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Welcome to the Two Lit Mamas Blog!

This is where you can find individual episodes, show notes, and transcripts, as well as recommended reading lists and other kid-lit related topics that support the Two Lit Mamas Podcast.

Please keep in mind that the book recommendations and commentary on the blog and podcast are solely the opinions of the hosts. Although Heather and Margie believe their opinions to be supreme, it’s perfectly fine to disagree. They’d love to hear from you as long as you’re not mean-spirited.

The mamas hope you enjoy reading and listening to kid-lit content as much as they love creating it! Thank you for visiting the Two Lit Mamas blog.

Episode 15: Differently Abled Middle Grade Books & Homeschool Chat

The mamas launched the new year discussing two awesomely-abled middle grade characters – one’s a math savant, one’s autistic, both make exciting leads and reads. Then the mamas switched gears and got real about homeschool life. The mamas urge you to turn off the news for an hour, Irish up your coffee, and listen in!

Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

North Carolina 7th grader, Lucy, was struck by lightning when she was young and was diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome which made her a math genius. She’s been homeschooling since then and has advanced her education to college level. Lucy makes a deal with her grandmother, who’s worried about her social skills, that she will spend a year in middle school before moving on to college. Afterall, “if you can survive a bolt of lightning, you can survive middle school, right?”

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Twelve-year-old Nova is a non-verbal, autistic girl who has been bouncing through foster care with her older sister Bridget for about 7 years. Through everything, their shared love of space exploration has kept the sisters going. The upcoming launch of the Challenger sending the first teacher in space, who happens to be from their home state, is a driving force in Nova’s life. When the girls get separated, Nova counts down the days until she see’s Bridget again because her sister promised they would watch the Challenger Launch together – no matter what. But Nova finds some things are beyond anyone’s control.

Pick 6: Homeschool Resources

1. Class Dismissed movie

2. John Holt

3. Pat Farenga

4. Village Home Learning

5. Sir Ken Robinson

6. Sandra Dodd

Reference Links:

Challenger documentary

Psychology Today article

Episode 14: Middle Grade Books to Read at Christmas

Happy Holidays from Two Lit Mamas! In a farewell to 2020, the mamas snuggle in with festive stories that are perfect for reading aloud by the fire. The holidays may not be the same this year but don’t cancel Christmas like Margie did in 2008! Instead, the mamas encourage you to start a new tradition of sharing and gifting books. Choose from the mama’s Middle Grade recommendations that will make you laugh and give you a fright while bringing your family closer together.  

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

It’s almost Christmas and 12-year-old Milo is ready for a quiet winter break with his parents in the family’s inn, Greenglass House, which is normally guest free at that time of year. But as guest after guest begins to arrive out of nowhere, Milo realizes this Christmas break might be better spent trying to untangle the web of mystery surrounding Greenglass House and the unusual guests within. 

Christmas Dinner of Souls by Ross Montgomery

Eleven-year-old Lewis finds himself in a little jam after breaking a window but he’s hopeful that after completing his penance by serving Christmas Eve dinner at Soul’s College all will be fine. But the evening takes a creepy turn when the room fills with monsters and Lewis’ new hope is to make it out alive.

Top Elf by Caleb Zane Huett. 

Ollie and his BFF Celia are elves and they are very good at their jobs. But when Santa decides that the long-held method of family lineage determining who should be Santa, is unfair, everything changes. Suddenly Ollie and Celia, as well as every other elf or human in the land are now in competition to become the next Santa. 

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Nikolas lives a hard-knock life in the woods of Finland, but he knows he’s loved and that gets him by until his father goes missing. Nikolas then travels to the North Pole to find him. Along the way, Nikolas meets a cast of characters including a cranky reindeer, a troublemaking troll, and a village of elves who have troubles of their own. Nikolas may be the only one who can fix things for them and himself. 

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

Amelia has a special relationship with Father Christmas or so she thought. When her Christmas wish is ignored, she ends up in a workhouse where the adults are cruel, and the food is gruel. Soon Amelia stops believing in the magic of Christmas all together just when Father Christmas is counting on her to save the day. The two must save each other before magic can return to the world.   

