Barb Langridge Reviews Takedown

This thoughtful review of my middle grade novel Takedown comes from former Howard County, MD librarian Barb Langridge.

Barb is the founder of the website A Book and a Hug, which I wrote about in a post for All the Wonders a few years ago: “Discover Your Reading Personality: A Book and a Hug.”


Two words for you: Middle School. There’s a lot going on in middle school. These are those turbulent bridge years filled with insecurity and peer pressure when childhood friendships start tearing apart and you’re trying to understand who you are as an individual at the same time you’re wanting so desperately to belong and fit in.

Told in alternating points of view, this is a white water rafting ride through the eyes of two champion kids who are dealing with some real-life struggles, some happening unseen inside of them and some in the glaring spotlight of life in the hallways of their school. These are kids who are figuring it out for themselves and showing their real strength as they take themselves to the mats.

Mickey (given name Mikayla) is the youngest daughter in a family with two big brothers all successful wrestlers. She lives with her mother and her older brother Cody while her oldest brother, Evan, a state champion wrestler, has chosen to live with their father. She is following in the Delgado family tradition which means not going to the dances, not being part of the Thriller act in the school talent show with her best friend and instead choosing to win in the Thanksgiving wrestling tournament.

Mickey and her best friend are about to begin wrestling at the middle school level. But when Mickey goes to join the team her brothers always wrestled for, the coach tells her, “No girls allowed.” When Mickey finds another team that will allow the girls to wrestle, her best friend says she isn’t coming along this year.

Lev has wrestled for years. He has a goal this year and that is out wrestle and defeat Nick Spence, the guy who beat him on the mats last year and is using that win to taunt and bully.

Nick Spence: “Ask your girlfriend.”

Lev Sofer: “At least I’m not afraid to wrestle her.”

Lev is starting to get headaches. He’s struggling with himself and what he really wants to do and who he really wants to be. He’s struggling with “being a boy in middle school, always trying to measure up to the other guys who brag about football and lacrosse, who’d rather get the girls to flirt with them than get good grades.”

Turns out Mickey and Lev are going to be wrestling partners. A boy and a girl facing each other every day on the mat, practicing holds, wearing the team-issued singlet, dealing with the teasing at school from Nick and some of their own teammates.

What do you do when you’re a girl and the best team for you is all boys and won’t let you join? What do you do when your father doesn’t see you through the same lens he uses to see his two sons? What do you do when your best friend changes? What do you do when you’ve always thought the most important thing in life was to win a state championship?

What do you do when something inside of you changes and the things you thought were important to you, the things you thought defined you and gave you your identity, don’t matter to you anymore?

Read the rest of the review here.


I am so grateful when a reader like Barb takes the time to write a review. Her insights into the book’s themes and characters are spot on.

Thank you, Barb!

Takedown: Bonus Scene!

Welcome, readers and fans of Takedown.

I have something special to share with you — an extra scene from the book!

This road trip mini-chapter takes place at the end of Chapter 30, when Lev is taking a week off from wrestling. Go to the end of page 212 (in hardcover editions), and you’ll find the spot where this scene begins.

This was one of my favorite sections to write, because it’s set at the ocean. I love the Maryland and Delaware beaches and it was fun to imagine Lev there. However, sometimes authors have to cut or edit down parts of a book that they love if they don’t move the story forward. Do you think that’s true of this scene?

You’ll find some discussion questions about this scene at the bottom of the page.



It’s the strangest week of my life. When I’m at school, or if Bryan’s free, everything is great. Bryan, Emma, Marisa, and I get permission to eat lunch in the media center so we can work on our mythology projects. It’s still warm enough to play basketball or ride bikes after school. But after dinner, I don’t have anything to do. I get my homework done and delete texts from Mickey. I don’t know what to say to her, so I say nothing. I watch the History Channel, then go to bed early.

I don’t even want to open my wrestling notebook, because then I’ll have to ask myself who I am. The kid who writes poetry, who thinks it’s not worth it to fight? Or the athlete, working to show everyone that I’m the best because—win or lose—I tried my hardest. I’m still not sure. What I do know is I’m a better friend since I stopped wrestling, at least to Bryan and Emma.


There’s no school on Friday because it’s the end of the quarter. I am already up and dressed when Dalia comes downstairs to make herself coffee.

