every bit of the world around us. It’s my grandfather taking my 7 year-old self on a nature walk and showing me four decades worth of wildflowers he’d picked and tucked between the pages of his Peterson field guide.


Science is tackling the most challenging problems our society faces. It’s my Uncle Tim, taking my 12 year-old self on a tour of of his lab at the Harvard Brain Bank, gently placing a brain in my hands, and explaining how his team is trying to understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease.


Science is about instilling awe and wonder and always encouraging that “Why?” question. It’s my mom driving my 9 year-old self out to some cold, dark field to see Haley’s comet or dragging my cranky 13 year-old self out to Howe’s Caverns and Niagara Falls to see for my own eyes what the power of time and erosion could do.


And yeah - I didn’t appreciate all that nearly enough at the time, but… like that slow drip that eventually ends up as a stalagmite, all those experiences add up to a life filled with wonder and questioning and then seeking out books that would feed that curiosity.


So, science is deeply, deeply important to me. And every year, I’m disappointed in myself that I don’t spend as much time as I really want in our class studying and doing science. Those of you that teach all subjects in an elementary class like I do, can maybe understand how that sometimes frantic focus on Reading, and Writing, and Math can often edge out science and social studies, even why you try to blend them together. So, if there is ever a way we can bring more science into our classrooms, our libraries, our homes, let’s do it. Because our kids, our society, need those stories right now.


Okay - I’m getting too emotional. On to the books! This week I was helped by our incredible Twitter community who weighed in on my request for favorite science books. We got a lot of great suggestions today so I am featuring 12 terrific books with a science theme.


So, let’s start with some fiction, and I’ll save the nonfiction until the end.



A quick note - I have numbered them to make it easier to keep track of, but that doesn’t mean they are ranked. Every single one is a winner.


  1. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

This is a murder mystery that takes place on the moon. It’s funny and fresh and a clever speculation about the future of NASA and life in space. If you know a kid who loves astronauts and maybe loved the movie The Martian, this would be a great book for them. And the second one in the series, Spaced Out, was just released last year.


  1. Hoot by Carl Hiassen

I’ve always felt that between about 9 and 12 is when kids start to get more socially conscious. I remember for me that’s when I started harassing my parents about recycling although my dad would tell you that I still left every single light in the house on. And Carl Hiasson’s books are the perfect kindling for that fire. If you know a child who is into environmental science and climate change and standing up to the forces trying to put money ahead of our future, then Hoot is the perfect book. And then they can check out Hiasson’s other eco-thrillers Chomp and Flush and Scat.


  1. The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

The girl in this story, Madeline, is one of those kids that you can just see winning a Nobel and being the next Marie Curie. She is immersed in science, from her parents, her beloved grandfather who recently passed away, and even is the subject of her own self-study of a rare genetic disease that she and her sister are both grappling with. But, this is a middle school story so friendships are a focus. And when Madeline takes that analytical mindset and starts writing down her observations and developing Standard Operating Procedures for her life and friends, you can only imagine where things start to go. It’s a great read.


  1.  When I put out a call for favorite science themed books, dozens of people recommended The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. This is a first person story told by Suzy - a girl whose world is shaken by the drowning of her friend. And the idea that “sometimes things just happen” is simply not acceptable to her so she sets off to attempt to figure out what really happened. She has this theory that her friend was stung by a rare jellyfish and so interwoven through the story are these fascinating facts about the ocean and jellyfish. Fabulous, fabulous book.


  1. Keeping with our aquatic theme, another favorite science themed novel is The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm. This book is full of wit and wonder and a celebration of science. It’s about Ellie and her young grandfather, Melvin, who draws her into his research. Inspired, she and the reader learn about Oppenheimer, Curie, Salk, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur and how science is like a love story involving people and possibility.


  1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Oh how I loved this book! It’s set in rural Texas in 1899 and is the story of an 11 year old girl growing up in a well-to-do family with six brothers. As the only girl, she has a lot of expectations set on her by her mother. And her time and even her body are beginning to be constrained by things like corsets, and cooking, and needlepoint. But Calpurnia is drawn to scientific expeditions with her cranky grandfather who secretly slips her a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species. A friend of mine who helps coordinate our local Darwin Day events listened to the audio of this book with her two sons and they absolutely loved it and the sequel. Plus - if you have younger kids, Jacqueline Kelly now has the Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series which are illustrated chapter books. So there’s lots to love here.


Okay - on to our six science themed nonfiction titles!



  1. Science Comics Series published by First Second.

I have fallen head over heels for this series. There’s one on volcanoes, bats, dinosaurs, coral reefs, plague - awesome stuff! Each volume is 128 pages chock full of science, fabulous illustrations, and an exciting adventure story to keep your kids turning those pages.


  1. Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating

This book was probably mentioned the most by folks on Twitter. It is playful and gross and is one of those books that appeals to kids from kindergarten to middle school. It reminds me a tad of the book When Lunch Fights Back - with how it really pulls kids into the science with that “eww” factor. Look for Jess Keating’s new book, Shark Lady, when that comes out this June 2017. Also - if you haven’t done it yet - check out her Animals Are Awesome videos on YouTube. They’re two minute snippets of science. They are perfect to binge watch with your kids or get your students excited about some cool animals. My favorite is the Sparkly Bat Poop episode.


  1. A picture book called Star Stuff: Carl Sagan & Mystery of the Cosmos

Oh do I have a soft spot for all things Carl Sagan and Cosmos. This is a sweet and inspiring narrative biography formatted a bit like a graphic novel with panels and thought bubbles. It’s a great science book to kindle the spark of curiosity in your child and introduce them to an amazing scientist.


  1. A pair of books by Theodore Gray called Elements and Molecules

I love these books because kids get out of them whatever they’re ready for. At first, maybe it’s just the pictures. Then they start to read the descriptions and then notice the molecule diagrams on a reread. Plus - they are simply gorgeous to look at! Every page has this velvety black background with bright pictures of the elements and molecules. In the blurb on the back, Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters says that you feel like you’re holding a jewelry catalog. A great science book for a coffee table or tucked in the back seat of your car.


#5 What is Evolution? By Louise Spilsbury and Illustrated by Mike Gordon.

I first bumped into this book at our Scholastic Book fair last spring and immediately had to snag it for my students. Having a basic understanding of the concepts of evolution is so crucial to even start to understand the world around us. A book like this - presenting evolution in a fun, colorful, and quick way at 64 pages is a must for every classroom and library. This book is full of details about Darwin, and natural selection, and genetic mutations, but it’s also got funny pictures and lots of text features that keep it readable.


#6 Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

I have been hearing everyone rave about this book, but I didn’t appreciate its scope and beauty until my sister-in-law, Jackie, brought it to our family book club and I actually held it in my hands. The design and layout are outstanding. And I know I’m not going to do it justice, but I just want to describe it a little bit for you. So each of the 50 women are featured on a two page spread. Throughout the book, the background is consistently a deep coal color with a different featured color for each scientist - yellows and teals and oranges and pinks - it’s stunning. On the left is a large gorgeous drawing of each person at work with the various tools of their profession and one of her memorable quotes written across the bottom. On the right side is a one page description of her life and accomplishments with smaller sketches in the margins illustrating those moments. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is and not just the sketches but the stories of those groundbreaking women who fought against those forces trying to hold them back and nevertheless persisted. Absolutely pick it up!




Alright - that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.


Thank you so much for taking the time to join me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And while you are there, check out Matthew’s interview with Raina Telgemeier - it’s one you won’t want to miss.

Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Jan 30, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two young daughters, a 5th grade teacher, and… whew - coming off a tiring couple of weeks. How are you all holding up? I feel like I’ve been through the wringer, honestly. But - even though my entire family (and half my students) are battling colds and respiratory things and the news has been…. um..concerning, there have been some much needed bright spots. I took my first trip ever to DC last Saturday, and I watched the Youth Media Awards live webcast with my students last Monday morning.


