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My name is Jen Maschari, and I write middle grade novels. I read some of my very favorite books like WALK TWO MOONS, NUMBER THE STARS, and THE SECRET GARDEN when I was in grade school.  I hope that someday one of my books might be one of your favorites, too.

You may have guessed that I’m a huge fan of reading.  You’re right! I love to read all kinds of things but I especially love middle grade and young adult books.  They are some of the best books out there.

I also love creating my own stories.  If you want to know more about me or what I write, click the links in the black bar above.  You can also contact me using the colorful buttons over on the right side of the page.

I blog about all things middle grade.  I recommend books you might want to read, movies you might want to watch, and talk about writing itself.   I hope that you’ll want to join the discussion.  Enjoy!

An EXCITING announcement!

I’ve always loved to read.

I was the kid who needed extra sheets of paper to write down all of the books she read over the summer for the library reading club. I was the teen whose idea of a super fun Friday night was heading over to the bookstore and losing myself in the shelves of stories. I was the teacher who was constantly pushing books into the hands of her students, obsessed with finding the right books for the right kids.

I also loved to write.

Writing took practice.  I took classes, I studied, I read, I revised, I wrote and rewrote and then wrote some more.  Writing so that the story on the page finally matched the one I had dreamed up in my head.

And along the way I had people who believed in my writing and cheered it on and whispered (and sometimes shouted), “Keep going!”

And now it is unbelievable to me that some kid is going to need an extra sheet of paper to write down my book title for the summer reading club and that some teen might see my book at her local bookstore on a Friday night and that some teacher might push my book into the hands of a reader because it’s “just right” for him…..

Because MY BOOK SOLD!!!  Here is the official announcement:

So what is it about? It’s a book about kids who do brave things and math and stars – all with a healthy dose of magic. I am SO excited to share it with all of you.  I have to thank my super agent Victoria Marini, who I think has magic of her own (a thousand excessive exclamation points for her!) And I am thrilled to be teaming up with the amazing Alessandra Balzer on this; I am so happy to be working with her.

EXCITING!!!!!

Awesome Middle School Reads

I don’t know about where you live but man, this Ohio winter has been absolutely brutal.  I have never been a “winter person” but this winter has made me consider packing my bags and taking the first flight down to Florida. (Oh 80 degree weather, I dream of thee).  What this winter has been great for is reading!  There is nothing better than curling up on the couch with a great book, slippers on my feet, and hot chocolate in hand.

I think my students agree with this as I can’t keep my bookshelves stocked. I take this as a most excellent sign.  Here are some awesome books that my middle schoolers are loving:

They are loving Sarah Dessen’s contemporary YA books.  I have most of her collection, and it’s so fun to see my readers return one and pick up another.  I think it’s her combination of sun and strong female characters and knowing the problems and issues that everyday teens face.  My personal favorite is Just Listen.

I also can’t keep Marissa MeCress (Lunar Chronicles, #3)yer’s Lunar Chronicles on my shelves. The students love the complex characters and the familiar fairy tale stories turned on their heads. Rapunzel as a hacker stuck in an orbiting satellite in space? Cinderella as a cyborg mechanic? Yes please!  The adventure and excitement keep the students coming back for more. Check out Cinder, Scarlet and Cress.

If your students are more in the mood for mystery, I love suggesting The Girl is Murder and The Girl is Trouble.  Set in the 1940s these books are great for students looking for a whodunnit and who love historical fiction.  In that same vein, I’ve had a lot of students pick up What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.  This National Book Award Winner is so full of complex characters making bad decisions, and I just love the main character Evie who has to navigate the world around her.

Non-fiction is also pretty popular in my classroom. I’ve been working to find non-fiction that feels more narrative.  I’ve had several students book talk with me afterward and say, “It didn’t even feel like I was reading non-fiction!”  The key is finding the right books that will help readers springboard into other texts.  A few of our favorites include Tom Thumb: The Remarkable Story of a Man in Miniature, Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. All of these are fascinating reads that will truly engage your middle grade readers.

Share your students’ favorite reads in the comments below.  I always love getting suggestions of books to add to my classroom library.

I partnered with Grammarly for this post.