“I’m taking Lev to the mall,” she announces.

Mom looks up from her crossword. “You are?”

Dalia grabs me in an awkward one-armed hug. “We both need to get out of the house.”

What is my sister plotting?

Mom puts down her pencil, ready to protest. “You want to take your brother to the mall?”

“For lunch and a movie.”

Mom bites the eraser end of her pencil.

“Look,” Dalia says. “I know I’m not the kind of big sister you want me to be. I hate babysitting. I’m not some kind of teenage life coach. And I’m not planning on giving Lev my big book of tips on how to survive high school.”

Mom opens her mouth to speak, but Dalia stops her.

“All this Evan stuff. Lev looked up to him. He’s been almost as upset as I am.”

I gape at my sister. Dalia noticed that?

Mom puts down her pencil. Then she gets up and fishes two twenty-dollar bills out of her purse. She hands the money to Dalia. “Be back in time for dinner,” she says.

Dalia rushes me out the door before Mom can change her mind.

“The mall?” I ask.

“I lied.”

I follow my sister to Mom’s minivan. “So where are we really going?”

“The beach.”

The beach is more than two hours away. Plus, it’s January. “We’re going to freeze.”

“Trust me,” she says, pulling out of the driveway. “A road trip is what we need.”

Normally, Dalia is a radio tyrant. If she’s driving, she picks the music. But she puts me in charge of the radio as we drive past Annapolis, over the Bay Bridge, and through the Eastern Shore to Ocean City.

This moment in the scene is set at Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli in Ocean City, MD.

By the time we get there, it’s almost noon. Dalia takes me for lunch at a Jewish deli along Route 1. She has matzo ball soup. I order a bagel and lox with cream cheese. It comes with capers and lemon, the way Sabba made it for us the last time he and Safta visited from Israel.

“Aren’t we going to the boardwalk?” I ask when Dalia turns out of the restaurant, heading away from the shops and hotels of Ocean City.

“Too touristy,” she says.

I don’t point out that it’s too cold out for tourists.

She adds, “It’s emptier at Fenwick. No shops by the ocean. Just beach.”

It has been two weeks since I went to Evan’s dual meet. Dalia hasn’t missed a day of school. She hasn’t skipped a field hockey practice. Since that first night, she’s been acting like nothing is wrong. But today her face sags. She’s pulled her hair into a bun instead of taking the time to braid it. And she isn’t wearing makeup. Not even that pink stuff she always smears on her lips.

Dalia looks away from the road for a second and sees me staring. “What?” she says.


We pass empty road-side amusement parks and more mini golf places than I can count: aliens and pirates, dinosaurs with their long necks craning toward the road, their paint as dull and faded as the sky. As we drive north, shops get cheesier and more run down.

Dalia parks in a row of empty spaces near some sand dunes. From the back seat, she grabs a grocery bag full of hats, scarves, and gloves. She takes a thick blanket out of the trunk and hands me the bag.

“Put these on,” she says. “It’s going to be cold. And windy.” She puts on dark sunglasses, even though it’s not sunny.

The beach is empty. Dalia lays out a blanket and sits, wrapping her arms around her knees. What else is there to do but sit next to her?

“I don’t get it,” I say. “Why’d we come all the way out here?”


We sit together, watching the breakers and not talking. It feels like the ocean is washing away all the meanness between me and Dalia. The time I knocked her down, the names she’s called me, and all the times she’s rolled her eyes at me. That stuff doesn’t seem important when it’s just the two of us and the ocean.

“We don’t really know each other well, Lev,” Dalia says. “You’re always wrestling and I’m at field hockey. Even when you were a baby, I was already in kindergarten. We didn’t have time together like some brothers and sisters do, messing around with Play-Doh and stuff.”

I never thought about it that way, but she’s right. Dalia and I hardly ever did things together, even when we were small. We’re sitting close, but not touching. I lean against her arm.

“Why are you always so worried about what I’m going to say?” Dalia asks.

“I guess I want you to like me.”

“Of course I like you.”

“Not the kind you do because I’m your brother.”

