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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Big Stories in Small Packages: Give Verse a Chance

Book Lists

Pick up and leaf through a verse novel, say Susan Taylor Brown’s Hugging the Rock. The trim size is small, the pages more white than type. That’s the beauty of a novel in verse, especially at the middle-grade level. All that white space entices even reluctant readers. To quote one eleven-year-old reader: “You can read them a lot faster, and the words sound cool.” A middle-grader can zip through Hugging the Rock, a novel of 12,000 words, in a single sitting.

Such frugality with words doesn’t mean a lack of complexity or depth, though. “Verse allows my words to touch readers’ hearts in a way that the same story, told in prose, might not,” says Susan Taylor Brown. In the opening of Hugging the Rock, Rachel and her father watch as her bipolar mother packs the car. As the pile in the backseat grows, blocking the rear window, Rachel says simply:

No room left for Dad.

And no room left for me.

Author Ann E. Burg agrees: “Poetry novels are simply novels written in an alternate style. A charcoal or pen and ink drawing is different than an oil painting or watercolor, but important details and the same depth of emotion can be achieved in all mediums.”  All the Broken Pieces, her novel about a boy air-lifted from war-torn Vietnam, is proof of that. The narrator, 12-year-old Matt Pin, must make sense of both his past in Vietnam and his present in the United States, a country itself scarred by the war. It’s a story as ambitious as any middle-grade fiction I read this year–in poetry or prose.

Sadly, as much as I and my sixth-grade daughter love verse novels, middle-grade titles seem to be in short supply on bookstores shelves.  On a recent trip to the Bay Area–where I visited more bookstores than I care to admit–I rarely found more than one, or at most two, verse titles in the middle-grade section. Patty Norman of Copperfield Books in Petaluma admits verse novels are a hard sell to middle-graders who still have that knee-jerk “yuck, it’s poetry” reaction. Young adult readers, she finds, are more open to verse.

It doesn’t have to be so, says Burg, a former English teacher. “Middle graders are curious and unpretentious. Poetry delves right to the heart of the matter which they should find appealing. If poetry and poetry novels are presented as genuine literature worthy of review and discussion, most kids will read and respond with open, sincere minds.”

When Susan Taylor Brown was first shopping the manuscript for Hugging the Rock, she recalls one editor passed because she wasn’t sure the genre was here to stay. “The key,” says Brown, “is to keep talking with schools, with young readers.” Fortunately, there are plenty of good books to talk about, and soon there will be more.  Both Taylor and Burg are working on new novels in verse.

Following are some of  my recent favorites. Please chime in with yours and share your thoughts on how we can encourage more young readers to give verse a chance.

* * *

All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

Airlifted from Vietnam two years earlier, Matt Pin has seemingly adjusted well to his new life in the US. He plays baseball and takes piano lessons and tries to be the son he believes his adoptive parents want, yet he is haunted by the mother and little brother he left behind in Vietnam. Matt says “My Vietnam/ is drenched/ in smoke and fog…./ My Vietnam is/ only/ a pocketful/ of broken pieces/ I carry/ inside me.” Going backward and forward in time, the reader learns about Matt’s two families, the prejudice he faces at school, and the complicated legacy of the Vietnam war for Matt and everyone else whose lives were touched and changed by that war.

Brushing Mom’s Hair by Andrea Cheng; illustrated by Nicole Wong

When Ann’s mom undergoes surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer Ann finds her home filling up with flowers, meals she doesn’t like, visits from people who say the wrong thing. Worried about her mother, Ann takes refuge in her ballet and art. A mere sylph of a story at 59 pages, Cheng deals deftly with the hard realities of cancer and the return of hope with the return of her mother’s hair.

The Crazy Man by Pamela Porter

With down-to-earth lyricism, Porter tells the story of 12-year-old Emmaline, maimed in a farming accident that gives her father the excuse he’s been looking for to leave the farm he never loved. Left to sow and harvest the Saskatchewan fields alone, Emmaline’s mother hires Angus, a gentle giant of a man from the local mental hospital to take care of the farm. The town buzzes with talk about the “crazy man” in their midst, and when tragedy threatens, Emmaline and her mother learn who their true friends are.

The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli

Eleven-year-old Bindi longs for a noisy home full of siblings. When her parents separate and she and her mother move into a small apartment above The Dancing Pancake, her mother and aunt’s new café, Bindi finds a host of new friends among the staff and customers and new hope for her family. Both this book and Spinelli’s other MG verse novel Summerhouse Time (Knopf, 2007) are notable for their full cast of appealing characters and touches of humor.

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

Heartbeat tells the story of 12-year-old Annie, her family, and her best friend and running partner, Max. The short-lined verse mimics the rhythms of running—sometimes breathless, always moving forward. Running helps Annie keep pace with all the changes in her life: the new baby her mother is expecting, her grandfather losing his memory, and her best friend Max who keeps bugging her to join the track team when all she wants to do is run for the joy of it.

Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown

Rachel has always taken care of her bipolar mother, staying up late with her, making sure she takes her medicine, while her father seemed distant and unknowable…until her mother packs up and leaves with no explanation beyond “I don’t belong here anymore.” Hurt and angry, Rachel lets her schoolwork slide, lies to her friend about her mother’s absence. She and her father live together like a pair of ghosts haunting the same house until, little by little, Rachel learns about her mother’s past and her father’s devotion.

