• OhMG! News

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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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  • First Lines OR Love at First Sight

    Uncategorized

    “It was a dark and stormy night.”

    (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle)

    “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

    (Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White)

    Some people call them “hooks”—that all important first line of a book. Imagine a fishing hook with a big, fat juicy worm on the end wriggling like a delicacy. That worm is much more appetizing to a fish swimming by than the metal hook will ever be dangling all by itself–and so will a juicy first line of a book to potential readers cruising the shelves in a bookstore or library.

    A fishing rod and worms is how I describe the creation of story hooks when I do my Creative Diary writing workshop with kids. You want to throw that great, delicious hook out there, capture your reader, and then reel them in. As a writer or a librarian or a teacher trying to grab a child with a book, we want our potential reader to get intrigued, to *Get Hooked* and KEEP READING.

    So just how important IS that opening first line or first page for Readers and how important are first lines for Writers?

    Let’s go to our panel of experts:

    Readers First!

    Aubri, 15-years-old: “The cover of a book definitely draws me in first, but the first line makes or breaks it. I have to be intrigued, but I also like funny stories like the Junie B. Jones books that start out really funny and scary books where a character might be in prison and something is going to happen to them.”

    Shelby, 12-years-old: “A first line makes me want to keep reading. If it’s boring, I’ll stop. I will probably read the whole first page, but unless I like it, I’ll stop reading the book. When I’m browsing the bookshelves, I read the synopsis on the jacket, too. And the Author stuff on the back.”

    Milyssa, 16-years-old: “I like good first lines, but it’s more than that. The whole first paragraph has to be great.”

    Writers Next! (Clicking on the author’s name will direct you to their website)

    VIVIAN VANDE VELDE

    “The first line needs to set the stage, giving us a glimpse into when and where the story takes place so we can immediately begin to picture things. Optimally, it should give us a meaningful glimpse at the main character–saying, thinking, doing something relevant to the story. (That is, I don’t think highly of stories that try to grab you with a cheap falsehood, as in: Terrified, Melanie screamed, convinced she was going to die. Of course, no one had ever died from seeing a mouse, but it COULD happen…) It should set the tone, giving us the voice of the character if it’s in 1st person.

    And, if possible, hint at the conflict which will be at the heart of the story.

    The story where I think I accomplished this most successfully is GHOST OF A HANGED MAN, which starts: “Pa said we were too young to go to the hanging.”

    GREG LEITICH SMITH

    “The voice has to grab you and make you want to continue and there should be some follow-through in the rest of the novel about the thing(s) that arose in the first line.

    In NINJAS, I used, “I knew I was in trouble when I heard the cello,” which lets us know the protag is (a) in trouble and (b) is in some strange situation wherein that trouble is announced via a cello. And the “trouble” itself forms the basis for the main conflict.”

    BARBARA O’CONNOR

    “First lines set the tone for the story (funny, dramatic, etc). First lines are the front door of the story and should say “come on in”.

    My new favorite first line is from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester coming out the end of August: “Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.”

    ANDREA BEATY

    “I have a very simple requirement for Line #1. It has to make the reader want to read Line #2!

    My favorite first line is from my book, Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies.”

    “Meanwhile, in space . . .”

    ALEX FLINN

    I think the first line should give the reader a certain amount of information but also leave the reader with questions.

    Nothing to Lose: “I should never have come back to Miami.”

    The information in this short line is: The Main Character is in Miami. He left Miami. Now, he’s back. He’s regretting it.

    The Questions raised: Why did he leave? Why did he come back? Why does he regret it?

    Enough to keep the reader reading on.

    UMA KRISHNASWAMI

    “I never know my first line until I’m sure of the last. Several first lines often fall off.

    The first line of my new middle grade The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (Atheneum, June 2011) has stayed almost intact from about the 3rd draft.”

    “Dolly Singh’s fabulous face floats across the screen of the TV in the family room.”

    HEATHER VOGEL FREDERICK

    “The former journalist in me always thinks of first lines as the “lead” to a story. When I was writing for newspapers and magazines, I always found that once I got the lead right, the rest of the article flowed from there. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation.

    My goal for the first line is to reach out and grab the reader by the lapels and pull them into the story.”

    Favorite first line? Still my first-born, from The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed:

    “‘Absolutely, positively not!’ roared my father in a voice meant to be heard through the teeth of a Cape Horn gale.”

    BARBARA BROOKS WALLACE

    “Tell him, Muddle! Tell him we’re not mice!”

    The first sentence of The Barrel in the Basement is a first sentence that HAS to be followed by the second – which is even better!

    “Pudding gazed with horror at the huge yellow cat who lay on his side daintily probing the mouth of the jar with his paw.”

    LAURIE CALKHOVEN

    “I often go back and change my opening after I’ve written the end. In Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, my main character thinks in the end that the siege was like one long staring match between the British and the Patriots. I wasn’t happy with my opening, so I went back and decided to open with a staring match:

    “I stared into Josiah Henshaw’s red brown eyes and vowed not to blink.”

    “I wanted to open with action, and this sets the tone for the rest of the book.”

