Hey 4th-8th graders! Today’s post is for you!
Once upper elementary school hits, life gets so busy that juggling your schedule becomes much harder. According to researchers, more and more of you are choosing not to make time for reading.
For your teachers and parents, this can be frustrating. Maybe it’s frustrating for you, too.
My observation as a teacher, librarian, and parent is that sometimes selecting a book off the shelf is actually the hardest part of reading. (I will add here that student self-selection of books is fantastic and if your teacher allows it, say thank you. You have higher odds of increased achievement.)
Luckily, I’ve got a few books to recommend that I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy. My recommendations have nothing to do with Lexile scores (an often misused tool) and everything to do with fabulous stories that lots of kids have loved. These are tried and true favorites. If you need a book for class—or just for fun—I dare you to try one of these. Give it to chapter 3 and then let me know what you think.
1. Anything by Raina Telgemeier.
They are all super popular: Smile, Sisters, Drama, Guts, and Ghosts.
Graphic novels of any kind are a good bet. If your teacher balks at allowing graphic novels in class, invite them to read my article about the benefits of graphic novels.
2. Anything by Rick Riordan.
The Lightning Thief is the first book of his first middle grade series, but if you are in middle school, you might prefer starting with Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series. The characters are older, and the storyline is more complex.
If you’ve already devoured all of his books, consider another upper middle grade fantasy.
3. The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier.
Humorous tales are always a win, and Last Kids on Earth has the bonus of some inside artwork. Plus ZOMBIES.
See also: Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and I, Funny.
4. Love That Dog and Hate that Cat, by Sharon Creech.
Short, easy-to-read, and totally gripping, Sharon Creech tells this story in a one-sided conversation made of poems. Even my students who claimed to hate poetry loved this book and its sequel.
Other novels-in-verse books to consider as well include The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (especially for basketball fans) and Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle.
5. Scary books are constant favorites.
You don’t have to stop reading scary stories once you outgrow Goosebumps. Try a novel by Mary Downing Hahn—she’s the queen of ghost stories for young teens.
If you’re ready to kick it up another notch, try Coraline, Doll Bones, or The Night Gardener.
If you don’t love a book within the first three chapters, it's okay to abandon it and try a different book. If you find yourself abandoning books all the time, though, consider asking your librarian or teacher for some advice on books you might enjoy. But I would be surprised if none of these worked for you!
Bonus— If you have younger siblings, try reading aloud to your younger brothers and sisters. No, I’m not kidding. Books are magical, and little kids will remind you of this truth if you've forgotten. Watch their eyes sparkle as you read to them. Here are some great books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, as well as reading tips and information for families about building a love of reading. The adults in your household will probably appreciate both the linked info and your sibling sweetness.
There is a book waiting for you right now! A perfect book for you! A good book you'll love--you just have to give it a chance!
School’s back in session, and with it, comes the nightly homework. Test scores. The dreaded report card. As if it wasn’t enough that you spent all day in class, now you have to show you’ve been paying attention! For those of you new to middle school or high school, you may be finding that the standards jumped a lot higher this year than what you’ve been used to. Maybe your grades aren't where you'd like them to be.
Don’t worry, though. Auntie Amy’s got your back. Follow these five tips, and report card blues will be a thing of the past.
1. Get organized.
The solution? Use your daily planner and keep papers in color-coded folders. If you always put your history homework in the green folder (or blue, or red, or whatever says HISTORY to you), then when it’s time to turn it in, you’ll always know where it is. And if you don’t have homework? Write THAT down in your daily planner. A blank space could mean you forgot to write down the assignment, so always put something for every class, even if it’s “no homework tonight!” Feel free to draw some unicorns on the agenda. Unicorns are never bad.
2. Take notes.
Wondering what to write down? There are some great note-taking videos out there. Crash Course has a whole Study Skills Course that's awesome (and free!) But for starters, if the teacher repeats something, write it down. If they tell you something is important, write it down. If they put something on the board, write it down. Writing something down as you listen forces your brain to analyze the material and put down the most important bits. It’s why typing into your laptop is not necessarily better… the more thinking you do up front, the longer you’ll remember it later. Speaking of remembering class material…
3. Study a little every day.
Know what doesn’t work for the long term? Cramming. Trust Auntie Amy on this one. Yes, you might be able to survive a test by studying furiously the night before, but you are making things much harder for yourself when you have to take end-of-term tests or when the material is something that you will be building on in the next chapter, which is often the case for math, science, and languages.
4. Ask questions.
And if you have the question, at least a handful of other students do, too. Be brave. Ask the questions.
5. Find a study buddy.
Having to explain something to someone else is a tried and true method of learning material. Remember that just because material feels familiar, it doesn’t mean that you know it. Until you can explain it in your own words to someone else, without looking at your notes, you have more studying to do.
Thanks for joining me for Auntie Amy's Top 5 Tips for Succeeding in School. Simple doesn't mean easy, but it will work if you put your mind to it. Remember, you also need to eat well, get plenty of sleep, and enjoy time with friends and family, too. School is just one part of your wonderful life. Now, go get yourself some folders, an agenda, some notebook paper, and rock out those classes.