Episode Links:

Young Hoosier Book Awards

Two Lit Mamas Blog

Episode 13: Holiday Gift Guide Part 2, Middle Grade

3-2-1 Shop! In this episode, the mamas share many – let’s face it, probably too many – gift recommendations. Concentrating on upper and lower middle grade books, these crazy, wined-up Santa’s helpers go to town on their faves. From series and standouts to interactive finds, the mamas have got your holiday book shopping covered.

The mamas faves from past episodes:

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey

Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

The Creativity Project edited by Colby Sharp

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Fantasy Recs:

Glitch by Laura Martin

Tristan Strong Punches a Whole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Series Recs:

America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs, Complete Baking Book for Young Chef, Complete DIY Cookbook for Young Chefs

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Deep End by Jeff Kinney

Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gibwitz

New Release Recs:

Murder Most Puzzling by Stephanie Von Reistwitz

Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski

Middle Schools a Drag You Better Werk by Greg Howard

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer

Cut, Color, Create books by Merrill Rainey

Show Reference Links:

NaNoWriMo

Edge of Extinction Series by Laura Martin

Rowley Series by Jeff Kinney

Episode 12: Gift Guide Part 1, Picture & Chapter Books

Happy Holidays! The mamas flipped the script this episode to bring you their Pick 6 gift guides upfront. Not surprisingly, the opinionated broads have gobs of recommendations for their favorite 2020 picture books and chapter books so, get out your quills and parchment paper and let the mamas help kickstart your holiday shopping.

Heather’s 2020 Picture Book Faves

1. Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner, art by Christopher Silas Neal

2. Vote for our Future by Margaret McNamara, art by Micah Player

3. On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex

4. The Keeper of Wild Words by Brooke Smith, by Madeline Kloepper

5. Soaked by Abi Cushman

6. We Walk Through the Forest by Lisa Ferland, art by Yana Popova

Heather’s Fave Diverse Picture Books

1. Blue Cat by Charlie Eve Ryan

2. What I Like Most by Mary Murphy, art by Zhu Cheng-Liang

3. Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, art by Juana Martinez-Neal

4. La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, art by Juana Martinez-Neal

5. Crown, an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, art by Gordon C. James

6. Mae Among the Starts by Roda Ahmed, art by Stasia Burrington

Margie’s Fave Chapter Book Series

1. Mac B Kid Spy Series by Mac Barnett, art by Mike Lowery

2. Mia Mayhem Series by Kara West, art by Leeza Hernandez

3. Big Foot and Little Foot Series by Ellen Potter, art by Felicita Sala

4. Pocket Pirates by Chris Mould

5. Sam Wu is Not Afraid Of Series by Kate and Kevin Tsang 

6. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls Chapter Book Series 

Other resources for book recommendations:

Imagination Soup

Afoma Umesi All My Beautiful Things

Colby Sharp

Avery & Augustine

From the Mixed-Up Files

Kidlit411

Episode 11: Dystopia Middle Grade Lit, Killer Plants

If you’re in need of a distraction (and we KNOW you are), join the mamas for some mutating, eco-horror, dystopian fun. In the 11th episode of Two Lit Mamas, killer plants have taken over the world and it’s up to a few smart middle grade heroes to save the day. (If only they could save our country while they’re at it.) In 2020, nature may be out to get us, but on the bright side, the year is almost over.

Hit play and hang in there, folks! 

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

Mysterious seeds begin arriving via rainstorms first on an isolated Canadian Island and then worldwide. Massive, black, thorny vines sprout seemingly overnight and begin to take over. Three teens soon find that their strange health issues are giving them immunity to the power of these plants and soon they learn they are far more connected to these plants than anyone could have guessed.

Forgotten City by Michael Ford

Kobi has spent his entire life hiding from the deadly Waste that destroyed the world. Together, he and his father have managed to remain the lone survivors hiding from the plants and animals mutated by the Waste. But when his father disappears, Kobi learns that not only is he not the lone survivor, he’s facing dangers far worse than mutated plants.  