This is Episode #16 and Today we are discussing the Youth Media Awards and the featuring the 4 books that won Newbery Awards.


Main Topic - 2017 Youth Media Awards


Last Monday morning at 8am, I sat with my 18 pajama clad 5th graders and we had donuts and watched the Youth Media Awards live through the American Library Association website.  They had their favorites that they were rooting for - The Wild Robot and Pax among them.  But honestly, the day wasn’t really about the ultimate winners of those awards.  To me, it was about honoring ALL children’s literature and showing my students that books for THEM, for an audience of children and teens are worthy of stopping everything and making a big deal of it.  And, they learned about a lot of great books while they watched. They knew about the Caldecott and the Newbery, but now they know about the Alex Award, the Schneider Award, the Coretta Scott King Award and so many others that recognize the diversity in children’s literature.  There were gasps when March got its fourth award and suddenly, every kid in that room wanted to know  - wow, what is THAT book about? And when they learned about the Stonewall Award and that one of their all-time favorite authors, Rick Riordan, had won it for Magnus Chase - there were some opened minds that morning.

Some of our favorites didn’t win - but that wasn’t really the point.  The point is having a favorite that you are passionate about and discovering new books and authors that are going to stay with you forever.

Book Talk - 2017 Newbery Award Books

For our book talk segment this week, I’m going rebroadcast the two segments about the Newbery books that I have already featured on the show and then talk about the two others that earned recognition this past week.


The novel that won the Newbery Award this year was Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. And -  yeah - I think I may screamed a tad when it was announced. Here’s what I had to say about this book back on episode 15.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon


Our second featured book today is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is also an adventure survival story but a fairy tale fantasy with powerful witches, a poetic swamp monster, and a seemingly small dragon. The start of this story takes place in a gloomy village along a bog called The Protectorate run by a group of unscrupulous men called The Council of Elders. Each year, on the Day of Sacrifice, these elders take the youngest baby in the village and leave it in the woods. They do this, they claim, to appease an evil witch. Well, it turns out that there is actually a witch, a kind witch named Xan, who rescues these poor babies and feeds them on starlight while she journeys across the dangerous volcanic mountain to find a new home for them. Except one year, she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight and enmagicks the child who grows to be uncontrollably powerful. The rest of the story is about Xan’s attempts to help her adoptive granddaughter harness that power, and what happens to the villagers left behind in The Protectorate - including a young Elder-in-Training named Antain who starts to have doubts, and the girl’s mother who ends up going mad and being locked in a tower with secrets of its own. It is beautiful and powerful. And here are three more things I loved about Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon:


  1. The magic. This is not your typical sparkly, wand summoned magic. It’s earthy and primal and often exists as something almost separate from the characters. Flowers spring from footsteps. And there is a flock of paper birds that swarm and cut and lead and protect in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I loved how unique the magic in this book was.
  2. The love you feel for the characters. Somehow Barnhill has written them in a way where you feel this deep sense of warmth and protectiveness and empathy for them. Xan, the witch, is getting older and she desperately wants to impart all of her knowledge that she can to her granddaughter, who she’s named Luna. But that same spell that protects her makes it so that she can’t get through to her. And you keep hoping that Luna will discover who she is and maybe be reunited with the mother she was so brutally ripped away from. And all the people in the village - especially Antain and his wife - who are under the thumb of the Council of Elders. I just felt so much love for this characters.
  3. What this story has to say about truth and power. In this book, there are some who feed off of other people’s misery. Those who raise themselves by putting others below them, by controlling what stories get told, and by spinning lies. But - there comes a time when the people start to realize how much power they actually have when they band together to use it. Loved it.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon  is lush and quirky and whimsical and funny and full of adventure. And I can’t wait to read everything else Kelly Barnhill has ever written because this was one powerhouse of a book.


Freedom Over Me


      The first Newbery honor book announced was  Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan. Well, I was totally wrong when I predicted that a picture book would not be included this time. And I’ll admit that this gorgeous and powerful picture book slipped by me this year. When I got this book, one of the first things I noticed was the cover featuring the images of eleven enslaved black men, women and children whose faces appear in the links of circled chain. Wow. And then flipping open the book and skimming, my heart stopped when I noticed the prices under each face. $300, Stephen age 32. Or $400, Charlotte, age 30 and her child, Dora, age 8. Whew - I hadn’t even read the text yet and this book had struck me. Before I talk about the text, the illustrations are gorgeous bright yellows and purples and greens in a Van Gogh style where you can see the swirls and textures on the each page. And in the background of several of the pages are images of legal documents showing the sale of these people as property.   

       Okay - the text. Freedom Over Me is a book of poems - each one from the point of view of an enslaved man, woman, or child who live on the same plantation and are about to be sold. They share remembrances of their homes and childhood in Africa, their work on the plantation, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

      What’s fascinating is that the seeds of this book came from real slave-related documents that the author had acquired and his wish to honor the humanity of these people lost to history. It’s beautiful, and moving, and just stays with you a long time.


Also receiving a Newbery Honor this year was the incredible The Inquisitor’s Tale. Here’s what I had to say about this book back in Episode #10.


The Inquisitor’s Tale


Our final book featuring an abundance of surprising twists is The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. I have been texting, tweeting, and talking about this book so much in the past month that when I type the letter I into my phone, it automatically suggests “Inquisitor” as the first option. This novel is a medieval adventure story about three magical children (and a dog) who are pursued by various agents of the Inquisition. The first is a young girl named Jeanne (sort of like a young Joan of Arc) who has fits and sees visions. Then we meet the talkative and tall monk-in-training, William - an eleven year old whose unusual dark skin is likely the result of a relationship between his crusading father and a North African woman. Since this is 1242 France, his appearance and supernatural strength immediately have people seeing him as dangerously different. And finally, there’s little Jacob - a wise Jewish boy reeling from the recent death of his parents and just starting to realize his powers to heal others.  Eventually all three are both hailed and condemned as saints and have to outwit and outrun their pursuers. The story is so gorgeously detailed and interconnected that any description I give you of this novel is NOT going to do it justice. You just have to get it and read it yourself.  The fact is there are so so many big and little things I loved about this book, but I have committed to limiting myself to three.

  1. I have to start with the illustrations. Just like many real medieval texts had illuminations in the margins, The Inquisitor’s Tale includes dozens and dozens of intricate sketches by Hatem Aly. There is so much to explore there but I think what is most fascinating is the note at the beginning of the novel explaining that the drawings might actually contradict or question the text.
  2. That profound mix of humor, philosophy, and yes - savagery. There are gross jokes galore in this book. And I love how that is mixed in with deep philosophical and religious discussions between the children. At one point, Jacob asks that eternal question: Why would a good God let bad things happen?  This is a book about saints and at some point it dawns on the children that most saints are martyred. In high school, I worked evenings in the rectory (the office) at St. Cecelia’s church and during down times, I would read this dusty old copy of Lives of the Saints. And the stories in there were appallingly gruesome - and this novel doesn’t really shy away from the awfulness of that. But, it does give some hope that people with intensely different beliefs might still find a way to work together and be friends.
  3. The character twists! I don’t want to say too much and ruin it, so I’m really holding a lot back here, but all throughout this book, you meet the most vile, nastiest characters and then suddenly… it flips and one of the narrators helps you see their point of view. And even if they’ve still DONE terrible things, you have more empathy for them. Then you realize that one of the key characters that have been telling you this story - You. Can’t. Trust.  Ahhhh!  I LOVED it - this book had me gleefully yelling at the pages.


The Inquisitor’s Tale would make a fantastic read aloud, and I’ve heard the audio version is phenomenal. I think this novel is probably best suited for upper middle grade readers about ages 10-14 but I am sure any teen or adult who likes an historical adventure with some awesome fart jokes thrown in is going to really love it!