 

What I’ve Been Up To…

Happy summer everyone!  I can’t believe there is only one month left till school starts. Better get some extra pool time in while you can! And if you are one of my students, I hope you are getting a ton of reading done, too.  Summer is the perfect time to relax with a good book.  Here’s some of what I’ve been reading:

Slide1I would love to know what your favorite summer books have been. I have run into many students at the library and am always happy to hear about what you’ve been reading.  I love that our reading community continues even into the summer.

Also remember to bring in a picture of you reading when you come back to school in August!  I plan on taking a photo of me reading near the sand dunes in Traverse City, Michigan.

I have also been working a lot on my writing.  I am taking a writing class (you never stop learning!) and am working on a middle grade novel that I’m really excited about.  Finally, I’ve been hanging out with these guys:IMAG0146

IMAG0068 (1)Hank and Oliver are enjoying having me at home for the summer.  Hank is still learning the bulldog way: eat, sleep and eat some more. Oliver has had it down pat for awhile.

I would love to know what you have been up to this summer!

 

 

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

I was a huge fan of Morgan Matson’s Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (check out my review here) so I was super excited for the release of her next book, Second Chance Summer.  This book doesn’t disappoint and Matson has become one of my favorite contemporary YA authors, joining the ranks with Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

I recommend this books for grades 7 and up.

The Story:  Taylor Edwards is used to running away from her problems.  Five summers ago, she left her family’s summer home in the Poconos after a misunderstanding with her friends.  She didn’t return – that is, until now.  Taylor has met a problem that she can’t outrun – her dad has stage four pancreatic cancer and he wants the family to have one last summer together at their lake house.  Taylor’s uncomfortable talking with her family about her dad’s illness and prognosis – she’s never really had practice with facing hard stuff.

The hard stuff faces her head-on, though.  She continually runs into her ex-boyfriend Henry (who is a lot cuter than she remembers), works with her ex-best friend Lucy at the beach snack shop and watches her father progressively get sicker and sicker, becoming a shadow of the person she knew before.  Taylor needs to learn how to communicate, let others in and deal with life’s difficulties to have a second chance with the friends she left behind, with her family and with her father.

Wonderful character development for both major and minor characters, great emotional arcs and excellent writing make this a must-read.  The characters really stood out to me.  Each one was so dimensional and real and played into the family dynamic.  Gansley and Warren, Taylor’s sister and brother, each had their own growing to do.  I especially loved Warren’s relationship with the red-headed vet.  It was so sweet and fun to read!

When it comes down to it, this book is about relationships – cultivating them, growing them, and cherishing them.  I loved how Second Chance Summer explored all kinds of relationships – familial, romantic and friendships.  It explored the beginnings of relationships and the sad endings of others.  This was a beautiful book about love and loss and everything in between.  I highly recommend Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson!

 

Mystery Monday – Mystery Books for MG and YA

In my current manuscript, one of the characters, Grace Wu, LOVES mysteries.  Sherlock Holmes.  Nancy Drew.  Agatha Christie.  She would pretty much read any mystery she could get her hands on.  She even named her English bulldog sidekick Dr. Watson and fancies herself a modern-day Nancy Drew.  Here’s an excerpt from THE WITCHING HOUR:

She lifted up her wrist and pointed to a flexible plastic green bracelet. “WWND.”

“WWND?” Chester said.  “What does that stand for?”

“What would Nancy do?” Grace replied.  “Nancy Drew.  World’s best detective.  Even better than Sherlock, mainly because she’s a girl and kicks so much bad-guy butt.  I look to her in times of trouble.”

“Isn’t she for 10-year-olds?”

“If by 10-year-olds you mean people with good taste, then yes.”

 

As Grace is always up for a new mystery book (or adventure she can solve herself), I put together a few mysteries she would love.

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Kate Messner is a one of my students’ favorite authors.  I was so excited to learn that her newest book was going to be a mystery.  This novel follows a band of four very different kids who need to recover the flag from the Smithsonian that inspired The Star Spangled Banner.  Stuck in an airport in a snowstorm, the kids race to find the flag in a fast-paced, high-action style. I am looking forward to introducing this book to my students in the fall and reading more books in the Silver Jaguar Society series.  This would be a great book for students in grades 4 – 6 who are interested in history.