“Oh. You want to be friends.” She turns and smiles at me. “Isn’t that why I brought you here?” Dalia picks up a handful of sand and lets it run through her fingers. “Kids at school keep asking me questions. ‘Did Evan ever hurt you? Did you know he was violent.’”

I nod. “They were talking trash about him at wrestling practice.”

Dalia gets up and brushes the sand off her jeans. I shake out the blanket. We stand together, staring at the breakers.

“To be honest, I didn’t want to drive out here by myself. Everyone’s so caught up in whether Evan meant to hurt that kid or not. They forget that he’s a good person. Most of the time, he’s a good person. You’re the only person who gets it, Lev.”

I tuck the blanket under my elbow and put my other arm around Dalia’s shoulders. We are almost the same height. Dalia tugs the edge of her hoodie’s sleeve out of her coat and wipes her eyes.

“You ready to go?” I ask.

“Yeah. I’ll grab some coffee on our way back. Hot chocolate for you.” She shoves me, but she’s smiling. “You may be almost as tall as me, but you’re not ready for coffee yet.”

When we get to the car, Dalia says, “Thanks, Lev. I feel better. The ocean always makes me feel better.”

“What’ll we tell Mom?”

“That we had lunch, went to a movie walked around the mall.”

“Will she believe us?”

“She’ll be so glad we spent time together, I doubt she’ll ask too many questions.”

As usual, my sister is right.



  • Most of Takedown takes place at Lev and Mickey’s homes, schools, and wrestling events. Why do you think this scene is set at the beach? Why does Dalia want to go to the beach, even though it’s winter.
  • Lev notices that he’s almost as tall as his sister. What does that symbolize?
  • How has Lev’s relationship with his sister changed from the beginning of Takedown?
  • Do you think it was a good idea to cut this scene from the novel? Why or why not?

I’d love to hear what you thought! Leave a comment or send me an email with notes from your discussion.

Poetry Friday: The Poetry of US

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Kay McGriff at A Journey through the Pages.

Happy Friday, poets and poetry lovers!

Autumn has arrived in full force. We had our first frost in Maryland this week, but I’m still thinking of the sunny days of summer.

Last Friday, I brought you with me on a visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital on the Florida Keys. Today, let’s visit the beach.


I was thrilled when J. Patrick Lewis invited me to contribute a poem to his wonderful new anthology, The Poetry of US, which contains “More than 200 poems that celebrate the people, places, and passions of the United States.” The book is published by National Geographic, so it’s no surprise that the photographs on every page are gorgeous.

My assignment was to write a poem about New Jersey.

People laugh when they hear that Jersey’s nickname is “The Garden State.” All they’ve seen of my home state is highways — and the factories and airports that surround them.

In fact, for a small state, New Jersey is geographically diverse. Its long eastern border is the Atlantic Ocean. It contains the Pine Barrens, part of the Appalachian Trail, and many state forests.

You *may* also have some thoughts about New Jersey if you ever watched the infamous reality TV show, “The Jersey Shore.”

When I sat down to write my poem, I wanted to show people the other side of New Jersey. I thought about summertime trips to the beach when I was a child, and how some of the places we loved best had been devastated by Super Storm Sandy in 2012. There’s a video showing the damage to our favorite boardwalk in Seaside Heights here.

Most of the time, my family avoided the bustle and busy-ness of the boardwalk and amusement parks. Instead, we would leave early, early in the morning to find a spot at Island Beach State Park. This is a preserved, undeveloped barrier island with beautiful, spare beaches.

I always loved running along the path, over the dunes, and catching that first glimpse of the Atlantic.

Beach Day
Island Beach State Park, New Jersey
by Laura Shovan

 We leave home before dawn, our car packed
with towels, sunblock, coolers of food.

There are closer beaches,
but they’re for boardwalk people.

We smile when we reach the park gate.
No hotels here. No tourist shops.

Can you smell the salt air? Mom asks.
The beach stays hidden behind miles of dunes.

At last, Dad finds a spot. We tumble out of the car,
race down a path through the scrub.

There! I am first to glimpse the wide, white beach,
first to stick my toes in the icy Atlantic.

I stretch my arms and spin. All I see are the dunes
and the ocean.  All I hear is the music of the waves.


Search the subject index of The Poetry of US and you’ll be sure to find places and people that are dear to your heart.

