• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Interviews > Welcome middle-grade author Stephanie Greene!
  • OhMG! News

    New-Oh-MG-critter

    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...

     

  • Subscribe!

    Get email updates:

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

Welcome middle-grade author Stephanie Greene!

Interviews, Uncategorized, Writing MG Books

(photo courtesy of Stephanie Greene)

Today the Mixed-Up Files welcomes Stephanie Greene. And we’ve got another special give away in store… read to the bottom of this post for more information.

If you’re an adult you may have somehow missed Stephanie’s Owen Foote series or her wonderful Sophie Hartley books, but if you’re a middle-grade reader you already love the way Stephanie uses every day kids and the ordinary world to create fast-paced, funny and, most of all, heartfelt novels. We never needed to shelve her Owen Foote books in the library where I worked. Boy and girl readers snatched them right off the shelving cart and ran back to the check out desk.

In a time when author buzz can seem to be all about the latest debut novelist, I especially wanted to invite Stephanie to the Mixed-Up Files. Stephanie has sustained a long career, publishing dozens of books and her  middle-grade creds go back even further than her own first novel. Her mother, Constance Greene is a much loved children’s author who wrote noted books I grew up with, like

A GIRL CALLED AL

.

Last month Horn Book Magazine awarded Stephanie’s brand new

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOPHIE HARTLEY

with a great big star, and Indie Next selected the first book in Stephanie’s new series

PRINCESS POSEY AND THE FIRST GRADE PARADE

for their summer Indie Next list. With each book, Stephanie has grown as a novelist, building her career like a great plot.  I can’t help wondering what will come next in Stephanie’s broad middle-grade repertoire.

Hi, Stephanie! Welcome to Mixed-Up Files.

Thanks very much for inviting me. From The Mixed-Up Files is a terrific and much-needed resource. Middle grades rock!

You’ve been writing for quite a while. What changes in publishing or audience have you seen since you published your first book?

I sold my first book in 1994 when my manuscript was discovered in the slush pile at Clarion. That’s a fairy tale ending, pretty much. I’d submitted it to ten of the big publishers, all of which were open to unsolicited submissions. Today, the majority only read agented material. Also (and this makes me feel as if I started writing back in the 1800s), I received either a postcard or letter of rejection from all of them and I was an unknown writer. That’s almost unheard of  in today’s climate.

As far as changes in audience, I don’t think children of the age I write for have intrinsically changed. What has changed is that the emphasis on reading has become much more intense, beginning in kindergarten. But while children seem to be reading books with chapters earlier and earlier, reading levels have dropped across the country. So many of my early readers and chapter books are being read by kids in the 4th and 5th grades. We also hear, all the time, that kids today have shorter attention spans and more options vying for their time and attention. I can see it in the audiences at schools I visit. But those facts haven’t changed the way I write for them in any way.

Why are you drawn to the middle grade reader?

I love children who are 8, 9, and pushing 10 with all their might. Very young children are brave because, for the most part, they haven’t yet learned to be afraid. Middle grade children know there are things out there that are both scary and exciting, yet they’re determined to embrace them with open hearts and minds. They choose to be brave. They’re not as self-interested as teen readers; they’re more curious about about how the world works. How to interact with their families, friends, and at school. Their world is opening up. They’re not yet jaded. They’ll willingly suspend disbelief and follow a book almost anywhere, as long as it’s well-written enough to hold their attention.

You’re still writing fresh and different things and taking new risks. How do you manage to do that?

Funny, but I never think of it as taking new risks. I think it’s because I don’t write to particular genres. I write the ideas that strike me. Only when I’m finished do I wonder what genre it might fit into. I had no idea my first book was a chapter book until Clarion told me it was. My newest series is an early chapter book series, which is a relatively new genre aimed at transitional readers. If I’d thought I was blazing my way into a new genre, I might have choked.

I also think that because I’m a character-driven writer, my writing life has had longevity. I can’t write from plot. All of my books have been the result of a gut emotional response to something I have seen or heard or read about. Universal truths are the most powerful motivators in the world. They’re shared across cultures. They’re deep-seated and resistant to the culture of the moment. Fear, insecurity, longing for place, fear of the dark, jealousy … if a writer can hook into them, they supply endless material based on real emotional truth which will give their work the stamp of authenticity.

For example, I wrote the first Owen Foote book because one day, when I was walking my son, Oliver, who was small for his age, into school, I heard the school nurse say to a teacher, “Tomorrow is height and weight chart day.” My immediate response was, “That could be hard on Oliver.” Boys like to be big and strong. To be weighed and measured in front of your whole class when you’re less than you’d like to be would be hard on any child. I didn’t write the book until several years later, but once I started I understood what was at stake for Owen Foote.

