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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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Reading and Writing Boston

Book Lists, Inspiration, Writing MG Books

This summer, like most summers, I spent in Boston, visiting family. I took walks, met with friends, and went to the bookstore with my kids. One day a nice bookseller and I got to talking about children’s novels, and he pulled out one for me. “I loved this,” he said. “And it’s local.” 

ducklings.jpg

Make way for the bronze ducks in Boston's Public Garden

It was the word “local” that intrigued me. I’d never had a bookseller tell me that before. 

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Boston. If you read my stuff, you’ll see that most of what I write about happens somewhere there. It might be because I studied writing in Boston. Or that the area has been home to many famous writers (Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edgar Allen Poe to name a few), and I’m picking up on their vibe. Or it could be the ducks

Whatever the reason might be, I hold Beantown accountable for many of the writerly experiences in my life. So I took the book from the bookseller, and decided to give it a try. 

churchdoor1.jpg picture by minabird

A very Boston door

Meanwhile, I was emailing with my editor about interior art for my middle grade novel set in Arlington, a suburb of Boston. I sent her a picture I’d taken of a beautiful church door that I thought could be used as a model for one of the illustrations. In my email, I wrote: The door is very Boston

Later, I thought about what I’d written. 

I began to wonder, what made a book “very Boston”? Was it the names of streets and landmarks? Was it the kind of plants growing in the characters’ yards? Was it the way they spoke to each other, or that funny accent they had with the missing r’s? 

I decided to do some detective work. 

I rounded up as many children’s novels set in Boston as I could. Everywhere I went, booksellers and librarians were initially stumped by my request: books set in Boston…for kids? Had anyone asked such a thing before? But they were curious, too – and got involved in the detective game along with me. 

Eventually I amassed a pretty bundle of books. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. I was hoping to zero in on the ingredients that made these books distinctly Boston. But maybe I was also trying to figure out if my book was “local” enough, too. 

When I finished going through them, I discovered a few things: 

HISTORY MATTERS

Rachel has to choose between America and the Crown

In a place like Boston, history runs long and deep, in the stories of the Colonialists, of the American Revolution and the battles waged and the lives lost. But history lives everywhere and if you dig far enough, any place will offer unique stories and circumstances that force characters to make choices, and to grow as people. 

In Ann Rinaldi’s FIFTH OF MARCH, Rinaldi creates the compelling character of Rachel, an indentured maid to John and Abigail Adams, who stands in support of her friend, a British soldier tried for murder during the Boston Massacre. Rinaldi fashioned Rachel after reading through accounts of a real girl working for the Adams family. But in Rinaldi’s work of fiction, Rachel is not just a working girl, but someone who is struggling with the complexity of shifting loyalties between Colonial America and the Crown of England. 

10-year-old Emma saves the Colonialists

Similarly, Marissa Moss creates a completely fictionalized journal, EMMA’S JOURNAL, based on the real diaries of girls living in the 1770s, who helped to spy for the American rebels against the British. The choices Emma describes making in her journal, are modeled by the real-life decisions girls made when coding secret information that they passed on to the American rebels. 

Both of these books are utterly fascinating and gripping without being history lessons. But the history of real places is a great place to mine for fiction. 

HISTORY AND FANTASY – NOT OXYMORONS!

Transcendentalism and learning to fly

Jane Langton’s gem of a book, THE FLEDGLING, is set at the famous Walden Pond in Concord, MA, the home of Henry Thoreau and the birthplace of transcendentalism. The book not only pays homage to Thoreau and his teachings in kid-friendly form, but it’s also about a girl who learns to fly! From a goose prince, no less! THE FLEDGLING , which won the Newbery Honor in 1981, is actually part of a series of books all set in the same place, alternating between different sets of related characters. In these books, Langton shows us how it’s possible to take real locations and characters from history and blend them together artfully with fantasy elements. 

SETTING IS IN THE NAMES OF THINGS

When I was growing up, reading books set in real locations held a thrill for me. It was as if I were given a special lens that allowed me to experience a story as if I were really there. 