I have good friends in Albuquerque, and loved discovering Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ concrete poem, “Mass Ascension: At the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.”

Mary Lee Hahn’s poem “Bessie and Amelia,” about female aviators Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart, reminded me of reading Pat Valdata’s book, Where No Man Can Touch. You can read my post about that book — all persona poems spoken in the voices of women pioneers of flight — right here.

Have fun exploring The Poetry of US!

Poetry Friday: A Visit to the Sea Turtle Hospital

Brenda Harsham is hosting Poetry Friday this week. You’ll find poetry links from around the kidlitosphere at her blog, Friendly Fairy Tales.

Happy Poetry Friday, readers! It’s good to be back after a long hiatus.

In September, I visited the Florida Keys on a book research trip with writing friends. One of them, author and science educator Timanda Wertz, suggested that we visit the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.

I learned so much about sea turtles. Funniest (and saddest) is that when sea turtles’ shells are damaged by a boat strike, air can become trapped in the healing carapace. That makes it difficult for the turtles to dive for food — a syndrome called Bubble Butt.

Yeah, I laughed too. The syndrome takes its name from a permanent resident of the hospital. (You can see photos of the original Bubble Butt here.) Turtles with Bubble Butt don’t do well in the wild, so they come to live at the hospital.






This was the highlight of the entire trip for me. (Author admission: It was even better than visiting Judy Blume’s bookstore in Key West.)




There were some brand new hatchlings among the turtles we visited…






… but my favorite was this guy. Look at that face!






Here is a sea turtle poem from the online journal Rattle.

Mary H. Palmer, RN, C, PhD


Shoulder-deep in the sea turtle’s nest,
I search for remains, nothing alive.
The tiny turtles would have climbed
over each other, forming a living ladder
out of their sandy birth canal
leaving only the unhatched and dead behind.
Mongoose would have gotten any stragglers.
I am here only to count egg shells.
My hand reaches bottom and scoops up
sand and bits of leathery shells. In their midst,
I find a black soft lump, a hatchling left behind.
It remains listless until I gently stroke its belly
until its life flickers and catches hold
as a flame lays claim to a
candle wick.
It doesn’t have much of a chance.
Pelicans already circle. But waiting until night
so it can follow the moon to the
water is a death sentence too. I place it on
the sloping beach and whisper a prayer.

Now What?

Welcome to my weekly — I hope weekly … occasional? — news post. Look for “Now What?” most Mondays for book news, upcoming appearances, fun tidbits, and obligatory dog photos (ODPs).

I scoured the internet for a poem about Mondays, something I could use for the title of this regular feature. But Mondays are not a popular poem topic. And in song, they’re kind of a downer.

So I came up with an acronym: NOW WHAT? It stands for the items I hope to cover in each “Now What?” post:

Out and About
What I’m Reading

Where to?
Howard County (HoCo, MD) and Local Interest
Takedown and The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

Let’s jump in!


It has been a poorly kept secret for months that author/activist Saadia Faruqi (Meet Yasmin!) and I are co-writing a middle grade novel. We finally got to announce our big news.

A Place at the Table sold to Jennifer Greene at Clarion Books. The book will be published in 2020. Saadia and I are thrilled!

I am interviewing people who are recent citizens or who grew up first generation American for this novel. If you’d be interested in doing a phone interview, please let me know in the comments.

Last week, friends and I went to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak in Frederick, Maryland. There is so much to say about this event!

First, I wish every classroom would begin the year reading Woodson’s new picture book The Day You Begin together. Especially for those children who are new, or feel different, or worry that they don’t fit, this book extends a welcoming hand and reiterates that everyone has a story to share. I’m sending a signed copy of this book to Holabird Academy, the school that I am working with this year through #KidsNeedMentors.

Side note: Wonder of wonders, I bumped into a former student at this event. That *never* happens to me. I taught high school for five years when we lived in New Jersey, and stopped teaching in 1999. But there she was — Jacqueline Woodson’s publicist! There were lots of hugs and it was lovely to hear her speak about how important high school literature classes were and how much she loves working in kidlit.

The wonderful indie bookstore Curious Iguana co-sponsored this event. They have an amazing line-up of children’s authors planned for this fall, including Kate DiCamillo. Find out more here.