Wolf Hollow


     And finally,  the third Newbery honor book is one that you will not soon forget -  Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  I think just about every librarian I knew had this book in their hands at some point over the past year, and I finally started it last week and immediately knew I should have read it months ago. For some background, it’s an historical fiction set in 1943 rural Pennsylvania. And it’s about a 12 year old girl named Annabelle whose steady life gets derailed when this vicious, manipulative girl, Betty, arrives in town. She’s horrendous. You hate to speak ill of a child - even a fictional one, but - errr - she is clearly a sociopath or emotionally disturbed. The chain of lying that starts when this girl comes to town is tragic and yet - you could see it coming. I’ve got to say that I adored this book, but there were some times in the beginning that I had to put it down for bit when it got too intense. I can handle almost anything, but when kids are in danger - especially children the same age as my own - I have a bit of a tough time. There are these heart-rending moments when Annabelle is faced with moral dilemmas that would have adults cowering. And - it’s small but there’s this scene where Annabelle is in a clearing in the woods near her home and looking at this large stone with clear quartz veins running through it. And it suddenly hits her that this rock has been there long before her and everyone she knows and will be in the same place long after everyone is gone. And her life is nothing more than a flicker in time.  It’s that moment of cosmic realization that we all eventually go through. I’ll just read a small passage from that page:

“And I decided that there might be things I would never understand, no matter how hard I tried. Though try I would.

And that there would be people who would never hear my one small voice, no matter what I had to say.

But then a better thought occured, and this was the one I carried away with me that day: If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could.”


That’s the line that I’m carrying forward with me today, this week, and for a long, long time.


Thank you so very much for taking the time to join me this week. You can get find a transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And lots of other fantastic resources to lighten your heart and connect the children in your life to books they’ll love.


Thanks again and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Jan 16, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they will love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a mom of two and a 5th grade teacher.  My students worked so hard this week that we took a break Friday afternoon and watched the first episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events together on Netflix and then when I got home my daughters wanted to watch it. The performances were great and of course, Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious as Count Olaf. If you liked the Lemony Snicket books, I think you’ll be pleased and a whole new group of kids are now going to be hooked into the series, which is always fantastic.


This is Episode #15 and Today we are discussing how the Newbery Awards work, two fantastic adventures, and I’ll answer a question about this year’s top contenders for the Newbery Award.


Main Topic - How the Newbery Awards Work


There are lots and lots and lots of Children’s Book awards but without question, the most prestigious award that recognizes quality children’s literature is the Newbery. Right now, we are almost exactly one week away from finding out which books from 2016 will earn medals this year.  So today we are diving into the who, what, where, when, and how of the Newbery Awards. And I’ll also chat about some of the controversies and include some great resources where you can find out more.


What is the Newbery?

The Newbery is an annual award given by the Association for Library Service to Children - abbreviated ALSC - so if you see those four letters, that’s what they mean. The ALSC is a part of the American Library Association - the ALA. A little interesting side note - the Association for Library Service to Children has changed it’s name a couple times and so the Newbery medal itself still says “Children's Librarians' Section.” which doesn’t actually exist anymore.  The award is almost a hundred years old - it was established in 1922 and named after John Newbery, an 18th century British publisher and bookseller who was well known as one of the first publishers of children’s books.  And - the Newbery was the first children’s book award in the world.


Alright - the criteria. Let me read exactly what the ALA website says: “ The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.”


So the award goes to a children’s book that is distinguished, noted for significant achievement, marked by excellence, and contributing something special to American literature. It has to be an original work, in English, and the author has to be a citizen or resident of the U.S. The focus is really on the text of the work and not any illustrations and it could be any genre. And notice that it doesn’t say that it has to be a novel or even fiction. Last Stop on Market Street, last year’s Newbery winner was a picture book. And boy - were there some shocked folks last year!  The ALA criteria only states that it has to be a book for children, which is defined as up to and including age 14. So that’s a wide range to consider.


Every year there is one Newbery Winner and usually between about two and four Newbery honor books. Although - they don’t have to award any honor books and some years they have not. So that will be something interesting to look for this year.


Where & When is the Newbery awarded?

The Newbery is awarded once a year in January during the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. Don’t you just love how that sounds? “Tis a “widwinter meeting” - I’m imagining everyone wearing long luscious cloaks and carrying chalices filled with hot cocoa - and marshmallows. Sigh - it’s not really like that, is it? Alas - that’s how I’m picturing it in my head anyway. And if I ever have a chance to attend, I will wear a fancy cloak and bring some hot chocolate - with marshmallows.


So - the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits (we can’t forget the exhibits) is in Atlanta this year. Last year was Boston, previously Chicago and Philadelphia so they change location every year. The conference lasts about five days and within that time, the members of the Newbery committee meet in seclusion for two very, very full days to discuss, and vote, and eventually decide … and call the winners in the early hours of the morning the day that they are announced.  This year, the announcements are made on the morning of Monday, January 23rd from about 7:30-9 EST - along with several other fantastic awards, including the Caldecott.  And you can see it live right through the ALA website - ! Definitely have it streaming in your classroom or library or at home!


Who decides the Newbery Award?

It’s a committee of 15 people and the members are public - posted right on the ALA website. But that’s about all that you’re gonna get to know! Well - you know the process and the people, but the details of the deliberation are all secret. So, let’s talk about those 15 people and then we’ll discuss their process. So how do you get to be on the Newbery Committee and be in the room where it happens? You have to be a member of the ALA and the Association for Library Service to Children.  Then there is a ballot in the spring where the members of the association elect 8 members to be on the Newbery committee. Then the ALSC president appoints the chair and six more members to make a total of 15.  If that interests you, join the ALA and the ALSC and start getting involved and see where that takes you. But - I have to say, from all that I’ve read and seen - it is an incredible amount of work. You are committing to reading as much as possible of what’s published in one year. And doing some incredibly deep analysis of those titles.


How are the books determined?

Well, we’ve talked about the Who - let’s move on to the How. How in the world do these 15 committee members decide on the “most distinguished” book for children? How is the winner picked? And how do they decide on the honor books? Essentially there are three stages: 1. Nominating, 2. Discussing, and 3. Balloting.


First up, Nominating:  There are three rounds of nominations, one in October, one in November, and one in December. After many months of reading and rereading and taking notes with the Newbery manual at their side, it’s now October and members nominate three titles and include a write-up of why they think it’s worthy of the award. In November, they nominate two more with the same process, and then two more in December - making it 7 total nominations per person. So that allows for the committee members to spend October - December reading and reexamine books nominated by others so they are ready for the January debate and voting process.


The next step is Discussion. This happens right at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in January where the 15 members are secluded over two days and discuss the merits of every book nominated. Then likely, they’ll move on to the potential negatives of each book under consideration and then the comparisons start. There are guidelines to the discussion (and I’ll link to those in the show notes), but essentially they debate and analyze and constantly refer back to the criteria of the award until they’re ready to start narrowing things down.


The final step: Balloting

Each member of the committee writes down their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices on a ballot. 1st place vote is worth 4 points, 2nd place vote is 3 points, and a 3rd place is 2 points.  The winning title must have a majority of members (at least 8) place it as #1 and have an 8 point lead over all the other books.  If that doesn’t happen, the committee has to have another discussion, and they may decide to take some titles that got low points off the table.   And then they’ll  vote again (and maybe again) until they arrive at a winner.  After that, the Newbery committee decides if they want to choose any honor books from the nominations either selecting from the final ballots or redoing the whole process again.


Ah - what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall!


