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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,


    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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Ordinary Kids, Extraordinary Stories

Book Lists, Writing MG Books

I love contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction. As a kid, I was delighted to discover Beverly Cleary’s BEEZUS AND RAMONA. Finally, a big sister with an embarrassing little sister, just like me! Judy Blume’s ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME MARGARET? was a hot topic on the sixth grade playground where my friends and I whispered about scenes in the book and smoothly segued into conversations about ourselves. That’s what I love most about stories featuring ordinary* kids, they reflect on real life and let readers know they are not alone.

Today’s contemporary realistic fiction moves beyond just school and friendship stories, and adds a little extra spark. Is it because today’s readers are more sophisticated? Or that authors are competing with TV, Internet, and video games? Probably both. In any case, the books listed below cover common issues among ordinary kids in a unique way.

HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL by Donna Gephardt follows David as he navigates the first difficult year of middle school, loses and gains friends, and deals with bullies–all very common issues for this age. Extra spark: David aspires to be like Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and becomes a local celebrity with his own YouTube videos.

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z by Kate Messner follows Gianna as she struggles to complete a huge school project and deals with a rival on the track team. Extra spark: Gianna lives in a funeral home and is embarrassed by her father driving to her school in his hearse. Also, she must deal with her grandmother’s diagnosis of dementia.

A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban follows Zoe who dreams of playing piano at Carnegie Hall, but is instead stuck with an organ. And her best friend recently deserted her. Extra spark: her father is afraid to leave the house, her mother works all the time, and the boy bully she was afraid of becomes a friend.

THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS by Frances O’Roark Dowell follows two best friends as they drift apart in middle school. Extra spark: the story is told in alternating points of view, letting us know neither is the mean girl. They’re both under peer pressure and trying to find their best self.

SCHOOLED by Gordon Korman follows the worst loser in school who is secretly nominated for class president and tortured throughout the school year. Bullying, conformity, peer pressure, check. Extra spark: this year’s nominee is a kid seemingly straight from the sixties, the last kid on a hippy-style commune. His first time attending school is as a complete innocent venturing into the playground jungle.

What are your favorite contemporary realistic middle-grade stories? And what gives them that extra spark?

*By ordinary kids I mean kids with functional families that go to school, as opposed to kids possessing magical abilities or orphans.

Karen B. Schwartz writes contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction, and is currently working on I AM NOT A PINK GIRL about a tomboy, Alex, and her ultra-feminine stepmother-to-be, Dee Dee, who’s determined to make a lady out of Alex. Extra spark: Dee Dee has a murky past full of secrets that Alex is determined to reveal in an attempt to stop the wedding.



  1. Tina  •  Sep 29, 2010 @5:20 am

    I really liked Cynthia Lord’s newest book, Touch Blue

  2. Andrea  •  Sep 29, 2010 @6:14 am

    Thanks for the reading list! I’ll definitely look for these.

  3. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Sep 29, 2010 @7:20 am

    Yes, Touch Blue was also great. The setting itself was like another character.

  4. Karen Scott  •  Sep 29, 2010 @9:01 am

    I just started Shooting Kabul, by N. H. Senzai. The first 2 chapters gave me goose bumps. It is quite a story of a family fleeing the Taliban, told from the middle school boy’s point of view. I’m hooked!

  5. Laura Marcella  •  Sep 29, 2010 @9:37 am

    Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. The spark is that Magee follows his own path and doesn’t let other people’s opinions influence his own decisions about what’s right and wrong.

  6. brian_ohio  •  Sep 29, 2010 @11:39 am

    Sadly, I haven’t read many contemporary realistic MG novels. The ones that you mentioned sound pretty good. Do Superfudge and Double Fudge by Judy Blume count? I, and my children, loved those.

  7. Rosanne Parry  •  Sep 29, 2010 @12:49 pm

    Operation Redwood is a great contemporary mystery about kids saving the redwoods. The Mother-Daughter Book Club series is contemproary MG and Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes is a wonderfully empowering story about comtemporary military families.

