December 10, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Resources for Award-Winning Middle Grade Fiction │JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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FloraWith the award season in full swing, how can you make the best use of the wonderful books you’re adding to your collection? As your wish list continues to grow, the following booktalks and accompanying resources for these acclaimed fiction titles for elementary readers will surely get you started.

DICAMILLO, Kate. Flora & Ulysses. illus. by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763660406. JLG Level: A+ : Intermediate Readers (Grades 3–5).

Flora Belle Buckman is a natural born cynic. She also loves to read comics so her mother, a romance novelist, writes a contract requiring Flora to “turn her face…toward the bright light of true literature.” When the lady next door accidentally vacuums an unassuming squirrel, Flora springs to the rescue and learns that he has acquired super powers. Able to lift the heavy Ulysses vacuum and now able to communicate with people, the squirrel begins a journey that will impact every person he meets.

Fan-favorite DiCamillo, also newly-appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, delivers an unlikely hero. Readers can learn about the story behind the story in an author interview. Want to teach the novel? Candlewick has ready-to-use teachers’ guides.

Current recognition includes: SLJ’s Best Books of 2013, Fiction; Booklist 2013 Lasting Connections, Language Arts; Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013, Children’s Fiction; Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2013; Booklist Editor’s Choice: Books for Youth, 2013, Fiction.

Thing about LuckKADOHATA, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. illus. by Julia Kuo. S & S/Atheneum. 2013. ISBN 9781416918820. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Summer’s life has always revolved around the harvesting of wheat. When her parents are called to Japan, she becomes her grandmother’s kitchen assistant while they are on the road. Timing is everything in this business, so when her grandfather becomes ill and her grandmother’s back causes great pain, the family’s job becomes jeopardized. Can they beat the deadline before the rains come and ruin the profit? Can Summer save the harvest?

Kadohata’s novel combines the power of family responsibility with the story of a young girl determined to triumph over luck. Visit the author page on her publisher’s website and become a fan. You’ll be among the first to know about new releases. How do you say her name? Listen to her tell you about it on Kids always ask authors, “Where do you get your ideas?” Get the back story here. Simon & Schuster has prepared a curriculum guide. You may want to share the video of Kadohata reading an excerpt during the National Book Awards Ceremony.

Current recognition includes: SLJ Best Books 2013, Fiction; Best Books of the Year 2013: Ages 9-12: Middle Graders; Booklist 2013 Lasting Connections, Language Arts; Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013, Children’s Fiction; National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Winner; Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2013; Booklist Editor’s Choice: Books for Youth, 2013, Fiction.

Counting by 7sSLOAN, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s. Dial. 2013. ISBN 9780803738553. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Willow Chance has lost her parents―twice. Adopted as a baby, she has no memory of her birth parents, and nothing but memories of her adoptive parents. After the tragic death of her adoptive parents, the newly-orphaned girl has a temporary family that consists of a cab driver, a counselor with his own personal issues, and a take-charge nail salon owner. For the 12-year-old genius, fitting in with the rest of the world is just about to get more complicated.

Sloan has a beautiful website that includes links to things that inspire her, giving readers’ insight about her work. You can also read an interview on the Distraction no. 99 blog of YA author, Nova Ren Suma. Sweet on Books blog has created a post which includes discussion questions. Since gardening plays such importance in the healing of the characters, check out, where you’ll find lesson plans and grant opportunities or, which has excellent articles and other resources about gardening at school and in the community. To learn more about the setting, visit the official visitors’ site for Bakersfield, California.

Current recognition includes: SLJ’s Best Books of 2013, Fiction; Best Books of the Year 2013: Ages 9-12; Bulletin Blue Ribbon 2013, Fiction.

PS Be ElevenWILLIAMS-GARCIA, Rita. P.S. Be Eleven. HarperCollins/Amistad. 2013. ISBN 9780061938634. JLG Level:  B+ : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).

Delphine and her sisters have come home inspired by their mother and the Black Panthers, but Big Ma has other ideas. Order, tradition, and rules must be upheld. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam, but seems sick all the time. He’s also lost his laughter. When Pa brings home his new girlfriend, it seems that Delphine can’t control anything. In a series of letters from her mother, Cecile, she gets advice to let things go. Maybe it’s time for Delphine to enjoy her family, her childhood, and to just be eleven.

Williams-Garcia has a website which includes a blog. In an interview with her publisher, the author talks about her inspiration for the stories. Educators who are implementing Common Core State Standards will find a teaching guide useful. Kids who never knew Michael Jackson may enjoy watching the video of the Jackson 5 singing Who’s Lovin’ You. Remember to consult your digital databases for information on the Black Panther Party, in addition to resources found at the Library of Congress.

Current recognition includes: SLJ’s Best Books of 2013, Fiction; Booklist 2013 Lasting Connections, Language Arts; Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013, Children’s Fiction; Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2013; Booklist Editor’s Choice: Books for Youth, 2013, Fiction.

Additional Resources

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder blue tabs. Each blue tab is a book title. Under each blue tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.

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  1. Laura Lechner says:

    Why do all the books on the list have female protagonists?

    • Deborah B Ford says:

      Isn’t it great to have books for middle grade girls that don’t have “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”? There are so few novels for upper elementary girls that are difficult enough without getting into uncharted territory.
      For boy protagonist novels, check out the archive for this column. Just last week I wrote about several books that have male protagonists. If you’re looking for books for boys in particular, email me directly and I can send you my complete list.

      • Laura Lechner says:

        I agree that these books are fantastic and definitely texts I’d want to put into the hands of my middle grade girls. I just expected to see a broader range of protagonists given the title of the piece.