Controversy about secrecy and Child-Friendliness

BUT - the Newbery award is not without its critics and controversies. Some claim that a lot of the picks are unreadable and unappealing to most kids. And there’s been a recent debate over the secrecy of the deliberations. Right now, members are not allowed to reveal anything about that process ever - which books were initially nominated, why they were rejected, or how contentious the voting might have been. Former Newbery and Caldecott committee members, Kathleen Horning  and Ed Spicer, both wrote articles about the benefits of time-limits on the confidentiality of the selection process.  They make excellent points about  the benefits to readers, authors, and to history. On the other hand, Caldecott winner Dan Santat argues that releasing that information is not really a good idea. No one knows how the Academy Awards or Grammys get picked so really, what’s the big deal? I’ll link to those articles in the show notes - they’re worth reading and might offer a good debate topic to your students, and I think the ALA is considering a change to that policy.  So that’s something to keep an eye out for. And - if you want to know more about the how the Newbery Award works, there are a lot of great resources I’ll share on the website. A special shout out to Heavy Metal - the Mock Newbery Blog run by two former committee members. Excellent resource - definitely check it out!


So - I want to know what you all think!  Do you think the Newbery award books are unappealing to kids? Do they read them? Do you think the Newbery selection process is TOO secretive? Let me know what you think! You can send me an email at or tag me on Twitter or Instagram with the handle @Books_Between.


Book Talk - Two Heart-Racing Adventures

In this part of the show, I share with you a couple books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week we have two adventure stories that will get your pulse going! They are each very different - one is a more of a traditional action/adventure survival story and the other is a fairy tale fantasy adventure. But - despite their differences, they do have a surprising amount in common, which is why I thought they would make a good pairing today. Both include characters hidden away in towers, folded paper birds, and secret libraries.  Have you guessed yet? They are: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill!


Scar Island


Let’s start with Scar Island. I was already a big fan of Dan Gemeinhart - in fact The Honest Truth was one of the very first books I ever featured on the podcast back in episode 2, so I was really, really looking forward to Scar Island. This is a new release and just out this month. It’s about a kid named Jonathan who we meet as he is on a tiny boat being delivered to this impenetrable fortress on an island called Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. It’s basically Alcatraz for kids and run by a nasty crew of guys lead by a cruel man called The Admiral. He makes each kid write these daily wonderful letters home to their parents hiding the fact that he is actually denying them food and worse. We also have this tough group of 15 misfit kids - all imprisoned on this island for their crimes. Then suddenly, something happens where all the adults are gone from the island and the kids are left on their own and have to figure out what to do. It’s about survival and freedom and redemption - and just so good. If that hasn’t already got you hooked on reading this book, here are three more things I loved about Dan Gemeinhart’s Scar Island:


  1. Colin. He is this little pip of a kid who has a lisp and is an admitted kleptomaniac. That’s why he’s at Slabhenge Reformatory. But, when he steals some food, he gives it to Jonathan even though Colin is hungry himself. He’s also into origami and makes these little paper cranes that appear at important parts later on in the story. I just loved him. But - one little note about his lisp. I was conferencing with a student a couple days ago who was reading this book and he had a tiny bit of trouble reading aloud and interpreting Colin’s dialogue, so I had to talk about how the “th” is replacing his “s” and model a bit what that sounded like. So just a heads up about that.
  2. The Library. This is verging on giving away too much, but I’ll say that during one of the character’s journeys through the labyrinth of corridors in this stone fortress, we discover a library and there’s a character who surprises us and knows the exact right book to recommend.  
  3. The buildup of suspense. There are these five threads that run through this story creating this tension as you read it. One - the weather. What starts off as a bad storm becomes this hurricane that threatens everything on the island. Two - the rats. Eventually you discover that there’s more going on with the rats than meets the eye. Three - the key. At a critical point, one of the characters ends up with the key to the Admiral’s office which contains lots of chocolate, alcohol, and… all the boys records. So throughout the story we are wondering - who has the key now? And - what are they going to do with it? Four - the forbidden door hiding this monstrous, noisy… thing. Five - the suspense of figuring out why on earth Jonathon is on this island. What did he do?? We know he feels like he deserves to be there. And we get glimpses of his previous life in his letters home and we have scenes where the author almost reveals what happened, but then pulls back. So - the weather, the rats, the key, the door, what did he do? - argh! - this book has you turning those pages!


Scar Island is kind of like Lord of the Flies meets Holes with a twist of pirate in there. Already I have a waiting list for it in my class and I’m sure it’s going to be a favorite with your kids, too.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon


Our second featured book today is The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is also an adventure survival story but a fairy tale fantasy with powerful witches, a poetic swamp monster, and a seemingly small dragon. The start of this story takes place in a gloomy village along a bog called The Protectorate run by a group of unscrupulous men called The Council of Elders. Each year, on the Day of Sacrifice, these elders take the youngest baby in the village and leave it in the woods. They do this, they claim, to appease an evil witch. Well, it turns out that there is actually a witch, a kind witch named Xan, who rescues these poor babies and feeds them on starlight while she journeys across the dangerous volcanic mountain to find a new home for them. Except one year, she accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight and enmagicks the child who grows to be uncontrollably powerful. The rest of the story is about Xan’s attempts to help her adoptive granddaughter harness that power, and what happens to the villagers left behind in The Protectorate - including a young Elder-in-Training named Antain who starts to have doubts, and the girl’s mother who ends up going mad and being locked in a tower with secrets of its own. It is beautiful and powerful. And here are three more things I loved about Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon:


  1. The magic. This is not your typical sparkly, wand summoned magic. It’s earthy and primal and often exists as something almost separate from the characters. Flowers spring from footsteps. And there is a flock of paper birds that swarm and cut and lead and protect in a way that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I loved how unique the magic in this book was.
  2. The love you feel for the characters. Somehow Barnhill has written them in a way where you feel this deep sense of warmth and protectiveness and empathy for them. Xan, the witch, is getting older and she desperately wants to impart all of her knowledge that she can to her granddaughter, who she’s named Luna. But that same spell that protects her makes it so that she can’t get through to her. And you keep hoping that Luna will discover who she is and maybe be reunited with the mother she was so brutally ripped away from. And all the people in the village - especially Antain and his wife - who are under the thumb of the Council of Elders. I just felt so much love for this characters.
  3. What this story has to say about truth and power. In this book, there are some who feed off of other people’s misery. Those who raise themselves by putting others below them, by controlling what stories get told, and by spinning lies. But - there comes a time when the people start to realize how much power they actually have when they band together to use it. Loved it.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon  is lush and quirky and whimsical and funny and full of adventure. And I can’t wait to read everything else Kelly Barnhill has ever written because this was one powerhouse of a book.

Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.



Well - the big question being asked right now - “Who do you think is going to get a Newbery this year?”



I’m a little reluctant to answer because inevitably, I am going to be wrong. But … I can tell you who others think are some top 2016 contenders, and I’ll venture to make a prediction or two.


So, one place I go to get a feel for some of the books getting Newbery buzz is the Mock Newbery Group on Goodreads. They read a book a month and then vote in January. What’s cool there is that you can see the discussions going all the way back to 2012 and take a peek at the reactions to the real winners. That’s enlightening. This year their second round list includes, in order,: Wolf Hollow, Ghost, The Inquisitor’s Tale, The Wild Robot, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Some Kind of Courage, and Pax.  


Over at the Heavy Medal Blog, they have analyzed “Best of” lists on other sites to put together a “Best Books” post naming and ranking the contenders with the most mentions. So, some of the top books there that I haven’t mentioned already are: Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White, The Best Man, March, Book 3, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Raymie Nightingale, Samurai Rising, The Lie Tree, and School’s First Day of School.


And now, a few predictions from me:

  • I think there will be a lot of honor books this year. I’m saying at least 4.
  • I don’t think they are going to give the award to a picture book this year. Not that I disagreed with the decision last year, but I have a feeling it will go to a book with an older audience.
  • I think you’ll see a shiny seal on at least a couple of these books: Wolf Hollow, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, The Wild Robot, Pax, and… I almost don’t want to admit this to you because it sounds silly, but I dreamt I was watching the live streaming of the awards and the winner was - The Inquisitor’s Tale! So maybe something’s going on in my subconscious! Or not! We’ll see in a few days!




