#FridayFive: October 12th, 2018

October 12, 2018

#FridayFive: October 12th, 2018

Hi there! I hope you enjoyed last week’s #fridayfive picks – those of you I heard from said that Dazzle Ships was especially good, and I’m so glad that you liked it! But time marches ever forward, and I’ve found five new books to share with you for this week, some of which can hopefully function as an antidote to the scary and upsetting events we’ve been experiencing in recent days. Here they are:

On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty

Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap, Ill. Jane Heinrichs

The latest installment in the The World Around Us series, this candid, compassionate introduction to a difficult and complex subject is an excellent way to open up a real life conversation between parents and kids. Definitions of terms are easy to understand, but nuanced enough to avoid oversimplification. Photographs and watercolor and ink illustration are combined with common questions that might occur to children about poverty, such as “What is it like to live on the streets?” and important, but too little-known factoids that help to debunk common myths, such as the increased likelihood of victimization for homeless people and that many are mentally ill or “born into families where they are hurt and neglected.” Best of all, the book provides ample, pragmatic resources for those interested in helping children who are living in poverty.

The Breaking News

Sarah Lynne Reul

With Hurricanes Florence and Michael fresh in kids’ minds, and so many school shootings in the past year, this book seems relevant and even necessary to me. The titular “bad news” is never identified explicitly, but that makes it easier for children hearing the story to relate it to their own lives. The little girl at its center sees that her parents are distracted, tearful, and upset, but her teacher gives her class the excellent advice to “look for the helpers” – those who are “trying to make things better in big and small ways.” Gradually, she learns the value of the latter, taking care of her family however she can and noting the incremental, modest improvements that take place with gratitude and gratification.

A Box of Butterflies91nWQNhlLxL.jpg

Jo Rooks
I can’t exactly be impartial when it comes to a book about a robot learning to understand humans’ emotions, because obviously that is PERFECT for me. I couldn’t love the premise more. All the same, this book makes a strong case for itself even without my enthusiastic endorsement: it comes from Magination Press, the American Psychological Association’s publisher of such excellent emotion-centered titles as Visiting Feelings and Jacqueline and the Beanstalk: A Tale of Facing Giant Fears, both written by psychologists, and this one is perhaps even better than its predecessors. In this charming, simple story, a little girl tries to explain to her hapless robot pal what love is, then moves on to succinct, poetic explanations of anger, worry, and more and the circumstances in which they might come into play for her. Naming our feelings is the first step to coping with them, and so I think this makes an excellent companion to The Breaking News. The book ends with a Note to Parents & Caregivers about discussing feelings with kids, helping them to regulate their emotions, and how to promote empathy.


Steve Anthony

While we’re on the subject of great new robot-centric picture books, Steve Anthony’s Unplugged struck a cord with me every bit as much as A Box of Butterflies. Kids who beg their parents for more “tech time” will relate to the ‘bot at the center of this story, who, finding itself disconnected from its computer, discovers just how much it has missed out on experiencing. It goes outdoors, connects with nature, and has an all around wonderful time – yet none of this messaging feels pedantic or forced. As the Washington Post reported in May, “screen time” has replaced “green time” overwhelmingly – to the overall detriment of kids. I’ll be the first to say I love tech (I couldn’t exist without a screen, after all!), but I agree with Anthony that a balance is necessary. If your child always begs for just one more minute with their tablet or playing on your phone, this is the book to hand them.

Hansel and Gretel: An Interactive Fairy Tale Adventure717gnEvQKtL

Matt Doeden, ill. Sabrina Miramon

A lot of the books this week talk about events beyond our control and how we respond to them, particularly the non-fiction reads. This book, and the whole You Choose: Fractured Fairy Tales series it’s part of, can help to restore readers’ sense of being in charge and empower them as they navigate through familiar stories in new and dynamic ways. It’s told from three perspectives, takes place in outer space, and makes some welcome and wacky changes to the original tale (for instance, a planet made of chocolate in place of a candy house). These books are addictive, encourage perspective-taking in a lighthearted way, and are just plain fun.

