Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick

Today Biblio Links welcomes back prolific author Audrey Vernick

Although Audrey’s middle grade novel, Water Balloon, is the perfect summer-time read, it’s the kind of book kids will want to dive into at any time of the year. As a school librarian at a K-5 elementary school, I always have a faction of 10-year-old girls who sidle up to me and whisper, “Do you have any, you know, romance books?” Water Balloon is the book I recommend because Marley, the main character, has an innocent, wholesome crush on the boy next door . But it’s not just the middle grade romance that makes readers want to take this book home; Water Ballon is a lovely, coming-of-age story about a girl dealing with the separation of her parents (both nice people, by the way) and the loss of her best friends as they all grow their separate ways.

Here’s the jacket flap summary:

Marley is stretched as tightly as an overfull water balloon. Her parents have separated and her relationship with her forever best friends is disintegrating. To top it all off, she is forced into what must be the worst summer job in history. She is trying hard to hold onto everything she loves, but if she squeezes any tighter, something’s going to burst. Luckily, there’s also a boy in the picture with amazing light blue eyes and the ability to make baseball actually seem interesting…but young romance, too, has lots of opportunity for humiliation and misinterpreted signals. As everything changes around her, can Marley loosen her drop on the past long enough to embrace the present, and maybe even the future?

I asked Audrey about ways in which readers connect with Water Balloon.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think, That kid needs a copy of Water Ballon. Who is this child?

Audrey: That child is probably someone whose parents recently separated or divorced–a situation new to Marley, Water Balloon’s narrator. She may also be someone facing a difficult time with her friends. When I hear from readers, they are often ones perplexed by the end of what they expected to be a lifelong friendship–a situation so common in that transitional middle-school age, and so deeply painful and hard to accept. They often ask about a sequel–they seem to feel a need to know if Marley’s fractured friendships ever heal. 

Biblio Links: I can see why readers want to be reassured that Marley will be okay! I was 100% invested in this character, and she felt as real to me as one of my students.

If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Audrey: If the classroom were of the outdoor kind, and the teacher was a gamer, you might encounter a brilliantly-conceived water balloon fight, but that’s not altogether likely. If you were to peek at just the right time, you might find yourself privy to a very frank discussion about adjusting to newly separated and/or divorced parents. Or perhaps a thoughtful, delicate conversation about being aware of the way friendships evolve and change over time, and what to do when a friendship goes bad.

Students might also discuss the joys and horrors of baby-sitting, as Marley spends her summer caring for a pair of slightly crazed five-year-old twins, who provide a bit more horror than joy.

Biblio Links: Another place where I can see Water Balloon being used is in a book club or friendship group that guidance counselors often run.

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Audrey: My website contains information about my books and school visits and provides discussion guides for a number of my titles:www.audreyvernick.com.
On my (occasional) blog, I interview authors and illustrators: http://whmp.com/pages/8875192.php
The teaching books website offers links to many interviews I’ve done: http://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?aid=14457

Biblio Links Thanks for stopping by, Audrey!

Audrey: Thanks so much, Natalie!!

 Check out Audrey’s picture books, Bark and Tim,  Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? and Teach Your Buffalo To Play The Drums, and picture book biographies She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story and Brothers At Bat.

Click here for smashing  reviews (including two starred reviews!) of Water Balloon.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Clarion Book (Houghton Mifflin)

Publication Date: September 6, 2011

ISBN-10: 0547595549

ISBN-13: 978-0547595542

Interest Level: Ages 9 and up

Number of Pages: 310

Thanks to Shannon Messenger for hosting another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!


My Very (Un) Fairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski

Today Biblio Links welcomes author Anna Staniszewski!

Jacket Summary: Is your magical kingdom falling apart? Twelve-year-old Jenny is on the case, whether she likes it or not. Saving the world might sound exciting, but for Jenny it’s starting to get old — even staying in the real world long enough to take a math test would be a dream come true! And when you throw in bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and the most useless gnome sidekick ever, Jenny decides that enough is enough. She’s leaving the adventuring business and not looking back. Or…is she?

