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September 7, 2018

Back-to-school encouragement and middle-grade nonfiction favorites


In honor of back-to-school season, we’ve asked authors of our 2018 middle-grade titles if they have any words of encouragement for students. Read below for some motivation as well as new nonfiction picks to add to your reading list.



Elizabeth Raum, author of The Big, Bold, Adventurous Life of Lavinia Warren

Be curious! When you find subjects that intrigue you, jot them down. On the day your teacher assigns you a book report, pull out the list and choose a book on one of those topics, and if the teacher asks you to do research or write a report of your own, you’ll already have a head start.

elizabeth blackwell

I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies. I think I read every book in the “Childhoods of Famous Americans” series. I remember reading about Clara Barton, Thomas Edison, Annie Oakley, Elizabeth Blackwell, and many more. Reading about their struggles gave me hope in my own future.


Patricia Sutton, author of Capsized!

I was a reluctant reader. I’d much rather make up stories in my head than read them in a book. But I do remember one series of biographies called “Childhood of Famous Americans.” Most of them were orange hardcover books and many had a dust cover with a silhouette of the “Famous American.” Oh, and it seemed like most of them were about men! It was a long, long time ago.

Today, however, you have so many choices. Fantasy, realistic fiction, narrative nonfiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, novels in verse, picture books, poetry and so much more. If you happen to be a reluctant reader like I was, I’d encourage you to read widely—try lots of new genres. If you are someone who loves to read, don’t get stuck in a reading rut by choosing only one genre. I’d encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Who knows, there might be a new reading rut out there waiting just for you!


 Norman Finkelstein, author of The Capture of Black Bart (Available November 6, 2018)

Remember, you are not alone. When you face seemingly impossible hurdles, know that everyone—parents, teachers and every other grownup—experienced them too. Have a question? Feeling bad? Seek out a favorite adult. They will know exactly how you feel and can help you to best overcome the problem.  And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

kon tiki

When I was in the sixth grade, I came across a book that I read and reread for years. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, told the exciting story of his voyage across the Pacific on a reconstructed Polynesian boat. For me, the book had everything: adventure, danger, and high drama. And to top it all, the story was real! I was riveted. From that moment on, nonfiction books became my passion. Now, I not only read them, I write them!

Claire Rudolf Murphy, author of Martin and Bobby (Available October 2, 2018)

Try to be curious and open to new subjects and new people. It may feel safer to stay with what we know, but these experiences can help us learn and grow, making us stronger and deeper human beings. Speaking as an author, I have long promoted the power of writing and reading in school visits. But I really believe that if you can read and write well, you can learn new things and communicate your ideas more effectively. This does have power, in and out of school.

I still remember checking out every biography I could find at the library, especially those about women. I wanted to learn how people made choices and lived their lives. I still love reading biographies today. There is so much that we can learn from each other.


Michael Greenburg, author of This Noble Woman 

Read, read, read! If you can learn to read not because a teacher or a curriculum requires you to but because you want to find new worlds, new people, and new spheres of interest, do it. It will enrich your life in ways you never dreamed possible.


Ball Four by Jim Bouton was one of the first insider’s look at the life as a professional baseball player. An awesome read!


 Rebecca C. Jones, author of The School’s on Fire! (Available October 2, 2018)

Keep reading for fun—not just for school!  You never know how your reading will pay off.


I loved (and still love) the semiautobiographical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.


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