Alright, that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And, if you have a moment, it would mean so much to me if you left a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher so others can find us.


Thank you and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Jan 2, 2017



Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a 5th grade teacher, a mom of two daughters, and happy to be DONE with 2016 and onward to 2017! Typically we have a New Year’s Eve party at our house - last year was a disco theme - but this time my kids were not feeling so great and instead we had a quiet night. I set up my new bullet journal with my reading goals, played canasta with my kids, crocheted, and just cuddling on the couch under the heating blanket. I know - NOT a very cool New Year’s Eve celebration. But - it was wonderful and I hope yours was as well. So - hello to 2017!


This is Episode #14 and today we are discussing some fun reading challenge ideas to kick off your new year, the most anticipated middle grade books coming out in 2017, and I’ll answer a question about what books to recommend for a 5th grader who has a high school reading level.


Main Topic - Reading Challenges for the New Year


One of the best things about the New Year is the reset that happens when December flips over into January and you have a full twelve months laid out in front of you with all the possibilities in the world! You’re past the indulgences of the holidays and ready to refocus, make some resolutions, build better habits, and set some goals.  So today I’m going to talk about a few fun ideas for reading challenges this year that can help you connect with your community, keep you motivated, and maybe spur you to stretch yourself as a reader in 2017.


Now our conversation today is geared toward personal reading goals for you, but these same ideas can be shared with the students and the children in your life. And as the lead reader in your library or classroom or home, sharing your own reading goals shows that you take your reading life seriously and that we’re all in this reading community together. I know that my first day back with my class, I’ll be sharing my Reading Challenge list with my students and helping them set up their own. So - if you are thinking about doing a reading challenge this year, here are a few ideas for you:


Challenge Idea #1 - Set a number goal.  Maybe that’s forty books or sixty books or a hundred books! Something that’s a bit of a stretch but still doable for you.  Last year, I participated in the #SixtyBooks Challenge  - I happened to see the hashtag last January and I thought, “I can do that!” And it’s been fantastic. One thing that kept me motivated was connecting to others doing the same challenge on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. So - if you decide to do any kind of challenge, connecting with other readers through social media helps keep you stay excited about it through the year. And if you want to join me this year, just check out #SixtyBooks and we can support each other!


Challenge Idea #2 - Set a goal based on type of book.  These can be found all over the internet this time of year. They are usually focused on adult books but you can easily read middle grade books within those categories and maybe make just a couple adjustments.  A really great one is Book Riot’s yearly Read Harder Challenge which this year features tasks like read a debut novel, read a travel memoir, read a superhero comic with a female lead, or  read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.  Those last two are definitely going on my list.  I’ll leave a link to that in the show notes and what’s nice about the Book Riot challenge is that they have suggestions for each category, a Goodreads group, and in-person meetups throughout the year.  


Another Reading Challenge that my friend Emily told me about is the one from PopSugar. They feature 40 book categories with this year’s theme of diversifying and expanding your reading - love it! Some of their reading prompts are a book involving a mythical creature, a book recommended by a librarian (I love that one), a book by or about a person who has a disability, a book with a main character who is a different ethnicity than you, and some fun ones like a book with a red spine or a book set in a hotel. PopSugar also has an extra twenty prompts for those hardcore readers who finish early. They also have a Goodreads group and printable lists, and I’ll link to their site too so you can check that out.


Another 2017 Reading Challenge that I discovered last week is one hosted by a site called Modern Mrs. Darcy. (Now - already with that name - I’m in!) What I really like about this challenge is that there are two paths you can follow: Reading for Fun or Reading for Growth.  Each have just 12 tasks so they are doable and you might even have time to do both! On the Reading for Fun list are topics like a juicy memoir, a book you chose for the cover, and a book by a new favorite author. Those all sound comfy and great. On the other hand, if you want to stretch yourself and go for the Reading for Growth path there are options like a book that addresses current events, a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author, or a Newbery Award winner or Honor book.  That all sounds exactly what I need this year.


Challenge Idea #3 - Create a Reading Time Capsule for the year.  I wish I could remember where I saw this so I could give them proper credit, but this idea is similar to the practice of families jotting down happy memories throughout the year and tucking them into a jar to read on New Year’s Eve. This idea is to jot down favorite quotes and inspiring ideas from the books you’ve read throughout the year. I’m thinking that a nice adaptation would be instead of putting it in a jar, write it down in a journal or if you want to go more 21st century - challenge yourself to post on social media one inspiring quote or idea about every book you’ve read this year.  And that could also make a very cool classroom project.


Challenge Idea #4 - Do a Library Crawl!  Unlike a pub crawl, which is typically done in one night and you can’t bring your kids. Or well, you really shouldn’t bring your kids. A Library Crawl can span the whole year, the summer, or maybe just Spring Break. And it’s way better when you bring your kids!  Basically you challenge yourself to visit a set number of libraries in a set amount of time. Last summer, I was looking for some inexpensive things to do with my girls that would be fun, educational, and get us all out of the house and away from the electronics. So we challenged ourselves to visit 16 libraries during the summer of 2016. And we almost made it! I have a lot more to share with you about Library Crawls, how to do them, some fun ideas, and the unexpected benefits that I think I need to do a whole episode on it.  


Challenge Idea #5 - Little Free Library Challenge.  Oh how I love Little Free Libraries!  They are popping up all over my community, my friends are all getting them, my school is putting one up this spring, and that is our family summer project. There are a couple ways you could go about doing a Little Free Library Challenge. One idea is to simply visit as many as you can this year and maybe document your travels on social media. If you go to the Little Free Library website, you can find listings of all your local registered libraries shown right on a map.  If you wanted to extend that into a Pay it Forward challenge, you could donate one book to each Little Free Library you visit.


Challenge Idea #6 - Design Your Own Reading Challenge!  Think of it as a 2017 Choose-Your-Own-Reading-Adventure.  Take the best ideas of the options out there and create something for yourself. And these ideas are easy to layer.  So you can set a number goal, participate in say, the Book Riot challenge or pick your own categories to read from the options you like, and maybe pick up those books while you do your library crawl.  


Whatever you decide, get your kids and students involved, too and I’d love to see what you’ve got planned for the year!  You can send me an email at or connect on Twitter or Instagram with the handle @Books_Between.


Book Talk - Most Anticipated Middle Grade Books of 2017


In this segment, I share with you a few books centered around a theme. This week I’m highlighting some of the most anticipated books of the upcoming year.  Some are new books in favorites series. Some are by favorite authors. Some are by debut authors. And some just sound fantastic! So, get ready to add to your wish list. And just a reminder - that you can find every book mentioned here AND a picture of the covers AND a link to pre-order them right through the Books Between Podcast link at  So, no need to scurry and write things down. I’ve got your back, I know you’re busy, so it’s all right there for you.


One quick note before I start - publication dates do change, so while I’ve mentioned the month each book is expected to release - things sometimes change.


All right - let’s get to it!


Coming in January…


  • Scar Island - a new action adventure by Dan Gemeinhart. So if you liked his other novels The Honest Truth or Some Kind of Courage (which I know you did!) , definitely get this one.
  • A new Jerry Spinelli novel - The Warden’s Daughter. It’s set in 1959 Pennsylvania and oh it looks fantastic!
  • Also in January, we’ll get the third Terrible Twos book - The Terrible Two Go Wild by Mac Barnett & Jory John. And the second Audacity Jones Book - Audacity Jones Steals the Show.  AND another Victoria Coe Fenway & Hattie book - the Evil Bunny Gang!
  • If you were a fan of Counting by 7s, like I am - then look for Holly Sloan’s new novel called Short - it’s about a small-for-her-age girl who gets cast as a Munchkin in a production of The Wizard of Oz. So fans of Oz will have something to love in this book, too!
  • One book I’ve been really looking forward to this year is the short story collection put together in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. It’s called Flying Lessons & Other Stories and features authors like Grace Lin, Matt de la Pena, Jacqueline Woodson and so many others.
  • If you’re like me, and part of your Reading Challenge this year is to read more nonfiction and to read more diversely, then there’s two books to look for this January
  1. Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls by Tonya Bolden
  2. Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Powell.  It’s the story of the civil rights case set up as a novel in verse. That should be amazing.

