Whoopee! Celebrate! Party Time!

Yes, it has been four years since I made my first MMGM post and five years since I began ALWAYS in the MIDDLE. Thanks to everyone who has visited. The growth in this short time is nothing short of amazing.

As a token of my appreciation it’s time for a big GIVEAWAY. On the line is a chance to win one of these four recent MG hardback books, each with your choice of a special bookmark (either a $25 Starbucks, $25 Amazon, or $25 Barnes and Noble gift card):



I’ll draw the four winning names on Sunday, September 3rd at 6 PM EDT.

All followers will receive one entry and a comment below is another way to enter. Good luck to everyone and I’m looking forward to many more years providing reviews, writing support, and giveaways… and some day having my own stories published.


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You see it every school year. Potential success spoiled by a lack of organization. This new and fun Daily Planner from National Geographic Kids could be the first step to uncluttering the mess. Spiral bound so it can lay flat, the planner goes from August to June but is not dependent on a particular year.

Each week gives a weird-but-true question, quiz, or to do activity. Fun graphics and wacky facts (Like…The world’s most expensive cheese is made from donkey’s milk) are splashed across the pages. Each day is boldly printed and given four to six lines to write in your important events.

In the front is a two page spread where you can note all of your class locations and teachers. In the back are fourteen pages of Homework Help full of maps, charts, and how to write a report or make an oral report.

Here’s what National Geographic for Kids has to say about this helpful resource:

Prepare to be amazed each day with weird-but-true facts that will impress your friends and stump your parents. Turn the page and record your school work, keep track of activities, and plan your social life, all while learning wild and wacky things about the world around you.

Fun prompts invite you to celebrate weirdness. Plus there are homework help sections and tons of space to write or doodle your daily schedule any way you wish. With beautiful full-color artwork and engaging information and activities, this is the must-have planner. It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd!


Yes, school is gearing up (or already started) so why not celebrate weirdness with your own Daily Planner. It’s an essential key to success for any middle or high school student!

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I LOVE YOU, MICHAEL COLLINS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

1969 will forever be a year that epitomizes what America was all about back then and how we would look at the future.

  • The famous musical festival Woodstock took place on a New York farm with nearly a half million concert goers in attendance.
  • War demonstrations were common as the Vietnam War continued.
  • Up to a billion people watched Neil Armstrong become the first human to walk on the moon.

This last event is the focus for this new book, but it’s not about Neil Armstrong. It’s about the man who was left behind to orbit the moon while his two comrades received the glory of being the first. Mention the name Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin and many will recognize the names. Michael Collins? Not so much.

This endearing story puts you in Mamie’s ten year old world at the time. Life is not treating her the best, but she writes letters to Michael Collins detailing her family problems and why she likes him the best of all the astronauts.  One school assignment turns into a series of letters that make up the “chapters” of the book.

This view into life in 1969 couldn’t be any clearer with the images put forth through Mamie’s words. Fruit Loops, Cap’n Crunch, phones on the wall, Erector sets, and good old Tang to name a few. Try living today with one electric fan passed around the house to be plugged into the nearest outlet to give at least one person some relief. I was also reminded how different it was being a kid in those days. Unsupervised play was the norm and home alone often became a necessity.

The subtle charm in this story won me over. Give it a go yourself if you need a perfect snapshot of 1969 in an upbeat story filled with hope.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship. After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her―until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore? With I LOVE YOU, MICHAEL COLLINS, Lauren Baratz-Logsted has created a heartwarming story about family and being true to yourself.


  1. Everyone needs a Buster Whitaker in their life. He’s Mamie’s one friend—kind, considerate, and his view of friendship is something we could all learn from.
  2. The parallels of Mamie and Michael Collins were beautifully exposed as they both became the ones left behind.
  3. It’s a quick read, and the storytelling will have those normally not in tune with historical fiction liking the ride for the first time.
  4. The cover and the title. Yes, I loved them both.
  5. Themes of bravery and loyalty will have me nodding in agreement every time I think of this book.

FAVORITE LINES:  Of course, I used to wonder why I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I didn’t have an answer for it. Now I think it might have something to do with that question Mrs. Collins my teacher asked us, about what we want to be when we grow and the boys said they wanted to be astronauts and the girls said they wanted to marry the astronauts and I said I didn’t know. And I don’t. So maybe that’s why I’m not popular: because other people always seem so sure of what they want and where they’re going and I just never seem to know.