One bonus tip for the road:
The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt--> Excellent book
I'm pretty excited, y'all.
I got my first ARCs the other day! My previous books only had digital ARCs, so this was very special for me. (ARC = Advanced Review Copies.
The official ARCs will be out soon, so let me know if you are a book reviewer or librarian who'd like to receive a copy to review!)
I held Shortcuts in my hands, and it was SO PRETTY. Thank you to Jeff Crosby for the cover art! I may have taken a few pictures.
I hope you'll hop on over and pre-order your copy! Once the book is released, it'll also be in Shops at the Mill here in Cibolo and hopefully other physical bookstores, too. (Having a lot of pre-orders will help that part happen.)
Thanks for your support! My next newsletter should be out soon, so if you haven't signed up yet, you can do it right from the contact page. Talk soon!
Hey lovely readers! I'm so pleased to let you know that my book Shortcuts will be out with CBAY Books in April 2019! This story is an upper middle grade, light science fiction set in contemporary Texas. Fifth through eighth graders will be a good fit, like my previous works, plus older teens and adults who enjoy reading YA and MG. This book has a very different style than my Aluvia series, but I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! If Cher from Clueless or Buffy from the early episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had secret psychic powers, they might be something like my main character, Parker.
When psychic powers and secrets collide, no one is safe.
Parker Mills has it all. She's the two-time winner of the Miss Divine Pecan Pageant, head of the 8th grade dance committee, and a secret psychic empath. Since she absorbs strong emotions from those around her, Parker has committed herself to finding shortcuts to happiness. Whether acting as a tutor, coach, or matchmaker, Parker knows that when others are happy, she's happy. Granted, all that fixing other people's drama means her own crush has no idea how she feels, but it's still a win-win so long as her psychic method remains a mystery.
At least, that's how it always worked until Mia came to town. With her mysterious past and dark cloud of depression, Mia's moods threaten to rain on Parker’s happiness parade. After Parker's usual shortcuts fail-- even after bringing gorgeous Josh on the scene--she's forced to kick things up a notch, or two. But when Parker's psychic power goes haywire, dangerous secrets unravel... starting with her own.
You can find it on Goodreads here!
We’re already at mid-summer…amazing. Are we bored yet?
And with the internet at the ready, it’s even harder to find the motivation to go do something. And I love the internet and all the wonderful resources it offers, I do! But trying something different is well worth the extra energy it might cost to get started.
Here are five Boredom-Busters that will not only pass the time, but will teach you something useful while you’re at it. And you will feel better at the end of the day than if you’d just watched cat videos all day. Win-win-win.
If you can’t think of a book you like, you just haven’t met the right book. Email me through the contact form and tell me what kinds of things interest you and I’ll suggest a few books for you to try out. I’ll also have a post up soon about my five top summer reads for upper MG books. Also, look over my lists on Goodreads for ideas. I read many MG and YA books. I don’t leave reviews on books I hate, so if it’s on there with four or five stars, it’s because I really liked it.
2. Master a Meal.
Notice I’m not saying “Make a dish.” I’m sure that many of you can make a fried egg or pancakes or a sandwich or something like that. Maybe you can even bust out a good pan of spaghetti and red sauce. And that’s a great skill set to feed yourself when you’re at college. But if you want to really impress yourself and your family, try one of these two full, complete meals that even have a dessert. It’s a great way to help out the household in an authentic fashion, and is a way to boost kitchen skills that will serve you the rest of your entire life. Believe it or not, there will most likely come a day when you not only have to feed yourself, but you have to feed other people. I was dreadfully unprepared for that.
Cook the whole meal, following the steps provided, and you’ll see that while the end results look fancy, almost any big skill can be broken down into a simple series of steps. I‘ll be posting soon how to make two meals, one meat based and one vegetarian.
Check out these menus and check back fo a future post for recipes:
Fancy Chicken Dinner
Roast whole chicken
Green salad and homemade dressing
Fruit salad and cookies for dessert
Perfect Pasta Night (vegetarian)
Pasta with spinach, tomatoes and feta
Green beans with herb butter
Cheese tray with olives, and pickles
Fresh peaches and cinnamon with ice cream for dessert
3. Get organized. No, for real.
Keep everything simple. Find three big bins and go through your whole room one drawer, cabinet or shelf at a time. Everything goes in either KEEP, DONATE, or TRASH. Then sort and find a home for every item in your KEEP box. Make sure everything you keep is something you really USE, love, or need to survive. Sentimental items can be boxed up and stored out of the way. Once you set up your room properly, it takes less than 10 minutes a day to maintain it. You don’t have to be naturally organized to succeed at it. I’m living proof.
4. Write Something.
I’m biased, as an author, I admit. But long before I knew I wanted to be a writer for my job, I wrote at home. I wrote stories and poetry. I journaled. I created a little magazine about pets just for fun. I created—and it made me feel good inside. My writing skills developed far faster when I was working on something I actually cared about, too. Today there are so many great online writing options. Storybird and WattPad are just two of them. You could even build a free website full of fun stuff like poetry and photography to share (Weebly and Wix are popular.) Find a way to share a story and opinion via the written word. If you do create something online, send me a link to your finished product if you’d like to show it off to me!
