Introducing Secret Agent Mia, Cursive Edition

April 1, 2019

Introducing Secret Agent Mia, Cursive Edition™

You asked for it. Our data scientists delivered.

The Mia Learning team has traveled across the country over the last two years talking to teachers, librarians, school leaders, and literacy researchers. Almost everywhere we heard: Can Mia help students learn cursive?

The answer is yes! We’re at North Carolina Reading Conference here in Raleigh to unveil Secret Agent Mia, Cursive Edition™. Using technology developed at the University of Toronto, Mia can now write her responses to students in realistic children’s cursive handwriting.

“Policy makers and educational leaders around the country are finally rediscovering the importance of cursive to students’ future,” says Dr. Darren Cambridge, Mia Learning’s CEO. “It’s a perfect opportunity to harness the power of artificial intelligence to empower young writers be better prepared to succeed in college and careers”

The text is generated using a powerful form of neural network called Long Short-Term Memory, allowing for much more authentic results than with the other forms of recurrent neural networks or hidden markov models employed by our competitors.

Students can respond to Mia in cursive as well. Students write their messages on paper then use webcams to send them. Teachers may choose to put Mia in Quill Mode™, which disables voice and typing input, really putting students’ penmanship to the test!

A student responds to Mia … in cursive!

According to Peter Afflerbach, Professor of Reading at the University of Maryland, “Recent advances in brain based learning make it hard for anyone to deny what our best teachers have always understood: Growth in reading motivation and facility with cursive handwriting are inextricably connected. Mia Learning has given us a revolutionary tool.”

Secret Agent Mia, Cursive Edition™, is now available to schools for the 2019-2020 school year. For more information, please contact Diana Black (diana@mialearning.com).


A Year with Mia: Highlights from Our Blog

January 24, 2019

Get to Know Us Better – What’s on the Blog?

Over the past year, we’ve covered a good deal of territory via our blog, some of which you may have missed. From the silly to the serious, from new books to very old ones, here are some of the highlights from 2018, organized by topic.

On Mia and Mia Learning

We spent a lot of time this year on demystifying Mia and putting her into context. We discussed the origins, mechanismstechnology, and philosophy behind Mia, the literacy experts who inform her coaching and general approach, how she can help teachers, parents, and librarians rather than presenting competition, and even her social justice potential.

Reading Aloud Series

This series of three related posts were among our most well-received, covering why, what, and how  parents should read out loud to their independently reading children. We also had a diverting way for parents to assess their greatest strength in reading aloud.

Just for Fun

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time online that quizzes were some of our most popular blog fodder. Among our followers’ favorites? Finding out which fictional dragon matched their reading style and receiving a book recommendation based on which literary cat best suited their purr-sonalities. We also had a great time interviewing illustrator Alex Rodgers and exploring how books shape identity in a poignant conversation with Rowan Walker, an eloquent bibliophile who happens to be gender non-binary.

Lists for Days

In 2018, our blog also had some mighty engaging lists of books organized on themes, like chocolatey reads, colorful picture books, books about fabric, clothing, and cloth, and more thoughtful compilations, such as our collection of biographies about women artists and our list of graphic memoirs written by women. We’re always gratified when these lists circulate widely and prompt more library check-outs and store purchases of heretofore underappreciated books.

Can’t Get Enough of Mia? 

If you’ve read every bit of our blog and you’re still hungry for more, great! Sign up on our pre-launch page at Indiegogo to learn more about Secret Agent Mia’s Book Club and to make sure you don’t miss a thing when it comes to our upcoming crowdfunding campaign.


Melodic Biography: Women Musicians of Color (Part One)

November 17, 2018

Each fall in Savannah, Georgia, classical musicians from all over the world gather for the Colour of Music Black Classical Musicians Festival. Inspired by the man many have dubbed “The Black Mozart,” slave-trade era composer Chevalier de Saintes-Georges, they pay tribute to black excellence in music, especially chamber ensemble players.

In the spirit of #ColourofMusicFestival, we have compiled a reading list centered on accomplished musicians of color – women, specifically – and their manifold contributions. As in so many areas, the achievements of women of color have been underplayed, sidelined, and relegated to the marginalia of history. Some names will be familiar to many parents and a few kids, while others may be completely new. Such is the beauty of modern juvenile non-fiction!

For the next few weeks, Mia Learning’s blog will be shedding the spotlight on several of these titles at a time. Here is our master list:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  2. When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson, the Voice of a Century by Pam Munoz Ryan
  3. Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers
  4. Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage by Alan Schroeder
  5. She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribe Leader by Jan Godown Annino
  6. Sophisticated Ladies: The Great Women of Jazz by Leslie Gourse
  7. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown
  8. Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans
  9. Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist by Gina Capaldi
  10. Odetta, the Queen of Folk by Samantha Thornhill
  11. The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams by Ann Ingalls
  12. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio
  13. Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine
  14. Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
  15. Coretta Scott King by Kathleen Krull
  16. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford
  17. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
  18. Who Was Selena? by Max Bisantz
  19. Who Was Aretha Franklin? by Nico Medina
  20. Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs
  21. Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford
  22. Nina: Jazz Legend and Activist Nina Simone by Alice Brière-Haquet
  23. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

  24. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood


Blog Post, Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

November 9, 2018

#FridayFive: November 9th, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! This week ranges from biographies to graphic novels and nonfiction. If you missed any of the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Eric Velasquez

If your child reads just one picture book biography this year, let it be this one. Arturo Schomburg isn’t a household name, but after finishing this extraordinary title, we think perhaps it should be. An Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile and incredible self-taught scholar, Schomburg personally assembled what is now considered the world’s foremost collection of black excellence in the forms of books, art, music, and ephemera, aiming to debunk claims of racial inferiority. His superb life’s work is housed today in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Why is this book important? It will make kids think about how history is made, shaped, and reshaped, encouraging them to question the narratives they encounter in school, in the media they consume, and elsewhere, and to think critically.