As I read this book, I immediately thought of a dozen kids I wanted to hand it to. The Upper Elementary/Middle School years are rife with friendship drama, and Jenny, the book’s main character, handles her BFF mass exodus in a way that made me both want to hug and cheer for her. Missing her parents, Jenny has to figure out how to get along with her kooky but lovable Aunt Evie, which will resonate with many of my students who live with extended family members. And last but not least, I have a group of 5th grade girls who come into my library asking (in a whisper, of course) for books with some romance. Jenny is the daring damsel and Prince Lamb is the monarch-in-distress, and there are moments when a few cupid-shaped sparks fly–not enough to scare away boy readers, mind you, but just enough to put stars in the eyes of the girl readers who whisper their way into my library. A delightful read!

I asked Anna how her book fits into the classroom.

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think, “That kid needs a copy of MY VERY (UN)FAIRY TALE LIFE.” Who is this kid?
Anna Staniszewski: This student is a girl (or a boy–yes, my book is also okay for boys!) who loves to laugh, enjoys magical adventures, has an interest in fairy tales, and is an avid mini-golf player.
Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Anna Staniszewski: I imagine a lesson on how fairy tales keep changing and evolving. A tale that inspired me as I was writing MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE was “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” which is one of the very few traditional tales that features a heroine who must rescue her prince. I used that idea and ran with it in my story. It would be interesting to have students think about the trends we see in traditional fairy tales and how those trends have changed (or not changed) as writers continue to re-imagine familiar tales.

Biblio Links: Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?
Anna Staniszewski: Swing by my website! (www.annastan.com) You can read the first chapter of my book, watch the book trailer, and download a free teacher’s guide (created by the fabulous Natalie Lorenzi herself). You’ll also get info on the UNFAIRY TALE sequels!

Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

Click Anna’s link above to read the magical reviews of My Very (Un) Fairy Tale Life.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Publication Date: November 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 9781402259463 (paperback)

Interest Level: Ages 9-12

Reading Level: 4.5

Number of Pages: 198

Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard

Summary (from the author’s website: http://dritamyhomegirl.com):

Drita and her family come to New York as refugees from war-torn Kosovo. Even though she barely speaks English, Drita can’t wait to start school and make a new best friend. But her new classmates don’t make it easy, teasing her about virtually everything. The worst is Maxie, a tough African-American girl whose sassy attitude hides a painful secret.

When Maxie takes things too far, their teacher assigns Maxie a paper on Drita and her journey to America from Kosovo. Suddenly, Maxie realizes she and Drita have more in common than she thought. And when Drita’s mother gets sick, there’s only one person who can help—Drita’s new homegirl.

A sensitively written story of two worlds coming together, Drita, My Homegirl touchingly explores the effects of war on a family and how friendship sometimes appears in the unlikeliest places.

Click here for  reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* With a divorced or widowed parent

* With a newly-minted or soon-to-be stepparent

* Who has a loved one suffering from depression

* Who is going through culture shock

* Is learning English for the first time

* Who has immigrated to the U.S. and into your heart

Use this to teach:

* Dual Point of View–The narration alternates between fourth graders Drita, a recently-arrived Muslim refugee from Kosovo, and Maxie, a popular and precocious African-American girl dealing with the death of her mother and her  father’s new girlfriend. Both voices are distinct and equally empathetic in their own unique ways.

* Immigration--This book would add contemporary relevancy to any unit on immigration, past or present.

*Friendship–For any school counselors out there who run friendship groups, and/or work at schools with high immigrant populations or high student mobility rates

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: G.P. Putman’s Sons (Penguin)

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 0399243801

Number of Pages: 176

Reading Level: 3.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 8 and up)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Click here for summary and reviews.

Hand this book to the kid:

* Who loves to draw

* Has moved/is moving to a new school

* Is dealing/has dealt with a tough home life (abusive caretakers and poverty)

* Has a relative or family friend who is a war veteran

* Who needs a little hope

Use this to teach:

* Voice–The narrator, 14-year-old Doug Swieteck (a minor character in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book The Wednesday Wars), talks directly to the reader at times, inviting us into his tough world laced with hope.

* Types of Conflict--This story has it all–character vs. character (Doug against his father and brother), nature (inadequately-dressed Doug schlepping through snow to deliver groceries), society (poverty, Doug’s older brother stationed in Vietnam)  and self (Doug’s older brother finding the courage to reenter society as a disabled war veteran).

Curriculum Guide here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Clarion

Publication Date: 2011

ISBN: 9780547152608

Number of Pages: 368

Reading Level: 4.9

Interest Level: Middle Grade (ages 10-14)