Coming in February …


This time I’ll start with nonfiction:

  • We have Bats: Learning to Fly - the newest volume in the nonfiction graphic novel series called Science Comics.
  • Then we have Kwame Alexander’s latest called The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. A great nonfiction pairing for fans of Booked and The Crossover.
  • Also in February, the highly anticipated Judd Winnick graphic novel Hilo 3 - huzzah!  
  • And the debut middle grade novel by picture book author and All the Wonders friend Carter Higgins. It’s called A Rambler Steals Home and it’s about baseball, and family, and friendship, and sweet potato fries - it’s incredible - you absolutely need to get this one!  In fact, if you preorder A Rambler Steals Home from the Once Upon a Time Bookstore, Carter has offered to sign it for you before they ship it out to you. It’s a win-win-win! You get a signed copy of an awesome book, you support an independent bookstore, and you support an author you know and love. So, I’ll include that link in the show notes for you.

In March, there are four books I am really looking forward to:

  • Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Wissinger, which is the companion book to the 2015 book Gone Fishing.
  • Forget Me Not by debut middle grade author  Ellie Terry featuring a science-loving main character, Calliope, who has Tourette syndrome.
  • A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold This one is about a kid who ends up caring for a baby skunk and tried to convince his mom to let him keep it.  What could go wrong?

  • And - we get a new Nathan Hale book this year!  It’s not a Hazardous Tale’s book. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of that. It’s set in the future and Earth is being attacked by aliens who suck up the energy from electrical devices leaving our civilization under threat. And there’s a robot pony. It’s so different from Hale’s work that I’m familiar with, but it looks original and fresh and amazing and I can’t wait to read it.


In April we have:

  • The first book in a new mystery series by Adrienne Kress called The Explorers: The Door in the Alley. My students are really loving mysteries this year so this will make a great addition to my classroom library.
  • Tito the Bonecrusher by Melissa Thomson. This is the story of a boy who seeks out the help of his favorite lucha-libre wrestler / action star to save his father from being deported to Mexico. That sounds fantastic and funny and... timely!


May is going to be a stellar month for reading:

  • Georgia Rules by Swing Sideways author Nanci Steveson
  • And a new Lisa Graff novel called The Great Treehouse War.  So if you liked Absolutely Almost or Lost in the Sun, look for this one this spring.
  • A new Gordon Korman stand-alone novel called Restart about boy who was a bully who loses his memory and gets a fresh start. What an interesting premise!
  • Another May release that I am so so excited about is Posted by Ms. Bixby’s Last Day author, John David Anderson. I loved Ms. Bixby so much - I can’t wait to see what Anderson has in store for us next!
  • Then there’s a nonfiction book about Hamilton! It’s called Alexander Hamilton: How the Vision of One Man Shaped Modern America by Teri Kanefield
  • And finally - mark your calendars and pre-order Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder because this book has been getting all the buzz. This novel keeps popping up everywhere I look!


In June we have:

  • A 6th Ranger in Time book called Escape from the Great Earthquake


  • The third book in Phil Bildner’s Rip & Red series!  This one is called Tournament of Champions. My students are going to psyched about this one!


  • And a second book from A Distance to Home author Jenn Bishop called 14 Hollow Road. It’s about a 6th grade girl whose town is torn apart by a tornado and her family ends up living with the family of her crush, Avery, after both their houses are destroyed.


  • A fun book in a new non-fiction series called Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive! So, basically the reader is presented with three stories about the natural world and you have to guess which one is the lie. Sounds fun - and good practice for life.



It’s a good thing I have July off from school, because there are some seriously awesome books being released that month:

  • Including a new Comics Squad!  Comics Squad #3: Detention I love these! They’re fun, they’re quick, and they introduce kids to new writers.
  • Another book to look forward to in July is Our Story Begins : Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids Oh - now that should be good!
  • And also in July, we’ll get Spirit Hunters - the first middle grade novel by Ellen Oh - this one is the first of a new ghost story series. Can’t wait for that!
  • And - I am also excited for July because that’s when Abby Cooper’s second novel, Bubbles, comes out!   In this one, the main character can see other people’s thoughts. Oh god - can you imagine?



  • August is going to be fabulous because we get a new Cassie Beasley book. If you liked Circus Mirandus, her new novel is called Tumble & Blue and it’s about a curse, a swamp, and a golden alligator.


So after August, publication dates get a little hazy. BUT - I hear there’s a new Katherine Applegate book coming called Wishtree.  Also - there’s a fourth Al Capone at Alcatraz book coming out in the fall called Al Capone Does My Dishes.  

And the Rick Riordon’s third Magnus Chase book: The Ship of the Dead .

And the third Mr. Lemoncello's Library - the Great Library Race


And of course - I’ll keep you posted about all the amazing books headed our way so we can stay up to date.

Those were some upcoming titles to look forward to in 2017. But. If I had to guess - the one book that you fall in love with this year, that one new book that your kids can’t put down. Is one that isn’t on this list and isn’t even on your radar right now. Most of my favorites of last year, I wasn’t even aware of them this early. And that’s exciting! There is so much to look forward to!


Q & A

Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.



After sharing our Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2016 list last week, I got this question from Jane: “Do you have an idea what book to get a 10-yr-old boy who reads on a 12th grade level?” And she added, “He is currently into the Warriors series.”



That can be a tough situation. He CAN read Young Adult or Adult books, but you’ve got to be careful of the content, which might not be okay for a 5th grader.  


A quick example / horror story about that: when I used to teach 6th grade in a middle school, one of the reading assessments we gave was a computer program that would determine a reading level and would then print out a recommended list of titles for each kid. Sounds great, right? Well. I noticed that the kids who scored the highest were being recommended A CLOCKWORK ORANGE! I never ripped a piece of paper out of kid’s hand so fast! (Can you imagine if that went home?)


So - anyway - just because the reading level is a good match, does not mean the book is a good fit.


But - there are lots of middle grade books that have a higher reading level. And if he likes Fantasy, then there are some great books that I think he’ll like.  I might try the Wings of Fire series. It has some similarities to Warriors - there are clans and battles and shifting alliances - but it’s dragons instead of cats.  He might really like The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz or maybe The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin or even The Lord of The Rings which is more “high” fantasy.  Another option that a friend recommended is The Riverman Trilogy by Aaron Starmer.


So, Jane - let us know how things go and if you’ve found something that hits the mark.




Alright, that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And when you are there, check out Matthew’s interview with Cozy Classics creators Jack and Holman Wang. I cannot stop reading and rereading these adorable little board books. And, if you are liking our show, I’d love it if you took a second to leave a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher.


Thanks, Happy New Year, and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

Dec 19, 2016


Hi and welcome to Books Between - a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect middle grade kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.  I’m your host, Corrina Allen - a teacher, a mom of two daughters, and totally into binge-watching the Netflix series The Crown. I’ve seen them all twice now.

This is Episode #13 and today we are all about celebrating some of the best middle grade books published in 2016.

Main Topic - The Top 20 Middle Grade Books of 2016

2016 has been a phenomenal year. For middle grade books. (Not so much for anything else, really!)  And for me, 2016 has been a standout year not only for the amount of books I’ve read, but for the quality of those books.  I’ve already exceeded my sixty book goal and I’m up to 75 at the time of this recording but not only that, I don’t think I’ve rated a book less than three stars all year. Maybe I’m doing a better job of picking things I’d like, but I just think there’s been some exceptional books published this year.