Lorena Alvarez

Spooky, gorgeous, and awash in atmosphere, this graphic short story may surprise you given the undeniable, Studio Ghibli-style cuteness of its protagonist and her artwork. Bright, inquisitive Sandy attends a strict Catholic school, where hypercritical nuns’ eyes constantly scan students to find fault, but all she wants to do is draw. Her mother is distracted and her dreams are filled with spectacular images that she puts down on paper upon waking. When a mysteries new classmate named Morfie takes an interest in Sandy and her talents, is something more sinister afoot? Best for older readers given the frightening qualities of the story.

Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction

Nancy F. Castaldo

When an animal is removed from the Endangered Species list, how exactly has that been accomplished? Castaldo provides detailed answers for kids who love animals and want to protect them, giving case studies of more than ten different species and speaking with the scientists committed to saving them. Side panels in the shape of spiral notebook pages are used to direct kids who’d like to help more to resources, give special anecdotes, and make other worthwhile side meanderings.

One Day a Dot: The Story of You, the Universe, and Everything

Ian Lendler, ill. Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb

Cosmology and evolutionary biology are not exactly kid’s stuff, yet Lendler and his collaborators have managed to make both comprehensible to young elementary aged children without grossly oversimplifying the science. With a handy timeline at the back, lively and appealing earth-toned illustrations, and commendably clear language, readers can get a feel for how the planet came to be and how human beings came to be as well. A kind of kid’s primer before A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, this one’s a well-crafted winner that curious minds will love.

Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Vashti Harrison

A follow-up to Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Harrison’s focus here has shifted to women of all races and nations, with 40 profiles of scientists, artists, and more. Few names will already ring a bell with readers (Marie Curie and Frida Kahlo might), but that’s one of the best things about the book. With a glossary of key terms, this makes an excellent gateway book to more detailed biographies, although the uniformity of Harrison’s illustrative style is more of a hindrance than a help – why should such accomplished, bold women keep their gaze downcast? Still, this is a minor gripe with an inspiring volume.

Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

November 2, 2018

#FridayFive: November 2nd, 2018

We’re back with another list of five recent releases worth your child’s (and your) time! If you missed the previous weeks’ lists, including graphic novel biographies of women and graphic memoirs by women, go to our blog archives for more recommendations by Mia and her staff.

I am Human
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy

Susan Verde, ill. Peter H. Reynolds

From the team behind I Am Yoga and I Am Peace, this celebration of compassion and universal experiences is just what is needed right now. All of us, at the end of the day, are human beings, which means, like the boy who narrates the book, we are “not perfect.” “I can hurt others with my words, my actions, and even my silence,” he reflects, going on to consider ways he can remedy it when he goes off-course. We can think of no message more necessary today.

Violette Around the World: 1. My Head in the Clouds

Teresa Radice, ill. Stefano Turconi

Originally published in Italy, this graphic novel romp stars Violette Vermeer, an adventurous, inquisitive 12-year-old and self-styled “citizen of the world” who makes the acquaintance of famed artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec in Paris. Her father is an entomologist/insect trainer and her mother a human cannonball with the multilingual, ebullient Cirque de la Lune (“Circus of the Moon”), where Violette is a trapeze artist. With candy-colored, cartoonish illustrations and plenty of whimsy, this is a promising start to the series.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina (ill. by 13 artists)

This gorgeous ode is lyrical, dignified, and affecting, with poems ranging from joyous to wrenching (“Every breath I take is taxed/The kind of life where/I’ll have to take out a loan/To pay back them other loans”). In popular culture, black boys are so often reduced to stereotypes, and it’s wonderful to see Medina giving a wide swath of experiences and perspectives to counteract those harmful images. The wildly different thirteen black artists he recruited to illustrate his poems only serve to broaden his canvas further, and biographies of each are included at the book’s end.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief

Marguerite Abouet, ill. Mathieu Sapin

Acclaimed Côte d’Ivoire author Abouet has created an indelible character is Akissi, a little girl so mischievous and funny she could easily be taken for a mythical Trickster. This is a marvelous slice of Abouet’s Ivory Coast childhood, with plenty of humor, delightfully realistic family interactions, and gross-out situations (Akissi’s pet monkey, Boubou, is recruited to eat lice off her head at one point, for instance, and another episode has Akissi contracting worms) that give it an irresistible liveliness.

Space Cat

Ruthven Todd, ill. Paul Galdone

Technically not a new release (it was first published in 1952) but newly re-issued, this classic tale of a cat-stronaut will delight elementary-aged readers despite its vintage. After stowing away on a plane, intrepid and adorable kitten Flyball makes his way to the moon itself, where he explores in a custom-made space suit, makes up silly songs, and reacts to his new surroundings in a charmingly feline way. The first of four books about Flyball, this is a great read-aloud for parents and children to share together.