It was the same with the first Princess Posey book. One day I drove into the parking lot of a local school and saw a sign that said, KISS AND GO LANE. My immediate thought was, that could be hard on a child. Your mom stops the car, you kiss her good bye, you get out, you’re on your own. The line, “You’re leaving me” popped into my mind. It became the first sentence in the first Posey book.

Every day of their lives, children face a hurdle or conflict or situation with which they have to cope. It’s not always on a high magnitude. The most profound and frequent conflicts are often very small. The younger the child, the smaller they may be. Sometimes, to a writer, these conflicts feel as if they lack excitement. But to the child of that age who’s facing them, they’re excitement enough. The challenge to the writer is to make that small emotional nugget resonate with the reader.

You just had Princess Posey, an early chapter book, as well as “Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley,” the 3rd middle grade novel in that series, come out. How are they alike and how are they different?

They’re not at all alike. Posey, who’s six, would not grow up to become Sophie. They’re very different girls. The Posey books are a little more than 3,000 words divided into ten chapters. As I said, I had no idea what genre they would fit. I wrote the first book the way I did because that was what the story dictated: short sentences, many chapters. The Sophie Hartley books, on the other hand, are a more traditional 25,000-word middle grade length. Story dictates the length, language, and content – always.

Do you have any advice for sustaining a career as a middle-grade writer? What advice can you give us?

Sustaining my career over that length of time hasn’t really been a problem. When I first started writing, I had an 8-year-old boy in the house. I spied and took notes (critical to any writer: take notes! You think you’ll remember every, hilarious thing said or done but you won’t. At least, not as specifically said or done; specifics are essential to good and authentic writing). Over the years, ideas have kept coming, I’m happy to say. I think a lot, have a lot of quiet time, think while I walk and drive and vacuum, and keep my ears, eyes, and heart open. I identify with children. My favorite age in my life seems to have been 9. (Ask any writer and they’ll immediately come up with their “age.”) I also read constantly, both adult and children’s books, and read to children every week at a local school.

The ideas are there for any writer. The trouble is, there’s too much noise in the world. Get away from it. Ideas grow best in silence. This is one time when my being hard of hearing comes in handy.

What did your mother, Constance Greene, teach you about writing or being a writer?

I learned two invaluable things from watching my mother – you don’t need an office (she used to push papers to the side on our small dining room table and set her typewriter in that small space. With five children, an office was a luxury. Also, she taught me not to take myself too seriously. Ever. I love to think that even, say, JKR or John Grisham could introduce themselves to the check out lady at my grocery store and she would say, “Hi, I”m Erin.”

GREAT ADVICE!   Thanks so much for joining us here Stephanie!

Now for the give away. I have fresh-off-the-press copies of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOPHIE HARTLEY and PRINCESS POSEY AND THE FIRST GRADE PARADE. Leave a comment here about your favorite middle-grade author who has sustained a long writing career. You’ll get an extra entry if you tell us why you think his or her books have endured.  Next week the random selector will pick two winners- one for each book. Good luck!

Tami Lewis Brown can usually be found scurrying around Washington D.C. but this summer she’s  become a recluse in rural Vermont, hard at work on her next middle-grade novel… and it’s a mystery. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish SOAR, ELINOR!, her MG biography of pilot Elinor Smith this October and her middle-grade novel, THE MAP OF ME, will be out next spring.

20 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Dianne White  •  Jul 2, 2010 @8:49 am

    Great interview. Thanks, Tami and Stephanie!

  2. Ann Jacobus  •  Jul 2, 2010 @9:08 am

    Wonderful interview! Stephanie Greene and all her fabulous characters rule.

  3. Karen Schwartz  •  Jul 2, 2010 @9:10 am

    Very interesting interview. These are the kinds of stories I love to read and write. I’m definitely going to pick up a copy of Happy Birthday Sophie Hartley.

  4. rhapsodyinbooks  •  Jul 2, 2010 @10:40 am

    My favorite middle grade author is Julianna Baggott. I think she has endured because her books are just plain fun!

    nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

  5. KatherineR  •  Jul 2, 2010 @10:43 am

    Stephanie rocks in NC!!

  6. Melina  •  Jul 2, 2010 @11:54 am

    My favorite middle grade author who keeps writing awesome books is Andrew Clements. His books are realistic, but have enough silliness to make them really interesting. Frindle would be my fav of his books, but they are all great.

    I read A Girl Named Al this past year and I loved it. It was such a cute story.