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

This book has been described as The Da Vinci Code for the YA set and I think that is a fitting description.  Full of thrills, adventure, history and suspense, this book kept me guessing to the last few explosive pages.  Nora, a high-school senior who is a brilliant Latin student, is asked to help translate documents with a local professor.  Her best friend Chris and new-comer Max are given the important items to translate while she is given letters from the daughter of an alchemist named Elizabeth Weston.  Her letters may be the key to finding the Lumen Dei, a device that would give humans God-like power.  When Chris is killed, she heads to Prague to find the Lumen Dei, face a secret society that will do anything to get what they want and discover who killed Chris.  This was a well-researched religious/historical thriller and I loved all the fun European details.  It definitely made me want to book a trip to Prague (minus the secret society stuff!)  I would recommend this for ages 13 and up.

Anything by Joan Lowery Nixon

Growing up, I could not get enough of the Joan Lowery Nixon mysteries.  Winner of multiple Edgar Awards, she certainly knew how to scare and thrill.  Every time I would go to the bookstore, I would go straight for the mystery section to find another one of her books.  Of course, I could only read them when someone else was home with all of the lights on.  They will freak you out that much (and make you check all of the closets and under the bed before you go to sleep!)  Some of my personal favorites were Spirit Seeker, The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, Deadly Game of Magic and The Name of the Game Was Murder.  I don’t know if too many teens know about these great books but I highly recommend them.  These are perfect for junior high students and up.

What are you favorite middle grade or young adult books?  Did you love Joan Lowery Nixon as much as I did?

Are There Boy Books?

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. I had a student several years ago read all of Grace Lin’s books – Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat.  The student even created a book trailer, along with several classmates, for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as they loved it so much.
  2. Several former students have devoured The Maze Runner in their quest to read all of the dystopian fiction that they can.
  3. Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm has been most popular with the boys in my class even though the protagonist, Jaden, is a girl.

Now consider that the student in the first scenario is a boy and in the second scenario, a group of girls.  Imagine how different these scenarios would have been had I pegged these “boy” or “girl” books in class discussion or in book-talking.

I recently perused the Goodreads shelves, and out of curiosity and spurred by some Twitter discussion, I searched for “boy books.”  The results came back with 3,687 books.  This is not isolated to a book-related social site, however.  I have heard this come up in conversations on-line, on blogs and in articles.

I  propose that pigeon-holing books as “boy books” or “girl books” is both alarming and harmful to children and their reading development. However, I think it is especially harmful to boys because it makes a statement to them that there are only certain books that they should read.  Instead of narrowing the scope, we should be widening it, encouraging students to read out of their comfort zone and to challenge themselves with different types of literature.

Instead of using sweeping generalizations, I think it is critical that we work to match the book to the student, challenging us to really know both the child and middle-grade and young adult books.  Instead of placing gender specifications on books, why don’t we say, “Johnny, I know that you really like adventure.  This book has a ton of action and is  fast-paced.  I think you’re going to like the characters; they’re funny and get into a lot of trouble.” OR “Johnny, I see that you recently read Freak, the Mighty.  I’m going to suggest Year of the Dog because it also features a special friendship.”

I am not venturing to say that there are not some differences between boy and girl readers, their interests and their reading styles.  I am saying, though, that we need to look at the individual child and what the individual child needs as a reader.  We need to keep as many pathways open for our readers as possible.  Gender specifications close doors to these pathways.  Using language that speaks to the books themselves versus generalized classifications and truly knowing our readers, their tastes and what will challenge them will open doors to literacy, enjoyment, and engagement in reading.

Hot Books in the 5th Grade – March Edition

One of the things that I love most about teaching is the opportunity to put good books in the hands of kids.  There is something so awesome about finding the right book for the right student.  I have worked to build a pretty extensive classroom library filled with quality, engaging books.  Here are some books that my students have been loving lately:

Holes by Louis Sachar is one of my absolute favorite books, and it has quickly become the favorite of my students as well.  Many of them have seen the movie but I am always quick to let them know that the book is way, way better!  The writing in this book is absolutely superb and engaging.  The first line draws you in – There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.  I also think that the rag-tag band of campers and Stanley’s own journey draw the students in.  When students are finished with this book, I often recommend Small Steps   (a companion novel to Holes), Freak, the Mighty (a book focusing on another boy friendship) or the Gregor the Overlander series (for the adventure factor).  I have found that Holes really does appeal to all readers!

