Monday, August 28, 2017

Teacher Says...

New school members! I'm delighted to join the wonderful authors here on Smack Dab in the Middle.

As a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, it’s not simply about writing the story for me; it’s about making the story so appealing that kids (and teachers, librarians, and parents) will want to read it too. So as we get ready for a new school year, I asked Elena Migliaccio, a teacher, educational consultant, literacy coach and staff developer with over 40 years of experience in NYC, the following questions:

Q: When you were teaching, what was the biggest obstacle to getting kids, especially boys, to read?

I think that the biggest obstacle was finding books at a student's reading level that they could relate to and would find interesting, especially for boys who may not be reading on grade level.

It’s helpful to know what level your manuscript is on before you start promotions. My series, Evolution Revolution is based on the third-grade science curriculum featuring simple machines. If the level is lower or higher than you want, you can adjust it. Here are several websites (there are more so look around) which can help you determine the reading level of your manuscript: *(this website was flagged as not secure, so use at your own risk!)

Q: Have you seen any changes/trends in literature that are encouraging kids to read more?

Many children are into alternate universes, fantasy and super heroes and many of the new books are using these themes in their novels.

Q: As an educational consultant, tutor, and former teacher, what's the one thing that you'd like to tell authors of middle grade fiction?

If these different fantasy books are getting students to read then it is a good thing but I always worry about students not separating fantasy from reality. This is why the teachers need to have discussions with the students to discuss the books’ characters, plots etc. Unfortunately, many teachers are not comfortable with or are unsure how to start these discussions. Perhaps authors can include some ideas at the back of the book. Make sure that the students can relate with the characters and make parallels to their own lives.

However, very often these books may not be read by the class but by individual students so perhaps these questions or discussion topics should be geared for both the classroom and the individual student so that they may offer insights for everyone. I know that sometimes there are special guides for some books in a series but the teacher/student may not have these. I also think that teachers should have the students grouped in book clubs so that they can lead their own discussions with an assist from the teacher. I found book clubs to be very successful in the classroom especially with students who have difficulty with comprehension because they were able to share ideas with a small group (less intimidating than the whole class) and help each other.

One thing that many authors do, myself included, is include Educator’s Resources with discussion questions, vocabulary, class and home activities. You can either pay a professional to draw them up, or create your own. On both the Kidlit Authors Club and my website are guides and resources tailored to my books that teachers can use for free. If they can’t be included within the book, make sure you promote them with the book.

Q: Is there a trend that either excites you or concerns you with education and reading/writing?

I am a little concerned with all of the books that create alternate universes because some children have difficulty separating reality and fiction. But reading is such an individual thing and for some students these fantasies may give them a respite from the difficulties they are experiencing every day.

Q: What was your favorite book to use in the classroom?

As an avid reader myself I have always enjoyed historical fiction as a child and as an adult. I always liked to use a few different books from this genre based on the students in my class that year. (i.e. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Number the Stars, Summer of My German Soldier, Tom Sawyer, etc). It gives the students an opportunity to discover that their problems are not unique to the current generation but rather quite similar to children of previous generations and they can learn how to handle or think about their own lives through these novels. They also learn some history without realizing that they are learning something.

I also liked to use books that were more current at the time I was teaching (i.e. Because of Winn Dixie, Maniac Magee, Holes) to help students understand their own feelings about their lives.

If you know any middle grade teachers, have kids in middle school, or follow publishing news, you'll be able to see trends. Currently, I've seen a lot of excitement for historical fiction and non-fiction, as well as books dealing with timely issues like gender identification, bullying, and diversity, among others. Knowing what's important to educators can help you put together your marketing program and maybe even plan your next book.

Charlotte Bennardo


  1. Great Debut post Char!Thanks for sharing the MG life from this unique POV.

  2. That's fascinating about seeing the line between reality and fiction.