  7. Katrina  •  Jul 2, 2010 @1:12 pm

    I loved reading the interview, thanks!

  8. Laurie Beth Schneider  •  Jul 2, 2010 @3:20 pm

    I grew up with A GIRL CALLED AL!

    I love what Stephanie has to say about character and emotional truth. Those are the books my middle-grade daughter loves, and that I love, too. I’m not eligible for the give-away (alas), but I want to chime in with another great middle-grade author with a long career: Patricia Reilly Giff.

  9. Laura Marcella  •  Jul 2, 2010 @4:24 pm

    My favorite MG author is Sharon Creech. I believe her writing career endures because her characters are so likable. Kids can relate to them and imagine themselves acting the way they would and saying the same things. I picture myself at that age and identify with the characters, too!

  10. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 2, 2010 @5:26 pm

    There are so many great authors – Roald Dahl, Gordon Korman, Andrew Clements, Louis Sachar, Lois Lowry… So many!

    Great interview – I really like Stephanie’s approach to life and writing. :)

  11. Anita Miller  •  Jul 2, 2010 @7:48 pm

    Excellent interview! Nice that she was so thorough with her answers…I especially like her reasons for being drawned to middle grade.

  12. Cathe Olson  •  Jul 2, 2010 @8:51 pm

    Judy Blume was the author that came immediately to mind. I’m in charge of an elementary school library and her books are still checked out like crazy. I recently found the book “Letters to Judy” where she prints some of the many letters she has received from kids (and adults). The kids who wrote in felt like Judy could understand them when even their parents could not. I think it is because she understands what it’s like to be a middle-grade kid and doesn’t try to make light of their problems and concerns. Beverly Cleary is another author that is still widely read by kids. Sibling rivalry never goes out of date either.

  13. Cathy  •  Jul 3, 2010 @11:29 am

    Great interview! I discovered your blog just this summer and WOW!!! Have I been missing out! I am in the process of reading all your older posts.

    I am a middle grade teacher and I have so many favorite authors that I promote! Some authors I like are Avi, Mary Downing Hahn, Andrew Clements, and Gordon Korman.

    I think these authors have books that endure because they have characters and problems that middle graders can relate to. Some traits and conflicts just never change over time and my students and I (I consider myself a middle grader at heart) can connect with the books.

  14. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Jul 3, 2010 @7:58 pm

    Thanks for the great interview, Tami and Stephanie. I can’t wait to read your books with my daughter–they look adorable.

    Good idea about taking notes while my girls are young. They’re growing up so fast and have definitely helped me remember what it’s like to be in elementary and middle school, and constantly inspire me.

    If I had to choose just one amazing middle-grade author who has sustained a long career, I’d have to go with Judy Blume. I loved her books as a child and now my daughters love them just as much (and I still have fun reading her books with my girls–I especially love reading Fudge’s dialogue out loud).

  15. Mary Cronk Farrell  •  Jul 4, 2010 @1:34 pm

    Great interview! It is wonderful to read about authors who have sustained careers over time through solid, quality writing and not necessarily a lot of hype. Congratulations Stephanie!
    My favorite middle-grade author is Katherine Paterson. She was a great inspiration to me in writing my first novel and getting it published, though she will never know it. :) “Jip, His Story” is one of my favorite books in the world. Also, “Jacob Have I Loved.”

  16. Ruth Donnelly  •  Jul 4, 2010 @5:16 pm

    Two of my favorite middle grade authors are Beverly Cleary–who could ever forget Henry and Beezus and Ramona?–and Lois Lowry (I still love her Anastasia books, though I know in recent years she’s been doing more dystopian fiction). I think their writing endures because of their ability to create engaging characters kids can identify with–and their delightful use of humor.

  17. Ruth Donnelly  •  Jul 4, 2010 @5:22 pm

    Ack! I forgot to add in my comment above that Constance Greene’s Leo the Lioness was absolutely my favorite book when I was eleven or so. I’ll definitely check out Stephanie’s books; I think my students will really enjoy them!

  18. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Jul 6, 2010 @1:06 pm

    I know a boy who devoured the Owen Foote books and although he’s grown and moved on to other series, he still keeps Stephanie’s books nearby. There are certain stories and characters kids can live off of. You know, read over and over and find comfort in their familiarity. The perfect MG, in my opinion.

  19. Wendy S  •  Jul 9, 2010 @5:49 am

    I loved hearing about how the Owen Foote story began – it is a very small moment that is emotionally true. I have to say that I was always one of the tallest kids in my class – and I hated getting weighed and measured in front of everyone.

1 Trackback