My next event is the Princeton Children’s Book Festival on Saturday, September 22.


Wilde Readings literary and open mic series kicks off Tuesday, September 4 at Columbia Art Center. Hope to see you there. More info at our Facebook group.


I’m thrilled to have a reverso poem in Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s latest book, GREAT MORNING. Special thanks to Janet. Between the two of us we sent out six copies of GREAT MORNING to schools in the #KidsNeedMentors program.

More info about the class I’m mentoring coming soon.


The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is on my local Battle of the Books list. Check out all of the 2019 HoCo Battle of the Books reads here.

Takedown was selected for PJ Our Way, which offers free books for Jewish kids ages 9-11. I am very proud to be part of this program.




See you next week. For now, your ODP:

Rudy is reading RUBY IN THE SKY by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo



Poetry Friday: “Moving Day”

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. Stop by her blog for all of this week’s Poetry Friday links.

The day is finally here. We are dropping our youngest child off at university.

As often happens in times of transition, a favorite poem is making me smile and giving me comfort.

I first read “Moving Day,” by poet J. C. Elkin in 2010, when my little one actually was little — just ten years old. I selected this funny, emotionally true sonnet for an anthology I was editing.

Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems was published by MWA Books in 2011. It includes 100 poems by 50 Maryland poets. Some of them stay with me, some I’m reminded of when I open the book. And some of the poems, like Jane’s, grow with me as I meet the moment of the poem in my own life.

by J. C. Elkin

You moved into your dorm a sticky day.
We schlepped your stuff and sweat with no A. C.
I vowed I wouldn’t bawl. I’d be OK.
I, too, was moving on. Now I was free.
My mind a knot of hopes, unbidden fears.
A sign: Hydration — Health: Your Body’s Link.
A stupid thought to cap our eighteen years,
my last advice was, “Don’t forget to drink.”

A horde of tourists swarmed Colonial Town.
Your dad bought food. I found a bench outside.
I would have been just fine, but sitting down
I bumped my head, and cried, and cried, and cried.

My mother’s death. Your sister’s crash. Now this.
At least there’s always chocolate. Make it Swiss.

from Life in Me Like Grass on Fire: Love Poems
Shared with permission of the author, J. C. Elkin

Poetry Friday: Heartseeker

Join this week’s poetry party at the blog Nix the Comfort Zone. There, you will find poetry reviews, original verses, and favorite poems shared by the Poetry Friday blogging community.

Have you ever picked up a prose novel and — surprise! — at the start of every chapter there’s a poem to greet you?

When prose novelists incorporate poetry in any form, I’m happy.

In Possession, A.S. Byatt’s wonderful novel, modern literati uncover a secret Victorian romance. The whole story hinges on verses written by a fictional 19th century poet.

Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien include invented verse — often in the form of songs shared by their characters — in their fantasy novels. Other authors — such as Cornelia Funke in her Inkheart series — use poetic epigraphs from a variety of authors at the beginning of chapters.

More recent examples: Nikki Grimes’ recent Between the Lines is, in part, about teen slam poets writing their own verses. I used poetry in my prose novel Takedown to show another side of athletic Lev’s character.

What are some writing-craft reasons why an author might choose to incorporate poetry into a prose novel?

I asked this question of debut middle grade novelist Melinda Beatty. Her wonderful fantasy, Heartseeker, published in June.  Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A vibrant fantasy-adventure debut about a girl who can see lies.

You’re a Fallow of the Orchard. You’re as tough as a green apple in summer . . .

Only Fallow was just six harvests old when she realized that not everyone sees lies. For Only, seeing lies is as beautiful as looking through a kaleidoscope, but telling them is as painful as gnawing on cut glass. Only’s family warns her to keep her cunning hidden, but secrets are seldom content to stay secret.

When word of Only’s ability makes its way to the King, she’s plucked from her home at the orchard and brought to the castle at Bellskeep. There she learns that the kingdom is plagued by traitors, and that her task is to help the King distinguish between friend and foe. But being able to see lies doesn’t necessarily mean that others aren’t able to disguise their dishonesty with cunnings of their own.

In the duplicitous, power-hungry court, the truth is Only’s greatest weapon . . . and her greatest weakness.