So - just to give you some context of where this top 20 list comes from, here’s a bit of information. In the past year, I’ve read 60 middle grade books as of 12/19.

Of those 60 - 31 were published in 2016 - so just about half of what I’ve read was new.  I will say that this year was light for me with nonfiction. I gotta work on that next year. So this list is all fiction and unlike other “Best of” lists out there, I did not separate out novels in verse or graphic novels. Everything’s all together.

Alright here we go - these are my Top 20 middle grade novels of 2016.

#20 - Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

I’m not typically a huge fan of the magical realism genre but this novel took me on such a sweet journey last spring. I loved the sparse dangerous beauty of the New Mexico desert and the poignant story of Carol and her family caring for the grandfather who’s losing himself in dementia. This was a debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store!

#19 - Rookie of the Year by Phil Bildner

This novel is the second in the Rip & Red series - the first was A Whole New Ballgame. If you are into the Kidlit community, if you consider yourself a member of the Nerdy Book Club, then you are going to love this book because the teacher, Mr. Acevedo- he’s one of us. If he existed, we’d be following him on Instagram and bumping into him on #TitleTalk chat the last Sunday of the month on Twitter. This book is fun, warm and diverse without being about diversity. It’s simply great, and I can’t wait for book #3.

#18 - Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper

Such a memorable book with a main character that you just want to wrap up in your arms and hug. Elyse suffers from a rare disorder where the words others use to describe her are imprinted on her skin - including her own thoughts about herself. This is a book about friendship, and courage, and learning to be kind to yourself.

#17 - Like Magic by Elaine Vickers

This is one of several fantastic books that came out this year that featured friendship trios, but these three girls took awhile to come together. Jade, Grace, and Malia each end up at the same library, at different times, and find something they need in this mysterious secret treasure box that the librarian has tucked away in the Lost & Found drawer. I think what I loved so much about this book was how it spoke to the power of libraries and librarians to bring people together. And how libraries can be sanctuaries for children and a place to find yourself.

#16 - Eleven and Holding by Mary Penney

First - this book made me laugh. The main character, Macy, is a riot. It was heartfelt but not saccharine and it had lots of mysteries to solve. And is it weird to say that I had a mini crush on Switch - the skateboarding bad boy? Yeah, that’s probably weird. Let me rephrase that. My 12 year-old self would totally have fallen for that kid.

#15 - Wish by Barbara O’Connor

12 year-old Charlie is sent to go live with her aunt and uncle in what she considers a “hillbilly” town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. And she’s unruly and angry and yet…. The folks around her show such patience while she tries to sort everything out. It’s lovely and I liked that more rural setting. There’s also a dog that, actually - now that I think about it, follows a similar journey to our main character.

#14 - The Tapper Twins Run for President by Geoff Rodkey

The third novel in this series is all about the hilarity that ensues when Claudia and Reese Tapper both run for class president. It’s funny and oddly truthful about politics and running for office. Plus - I loved the twist ending.

#13 - Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This first novel in a new series had me on the edge of my seat for days. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger that build to this jaw-dropping moment that had me furiously calling and texting my friends who had already read it. So - go read it so you can tell me what you think!

#12 - Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Unlike Smile and Sisters and Drama, Ghosts is not based on Raina’s real-life but instead features a young girl named Catrina and her little sister, Maya who is living with Cystic Fibrosis. It touches on some hard-hitting themes (childhood illness and death) but somehow stays light at the same time. Again I was reminded of how much I love Telgemeier’s style - those crisp lines, curves, and great color palette. Already this book has disappeared from my classroom so I guess I’ll buying another one!

#11 - Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Featuring alternating narratives from Joe and Ravi, this book really gets what it’s like to flounder in school and to be the target of a mean kid.  I love that it takes place over one week, I love the humor, and I love the recipes in the back. This is a great choice for kid’s book clubs - it’s not too, too long and there’s a lot to discuss.

#10 - Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

I got this novel last April when Kate DiCamillo came to Syracuse as part of a “lecture” series where, of course, she did NOT lecture. Instead, she focused on the kids in the audience. And not only answered the children’s questions in a way that made them feel heard and understood and but deftly framed those questions so that that both kids and adults left inspired and knowing a lot more about her and her writing process. At this event, she talked about how her family moving without her father coming along was inspiration for this story about a girl whose dad has left town with a dental hygienist. And Raymie is trying to figure out a way to get him to come back. As part of her grand plan, she ends up taking baton twirling lessons with these other two girls who each bring their own joys and pains to the story. It is wonderful and quirky in that beautiful diCamillo way.

#9 - The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

This is a book that I recommend over and and over again - for so many reasons.  I love the poems, I love the storyline about kids coming together to try to save their school from being ripped down, I love how the different narrative pieces all fit together, I love how you see the characters grow and change through their poetry. It’s so, so good!

#8 - Finding Perfect by Elly Schwartz

Another incredible novel by a debut author. And a book that so many middle grade readers will be able to relate to - whether that’s navigating friendship with two very different people, eating take out for days when your family is overworked and too busy, or living with anxiety or OCD like the main character does.

#7 - Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Every once in awhile you read a book where the characters are so vivid and so real that months after you’re done reading the novel, you wonder about them. Will and Naheed and Aimee and Sergio would be in their twenties now. With all that’s going on in the world, I wonder what they would be thinking at this new turning point in our country’s history.

#6 - The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

There’s so so much to love about this book and later on in the podcast I’m going to go into more detail about. But - I have to share with you the best summary of this book from the Author’s Note in the back. She calls it a “ magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids.” Yes, it is! And it is glorious!

#5 - When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

This is a book that you finish and you set down and immediately want to go read everything else that author has ever written. I’ll share more in the book talk segment later on in the podcast.

#4 - The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Three unlikely saints, an awful character who turns out to be good, a good character who turns out to be bad, disgustingly delicious French cheese, and…. a farting dragon. Now - don’t you want to know how all those connect? From what I hear, the audio of this novel is incredible - and you get to hear “The Song of Hildebrand” and other new music by medieval scholar and musician Benjamin Bagby. BUT - then you’d miss out on the dozens of medieval style illuminations by Hatem Aly in the paper copy. I think you just have to do both to get the full experience.

#3 - Booked by Kwame Alexander

Yes, this story is about 12-year-old Nick and his first real love, and his relationship with his parents, and soccer, and middle school bullies. BUT. It’s also about a bold librarian who slowly kindles in Nick a passion for books - often without Nick even quite realizing it.  

#2 - Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Oh how I loved this book. How I wished it wouldn’t end. This novel is another 2016 release featuring a trio of friends. Topher, Brand, and Steve band together to bring the last day celebration their teacher, Ms. Bixby missed when she had to leave school early.  Along the way they battle bakery owners, a creepy guy who tries to steal their money, and sometimes….each other. For me, the mark of an exceptional book, is one that can make me sob and laugh out loud and this book had me doing both.

And, my #1 middle grade book of 2016 is:

#1 - The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the first middle grade novel by picture book author and illustrator Peter Brown - and boy did he hit it out of the park! I have so much I want to say, but I’m going to hold off a little bit and save it for our book talk segment.

So - those are my top 20 middle grade reads of 2016!  Now, I can already sense the emails coming my way saying, “Corrina - seriously - a best of 2016 list and you didn’t mention Wolf Hollow or Counting Thyme or The Rat Prince?”  And you know what? You’re probably right. Had I had a chance to read all those, they likely would have made this list. In fact, I’m halfway through Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon and oh - if the ending holds out - a powerhouse of a book. I want to read everything Kelly Barnhill has ever written,will ever write, including her grocery lists.  I know I missed some awesome ones. So a quick shoutout to some 2016 releases that are on my To Be Read list:


Top Want to Read Books from 2016


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

Maxi’s Secret by Lynn Plourde

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson

Ghost by Jason Reynold


Annnd…. Likely lots more that I am missing! So - I want to hear from YOU - what were your favorite 2016 reads and which ones should be bumped up on my to be read list? You can pop me an email at or connect on Twitter with the handle @Books_Between.