Another book that I can’t keep on my library shelves is Wonder.  I had heard about this book on Twitter (a great way for teachers to network) and on several blogs that I follow.  Seeing that it had multiple starred reviews, I knew that I had to read it immediately.  I was blown away by Auggie’s story.  Inspired, in part, by Natalie Merchant’s song Wonder, as well as a personal experience of author R.J. Palacio, this book shares the story of August Pullman.  This soon-to-be fifth grader is pretty typical – loves to hang out with friends, fan of Star Wars – except for one thing:  he has a severe facial deformity.  Told from multiple POVs, this book is amazing and speaks to the power of courage and kindness.  When I get new books in the classroom, I often book talk them and then read an excerpt to whet their appetites.  After I did that for Wonder, every students’ hands shot up to read this book.  I highly recommend this for your students. 

If you are familiar with Dan Gutman’s books, you know that they have great kid appeal, are hilarious and are full of adventure.  His latest book, The Genius Files: Never Say Genius is no exception.  The first Genius Files book, Mission Unstoppable, has been an extremely popular book in my classroom – so much so that I had to purchase additional copies AND reserve it at the public library to get it into as many hands as possible.  Needless to say, many of my students had a countdown for Never Say Genius (and many had pre-ordered it themselves).  This book continues the story of Coke and Pepsi McDonald, twins who may be joining a secret group of child geniuses.  Not before they escape danger first, though!  Coke, Pepsi and their parents continue their long distance road trip with the twins working to thwart the evil Archie Clone.  My students love following the journey on Google Maps and the pictures of the different attractions.  This book is a fun, fast-paced and accessible read.

When I think about purchasing non-fiction books for my classroom, I keep two goals in mind.  First, I want to expose my students to new ideas, concepts, and topics.  I want them to learn about outer space, weird animals, important moments in history, etc.  Secondly, though, I want some books to meet them where their interests lie.  I have a lot of students who play and watch football so this next book was a perfect choice for them.  Through My Eyes: A Quarterback’s Journey is the young readers version of Tim Tebow’s adult bestseller.  The students love reading about his early life and college years.  This book also has a poster as well.

I am really excited about some books that I just ordered for my classroom.  One of my favorite books growing up was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I was thrilled to find out that Ellen Potter had written a new book called The Humming Room inspired by this classic story.  While it has some modern updates (the main character, Roo, has drug dealers for parents, and she is orphaned when they are murdered), I have read that it shares the same heart with the classic.  I love modernizing of classic stories (Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is one of my all-time favorites), and I cannot wait to get my hands on this one and share it with my students.

My students are also huge fans of author Kate Messner.  We were so excited to find out that she had written a sciency dystopian called Eye of the Storm.  When we Skyped with her last year, she shared with us the cover (amazing, dark and twisty) and an excerpt from the book.  As we loved books like The Line by Teri Hall, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau and The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann, I thought that this would be a perfect fit for our library.  There is even a discussion and teaching guide if you want to use it as a small group or class read.

I would love to know what classic, new or up-coming books you are excited about for your classroom.  I always am looking for different books to add to our classroom library!

Happy reading!

City of Ember Mural

Welcome to the City of Ember!

Our fifth grade Ember citizens have been very busy recreating the city of Ember.  The mural is split into three sections – the bottom third is the Pipeworks, the middle section is the actual city and the top is what the students thought outside of Ember would look like.  We did this activity in conjunction with our novel study of The City of Ember.

We posted large post-its around the room with each section as the header.  Students got to choose which section they wanted to work on and the places they wanted to create from the book.  The conversations that came from this activity were excellent – the students critically thought about aspects of the setting, plot and characters.  As the students were working, they had their picture taken.  Some of them brought costumes like a red messenger jacket or a slicker for the Pipeworks and others designed themselves with tools.  This was truly a student-led and generated project.