Pick 6: The Mamas’ Favorite Sci-fi Classics

  1. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  4. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien
  5. The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  6. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Show Reference Links:

The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson

5th Wave by Rick Yancy

The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Common Sense Media

www.Twolitmamas.com

Episode 10: Scary Stories for Middle Graders

Put on your pointy, black hats and join the witchy mamas for a bone-chilling discussion about Middle Grade books with ghosts, creepy dolls, and other frights trapped within their pages. Halloween celebrations may not be the same in 2020, but with Two Lit Mamas’ help you can still have a good cackle and curl up with a scary tale (or tail). 

Scary Books:

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

This well-known ghost story from master of suspense Mary Downing Hahn may have been written in 1986, but it’ll still scare your middle schoolers’ Walkman headphones right off. The story is of a blended family that moves into an old church in the countryside. The grounds, of course, come with an old cemetery that attracts Molly’s strange, young stepsister, Heather, who is found talking to what she claims is a ghost named Helen.    

Doll Bones by Holly Black

From the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles comes this creepy story of three friends who anger an antique doll that then threatens to haunt them until they return it to its home several states away. M.C., Zach, and his friend Alice go along with their friend Poppy’s weird story about the doll, unsure if it’s just another story she’s made up or if the doll will really destroy their lives. 

The Bone Garden by Heather Kassner

Irreelle knows she’s not quite real but not dead either but as long as she keeps Miss Vesper happy, she allows Irreelle to stay. While collecting bone dust from the tunnels below the cemetery for Miss Versper’s potions, Irreelle meets her predecessor Guy and soon her replacement, Lass. The three make a deal with Miss Vesper that if they find something she’s been searching for, she will ‘magic them real’ but can Miss Vesper really be trusted?

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Two fox kits, Mia and Uly, are torn from their mothers in two very different ways, forcing them to get to their golden eye time all alone. In converging stories, the kits face such horrors as a witch who wants to taxidermy a young kit, a ghost that haunts the woods, zombie foxes, and massive beasts that dwell beneath the water. Will they survive long enough for their eyes to turn gold? The young kits, who are listening to their story and hoping to have a white spot scared into their tails, sure hope so.  

Pick 6: Favorite Halloween Traditions

  1. Pumpkin Windows
  2. Dog Costumes
  3. Monster Windsocks
  4. Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  5. Homemade Costumes
  6. Handing Out Candy (with a glass of wine and an empty house)

Show References:

Margie’s Blog: Laughter is Better than Prozac

Episode 9: Deaf & Hard of Hearing Characters

In the longest episode of Two Lit Mamas yet, the mamas just can’t stop yakking about the great and not-so-great (Judge Judy’s in da house) Middle Grade books with deaf and hard of hearing characters. The mamas find more authors to stalk and characters to love while advocating for the deaf community. And that’s not all. The BFFs end the show with science, history and math related books that will help parents and caregivers survive e-learning and homeschooling in 2020. The struggle is real, but the mamas have your back. 

MG Books with Deaf and Hard of Hearing MCs:

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Iris is a Deaf girl in a hearing world who is acutely aware of how it feels to be disconnected, especially since her Deaf grandfather passed. When she learns of a whale struggling with the same disconnection, she’ll risk anything to make sure he knows he’s not alone.  

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznik

Wonderstruck is two stories, from two different times with stunning similarities. Ben’s story of searching for answers in 1977 is told in words while Rose’s story of searching for freedom in 1927 is told through stunning illustrations. Each is determined to find what they need but can they handle their journeys?

Harriet Versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines

Harriet recently moved in with her grandmother and isn’t too excited about it. But when she learns her hearing aids can translate the language of the alien under her bed and that her grandmother is a secret agent, she realizes staying at Grandma’s is nothing like she expected.

El Defo by CeCe Bell

In this classic graphic novel, Cece wants to connect with her classmates and make a best friend. The only obstacle is the huge hearing device she wears around her neck called the Phonic Ear. Without it Cece can’t hear but with it she feels like a sore thumb.

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Virgil would like to befriend Valencia but she’s smart, independent and Deaf, all things Virgil is not. Karori promises she can use her psychic powers to help him but before she can connect the two, the universe, in the form of the class bully, gets in the way. 