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Thirteen-year-old Josie Wyatt has cerebral palsy. Teased and called a “tard” by the popular girls at school and betrayed by her own slow tongue and limbs, Josie feels perfectly at home in her grandmother’s garden, like the poppies that start their lives “hairy, grayish…./ easily a member/ of the ugly family,” but bloom “the same red/ as a Chinese wedding dress.” When her grandmother suffers a devastating stroke, Josie’s inner strength pulls her through, like the wisteria vine “reaching for sun.”

* * *

 

Laurie Schneider reads, writes, and revises in the Palouse, the rolling wheat country of Eastern Washington/North Idaho.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Wendy S  •  Jul 12, 2010 @6:50 am

    Excellent article on a much-neglected topic. These books cover an amazing breadth, and I can think of a child to match up to all of these books. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is my own favorite – she was able to evoke so much imagery from a few words.

  2. Sheri Larsen  •  Jul 12, 2010 @6:53 am

    These sound awesome. I can’t wait to read them, and they’re so short. Each is so different, yet seem to have that common thread of inner growth for a middle grade child. So neat.

    Thanks.

  3. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 12, 2010 @8:00 am

    I didn’t realize there were so many verse novels for middle-grade readers. Thanks for the list! I need to check these out.

  4. Jeannine Atkins  •  Jul 12, 2010 @8:17 am

    Laurie, what a wonderful overview with great quotes and summaries. Thank you!!

  5. Taryn Super  •  Jul 12, 2010 @8:40 am

    Thanks for the great list of books. I’m planning to read All the Broken Pieces this week, and I’m looking forward to it!

  6. Tracy Abell  •  Jul 12, 2010 @10:14 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this list. Some of these I’ve read (and loved) but there are a couple I’m now eager to find. A book written in verse about running? I’m on it!

  7. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 12, 2010 @10:45 am

    Great post. I haven’t read a lot of these myself. I’ll have to in order to encourage my students to find the right one for them. Thanks for the list!

  8. Laura Marcella  •  Jul 12, 2010 @10:46 am

    I loved Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse when it came out and was sad there weren’t more novels in verse back then. So thank you so much for these suggestions!

    Sharon Creech is one of my favorite MG authors, but I haven’t read Heartbeat yet. I really need to get on that!

  9. C. Lee McKenzie  •  Jul 12, 2010 @11:25 am

    So many super books to choose for the MG reader. Have Heartbeat, but need to get busy reading it.

  10. Mrs. V  •  Jul 12, 2010 @12:52 pm

    I am so glad that you did this post. I have been trying to get more novels in verse for my classroom because many of my 6th-7th graders were hooked on them this year with books from Lisa Schroeder (YA), Sharon Creech, and Karen Hesse. I will add the titles you mentioned to my books to buy list. I agree though, I hope to see a wider selection of novels in verse in the future.

  11. Susan Kaye Quinn  •  Jul 12, 2010 @1:13 pm

    These seem like amazing books, especially fitted for stories-in-verse. Thanks for the recommendations! :)

  12. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Jul 12, 2010 @1:34 pm

    I absolutely love Hugging The Rock and Reaching For the Sun, and can’t wait to read the rest on your list. They look like great books to read with my nine year-old.

  13. Laurie Beth Schneider  •  Jul 12, 2010 @3:14 pm

    Call me a geek — or a yente — but it thrills me to think of these books finding more readers! Only wish I had space to add all of my favorites. For instance, there are some amazing books that skew a bit older — say for upper middle school like Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup and Sonya Sones’s What My Mother Doesn’t Know. Both have some romance, well…the Sones book is about being totally boy crazy, but it’s very sweet, and would be fine for 6th/7th grade.

  14. Diana Greenwood  •  Jul 12, 2010 @5:03 pm

    Wonderful post, Laurie, and thanks for the titles. I didn’t know I was craving verse until I read your blog. Out of the Dust is one of my favorites, too, and I agree with another post about Lisa Schroeder. Fabulous work. When I did middle school fiction workshops we read verse aloud to get us in the frame of mind to tackle the blank page. I found that verse novels and first lines illustrated voice to young writers better than any writers’ “manual” could.

  15. Mike Jung  •  Jul 12, 2010 @5:56 pm

    I’ll have to get a copy of HUGGING THE ROCK, despite the fact that Susan Taylor Brown is a founding member of #rebelsagainstmikesempire and therefore must be destroyed along with the rest of them. Those rebels are pesky, but they’re talented writers…

  16. Wendy Martin  •  Jul 12, 2010 @9:28 pm

    As a young writer my first works were all in verse. My daughter followed in my footsteps and had 3 poems published at age 9. I think kids are taught the yuck factor when learning to read because a great many picture books are written like poetry. Kids love those. Thanks for an very thoughtful post and some great titles to add to my to-be-read list.

  17. Carol Grannick  •  Jul 14, 2010 @10:28 am

    Thanks for this wonderful post on books so close to my heart. I love middle grade verse, and am thrilled to hear the interest from educators in seeing more of it!

  18. Sarah Tregay  •  Jul 22, 2010 @11:25 am

    Thank you for highlighting verse novels, I have had the pleasure of reading several of these wonderful books and I am looking forward to picking up the ones I haven’t read yet.