  8. Donna Gephart  •  Sep 29, 2010 @1:23 pm

    Karen, thanks for mentioning my novel among these other wonderful titles. I loved that you wrote about how contemporary novels can allow the reader to feel less alone. That is the reason I write for this age group — in hopes that my young readers may feel more understood and less alone.

  9. Joanne Prushing Johnson  •  Sep 29, 2010 @5:24 pm

    That’s a clever way to discuss contemporary MG. Now you’ve got me thinking, “What’s the spark in my books?” So often these types of books are considered quiet and not plot driven, but you’ve highlighted how character-driven books can also have a spark. I love that.

  10. Laurie Schneider  •  Sep 29, 2010 @6:53 pm

    My daughter loves contemporary MG and so do I. You already mentioned a number of our favorites, but here are a few more from our shelves:

    Greetings from Nowhere, my favorite Barbara O’Connor book. The spark: crisscrossing lives and a wonderful setting–a neglected motel in the Smoky Mountains.

    Invisible Lines by Mary Amato. The spark: A serious boy story with plenty of humor, plus soccer, science, and graffitti shoe art.

    Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer. The spark: I’m a sucker for stories about saving the family business and this one includes all kinds of cool tea lore.

    Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. The spark: People and places not often seen in contemporary MG, a ranch family in Eastern Oregon.

    My daughter’s new favorite: Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle and its companion book, Violet in Bloom.

  11. Kate Messner  •  Sep 29, 2010 @7:51 pm

    Thanks so much, Karen! I was delighted to check out your blog today & see my cover along with so many of my favorite MG novels. I, too, am a forever-fan of Ramona.

  12. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Sep 29, 2010 @8:46 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Kate and Donna! And thanks to everyone for all these great suggestions to add to my to-be-read pile. Here’s another addition I just read:

    The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie

    Brian, Judy Blume definitely counts!!!!!!

  13. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Sep 30, 2010 @8:10 am

    We have read and loved all the books on your list. Contemporary realistic MG is what we choose first around this house too — Lauren Myracle’s Winnie books, Beezus and Ramona, Judy Blume, and pretty much anything by Jerry Spinelli.

    Your book sounds like it’s going to be right up our alley too, Karen.

  14. shelli johannes wells  •  Sep 30, 2010 @11:06 am

    love the crooked kind of perfect! great post guys thanks!

  15. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Sep 30, 2010 @8:56 pm

    you’re sweet to say so, thanks Jennifer!

  16. Tracy Abell  •  Oct 1, 2010 @8:53 am

    I’m all about contemporary fiction, too. This is a great list. I also love the Joey Pigza books, and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.

    (Step-mother named Dee Dee = Perfect!)

  17. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Oct 2, 2010 @12:56 am

    We definitely have the same taste in books, and I love your WIP blurb! You listed many of my favorites, and I’m adding the others to my must-read list.

  18. Liz Straw  •  Oct 2, 2010 @7:40 pm

    I just finished Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry. A fantastic mystery set in NYC.

    Also read Diane Stanley’s Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy.

    Both of these mysteries are normal kids that find the answers to two totally different kinds of mysteries.

    I really hope Walls Within Walls wins some sort of recognition in the mystery circles!

  19. Cindy  •  Oct 2, 2010 @7:54 pm

    My favorite genre in MG and you listed many that I love. Others I’m crazy about are Wendy Mass’s Every Soul a Star and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, another Donna Gephart–As if Being 12 and 3/4 isn’t bad enough… and the Millicent Min series by Lisa Yee.

    On the younger MG side, the Moxy Maxwell series by Peggy Gifford and Alison McGhee’s Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing. Love, love, love these. I just checked out the new one, Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy, and can’t wait to read it.

    Would When You Reach Me be considered realistic? Maybe not because of the whole relativism/time thing…. but in case it would be, I wanted to add it. It’s brilliant.

    Karen, I have a chapter book out on sub now and the MC is named DeeDee (though she’s not girly). Great minds think alike!