Tag Archives: Middle Grade books

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

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

Episode 6: QUILTBAG+ Middle Grade Books

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 by Alex Gino

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. 

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari

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:

The Quarterback’s Crush

Buried Secrets 

He can be reached at johnrpetriewrites@gmail.com and on twitter at johnpetriewrite 

Episode Reference Links:

John Petrie’s podcast: Don’t Sue Us Please Podcast

Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone

Peter by Kate Walker

Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

Five Six Seven Nate and Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Best Middle Grade Series

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. 

Margie’s Faves

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken,  So You Want to Be a Jedi by Adam Gidwitz and Return of the Jedi, Beware The Power of the Dark Side by Tom Angleberger are three very different retellings of the original Star Wars movies from the 1970s and 80s. Though completely different in style, the three books fit together to tell the story from Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s meet cute (ewww, they’re brother and sister) to the defeat of their faaather.

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.

Heather’s Faves

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. 

Pick 6: Great Shows Based on Great Books

  1. Matilda
  2. The House with a Clock in the Walls
  3. Anne with an E
  4. Holes
  5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  6. Series of Unfortunate Events


Show Reference Links:

VIA Character Strengths Survey
Café de Olla
40th Anniversary Star Wars article with Adam Gidwitz
Origamiyoda.com
Jedi Academy
Common Sense Media

Episode 4: Diverse Summer Reads

You might want to pour a glass of wine for this one. Heather and Margie dive into diverse American stories and get on their soap boxes about the importance of representation, true patriotism, letting sassy children lead us, and the power of mamas’ boys. They aimed for light summer beach reads but happily landed on more important books about black girl magic and the kindness of Latinx boys – much more fitting for the summer of 2020.   

A Song Below Water
By Bethany C. Morrow

This modern fantasy about two friends, Tavia and Effie, is set in Portland, Oregon where sirens and other magical creatures live among humans. In addition to dealing with racism and sexism, the play sisters also have to hide their magical abilities out of fear of attack after a siren murder trial rocks the nation. As if that isn’t enough, the young women also struggle with normal teen troubles like boys and hair. In the end, their strong friendship gets them through it all.  

Marcus Vega Does Not Speak Spanish
By Pablo Cartaya

Marcus Vega is a 6-foot, 180-pound middle schooler and while he might tower over most kids at his school, to his mom and brother, he’s just a big, overprotective softie. After a fight at school provides Marcus with some unexpected “time off,” Marcus’ mom decides it’s time for him to reconnect with his family in Puerto Rico. However, Marcus thinks this is the perfect time to search for the father who left them ten years ago. Through a series of adventures in Puerto Rico, Marcus learns that family is never quite the way you imagine it.

Pick Six: Read the Book, Skip the Movie!

1. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry

3. Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer

4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

6. Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan

Episode 3: Multicultural Middle Grade

In Episode 3 of Two Lit Mamas, Margie and Heather chat about heavy metal t-shirts, flower pictures, and flying teenagers before diving into a discussion on first gen Americans, language misconceptions, unfounded fears of the other, and the right kind of rule breakers. Margie even gets misty about her Turkish immigrant husband – you don’t want to miss it! 

Multicultural Middle Grade Book Discussion:

We’re Not From Here

by Jeff Rodkey

After the human race obliterates Earth, middle schoolers Lan and Ila are living on Mars with their parents. Unfortunately, Mars’ resources are nearly exhausted, but the far-off planet Choom has agreed to take on human refugees. Unfortunately, during the 20-year journey to Choom, the government changed and no longer has any interest in taking a ship full of violent human refugees. With little food and fuel left and the remainder of the human race counting on them, Lan and family have been given a chance to prove to all of Choom that humans are not as bad as they seem. No pressure.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

by Jessica Kim

Eleven-year-old Yumi Chung is a shy Korean American girl who struggles at her fancy L.A. private school where students call her names and she eats lunch by herself in the bathroom. Her one solace is her favorite comedians’ how-to videos and her notebook full of jokes. In a case of mistaken identity, Yumi joins a summer comedy camp without the permission of her over-protective parents. During that time to learns to fail forward and stick up for herself. Eventually she uses her comedy skills to save the day. 

Pick Six Multicultural Books:

  1. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  2. Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  4. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  5. The First Rule of Punk by Celia Pérez
  6. The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Show Reference Links:

Teacher Guide for We’re Not From Here

#ownvoices

The Book Sommelier

11 Contemporary Diverse Novels for Middle Grade Readers on ReadBrightly.com

Episode 2: Fifth Grade Book Reports

Episode 2 Show Notes:

In Episode 2 of Two Lit Mamas, Margie and Heather surprise each other with book reports on Middle Grade novels the other one hasn’t read yet. Listen along as the mamas introduce each other to bog monsters, butter cows, wish granters, and Jan Brady books. What the heck is a Jan Brady book, you ask? Hit play and let Margie explain it to you.  

Margie’s “Surprise Me” Books:

Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

Slider by Pete Hautman

Heather’s “Surprise Me” Books:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Granted by John David Anderson

Show Reference Links:

Artist Duffy and the history of Iowa State Fair butter cows

More Middle Grade farm books from The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

More about bog ecosystems from National Geographic

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

Teacher Guides from Pete Hautman

Heather’s “Surprise Me” Books

In Episode 2 of Two Lit Mamas, Margie and Heather surprise each other with book reports on Middle Grade novels the other one hasn’t read yet. Below are the two novels Heather shared:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a 2017 Newbery Medal winner about a young girl named Luna who becomes magical after a witch, who saves her from abandonment in the forest, feeds her moonlight. The witch, Xan, then raises Luna as her own along with the help of a bog monster and a tiny dragon. On the other side of the mountain, in Luna’s hometown of the Protectorate, a young man vows to put an end to the evil witch who demands a sacrificial baby each year, but the real evil is waiting to be uncovered.    

Granted by John David Anderson

Granted is a middle grade novel about Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, a Granter fairy who’s been given her first wish-granting assignment. To complete her mission, she must leave the safety of the Haven for the first time. Her mentors warn her that the human world is a dangerous place, but Ophelia isn’t afraid. She’s packed everything she could possibly need and is ready to make one girl’s wish for a new bike come true ­– or, so she thinks. 

To find out what the mamas thought of these books, listen to Episode 2.