Lauren Baratz-Logsted writes for adults, teens, and kids. You can see all of her books on her website.

Michael Collins is retired and will turn 87 on Halloween.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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BLOG TOUR STOP for Tommy Greenwald’s THE REAL US

Seeing the name TOMMY GREENWALD always brings a smile to my face. Yes, I love his books—reviewed three of them on my blog—but what really causes my grin is what happened in the Fall of 2011. I’d read CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING and wanted to be sure to pass it along to a special reader.


Lonnie and I met in late August. He had spent his school career causing the early retirement of many teachers and administrators. Lonnie showed up to class about half the time and the office had to make a special filing cabinet to hold his expanding file.  He amazingly seemed to be on grade level in reading and writing. I wanted to make a difference in this kid’s life and steer him in another direction.

“I don’t read books or do homework,” he informed me on day one. “Leave me alone and we’ll get along.”

Yeah, that was not going to work. The second week of school I gave him my copy of Charlie Joe Jackson and said he might enjoy reading it.

This would be the time to insert the heartwarming ending where Lonnie discovered his love of reading and wins the school wide reading contest. He decides to work hard and some day write his own stories… Okay, it didn’t quite happen like that.

I turned and Charlie Joe sailed past my head—high and outside—ricocheting off the wall, and landing on the floor by my desk. The vice-principal happened to be wandering by at the time and carted Lonnie off to the office.

The next morning at a staff meeting we were informed Lonnie would not be returning. He’d broken into the school the previous night and stole three things: A sealed gallon jug filled with baked beans, a package of frozen cinnamon rolls destroying the myth they were fresh baked every morning, and a book—Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading.

I don’t know what happened to Lonnie, but I do know Tommy Greenwald has a new book out this week and although I haven’t read it yet, here’s what to expect:

Laura Corbett and Damian White are loners, and not by choice. Kids make fun of smart, sarcastic Laura for her weight and artistic Damian for his tendency to sweat through his shirts. Calista Getz, however―well, everyone agrees that Calista is the prettiest girl in the whole school. Maybe even the whole state. Let’s just say that she sits at the popular lunch table. Laura and Damian don’t.

But when Calista wakes up just before the school dance with the BIGGEST pimple she has EVER seen right in the middle of her face, and her attempts to hide it backfire spectacularly, Laura and Damian are the only ones who don’t ignore her. In fact, they seem to see not only past her pimple, but past her popularity, too. Together, they’ll challenge the school’s status quo in this hilarious, heartfelt novel The Real Us, by Tommy Greenwald.

What better way to wrap up this post than to invite Tommy in for a few words of wisdom on a topic he knows well… MAKE ‘EM LAUGH. AND LAUGH AGAIN.

It’s amazing that I can get paid for doing something that used to get me in so much trouble.

Back when I was in middle school, my goal was always to make my classmates laugh. The upside was that I was pretty good at it. The downside was that I was pretty good at it. My problem was that I didn’t know when enough was enough. The first time I made kids laugh, the teacher would laugh too. The second time, the teacher would smile and say, okay, that’s enough. The third time, there’d be no smile, only a warning.

And the fourth time, I’d find myself in Mrs. Sleep’s office. (Our principal.) (It was her real name.) (And it was such a great name that I used it for the principal in the Charlie Joe Jackson books.) (And the drawing looks just like her.) Her office was the stuff of nightmares. My nightmares.

So yeah, what I guess I’m trying to say is if you want to be a comedy playah in middle school, it’s not enough to make kids chuckle once. You have to have a passion for making them laugh, hoot, holler and guffaw over and over again, and you have to be willing to be sent to the scariest place in the entire universe in order to indulge that passion. And it’s that same single-mindedness that comes in handy when writing humor for middle-graders. You can’t be satisfied with one smile per page. You have to be relentless in seeking out humorous situations, and then raise the comic stakes, while keeping one foot in reality. (#itsfunnycozitstrue.)

Here’s an example.

Humorous situation: George drops his ice cream cone and it lands on his shoe.