Nicky discovers the secret about his dog's previous owner in the streets of Boston

That’s how I felt when I read HOW I NICKY FLYNN FINALLY GET A LIFE (AND A DOG) by Art Courriveau (Abrams). A recent move takes eleven-year old Nicky and his newly-adopted dog on an adventure through the streets of Boston’s North End. Through Nicky’s eyes, you see Italian restaurants and cafes where “little old ladies are out front playing dominoes” and an old-fashioned butcher shop. You see real street names like Hanover Street and Parementer Street, and read about the bronze plaque in front of Paul Revere’s house, where the famous silversmith and freedom fighter worked his ware. Only the names of these real places aren’t from some distant past, but part of the present and Nicky’s quest to uncover the mystery behind his dog’s life with his previous owner. 

Not just that, but my daughter, or myself, or any kid today can take this book and like a map, trace over these same places and know for a moment what it might be like to be Nicky Flynn. 

YOU CAN LEARN A LOT FROM THE DUCKS

The Mallards cross over Beacon Hill and the State House before settling in Boston's Public Garden

I’ll bring up one last children’s book, which is quintessentially Boston if not (forgive me) strictly middle grade. Robert McCloskey’s beloved MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS (Viking) literally gives you a birds-eye view of some of the important streets landmarks of Boston, when a family of mallard ducks finally makes their home in the Public Garden. McCloskey’s charming book made such an impression on the “locals,” it was eventually designated as Massachusetts’s official children’s book (the official children’s author is apparently Dr. Seuss). And several years later, a bronze replica of the duck family was installed in the Public Garden. 

~~~ 

I’m so glad I undertook this summer project. In many ways it was a writing project as well as a reading one. I’m not sure why Boston holds such significance for me, or why as writers, we are drawn to write about certain places above others. I do think that a city’s history, the people who lived there, and the customs and manners that become unique to it are all ingredients, that make us feel at home, and allow us to find our authentic voices there. 

And as readers, maybe it’s as simple as saying, sometimes you want to read about places you’ve never seen. And sometimes you want to read about what you already know. But the greatness in books is that by reading, what you’ve never seen, can turn into something you begin to know. 

READ BOSTON

Here’s a larger list of the books I looked at this summer. Asterisks indicate authors who live or have lived in the Boston area. Special thanks to the booksellers and librarians at  Porter Square Books, The Children’s Bookshop, and the children’s department at the  Arlington Robbins Library. I couldn’t have done this project without your patience and expertise.  And it goes without saying to the rest of us: please support your local bookstores and libraries. 

♦ THE FIFTH OF MARCH (Graphia) – Ann Rinaldi 

♦ EMMA’S JOURNAL (Harcourt, Brace &Co). – Marissa Moss 

♦ THE FLEDGLING (HarperCollins – paperback) – Jane Langton* 

♦ MR. REVERE AND I (Little, Brown) – Robert Lawson 

♦ JUDY MOODY DECLARES INDEPENDENCE (Candlewick) – Megan McDonald 

♦ HOW I NICKY FLYNN FINALLY GET A LIFE (AND A DOG) (Abrams) – Art Corriveau* 

♦ ALVIN HO- Lenora Look* 

♦ THE ANASTASIA KRUPNIK SERIES (Yearling) – Lois Lowry* 

♦ The CLEMENTINE SERIES (Disney*Hyperion) – Sara Pennypacker* 

♦ MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS! (Viking) – Robert McCloskey* 

Sheela Chari’s debut novel, VANISHED (Disney*Hyperion), is set in a suburb of Boston and features a historic stone church, an exciting bus ride down Massachusetts Avenue (that’s “Mass Ave” to the locals) and a foray into Harvard Square. And um, yes, a cursed string instrument from India. Still, she thinks her book will be local enough when it comes out next summer.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Elissa Cruz  •  Sep 8, 2010 @9:38 am

    This is fascinating, Sheela! I’ve never been back East (but it’s on my to-do list), so I love reading about all the history and atmosphere of towns such as Boston. Maybe when I do get back there, it will already feel like home thanks to these wonderful books I’m adding to my TBR pile.

  2. brian_ohio  •  Sep 8, 2010 @11:36 am

