Where Evil Lives

When I saw the infographic below, I knew I had to pass it along to the followers of Mixed Up Files. Movoto has created a visual comparison of “evil villain lairs” from popular culture that really got me thinking about the places in our books where villains can chill out, and where heroes might find themselves deep behind enemy lines.

Some of the lairs below are massive and imposing, but it’s not size alone that makes a great home for villainy. Malfoy Manor (shown below) is a great Gothic castle of infamy, but Lucius Malfoy was only ever a minion at best, and Draco was more of a bully with aspirations of minionhood. Meanwhile Lord Voldemort, the real villain of the Harry Potter series, lived for a while under another man’s turban, in the dreams of a young boy, in the pages of an old diary, and in a bunch of other random objects. Voldemort was terrifying precisely because he did not care where or how he had to live as long as he could find some way to prolong his life and plot his return to power.

Now look at Mordor and Isengard from Middle Earth. These are some tall, imposing structures! This creates an amazing contrast with our primary heroes, the Hobbits, who tend to be short, barefoot homebodies. The Baggins family Hobbit-hole is an inward-looking place of quiet introspection, while the Eye of Mordor is constantly looking outward in every direction. Coincidence? There are no coincidences in well-plotted fiction.

We also see this kind of contrast in the Jolly Roger from Peter Pan, which is the polar opposite of the lair of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. The Jolly Roger is a mobile weapons platform built in a real shipyard and staffed by actual pirates, while the Lost Boys have an underground clubhouse they built themselves. The mismatch in lairs follows other mismatches in the story–Pan vs. Hook, boy vs. man, wooden swords vs. metal blades, youth vs. experience, fairness vs. cheating, playfulness vs. deadly revenge–all giving Hook and his crew every possible advantage. When the poor villain just can’t catch a break, we readers celebrate his defeat.

The villain’s impregnable lair can usually be infiltrated by a scarecrow, a cowardly lion, and a tin woodsman. Guards can be tricked or overcome. Sometimes the entire place can come crashing down at the hands of a seemingly outmatched hero.

The message for the villains is, enjoy your evil lair but don’t get too comfortable!

Villain Lairs

Villain Lairs

What are some of your favorite villain lairs from middle grade fiction? Put your suggestions in the comments below!

Girl Power!

The winner of a copy of “Girl to Girl” is…

Kasi!

Congrats, and many thanks to all who entered.

Not-The-Newbery– Children’s Book Awards You May Not Have Considered

When I was a newly minted middle-grade reader I had one easy trick for finding a great book.

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Do you remember Cover To Cover?  All through second, third, and probably fourth grade I was entranced as elementary school teacher/ artist John Robbins  sketched scenes from Newbery winners while the calm voiced narrator read scenes from the book guaranteed to hook even the most reluctant reader. After the Egypt Game episode there was a near riot in our school library over who got first dibs at the checkout desk.

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Robbins’ endorsement and the shiny Newbery sticker (awarded each January by the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children Division) assured we’d found a great read.

But what about books beyond the Newbery?

Every year there are hundreds of fantastic middle-grade books that miss out on a Newbery award or honor. Thankfully many of these great books are recognized by other organizations or entities. And these days with internet access award lists are just a click away.

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Here at the Mixed-Up Files we strongly support recommendations from great children’s lit blogs and each year dozens of outstanding bloggers are selected as judges for the CYBILS Awards. From upper YA to early picture books you can find finalist list of great books. Last year’s middle-grade fiction winner was Ultra by David Carroll. Next year’s awards will be announced, as always, on Valentine’s Day—so keep an eye out.

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Still searching for a good book?  Nearly every state has book lists or awards and many (or most) seem focus on middle-grade books.    Some standouts are Texas’ Bluebonnet Award and my personal favorite, Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher award.  

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Did you know children’s lit’s stellar magazine The Horn Book sponsors annual book awards—coupled with fantastic acceptance speeches open to the public? Last year’s fiction award winner was decidedly YA but many years there are plenty of middle-grade offerings.

Another less obvious for young readers, but incredibly prestigious, book award is the (aptly named) National Book Award. From the wide ranging long list announced in early fall to the short list of five frontrunners to the gala banquet where the final winner is announced, year in and year out the award for Young People’s Literature, selected by writers and leaders in the children’s lit community, goes to an outstanding selection. Middle-grade books like last year’s winner, Cynthia Kahdota’s The Thing About Luck, to 2012’s Goblin’s Secrets by William Alexander to Thanhha Lai’s  Inside Out & Back Again from 2011 and 2010’s Mockingbird by Katheryn Erskine middle-grade work consistently stands tall in this open field. Plus, in years past, CSPAN has broadcast the awards banquet live– watching some of children’s literature’s heroes arrive on the red carpet and accept the trophy is the next best thing to being there.

I also love specialty awards like the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards for books that engage children in thinking about peace and justice and the Amelia Bloomer Project that collects the best feminist books written for children each year. There are even great awards for books of particular genres – whether canine (the Dog Writers’ Association of America’s Maxwell Medallion ) or criminal (the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards)

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What is your favorite “not-the-Newbery” children’s book award?

Tami Lewis Brown hasn’t won a Newbery medal (yet) but she’s been dreaming about those shiny golden stickers since second grade.