Raising the stakes: George’s dog Bonkers slurps up the ice cream cone, chewing up George’s shoe in the process. George’s friend Becky thinks that’s hilarious, until Bonkers notices that Becky has an ice cream cone too, and jumps up and steals her cone, while getting his filthy paws all over her nice white dress that she’s supposed to wear to church in fifteen minutes.

Come on, that’s hilarious, right? Okay, maybe not, but I’m definitely going to have a dog named Bonkers in one of my next books. That’s a great name.

Speaking of names, all funny stories should have characters with funny names. Some of my characters are Irwin Wonk, Baxter Bratford, Mrs. Sleep (we already talked about her) and Sheldon Felden. My favorite all-time fictional name is Fielding Mellish, from Woody Allen’s BANANAS. It’s one of the funniest movies ever, but it would be a little less funny if Fielding’s name had been George Smith.

Sorry, is that off topic?


In case you missed the previous stops or the ones coming up next week, here’s the complete schedule

BLOG HOP —-Yes, I’m ALWAYS in the MIDDLE 🙂

7 August Ms. Yingling Reads,  Review

8 August Maria’s Melange  Why I Wrote The Real Us

9 August Log Cabin Library Review, publisher’s description

10 August- Diary of a Happy Librarian Review

11 August Always in the Middle  Make ‘Em Laugh

14 August- Randomly Reading  Review

15 August One Great Book  Review

16  August-Unleashing Readers  Giveaway

17  August Mr. D. Reads  Interview

18  August Tommy Greenwald  Giveaway


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REVENGE OF THE GREEN BANANA for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I was ready for some lighter reading after a summer of heavy duty 300+ page middle grade monstrosities. A story about Jim Murphy’s sixth grade year at St. Stephen’s Elementary School in 1958 Kearny, New Jersey was the perfect remedy.

This semi-autobiographical account depicts the battles with his teacher—a nun who seems to treat young Master Murphy unfairly—and his first crush on a sweet girl. There’s a touch of family life and friendships along with gentle humor often coming from the mouth of Al the Second Grader.

Yes, the cover pulled me in first, but the fast moving story had a subtle charm that isn’t realized until Jim uses the banana suit to bring about some good. Not much history of the times, but readers won’t mind with the fun story they’re enjoying.



Jimmy Murphy’s sixth grade teacher, Sister Angelica Rose, is out to get him. She humiliates him in class and punishes him when he hasn’t done anything wrong. She even forces him to perform onstage with second-graders, wearing a giant green banana costume. A classic underachiever with a talent for trouble, Jimmy wants revenge, and with his friends he plans a prank that will embarrass Sister Angelica in front of the whole school. What could possibly go wrong?


  1. Kids will overlook the nastiness of the plan to harm Sister as it is all done in a silly kid way. We’re talking about a bag of flour here.
  2. Friends with nicknames become an important support source for Jimmy. Centi, Mayer, Tom-Tom, Second-grader Al, and Phillip all have distinct personalities and strengths. I wondered what had happened in life to the old gang.
  3. New readers rising up from Chapter books would find this to be a good intro to the world of MG. Easy to read and the issues brought forth would be understandable.
  4. It takes a village they say to raise a child and Jim has quite the village watching over him. From his parents to his classmate tutor, it all makes Jim a new person by the end.
  5. Life for kids was so different sixty years ago. A great read-aloud to provide a comparative discussion between the two eras.


The lunchtime meeting didn’t produce any new ideas, although Al the Second Grader was very enthusiastic about attempting to electrocute Angelica or arranging an accidental tumble down a flight of stairs. I thought these possibilities might be worth considering, but Mayor explained that we weren’t trying to injure or kill Sister Angelica.


I wrote lots of poems and short stories in high school and college, some of which were published in school journals. I stopped writing when I went to work as a children’s book editor (because I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in my writing ability). But after editing (and sometimes rewriting) other people’s manuscripts for seven or eight years, I decided to give my own writing another try. That was over twenty-five (gulp!) years and some thirty books ago.(Read more at Jim’s author website)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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Earlier this summer a parent asked me a very important question about her young reader:

“Keegan has only read chapter books but wants to make the jump to middle grade. He’s an average reader and I don’t want him getting frustrated with the higher level. Any suggestions for books that might pave the way for a successful transition?”