    Wow! Who knew Boston was so popular in MG novels. I’ve often wondered if a book’s setting made a difference as to whether a reader would purchase it or not. If someone dislikes Cleveland (I suppose that’s possible), would they veer away from books that take place in that city. Or would an editor ever ask an author to change the locale of the book because of this? Hm.

  3. sheelachari  •  Sep 8, 2010 @12:15 pm

    Brian – I wonder a lot about setting – often times as writers do we set a story in a place that we know well? Or do we set in a place that appeals to readers? i.e. famous or exotic places. I know there are more reasons than that. But in my experience I find that there are some places where I just can’t set my story, even places that I know fairly well like Manhattan or San Francisco. (I’ve tried and failed).

    I thought it was so interesting that so many writers who set their stories in Boston are from the area as well. I wonder if that’s true about writers elsewhere, too!

  4. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  Sep 8, 2010 @5:40 pm

    Thanks for the great list, Sheela. :)

  5. Laurie Schneider  •  Sep 8, 2010 @5:51 pm

    Very cool list. Some places seem to attract stories: New York, Boston, Forks…. (heh) and there are some writers who are so strong in setting I look to their books just to be immersed in a new place. Kimberly Willis Holt does that for me and Kerry Madden.

  6. Karen Schwartz  •  Sep 8, 2010 @7:22 pm

    Very interesting. All my stories are in Jersey because I’m a Jersey girl, tho’ I’m not sure it has quite the same cache as Boston!

  7. Angie Frazier  •  Sep 8, 2010 @7:40 pm

    This is a great list of Boston-based books Sheela! I’m setting my 2nd Suzanna Snow book in a made up neighborhood in Boston, so I am going to be sure to check some of these out :-) I think it’s the history of Boston that really draws me in…

  8. Laura Pauling  •  Sep 9, 2010 @7:09 am

    I love Boston. And I totally get what you mean when you say that’s very Boston. I guess it’s a mix of older styles and unique structures and history. I took a picture with the ducks just this past August!

  9. Peni Griffin  •  Sep 9, 2010 @8:16 am

    I prefer real settings, and I prefer them not to be in New York or California. I could do with a few English books that never go to London, too.

    Setting is important to me because I was a service brat. My mom would go out of her way to anchor us in each new place by taking us to the historical sites (there are always historical sites; if you think your area has none, you haven’t looked) and seeking out books with local settings. When we traveled, we weren’t allowed to read in the car because reading in the car made Mom travel sick, and we always drove everywhere, so I also spent a lot of time looking out of windows and getting a sense of place. I see my books happening in familiar places, I like to recognize places in books, and I really hate to see inaccuracies in other people’s work. Also, people who don’t normally read will read a book set in their home town; and if it’s screwed up, they resent it and diss the book, regardless of what other virtues it may have.

    This is why you’ll sometimes see me walking around San Antonio with a map and a notebook. Even if I wind up needing to invent a neighborhood, it needs to look and feel and navigate like a San Antonio neighborhood. Otherwise, it’s not good enough.

  10. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Sep 9, 2010 @9:39 pm

    In one of my all-time favorite books ever, The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, Louis gets a job with the Swan Boats of Boston in the Public Garden. Oh, such a beautiful story and such beautiful settings!

  11. Anna Staniszewski  •  Sep 10, 2010 @12:02 pm

    Since I’m a Boston suburbanite, this post totally made me smile. It’s funny how many children’s books are set in New England, especially the newer classics. This area has so much history that it works well as a rich, interesting setting.

  12. ghost hunters live  •  Nov 2, 2010 @5:31 pm

    Wow! Who knew Boston was so popular in MG novels. I’ve often wondered if a book’s setting made a difference as to whether a reader would purchase it or not. If someone dislikes Cleveland (I suppose that’s possible), would they veer away from books that take place in that city. Or would an editor ever ask an author to change the locale of the book because of this? Hm.