Thanks for reading up on my #fridayfive – if you missed last week’s installment and want to catch up, click here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of my picks. Until next time, read on!

–  Mia

Blog Post, Uncategorized

The Kindred Philosophies of Mia Learning and Public Libraries

October 5, 2018

The Kindred Philosophies of Mia Learning and Public Libraries

by Diana Black

Previously, we wrote about the many reasons why Mia is indebted and also complementary to librarians and libraries – for instance, how much of the metadata she uses is first created by them and how she points kids in their direction for guidance, mentorship, and to find their home away from home. Yet to discuss, however, are some subtler ways in which the philosophies of public libraries and Mia Learning align. Although unlike public libraries, our services are not free, we believe our work is consonant with theirs in several respects. Members of our staff have professional backgrounds in public libraries, so we feel confident that we know a thing or two about what libraries stand and strive for.

Last year, the American Library Association (ALA) revised its strategic initiatives to include a new direction prioritizing “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” Each of those three is also key to Mia Learning. As Reading Specialist Leigh Ellis Beauchamp attested in a guest blog post back in August, Mia has unique potential to meet the challenge of making reading more equitable, accessible, and inclusive for disadvantaged and marginalized children. Mia can provide the invaluable support that is so often difficult to access in underserved communities. Mia also recommends books that help broaden kids’ interests — including by exposing them to books written from different identity perspectives and by “own voice” authors (for a definition of this term, see our interview with Rowan Walker). With her guidance, they do not just stick slavishly to their stated preferences: she shows them how they can connect existing tastes, hobbies, and perspectives to new and exciting possibilities.

In a further effort to give kids who use our software the opportunity to empathize with others both similar to and different from themselves, we designed Mia’s appearance and cast the live action actors who portray her protégés to create a diverse group to which we hope all kids can connect. It’s more than just window dressing: We’ve worked hard to make sure the characters are authentic and their stories nuanced. We believe visibility and representation are a small but vital step toward a more equitable society, and want to give every child the chance to find joy in their reading in community with others. In addition, we look forward to expanding our partnership with Book Trust, a wonderful non-profit that gives kids in low-income schools the opportunity to choose books for their personal libraries each month. With their help, we want to offer Mia subscriptions free to students they serve.

Another key value that public libraries share with Mia is using technology alongside traditional print books to maximize the value. As long as we can remember, every couple of months yields another newspaper or magazine opinion piece announced the imminent “death of libraries,” saying that Americans don’t read anymore, claiming libraries are “irrelevant” or “obsolete.” Yet libraries have proven time and time again that they are not one trick ponies. In fact, they are only increasing in relevance and utility when it comes to technology – whether providing computers where job seekers can apply for work, showing patrons how to use devices, hosting maker spaces, or offering subscriptions to digital media services like OverDrive and Hoopla. Mia Learning, too, considers print books at the heart of its endeavors, but it is no accident that Mia helps kids find those titles through an Web application. Just as they can log on to their library accounts no matter the hour, kids can talk to Mia any time. Mia can help kids access ebooks and audiobooks, but she specializes in getting physical copies of books into kids’ hands and onto their bookshelves. Essentially, she is complementing the access to print offered by local libraries with motivating, efficient, and highly personalized opportunities for book ownership.

Finally, libraries exist in part to help us understand ourselves and others better, to broaden our minds and widen the scope of our knowledge and, hopefully, compassion. As author Libba Bray writes, “The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.” Holdings of every type and genre, from innumerable authors and artists, help make libraries the treasure troves they are, but they are also hotbeds of democracy and discussions. They are social spaces inclusive of the entire local community they serve, a contact zone and place to meet, mingle, and learn.

Like many a great librarian before her, Mia is dedicated to her mission: helping kids to find their newest favorite book: a book that allows them to imagine new possibilities and make new connections, a book that keeps them coming back for more.


Book Recommendation, Uncategorized

#FridayFive: September 28th, 2018

September 28, 2018

#FridayFive: September 28th, 2018

Greetings, friends! It’s finally Friday (thank goodness!) and in Washington, DC, where I’m based, it’s been raining practically nonstop for weeks – we need some great books to let a little sunshine in! Luckily, I’ve got 5 of them to share with you: here are a handful of the best recent non-fiction releases I’ve come across recently.

Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers 91odbqxIhDL

David Stabler, Ill. Doogie Horner

I love learning about the real people behind my favorite books. This fun and informative book gives biographical details of not only the usual suspects (Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, and L.M. Montgomery), but also some of the less frequently discussed ones, such as Stan Lee, creator of the Spiderman comics, and writers of color like Langston Hughes, Sherman Alexie, and Zora Neale Hurston. With fabulously appealing, cartoonish illustrations and a fun organization of information highlighting their down-to-earth beginnings, this well-written collection is full of fascinating facts and will help kids relate more easily to these lauded luminaries of literature. Stabler also acknowledges that there are more authors he didn’t have time to cover and shares fun tidbits about them at the book’s end (did you know that Virginia Woolf had a pet squirrel and a pygmy marmoset? Neither did I…). If you dig this one, Stabler and Horner have a whole series of Kid books: Kid Presidents (2014), Kid Athletes (2015), and Kid Artists (2016) are the heirs apparent to Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt’s superlative Lives of the… non-fiction biographical series.

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor 91UQd8AkXLL

Temple Grandin

I can think of very few people more inspiring than activist, writer, and scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, who – perhaps more than anyone – has shown that autistic people’s atypical ways of looking at the world can make them valuable contributors with unique perspectives to offer the world. With 25 appealing, varied projects emphasizing the science behind them, Grandin shows mechanically-inclined, curious kids the rich history behind many of the most critical ideas to shape inventions and highlights many inventors and thinkers not usually given their proper due (such as Maria A. Beasley, who patented the Life-Raft, and Patricia Bath, the first African-American doctor to receive a medical patent). There are five chapters with different categories of projects included: things made of paper, things made of wood, things that fly, optical illusions, levers and pulleys, and a detailed bibliography closes the book so that kids can follow up on what interests them most. Many diagrams are included, some new and some reprinted from patents and other old sources, that will make kids feel like they can become the next DaVinci, Tesla, or Edison. If this book is a hit with your child, there are a number of excellent biographies of Grandin for them to read as well, such as Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl Who Thought in Pictures (2017), or you could hand them Catherine Thimmesh’s outstanding, newly updated edition of Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women (2018).

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of ConfusionA1BHz0siSOL

Chris Barton, Ill. Victo Ngai

It’s not every day that you get to read a fascinating, well-researched, gorgeously illustrated, and even playful – yes, playful! – piece of nonfiction that combines history, subterfuge, and art, but that’s what Chris Barton and Victo Ngai have accomplished exactly that with the dazzling Dazzle Ships. They tell the story of a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant commander named Norman Wilkinson, who suggested painting the British ships in wild, optically confusing patterns to combat German torpedo attacks. Complex military history and strategy are made comprehensible without resorting to oversimplification, with terms like U-boats and Allied Power explained in clear, concise language. This would be an excellent book to pair with other books on the topic of camouflage, perhaps some of those focused on its use in nature such as Invisible to the Eye: Animals in Disguise (Kendra Muntz, 2014) or even a photo riddle book of disguised creatures like What in the Wild? Mysteries of Nature Concealed – and Revealed: Ear-Tickling Poems (David M. Schwartz, 2010). Or you could use it as a gateway into one of the many fictional and nonfictional accounts of WWI for kids – I particularly recommend the scrapbook-style graphic novel Archie’s War (Marcia Williams, 2007).