Each chapter of Heartseeker begins with a poem, song, or piece of religious verse. Not from our world, but from Orstral — Melinda’s invented universe — with its rural farmers, Romani-like barge community, and palace intrigues.

Here is the poem that starts the readers’ journey, right at the top of Chapter 1:

Call out, call out, you loud jays, you honey-throated sparrows!
Sing out the summer as it pours into the valleys,
Into the Hush, the Rill, the Lannock and the Blue.
Cry warmth for the Sandkin plains,
For the Mollier vines.
Life up your voices for gentle Dorvan tides
and cool Folque stone.
You sons and daughters of Orstral,
Join the chorus of the coming long light!

–Jylla Burris, poet, Songs of Orstral

When I finished Heartseeker (I sped through the last 100 pages — couldn’t put it down!), I stopped to think about this technique. Fascinating! Through brief poems and verse snippets, Melinda was able to communicate information about the world of the story, a world that was new to me, but clearly one with a unique history, various cultures and belief systems, ruling families, and social mores.

Here’s what Melinda had to say:

When I lived in Britain, it occurred to me that every culture’s got their touchstones—the things everyone knows, whether it’s old television shows, books, politics or scandal. Once I got a broader understanding, especially of the entertainment, I understood a little more about what shaped the people I interacted with every day. Writing songs, stories and poetry from the different peoples of Orstral helped me get to know them—to know what they all had in common, whether that was a rhyme that everyone knew from the cradle, or a bawdy pub tune.

What do you think of this technique? How does it help you, as a reader, connect to the story? I’d love to hear about some novels you’ve read that incorporate poetry, either as a plot element or to help with the world-building in some way. Please share your favorites in the comments.

Melinda Beatty has had years of practice trying to explain to others why she was just having an imaginary conversation between two people that don’t exist, so becoming a writer seemed like the best way to stop everyone looking at her funny. 

After years of narrowboat living on the English canals, she and her British husband are now back on dry land in Maryland where by day, she’s a mild-mannered Indie bookseller, and by night, she wrangles words, craft projects, a Labrador and two fierce mini-women. HEARTSEEKER is her debut novel.

You can connect with Melinda for news or banter at or on Twitter @poorrobin.

Read a Poem to a Child

This week’s PF host is Mary Lee Hahn. You’ll find links to all of this week’s poetry posts at A Year of Reading.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.

Today, I’m sharing an opportunity from my friends at 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

Dear Poets and Poetry Lovers,

Will you read a poem to a child on September 29 as part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global initiative “Read A Poem To A Child?”

This seems to be an important year to highlight the significance of children in the world. We are increasingly aware of their fragility. It is time to take a moment in this busy, crazy life we live, and share something we cherish. Poetry is our gift.

If you will read a poem or poems to a child or children on September 29, please visit the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Facebook page. Post “I’m In!” and your city name as a comment.

Interpret “Read A Poem To A Child” how you like. I hope to record and post a video — maybe reading a poem from The Last Fifth Grade, or a favorite poem from when I was a kid — something that my teacher friends can share with their students. If you have a child at home, grandchild or honorary niece or nephew in your life, perfect!

100 TPC’s organizers are also collecting suggestions of websites, books, and resources where people can find poems to share with kids, such as Poetry 180. Feel free to send along your favorites.

Thank you.


#ILA18 “A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection.”

Among our basic needs is a place of safety and belonging, yet many children face situation where their communities are under threat. A panel of middle-grade author/educators will model how they use literature to spark conversations on home and community, security, and identity. Three brief lesson plans, centered on exploring the meaning of place and designed to appeal to students with different learning styles, will be presented, followed by an opportunity for attendees to try out these activities in small groups.