    M. J. AUCH

    “Here’s my favorite from a short story called “Witch’s Son”.”

    “When Abigail Brewster brought her son, Hugh, back from the dead the first time, he looked all fragile and wispy, like morning mist on the village commons.”

    A big thank you to all of our reader and writer experts on the subject of First Lines and Hooks!

    Now Go forth! Find a Great Hook Today or Write a Great Hook  – and Fall In Love at First Sight!

    Kimberley Griffiths Little’s been juggling book launch parties for The Healing Spell (Scholastic) with her right hand, twirling a handful of new characters with her left while typing her next book for Scholastic with her toes. Throw in a pot of Louisiana gumbo, too many pecan pralines, fishing for the perfect worm . . .and you have a typical day in the life of a writer on deadline.

    13 Comments

    13 Comments

    1. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 30, 2010 @8:02 am

      As a reader, I HAVE to have a good first line to keep going. As a writer, boy is that tough to do! I must rewrite that opening 10 times!

    2. Marileta Robinson  •  Jul 30, 2010 @8:09 am

      Inspiring examples! Thanks! And now I want to go read all those books.

    3. Danette  •  Jul 30, 2010 @9:04 am

      Oh, my gosh–Kimberly, great article. The authors you’ve quoted have done their job because I am hooked. I especially love “Pa said we were too young to go to a hanging.” That line is LADEN with story.

    4. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 30, 2010 @9:35 am

      Those are great examples! Thanks :)

    5. Laura Marcella  •  Jul 30, 2010 @10:08 am

      These are terrific examples! Thanks for sharing. I especially like the input from the young readers. It’s so important to know their opinions since they’re the targeted audience.

    6. Cathy Ogren  •  Jul 30, 2010 @10:20 am

      That first line is crucial, and getting it just right requires a great deal of thought, inspiration, and revision.

    7. Amie Borst  •  Jul 30, 2010 @10:40 am

      fantastic post! thank you so much for sharing this. first lines are so vital – but they certainly are just about the hardest part to write!

    8. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Jul 30, 2010 @12:21 pm

      Thanks Kimberly!

      First lines!!!! They’re my favorite. If a novel has a weak or predictable first line I have very low expectations for the rest of the book.

      Nancy Pearl has an excellent collection of wonderful first lines in her fine collection of the best of young people’s books- Book Crush. Even better check out how E. B. White arrived at his famous “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” It wasn’t in the first… or second or third draft. Everything is illuminated in The Annotated Charlotte’s Web. It’s a must for children’s writers and everybody who loves beautifully, intentionally written children’s books.

    9. When we were discussing this on-line, I was so in awe of the contributions of others that I didn’t notice the complete absence of nonfiction. I hope you don’t mind my adding a bit about that very important genre.

      As a self-styled “teller of true tales,” I also have to pay attention to first lines. This is true not only for the opening chapter but for every chapter, especially when the book is a collection of true stories that support a common theme.

      It’s hard to choose a favorite, so I will settle for the one that first got me noticed on a broader scale, Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure — and Success. Its prologue, entitled “Obeying Murphy’s Law,” sets the tone with this: “When you are in a hurry and all the traffic lights are red…when soup spills on your best clothes…when your pencil point breaks in the middle of a test…that’s what most people call Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” (The ellipses are part of the text.)

      I then tell the story of the real Murphy and the incident that made his “law” so famous, leading up to this closing for the prologue: “That’s what Murphy’s Law really means: If you want things to go right, pay attention to everything that can go wrong. Now that’s a law worth obeying!”

      One other point about my style: In looking through my books, I discovered that I more commonly use a two sentence “lead.” Sticking with Catastrophe and moving on to the first chapter called “Dance of Death,” I open with: “In July 1980, people gasped in wonder as they entered the spectacular lobby of the newly opened Kansas City, Missouri Hyatt Regency Hotel. A year later, they gasped in horror.”

      So my point is this: nonfiction stories can be at least as compelling as fictional ones, and we writers of nonfiction need to be equally aware of the need for a strong opening, be it one sentence or two or three.

    10. Melina  •  Jul 31, 2010 @1:15 pm

      What a great post. I am REALLY into fist lines. In fact, I include them in every one of my reviews on my blog.

    11. Tracy Abell  •  Aug 1, 2010 @11:03 am

      Thank you for this fine collection of first-lines, Kimberley. It made me go back and revisit the first line in my work-in-progress. These opening lines set the bar quite high!

    12. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Aug 1, 2010 @8:59 pm

      I’m glad this post has been inspiring and helpful to y’all! It’s making me set my own bar higher, too.

      And Dr. Fred – I completely meant to add non-fiction titles (your first lines are fabulous! And the books are terrific, too, so everyone run out and get Dr. Fred’s books!) but in my hurry-up deadline for the blog post and a few mind warps this week, I did not get any added. Thanks for reminding me because this MG blog is for fiction AND non-fiction ALL things middle-grade – and I’m very glad you joined the conversation!

    13. JKB  •  Aug 2, 2010 @3:23 am

      This is great! :-DDD I love the list ! I think you’re doing a great job juggling everything as well!