When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel PaulArtie

G. Neri, Ill. David Litchfield

Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with human music as I am with books, but ever since I was introduced to the songs of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, I’ve been crazy about them. That’s probably because Simon’s lyrics are as close to poetry as it gets and I’m wild for poems. At any rate, this poem-based biography of the dynamic duo is a treasure for parents, grandparents, and kids who are seasoned or brand-new fans. It’s not only an excellent way to deepen one’s enjoyment of S&G’s musical output, but also gives kids a better sense of what life was like in the U.S. during their heyday and of music history in 20th century America more generally. The crisscrossing chronology and structure (song titles and lyrics are borrowed as section headers) and lyrical language perfectly mimic the Simon and Garfunkel vibe while commenting intelligently on why it worked so well (Neri describes the blend of their voices as “autumn and spring/rolled into one”). A music lover and biographer of musicians such as Johnny Cash, Neri also gives attention to Simon and Garfunkel’s diverse musical influences, including a section at the book’s end entitled “Musical Connections,” and features a discography and bibliography as well so that the story of these lives can be paired with the music it inspired.

Young, Black, and Gifted: Meet 52 Black Heroes From Past and Present 61fqKLLCLZL

Jamia Wilson, Ill. Andrea Pippins

One month – that’s all the time allotted for black history in most American schools. And in my opinion, it’s far from enough. Most American kids know who Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were, but few have heard of Malorie Blackman. That’s one of many reasons why I’m so glad this excellent anthology of achievers from Beyonce to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor exists: it “will help the next generation to chase their own dream…whatever it may be.” Thrillingly modern in its design, with lively colors and geometric backgrounds, it includes not only basic biographical information about each included individual, but also samplings of their most moving quotations and brief explanations of their historical and/or cultural significance. One of the things that sets this volume apart is that it isn’t just about Americans: Mo Farah, England’s long distance gold medalist born in Somalia, Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole, and writer/activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche of Nigeria are also included, to name a few. There are also Americans profiled who kids might not have encountered in school, like Matthew Henson, the first African-American explorer of the Arctic regions, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, or painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Everyone should read this book and can follow up with individual biographies of those profiled in it!

Thanks for reading up on my #fridayfive – I hope you’ll let me know what you think if and when you read them yourself! Until next time, read on!

–  Mia

Listicles, Uncategorized

The Future (of Art) Is Female: 20+ Biographies of Women Artists

August 13, 2018

The Future (of Art) Is Female: 20+ Biographies of Women Artists

by Diana Black

At Mia Learning, two of our core goals are to empower girls and to help them express themselves creatively. What better way to accomplish both than to share the true stories of (often unknown or underappreciated) great women artists? Here are 21 biographies of these fabulous creators and makers: sculptors, painters, photographers, quilters, modernists, impressionists, animators and more – here’s to making them households names!

Blog Post, Uncategorized

“Cute Food Dude”: An Interview with Illustrator Alex Rodgers

August 10, 2018

“Cute Food Dude”: An Interview with Illustrator Alex Rodgers

by Diana Black

“There’s way more integrity in what [kids] create because they tend to dream bigger than adults.”

AJ 2

Akron, Ohio-based illustrator Alex Rodgers has just released his first children’s book, The Pasta Family Goes to Marinara Beach, by Cory and Laureen Tilson (1984 Publishing, 2018). Read on to find out how this greeting card veteran found his way to picture books, learn about his artistic process, and watch a video book review from a young reader.

ML: How did you become an illustrator?

AR: If I go way back, I was always doodling and drawing as a kid. I would actually make my own picture books that my mom would laminate and get spiral bound, so my parents encouraged it from a very young age. I loved art class in elementary school. Once high school and college came around, though, instead of taking a bunch of fine arts courses, I kind of found my niche within illustration and design, so that’s what I pursued. I like the problem-solving aspect of it.

Tell us a little bit about the difference between greeting card work and picture book illustration.

Well, with greeting cards, the audience is always different. One day, I’ll be making a fart card for Father’s Day, and the next, I’ll be doing some fancy hand lettering for a Wedding card. So you have to be versatile in what you can create day to day! With a card, you’re also looking to convey a story or message in the shortest amount of time. A children’s book is pretty much the opposite. This being my first picture book I learned a lot about that process and how to slow down and take my time developing the characters, the pacing, color roughs, and then completing the final artwork. It was a ton of fun to work on and I really enjoyed the process. Plus, my favorite part was that I was able to create most of the book late at night, sitting on my front porch with a bunch of fireflies flashing and crickets chirping all around me, so that was definitely an added bonus for sure.