Fantastic Speculative Fiction for the Middle Grades

I think students are so drawn to speculative fiction because they are at a point in their lives where they are asking, “What if?”  They are taking in new knowledge like sponges and questioning the things around them.  They like picturing themselves in stories and thinking about what they would do if posed with different conflicts or situations.  Here are some of my favorite middle grade speculative fiction, both old and new! (and there is a GIVEAWAY at the end)

The Giver by Lois Lowry — This is perhaps the first novel I read in the genre of speculative fiction way back when I was in grade school.  Now, the genre is one of my favorites, paving the way for my love of books like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.  This book follows the story of Jonas, a young man who lives in a society in which they can’t see colors, don’t feel true feelings or emotions, everything is controlled but everything is perfect.  When a child turns 12, he or she receives a job at the annual ceremony.  Jonas’ job is different; he is to be the new receiver.  This job assignment sets in motion events in which Jonas must examine his reality and decide if a perfect life, devoid of pain and suffering is worth the cost.  I always love the discussion that the themes and ideas in this book initiate. Suggested Grade Levels:  6 and Up

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann –  Every year when children turn thirteen in Quill, they are sorted into three categories:  the Wanteds who go onto receive further schooling, the Necessaries, and the artistic Unwanteds who are sentenced to a certain death.  Art, music, theater and dance are all deemed unnecessary and as a threat to Quill’s well-being.  At the most recent sorting, twins Alex and Aaron are torn apart with Alex being deemed an Unwanted.  Instead of facing an almost certain death, he learns that there is a refuge for artistic children like himself.  It is here where he learns to hone his art and also, to use it as a weapon.  This is a very hot book in my classroom right now!  Suggested Grade Levels: 5 and Up

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow live in a city in trouble.  Their city, Ember, is prone to debilitating blackouts.  The supplies are running out, the light bulbs are in short supply and the person in charge is the corrupt Mayor, who is hoarding all of the remaining supplies for himself.  In a harrowing adventure, Doon and Lina have to take it upon themselves to find a way out and save the people of Ember.  One thing that I love about this book is how nuanced and flawed the characters are.  I also love the theme – that children are smart, cunning, brave and can be great leaders.  This is our current class novel, and the students love living Lina and Doon’s adventure along with them.  Suggested Grade Levels:  4 and Up

The Limit by Kristen Landon

Imagine a world in which your debt has serious repercussions for the ones you love.  This is the world that Matt lives in.  When your family exceeds the monthly debt limit imposed by the government, you are sent to a workhouse to help pay off the debt.  Matt never thinks that he will be sent to such a place.  However, when they exceed the limit, he is sent away.  Things are amiss, though, and Matt, along with his new friends, need to figure out what is going on with the government before it is too late.  This is another book that many of my students have read and have not wanted to put down!  Very fast-paced and enjoyable.  Suggested Grade Levels:  5 and Up

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

This book isn’t out yet but from the blurb, it looks absolutely fantastic (and having read all of Kate Messner’s other MG books, I am sure it will be).  Here is the synopsis from Kate Messner’s website:

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms are a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her father in the special StormSafe community his company has developed, Jaden Meggs is excited to reconnect with her dad after he spent years researching storm technology in Russia. She’ll also be attending the exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, that her dad founded. There, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers, and together they discover a horrible truth about her dad’s research that is putting countless lives at risk. As a massive tornado approaches, threatening to destroy everything in its path, Jaden is torn between loyalty to her dad and revealing his secret. Can she find the courage to confront her dad and save everyone from the biggest storm yet?

I. CANNOT. WAIT.  Isn’t the cover fantastic, too??  I will be picking up a copy for my classroom library as soon as it is out.  I love the combination of science and adventure.

There are so many other great books, too.  I loved The Maze Runner by James Dashner and The Line by Teri Hall as well.  I would love to know what you recommend!

Finally, the giveaway!  I am giving away a brand new copy of The Unwanteds to one lucky commenter! Fine print:  You must be 13 years or older, and the winner will be chosen by a random number generator.  You must be a resident of the United States for this particular giveaway.  It’s easy to enter!  Just comment on this post by February 6th – be sure to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if your win.