Pick Six: Fiction that Supports Science, Math and History Subjects

  1. Lizzy Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
  2. Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  3. Prairie Cooks Glorified Rice, Three-Day Buns, and Other Reminiscences by Carrie Young
  4. Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  5. Counting by 7s by Holly Golberg Sloan
  6. The Tornado by Jake Burt
  7. Bonus Pick: The Poetry of Science: The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science for Kids

Visit the Two Lit Mamas Blog

Episode 8: Back to School Creativity

Whether your family is doing e-learning, homeschooling, unschooling, striking, or hiding out in a bunker to avoid the latest natural disaster, you need The Creativity Project book to fill your time and sparkle your creativity. If you’re not sure if this book is for you, listen as the mamas give the hard sell (no, there’s no money in it for them although they’ll take your money if you’re offering) for literary advocate Colby Sharp and his unique prompt-response anthology along with tips to keep your kids learning, growing and creating. 

The Creativity Project, edited by Colby Sharp

This collection of prompts and responses from dozens of well-known children’s authors is the brainchild of teacher and literary advocate Colby Sharp (5 Questions with Mr. Sharp), who invited some of the best storytellers in Kidlit to share a prompt. Then the artists swapped prompts and let their imaginations run wild. The results appear in The Creativity Project book in the form of stories, drawings, poems, and comics. A section titled Prompts for You, is a call to action at the end that encourages readers to create their own awesome works of art. 

The Mamas couldn’t call out every contributor in the book, but they did discuss the works of these authors and illustrators: Sherman Alexi, Kate Messner, R.J. Palacio, Dav Pilkey, Minh Le, Victoria Jamieson, Lemony Snicket, Jennifer L. Holm, Chris Grabenstein, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Adam Gidwitz, Sophie Blackall, Kate DiCamillo, and Kat Yeh.

Pick 6: The mamas’ tips for sparking creativity at home or school

  1. Poetry Friday Anthology
  2. Scholastic Story Starter Scrambler
  3. Story Prompts from Think Written and Squibler
  4. Painting with ice
  5. Ice Play
  6. Airport Stories

Episode Reference Links:

Tomie’s Little Book of Poems by Tomie dePaola

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler

Pandemic Book Shopping… Another New Normal

For bookworms like myself and my young’uns, bookstores are a sacred place offering an experience that cures whatever ails you. With each of our many moves I have managed to find a perfect bookstore to offer solace for my transient soul. After moving to Turkey, I found a two-story wonder with a decent selection of English titles and a phenomenal section of Turkish authors translated into English. I would disappear inside that shop for hours and imagine myself back in a world where the task of daily communication wasn’t exhausting. It was heaven.

Even Greg masked up at the bookstore.

When I returned to the US, I had a toddler in tow, so I had to start frequenting children’s bookstores. Bookstores soon did for my kids what they have always done for me, open a universe of possibilities. Trips to the bookstore have always been experiential, transformative and frequent. After moving to Massachusetts, it only took about three months before we found our spot – An Unlikely Story Bookstore in Plainville. This amazing independent gem also happens to be the brainchild of Diary of a Wimpy Kid genius, Jeff Kinney.

It was waiting for us just like we left it.

The boys and I have made regular pilgrimages to An Unlikely Story throughout our time here. If there was an early dismissal or day off, we’d make the 35-minute drive to hide out in the stacks and find new and exciting titles for our own bookshelves. But when COVID-19 hit, the entire state locked down, including our magical escape. We’ve waited six long months but when An Unlikely Story finally opened for ‘appointment only’ shopping, it was game on!

We counted the days until our bookstore fieldtrip, deciding to go in with no titles or styles in mind, rather hoping to be inspired by something peering out from the shelves. When we pulled into the empty parking lot my heart was a twitter. I’ve hated crowds even before the pandemic and this store was always packed. Seeing only two other cars meant there were only two other groups. Ahhhhh. Heaven.

At our allotted time a bookseller joined us in our socially distanced line in the parking lot, giving us a warmer welcome than I’ve received at family functions. “If you need suggestions or have questions, just ask. Our booksellers are as happy to see you as you are to see them. We are so glad you’re here.” 

It was like they were waiting for us!

Even my sarcastic 12-year-old was moved. “Mom, this is really cool. I feel important.”

After giving us the now requisite instructions about one-way aisles and hand sanitizing stations, we were unleashed into the store. Ahhhhh. Heaven.