5. Get Moving.
Be a creator. As humans, we flourish when we interact with the world in new and beneficial ways. Pick one of these five and give it a shot, then let me know how it went!
I have a number of books I will recommend in a future post, but for now, I want to give you a list of recommended books put together by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Don't let the picture books turn you off-- there are many middle grade and YA options listed, as well. You can search by region if you are looking for local authors or just look at each YA section if you only want YA.
Mer-Charmer is in the International-Other section, because I'm living in Germany right now and that's the division Germany is included in for SCBWI's regions. I'm delighted to be included in the list!
So scroll through these books and think about which ones you want to take with you to the pool, to the beach, or on your camping trip. Many of these will be perfect to enjoy on a rainy Monday afternoon, too, just curled up on your couch with your favorite treat to eat.
And if you have any book recommendations for others, please feel free to share in the comments!
But don't worry. I've got your back.
Here are five steps to follow to finish out your school year with style and grace, instead of blood, sweat, and tears.
1. Don’t cram
Research says cramming isn’t effective, even though a lot of people keep trying. It’s far better to study for 10-15 minutes each day for a week than a bunch all at once. Think of it like taking sips of a slushie instead of gulping it—and getting a brain freeze. Cramming may let you feel like you’ll succeed because the material will look familiar and it’s easy to think, “Yeah, yeah, I know this, I know that,” but recognition is not the same as recalling it. Instead, dedicate a little bit of time every day to study for each final exam. Depending on how much material your test covers, a chapter per day for a week might work.
The science is in: writing things by hand helps us remember things much better than typing them out. You may not be able to write down every word the teacher says—but that’s precisely what will help you discern what is actually important to know and summarize as you listen, so you can write down only the critical stuff. Or even if you take notes in class on a laptop, go home and make notecards the old-fashioned way to help lock in the information you’ll need.
Sleep is critical to our health, but also to our learning. Sleep consolidates our new knowledge and organizes memories. Getting a good night of shut-eye is your best tool for making sure you remember what you studied the night before. Logically, this means that pulling “an all-nighter” is a really bad idea. Not only are you cramming (see point 1) but you aren’t giving your brain any time to absorb the material.
We all know that eating well is a priority, but sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. Breakfast in particular can be tough to maneuver on a busy school morning. But on test days, it’s critical that you eat a solid breakfast with protein so your brain has the energy to carry you through the day. As a bonus, eggs contain a nutrient that is thought to help improve memory and cognitive performance. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Fast and easy ideas: Yogurt parfait, breakfast burrito, fruit smoothie with protein powder, oatmeal made with soy or dairy milk for a protein boost.
5. Decide your goal and go for it.
Writing down your goals or stating them in public helps people reach their goals. Goals help us stay more accountable. So write down your test goal and post it in your room. Tell your friends, parents or teacher that your goal is to make whatever grade you need—an A, a B…even if it's just to pass! You are much more likely to do so once you’ve officially committed to doing it. Goals transform people from wishers to doers.
With a little planning and dedication, you can ace all your finals and soar off into summer with victory. Decide to rock your finals and end your school year strong.
You’ve got this.
Also, here is a short test-- really short-- based on the Myers Briggs by 16 Personalities, but I got the same result as usual: INFJ. If you use Facebook, it's been floating around on there, so you may have already taken it.
I scored as an INFP for many years and for years, identified more with that type than INFJ. They are very similar anyway, but I have realized lately-- NOPE, I'm really an IFNJ. To look over the different types, read this page or this page. it has a great summary of each type.
You are the final judge of what you are like and in the end, knowing yourself is what's important. People who know who they are, deep inside, feel less pressure to act in ways that don't match their own values. I think that's part of why I enjoy taking personality tests. It affirms who I am. Yes, I'm introvert. I'm not anti-social and I'm not weird. Well, okay, I'm weird, but so's everyone! But it sure helps me understand why some people are harder for me to get along with than others.
Personality tests help me take things less personally, as funny as that sounds. They help me see that others have their own unique way of looking at the world, like each of the characters in my stories. And just because they see things differently than I do, doesn't make them automatically wrong. It's just different. I recommend trying the test and reading through all the different "types." Knowing that someone else may see something totally differently can help you resolve differences quicker and more smoothly. Understanding each other is a key step toward compassion and peace.
*Image used with permission, copyright free, from Morguefile. Greyerbaby. "djfdklj.jpg" Morguefile. <http://mrg.bz/W0HlXa>
This is my new blog, where I'll post the most recent news and more. You are welcome to visit my old blog, which has many more book reviews. linked below.
To those of you in 4th-8th grade and older, I hope I can offer a smidgen of help & encouragement as you traverse the waters of intermediate school, middle school, and high school.
For those who are writers or aspiring writers, I will occasionally share thoughts on the writing process. Hope it helps!
For those who are readers of any ages, I like to share when a book totally floors me. Share the love if you agree.