Book Talk - Three Amazing Books from 2016

In this part of the show, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week is all about the cream of the crop of 2016. Many of the titles in my Top 20 list, I’ve already featured on the podcast in previous episodes, and some I’ve talked about more than once. But there are a few of my favorites from 2016 that either didn’t fit into a theme I was focusing on for that show or they were very recent reads. The three of my top 2016 picks that I want to talk about with you are  The Seventh Wish, When the Sea Turned to Silver, and my #1 pick of the year - The Wild Robot.  

The Seventh Wish

First up is Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish.  I read this book over the summer but it feels right to be talking about it in the winter. The book starts with this gorgeous image of ice flowers blooming on a frozen lake and takes place over one winter in the life of Charlie Brennan. And it’s a difficult winter for her. Her bright athletic older sister, Abby, develops a heroin addiction at college, her mother has a challenging new job, and suddenly everyone else’s problems have pushed her concerns way over to the side. And one day - while out ice fishing with her neighbors - she catches a fish that grants wishes. And Charlie has to figure out just how far that magic will go.  So here are three things I loved about Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish:


  1. The “I’m thinking of a word” game - So, Charlie and her family play this game where one person will announce “I’m thinking of a word.” and the rest of the family tries to guess what that word is. And whoever comes closest is the winner. And it sounds simple - and it is - but the true brilliance of this game comes in trying to justifying why “flashlight” is closer to “sunflower” than “rebellious” is!  It’s a lot of laughs, it gets you thinking and is now one of our favorite games to play in the car.
  2. The Irish Dancing - A major part of Charlie’s life is competing in Irish Dance competitions called feiseanna (“feesh-ee-AH-nuh) - the singular of that is feis (“fesh”). This is a completely foreign world to me, but suddenly I’m into hard shoes vs. soft shoes, the hornpipe and treble jig, strange uses for glue, and the ranking systems in competition. I love books where you can immerse yourself in something new.
  3. The Familiar Wintery Feel - So while all the Irish dancing details were totally new to me, the cold, blustery atmosphere of the setting was not. I live in Central New York - just outside of Syracuse, often touted as the Snow Capital of the United States. We get on average, 128” of snow every year.  Charlie’s family goes snowshoeing and ice fishing, and they wonder if when the sun comes out it will warm up from minus 22 degrees to a balmy zero. I think the setting is Northern New York or maybe Vermont, but it felt like it was written about my home. Charlie bundling up in layers of sweaters, snow pants, her puffy jacket, and two scarves is oh-so-familiar to me.


The Seventh Wish is not only a phenomenal and fun book, but also an important book. I’m not sure how things are in your community, but mine is struggling with a daunting heroin problem. And a book that addresses that in a realistic but hopeful way that is completely perfect for a middle grade reader is a necessity right now. It’s simply a fantastic book.


When the Sea Turned to Silver

The second book I want to tell you more about, and one that I just finished a few days ago, is Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver.  And I need to admit to you - this is the very first Grace Lin book I have read. And argh - why have I waited so long?! It was beautiful and lightly intricate and inspiring.  And I am sure if you have read the companion novels 2011’s Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and 2014’s Starry River of the Sky - you will get even more out of it than I did. But don’t feel like you have to read those other two first - I obviously didn’t and still understood and loved this book. This novel is about a young girl’s quest to rescue her grandmother from a cruel and vindictive Emperor, who is keeping the grandmother (and others) captive. The girl’s name is Pinmei and her grandmother is a famous Storyteller so as we are following Pinmei and her friend Yishan on their voyage to get back the grandmother, interspersed throughout that narrative are these traditional folktales.  Here are three things I loved about Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver:


  1. The interconnectedness of the stories. It is this slow crescendo of the main narrative and the folktales that come crashing together at the end. And all along the way, you know they are starting to connect to each other and characters and settings from one story are popping up in others - and STILL I was utterly surprised by how everything came together at the end.
  2. The focus on Honor.  Sometimes it seems like there’s a shortage of self-sacrificing, honorable people today. (Or maybe our culture doesn’t revere them as much as it should.) But this novel is full of characters like the scarred servant or the King of the Bright City of Moonlight who learn, eventually, to do the right and honorable thing even when it means danger and maybe death for themselves.
  3. It’s rereadability (is that a word?) - I don’t know but this was a book that as soon as I turned that last page, I had to go back and reread some of the stories now that I knew more about the characters and how the tales all connected. It reminded me a bit of when I finished the YA novel Challenger Deep - now that I know the secret, I want to go back and catch everything I missed and experience the story again with new eyes.


If you have a child that loves folk tales with lots of adventure and twists along the way, then When the Sea Turned to Silver would be a great recommendation for them.


The Wild Robot

And I saved my best, my favorite of 2016 for last. Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot. “Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and waves.” Oh - that first line gets me. You know how some books just happen to come into your life at the right moment to connect with you? That’s how this book was for me and my daughters. The first I heard of it was on the All the Wonders podcast when Matthew Winner interviewed Peter Brown and there was something so intriguing about the scenario of a robot stranded on a hostile, remote island, becoming a mother, and trying to survive and thrive. I immediately drove over to my bookstore, got a copy, and started reading it out loud with my girls that very night. We finished, a few weeks later, on Mother’s Day - and maybe that’s why the story of Roz sacrificing so much for the island - and the island sacrificing for her - touched us so much on that particular day. It was our first family book cry. We had to get more tissues and my husband rushed into the room wondering why we were all sobbing! It’s an incredible book and difficult to narrow it down to just three things to love, but here are a few things that I thought were exceptional about The Wild Robot.

  1. The illustrations - First, there are tons of them - every couple pages in every sort of perspective and shape: tall trees along the sides with a bear dangling over the text, an action scene charging across the bottom, two page spreads of a single crucial moment with just a small paragraph to the side, small inserts of just one animal, or one leaf. Peter Brown’s skill in picture book composition is clear in the layout and balance of the drawings and the words. The robot, Roz, is made of simple shapes and lines that really make it feel like it could take place at any time. And of course, I love his style of splatters and shading.
  2. The existential questioning that happens with this book. There’s just something about robot stories that lends itself to deep thinking about ethics and morality, the nature of the soul, and what it means to exist. So, I grew up in a Star Trek household. My mom is a trekkie and once got me a signed picture of my crush, Wil Wheaton, from a convention. I loved Next Generation, and particularly the episodes featuring Data, the android - there’s something about pushing the boundaries of programing that is intriguing. Putting a machine in a challenging, new environment and seeing what happens. At one point in the story, Roz and her adopted gosling son wonder what will happen if they push the button to turn her off.  Will she remember him if she turns back on? Will she be the same? Roz is devoid of emotion and yet she brings out so much tenderness and emotion in the reader.
  3. How fun and easy it is to read out loud. The chapters are really short so it’s nice to have those natural stopping points when you might just have a few minutes at home or in school.  And the character’s are vibrant and fun with great personalities to give voices to. I did Roz with the voice of Siri, which was loads of fun to do. I channeled Julia Sweeney for the goose, Loudwing and the fast-talking chipmunk, ChitChat was hilarious. The writing just has this great rhythm and it’s a joy to read out loud.


Absolutely go get The Wild Robot - I promise you won’t regret it.



Okay, that’s our show for the week - and the last one of 2016. Look for our next episode on Monday, January 2nd, where I’ll be discussing the most anticipated middle grade books coming out in 2017 and some fun reading challenge ideas to kick off your new year!  

And, If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or an idea about a topic we should cover, I really would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show and all of our previous episodes at And when you are there, look for the other Best of 2016 lists to get more reading ideas. And, if you are liking the show, I’d love it if you took a second to leave  a rating or review on iTunes or Stitcher.

Thanks and see you in two weeks!  Bye!

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