Ruth W. Freeman, South Portland School Department, South Portland, ME
Karina Yan Glaser, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY
Janet Sumner Johnson, Capstone Young Readers, Logan, UT
Laura Shovan, Random House Children’s Books, Ellicott City, MD
Tricia Springstubb, Balzer and Bray, Cleveland Heights, OH


A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection

Ruth Freeman:
Karina Glaser:
Janet Sumner Johnson:
Laura Shovan:
Tricia Springstubb:

Mentor Texts (Books that deal with loss & connection in regards to place):

Crenshaw (Katherine Applegate)
Home Of The Brave (Katherine Applegate)
Front Desk (Kelly Yang)
The War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Baker)
14 Hollow Road (Jenn Bishop)
The Epic Fail Of Arturo Zamora (Pablo Cartaya)
Counting Thyme (Melanie Conklin)
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (Firoozeh Dumas)
City Of Ember (Jeanne Duprau)
Last Day On Mars (Kevin Emerson)
One Good Thing About America (Ruth Freeman)
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Karina Glaser)
Refugee (Alan Gratz)
The Night Diary (Veera Hiranandani)
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society (Janet Sumner Johnson)
Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)
Inside Out And Back Again (Thanhha Lai)
Listen, Slowly (Thanhha Li)
The Exact Location Of Home (Kate Messner)
The Stars Beneath Our Feet (David Barclay Moore)
A Long Walk To Water (Linda Sue Park)
A Different Pond (Bao Phi, Illustrated By Thi Bui)
The House That Lou Built (Mae Respicio)
The Shadow Cipher (Laura Ruby)
Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan)
The City On The Other Side (Mairghread Scott)
Paper Wishes (Lois Sepahban)
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Laura Shovan)
Every Single Second (Tricia Springstubb)
What Happened on Fox Street (Tricia Springstubb)
Locomotion (Jacqueline Woodson)


Mapmaking Mini-lesson

Place shapes a child’s experiences, relationships, and perceptions of both herself and the wider world. This exercise helps students consider the places they live in a concrete, visual way, and allows them to take ownership of their environments.

—Children think about where they live, usually their street and streets nearby. Children unable to explore their neighborhoods can think about their houses or apartments. Some children may not consider where they live now home and want to draw another place. Encourage students to picture where they most feel “at home”.

—Children draw maps that include their house in relation to places important in their lives: school, homes of friends and relatives, a playground, favorite shops, places of worship….Drawing skills are not important–this is their map!

—Children annotate places where they’ve made observations/discoveries or had memorable experiences. Later, these notes can serve as catalysts for writing personal narratives.

—Children share and discuss their maps. Encourage questions, comparing and contrasting.

Kinetic Discussion Activity

Discussion of a text is always a great way to help students reflect on what they value in their homes and communities. Those discussions are more fun and memorable when a kinetic element is added. One example is an exercise called “Crossing the Line.”

  1. Prepare agree/disagree statements on the themes from the text you wish to discuss.
  2. Make a line, and have all students start on one side of the line. If they agree with the statement, they cross the line. If they disagree, they stay.
  3. Prepare follow-up questions to help them process what they learned/felt through the kinetic activity.
    (Classroom Activities: Discussion With Your Feet,, Referenced 17 July 2018 from

Additional online resources with ideas for kinetic discussions:

  • The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies by Jennifer Gonzalez:
  • 5 Ways to Make Class Discussions More Exciting by Dr. Richard Curwin:

Ode to Place Mini Lesson

Goal: Students will write an ode to a favorite or important place in their lives.
Literary skills: Use hyperbole and imagery to create the celebratory tone of a poetic ode.
Materials: Baggies of everyday objects for hyperbole exercise. (Paperclip, crayons, tissue, etc.) Copies of model poem, such as “Harlem Is the Capital of My World.” (Tony Medina, Love to Langston)

1. Introduce concept: Odes are poems of praise and celebration.
2. Review key tools of an ode: Description/imagery of the five senses, simile, hyperbole.
3. If time: Hyperbole exercise
Groups: examine an everyday object.
Give three reasons why this object is amazing. Exaggeration encouraged!
4. Read and discuss mentor text.
Share description, simile, hyperbole that jumps out at you.
5. Write an ode.
Cross out and replace key words in the model poem to create an ode.
Share drafts with class

ILA 2018: Where You’ll Find Me

Going to ILA 2018 in Austin this weekend? I’ll see you there!

This is where you’ll find me.

Sunday, 7/22, 12 pm — Autograph session at the Random House Children’s Books booth.



Sunday, 7/22, 5 pm — Panel session, “A Sense of Place: Middle-grade Novels on Loss and Connection.” With author/educator Ruth Freeman, and middle grade authors Karina Yan Glaser, Janet Sumner Johnson, Tricia Springstubb, and me. Come join in this important conversation.