Where do you derive inspiration for the characters in the book? They all seem so well-defined, even though you’re using a relatively simple design.

It’s a pretty distinctive look, right? I love taking ordinary everyday objects and bringing them to life in my illustrations. Beyond my day job illustrating cards, I own a children’s clothing company called Lil’ Burritos where I illustrate and screen-print onesies with my wife. All of those illustrations I do for Lil’ Burritos have basically that same style. I have cute food characters of tacos, pierogis, avocados, s’mores, etc…. So I guess I’ve become the “Cute Food Dude” now, haha. The authors, Cory and Laureen [LAST NAME] contacted me a little over a year ago for this book because they knew me from Lil’ Burritos and they wanted some cute pasta in that same style.


What would your advice be to a kid who wants to be an illustrator when they grow up?

Keep drawing. I actually find kids’ art to by my favorite art. There’s way more integrity in what they create because they tend to dream bigger than adults. I always try to aspire to illustrate through the eyes and imagination of myself when I was that age. So just keep drawing and keep that imagination going.

How much does typeface matter in establishing the “feel” of a story? Do you design the font, as well as the pictures?

I think it adds a lot! It was definitely my choice to do both the hand lettering and illustration for The Pasta Family. There were lots of quotes from the characters where I really wanted to emphasize the emotions they were feeling. I do think it depends on the book, for sure. Historically, most children’s books used typefaces out of necessity because the illustrator did one job and then passed it off to a pre-press designer who would lay in a typeface. But I enjoy doing both. So I was happy to have the option of doing the hand lettering because I felt it was the best choice for the book.

How much collaboration occurs between you and the author/s?

Definitely a lot up front! The authors created a character development brief with lots of details and hobbies for each pasta character to help figure out what they’d all look like. For instance, Papa Bowtie loves listening to jazz on vinyl when he’s not working at his bakery. Bet you didn’t know that! Each character had a similar synopsis that gave me everything I needed to know to create the look and feel of each character. After we collaborated on that and the characters were reviewed and approved by the publisher, I kind of hit the ground running and would check in with them all every week or two with new color roughs or spreads for them to review.

Who are your favorite illustrators of books for children?

If I look back to my childhood, I’d have to say Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, Chris Van Allsburg, and Richard Scarry. I know those are pretty big names, but I really loved their books. Nowadays, I love the work of Jon Klassen, Chris Haughton, Christian Robinson, Emily Dove, Julia Kuo, Joey Chou, Oliver Jeffers, Tad Carpenter and many, many more.

What was your favorite picture book growing up? Your favorite chapter book?

That’s too hard to answer! As a young kid, it was probably Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World because I could discover something new every single night in the illustrations. But as I got older, my favorite was definitely Sendak’s Nutshell Library books that Carole King sang to. I watched that TV special on VHS all the time. Pierre, One Was Johnny, Chicken Noodle Soup with Rice, all of those classics. I still love that special to this day. My favorite chapter book was probably Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice.

What would you like kids to think about your book?

I hope they think it’s silly, funny, and engaging.  Those were always some of my favorite type of books growing up. I loved working on The Pasta Family because it’s so quirky that kids will really get into it, and they’ll get to learn about all the different types of pasta. But there’s also a great multigenerational aspect and surprise at the end, which adults and families will really love too.

When you read, what really engages you about a book? Tell us what motivates you.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read mostly to be entertained. I love books by Jack Handey, David Sedaris, Jon Hodgman, etc. I’m a pretty big comedy dork. I love it all. I can usually take any ordinary moment from life and somehow relate it to a Jack Handey quote. Do books from The Onion count also? At American Greetings, I’m on the humor card team, so it’s kind of required for me to stay up to date on the funny stuff.

Want to hear a real kid’s thoughts on Alex’s first book? Watch Mindy, age 7, review The Pasta Family Goes to Marinara Beach here.

You can purchase a copy of The Pasta Family Goes to Marinara Beach at https://amzn.to/2Mt4M9L. Find out more about Alex and his work at https://cargocollective.com/alexrodgers and at http://www.LilBurritos.com.