I didn’t hesitate to suggest THE DOG DIARIES series and the newest addition—ROLF. This heartwarming story is 133 pages long interspersed with just enough illustrations to break up the text. You read the story in Rolf’s own words as several life changing events bring him new meaning to having a friend for life. It’s a story for dog lovers and non-dog lovers as Rolf keeps a positive attitude throughout each ordeal.

This is the tenth in the series with #11 (Tiny Tim) out this month and #12 (Susan) out later this year. See them all here.

Here’s the official Background from Random House on ROLF:

A dachshund loses a leg and finds his life’s calling—as a therapy dog!
Scrappy dachshund Rolf von Noodle may be missing a hind leg, but he’s got attitude and can-do spirit to spare! If anything, his tripod status gives him something special: real empathy for people overcoming physical challenges. And as his owner Mindy discovers, it makes him an ideal choice to become a therapy dog. With realistic black-and-white illustrations and an appendix that includes photographs and information about the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program, therapy dog training, tripod dogs, and more, this is the kind of fact-based fiction reluctant middle grade readers sit up and beg for!

So you get a gripping story that will have you flipping the pages and a nice non-fiction appendix. What more could you ask for?

Postscript: Since I wrote this Keegan has read six books in the series! Welcome to Middle Grade, Keegan!

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MOON SHADOW for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

When I began reading this book a sense of dread hovered over me. I felt myself trapped in  another MG mini-drama filled with divorce, broken friendships, and confused feelings. But wait…a bit of magic saved the day.

The magic here is caused by the main character (Lucia) being born during a lunar eclipse. The night of her 13th birthday is when strange things begin to happen. Her dreams unleash her shadow who carries out the dream in real life. Lucia begins conquering her fears and desires but doesn’t remember doing any of it herself.

She’d never tell her mom how she really feels about the divorce, face her former best friend, or try out for a school musical. Those are just a few of the events that come true. Lucia is scared but also kind of enjoying the ride.

With help from all the important people in her life, Lucia tries to understand how the moonstone she carries around is possibly triggering the chaos. The story turns into an enjoyable spin through middle school life and coping with oneself. It’s all about growth and change. I’m glad I stuck around to the end.



Thirteen-year-old Lucia Frank discovers that she can become the girl she’s always wanted to be with the help of a little “moon magic” in this charming novel about the value of friendship, family, and finding yourself.

Lucia Frank has never had time for her mom’s “new age” nonsense. She doesn’t believe in any of that stuff. All she wants is to figure out how to get her best friend, Will, back and cope with her parents looming divorce. But then something strange happens on the night of her thirteenth birthday.

When the eclipsed moon slips into the shadow of the earth, Lucia’s Shadow slips out. Now hidden in a moonstone, the Shadow waits for Lucia to sleep so it can come out to play.

Lucia’s Shadow seems unlike her in almost every way: daring, outspoken, and unwilling to let anyone push her around. But it actually isn’t the anti-Lucia…in fact, her Shadow is very much like the person Lucia wishes she could be. At first, Lucia is eager to undo whatever magic happened on her birthday so life can get back to normal. But when she realizes her Shadow is doing and saying things she has only dreamed about, she wonders if maybe things aren’t all bad.

With a little help from her Shadow, she’s turning into the kind of girl she’s always wanted to be.


  1. The pages where the shadow of Lucia takes over are done in white letters on a black background. With the book closed I could see seven strips of black and I was anxious to get to them all.
  2. Instead of keeping her problems bottled up inside her, Lucia seeks help from friends and family. It’s a great lesson for any tween or teen who may be hesitant about letting others into their world of troubled thoughts.
  3. Lucia’s new friends, Anji and Jonathan, are what I hope are the rule rather than the exception of what middle school kids are like.
  4. This should be popular with girl MG readers and the magical realism might reel in a few boys along the way, too.
  5. A good read-aloud and discuss type of book. Readers will find understanding to their own feeling of awkwardness during the difficult middle school years.

FAVORITE LINES:   A cool blast of night air blew over the roof wall. Just as the moon took its last timid step into the full, round shadow of the earth, I heard the tentative crunch of a footstep on the terrace behind me. I was momentarily frozen with all those unspoken wishes trapped on my tongue. Suddenly, and without warning, I felt myself crumple to the ground.


Most of the time, she reads books on her Kindle. Except kids’ books, which she prefers to read the old-school way.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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