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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Handing Out Candy (with a glass of wine and an empty house)
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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
“Do I have to read it? Can’t I just watch the movie?”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that phrase in my 20 plus years as an educator, I’d be typing this from my luxurious, oceanside villa on Cape Cod rather than from my backyard deck adjacent to a pop-up pool in Plymouth. Most avid readers know that when it comes to adaptations, the book is always, always, always better than the movie. But when you’re 12 and you have the option between 2 hours on the sofa, munchin’ Jiffy Pop or actually engaging your brain for 300 pages, the choice is obvious. Unfortunately, the easy choice is seldom the best one.
The problem doesn’t only exist in the classroom. We’ve had the same issue in my house, but I recently flipped the script before the whining could start. When I realized my eldest’s 7th grade summer reading list included Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightening Thief, I cut a deal. “Read the book first and then we’ll watch the movie. If they’re more than 75% the same, then you can always watch the movie first from here out.” He had no idea it was a set up. The Lightening Thief is a page turning ride that can keep even the most reluctant readers engaged. The film adaptation…not so much. As a former student once said, “Mrs. O, the only thing about that movie that’s like the book is the title!” Agreed kid.
After a few weeks of cozying up with the book version of Percy and Grover and joining them on Grecian inspired adventures, my son tuned in to Disney Plus for the film version. A couple hours later he reappeared. “Mom? What was that?”
“It’s nothing like the book. The book is totally amazing and that was nothing like what I had in my head.”
“Well which was better, your head or the movie?”
“Duh, Mom, obviously my version.”
“So, I guess you’ll be reading the books from now on, huh?”
While I have some really strong opinions on film adaptations, I encourage you and your crew to test the theory for yourselves. 2020 has seen a slew of middle grade and YA adaptations with more to come. Challenge your family to read the book and then watch the movie. Afterall, there’s still a pandemic going on and everything is cancelled so you’ve got plenty of time on your hands. Afterwards, make a T-chart to list all the similarities and differences between both, then the experiment will not only count towards quality family time, but you might score bonus points for homeschooling or e-learning.
To help you get started, here’s a quick list of book-to-movie adaptions for 2020 and where to find them. Enjoy!
My One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Culfer
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier
The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Emma by Jane Austen
PS I Still Love You by Jenny Han (sequel to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before)
Theatrical Releases – Available for rental on Amazon Prime:
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Dolittle (Based on The Story of Doctor Dolittle)by Hugh Lofting
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Witches by Roald Dahl – 10/20/20
The Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke (Wide release coming in the fall)
2020 Releases Moved to January Due to Covid 19
Peter Rabbit 2, (Based on Peter Rabbit) by Beatrix Potter
Chaos Walking, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Let us know in the comments what book/movie you chose and which you preferred. You can get the Two Lit Mamas opinions on their favorite adaptations by tuning in to Two Lit Mamas Podcast Episode 6. And, to hear to them chat about adaptation failures, check out podcast Episode 5.
Gear up, middle grade writers! The mamas have invited YA novelist John Petrie to join the podcast for episode 6. Petrie breaks down his process for researching sports romances while sharing with our cis gender mamas some amazing insights into the history of queer books. Put on your mask, open your mind, and walk in someone else’s shoes as the Two Lit Mamas and One Lit Godfather chat about middle grade books full of LGBTQIAP+ characters and culture.
Rick knows middle school is new and intimidating. He knows he’s the last one at home now that his siblings are in college. He knows he’s not a jerk like his best friend Jeff. But sometimes Rick worries those are the only things he knows. With the help of some new friends and an amazing grandparent, Rick learns that not knowing is perfectly fine.
June Farrell’s pies are some of the very best in Vermont, even if she’s only 12 years old. June plans to showcase her skills in the upcoming Champlain County Fair until arguments over Vermont’s civil union laws put her family and their livelihood in danger. But it takes more than some bullies to deter June from her making pies and embracing her new family.
Meet the Guest Star: John Petrie
John Petrie grew up in Boston and now lives in the Bronx, NY. He’s spent most of his life around books, from his days as a teenage library assistant to over twenty years as a bookseller and writer. His work has appeared in True Romance magazine as well as in his two most recent YA books for Harmony Ink Press:
Join the Two Lit Mamas as they disappear into their favorite Middle Grade series and forget about the dumpster fire that is 2020 for a while. The mamas talk Star Wars, supernatural powers and even exchange a recipe for Café de Olla, all while giving big props to genius authors who make parents cringe and kiddos cheer. So, go ahead, get lost in a neighborhood of make believe with the mamas. You might feel better – at least for 30 minutes.
The Genius Files is a series of five books by Dan Gutman following the McDonald twins, Coke and Pepsi, on a pop culture filled cross-country road trip. While their parents are enjoying the sights, the twins find themselves being hunted by a team of bad guys because Coke and Pepsi are no ordinary kids. The twins have been chosen for a secret government organization known as The Genius Files.
War usually brings death and devastation but, for Ada, it might save her from abuse and misery. Set in the English countryside during WWII, The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, complete a coming of age story about a 10-year-old girl who learns to love life at a time when bombings and German spies are a normal part of living.
Watch out world, the Beatumont children are coming into their powers and they can’t control them. Will there be a new mountain range in Kansas or a great lake in the desert? Anything is possible in this three book fantasy adventure series by Ingrid Law which includes Savvy, Scumble and Switch. Each book follows a new family member on the wild ride of discovering his or her powers.