We had 45 minutes to hang out with only 10 other people and we made the most of it. We settled in with some Star Wars STEAM books (I share our faves in Episode 5 of TwoLitMamas podcast) before scouring the chapter books. We moved through all of the mythology and science sections and did a serious dive into sci-fi and general middle grade fiction before exhausting our budget. We saved our last 10 minutes for their brilliant gift section because doesn’t everyone need Elizabeth Warren socks and Ruth Bader Ginsberg action figures? I know I do.

As we wrapped up our adventure and ordered me a coffee and the boys some brownies, the only black cloud of the day appeared. My 7-year-old burst into tears.

“Honey, what’s wrong? Wasn’t it good?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It was good but it wasn’t the same.”

And he’s right. While I absolutely adored my private shopping spree, it wasn’t the same. A bookstore isn’t just a retail space. It’s warmth. It’s safety. It’s shelf after shelf of possibilities and while all of those things were still there, it wasn’t the same. Unfortunately, it was a great reminder that while we’re slowly accepting our new normal, our kids might need a little more time. But in that time, we can devour a few books and hide away in some amazing tales.

Our epic bag of goodies!

Episode 7: Cozy Mysteries for Middle Grade

Grab your shawl, pour yourself a spot of tea and get cozy. For the 7th episode of Two Lit Mamas, the ladies dig into all things murderous. From traditional British cozies to inspired African American mysteries, the mamas share their favorite TV shows and grown up murder mysteries while uncovering fab and funny mysteries for middle graders. So, take a bun break and Greek out with the mamas or Miss Fortune will find you.     

Middle Grade Cozies:

Taylor & Rose Secret Agents, Peril in Paris

by Katherine Woodfine

In 1911, two young detectives, Sophie Taylor and Lillian Rose, shift their focus from sleuthing to the fast-paced world of espionage as they take on a case for Britain’s mysterious Secret Service Bureau. While Lil has been sent on a special mission by the Bureau Chief, Sophie is tasked with uncovering why Bureau agent, Professor Blaxland, was found murdered in his Paris apartment. While the City of Lights is beautiful and alluring, for these agents, doom lurks around every corner.

Murder Most Unladylike

by Robin Stevens

In this first Wells and Wong mystery, detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong finally get their chance to solve a real crime at their boarding school, The Deepdean School for Girls. After Hazel discovers their science teacher, Miss Bell, dead in the gymnasium, she rushes to get her partner but by the time they return minutes later, the body is gone. The girls know they must find the killer before he or she strikes again but with their suspect list growing, will Wells and Wong find the killer in time?

The Clubhouse Mysteries, The Mystery of the Buried Bones

by Sharon M. Draper

In this first book in the series by best-selling author Sharon M. Draper, four friends have to find a way to spend their summer after finding their basketball court destroyed. The boys decide to use some salvaged fencing supplies and build a clubhouse for their new club, The Black Dinosaurs. When the boys discover a box of bones, they agree to solve the mystery inside which takes them on an unexpected journey and leading them to finally understand why Mr. Green has been lurking around, singing, “Dem bones gonna rise again.”

The Great Cake Mystery

by Alexander McCall Smith 

This book is the first of three cozy mysteries for kids exploring the origins of Detective Precious Ramotswe, from Smith’s long-time cozy mystery series, The #1 Ladies Detective Agency. In this tale, Precious lives with her father in a small Botswanan village. When sweets go missing before snack time at the village school, everyone assumes it was Poloko, their “traditionally built” classmate. But the young sleuth, Precious, disagrees and constructs the perfect trap to find the real perpetrator and clear Poloko’s name.

Pick Six: The Mamas Favorite Grown Up Cozy Mysteries

Lucy Stone by Leslie Meier

Greek to Me Series by Susannah Hardy

Miss Fortune Series by Jana DeLeon

Inspector Barnaby Series by Caroline Graham

Mr. Parker Pyne by Agatha Christie

Murder She Wrote

Reference Links:

Masterclass.com cozy murder parameters

Masterpiece Mystery Theater

St. Trinians movie

Down the Rabbit Hole Podcast

Two Lit Mamas Blog