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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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Teacher… Librarian… Writer!

Uncategorized

The story goes that NY Public Library lioness Anne Carroll Moore confronted legendary Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom (no shrinking violet herself) challenging Nordstrom’s qualifications to produce children’s books when she was not a “former teacher or librarian.”

Nordstrom responded that she was a “former child.”

There is no formal internship or common background required for children’s book editors… or writers. But after talking to teachers and librarians, and based on my experience in the classroom, there are ways day to day combat…er contact with children helps when a teacher or librarian sits down to write a children’s books.

1 Kids say the darndest things

I don’t mean those wacky observations that end up in a Reader’s Digest sidebar. Kids at ease with their peers talk and act differently than they do at home around their parents. And teachers and school librarians get a private screening of the real life drama that goes on at school. Ask any teacher if a line of dialog in a middle grade novel sounds true. They’ll know the right answer.

2 Reading and Writing go together

Great writing is like great music… it has a natural rhythm that sounds good. Rhythm is a huge component of voice– that allusive element every editor begs to see. But how to develop an ear for language? Teachers and librarians have a secret recipe. Reading aloud.

California teacher and author Dianne White says One of the things I’ve found I pay a lot more attention to in my writing is the sounds of words and sentences and the way those sounds affect the meaning of a paragraph or chapter.” Dianne’s new group blog Readerkidz focuses on books and readers from K to 5, with special emphasis on the classroom. It’s not to be missed.

Lori Steel, a writer and elementary school teacher in Washington D.C. describes it this way- “There was a point, some years ago, when I read Kate DiCamillo books throughout the year to my second graders. I can distinctly remember one student putting her hand up at the end of reading the first chapter from ‘The Tale of Despereaux’ and sharing her thoughts with the class. She said, ‘It was as if you had painted a picture before my eyes – like a movie – and I could see everything that was happening when you read.’ The rest of the students vigorously agreed with her. Wow. That really blew me away! I thought this was a great jumping off point for all the students to take out paper and draw what they ‘saw’ while I read. We did this throughout the book and compiled it at the end to our own class version of Despereaux.

I gleaned so much from this exercise in ‘seeing what we hear’ – what the students visualized as I read to them, how they interpreted what the author was trying to get across and what scenes inspired them most. I’m not sure how that has directly translated into my writing, but it is always at the back of my mind. Are my readers going to see what I see, are they right there with my main character, are they emotionally moved,inspired, affected in the way I mean through my writing? Does my prose also tell a story in its own way. When I read it aloud does it give the reader time to pause, to think, to imagine?”

Reading aloud and seeing children’s reactions first hand changed Lori’s approach to her own work in ways she never would have expected. So if you’re not a librarian or teacher how can you get this experience? Volunteer. Nearly every elementary school would love to have more committed volunteers helping in the classroom. Teachers are delighted to have writers- published or aspiring- visit with their students. Contact your local school and volunteer to read aloud on a regular basis. You’ll see a difference in your own writing in no time.

3 Everything old isn’t new again

The top advice for writers developing their craft is  READ READ READ. But read what? Many new writers go to the old standbys – books they loved as children. But the fact is books change. And it’s not just a matter of trendy topics, like post-Harry Potter fantasy. Writing styles change too. Today’s middle grade books are much faster paced than books written in the 1960s and earlier. It pays to be on the cutting edge of literary trends and librarians and teachers keep it fresh.

Author Leda Schubert was a librarian in Vermont for over twenty years. When asked how working as a librarian influenced her as a writer she said it “definitely expanded knowledge. I see and review almost everything published for children in my capacity as school library consultant. We also have statewide book award committees that I serve on (the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award for grades 4-8 and the Red Clover award for grades K-4.), so I have to read even more for those committees.” For Leda, the greatest benefits of being a librarian have been “knowing the field so well; knowing what kids like; being committed to making children into readers and knowing people in the field.”

Leda’s reading list doesn’t begin and end with the classics (although she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of everything written for children in the last fifty plus years!)

4 The best way to really understand something is to teach others to do it

Dianne White observes that teaching gives her new understanding of the writing process and all the elements that go into good writing. “As a teacher, I must break down the writing process into smaller parts so that students get a handle on how to approach their work and make it stronger.  I tend to go back to the same phrases over and over.  Things like, “Did you add specific details?” As writers we know that the right specific detail allows the reader to visualize a scene or character in a way that general description does not.  Most writers are familiar with the Mark Twain quote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word… it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Those words take on new meaning when you’re teaching students how to make their stories stronger.  Another example of how teaching influences my own work happens when I teach students about summaries.  We talk a lot about cause/effect in summary writing and those discussions help hone my own thoughts about keeping the throughline of a story clear and the action and dialogue moving the story forward. The phrases and ideas I end up sharing with students over and over are the ones that tend to play back in my own head as I write. So it goes both ways.  What I learn from my own writing gets passed along to students.  And what I learn from teaching students, often clarifies ideas I can apply to writing.”

Image from Morguefile.com

Was Anne Carroll Moore right? Did Ursula Nordstrom lack the proper qualifications to edit children’s books? Certainly not. Nordstrom was one of the most influential editors of all time- producing books by Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, E. B. White… the list goes on and on.

But can writers take a lesson from teachers and librarians… not lessons learned at a blackboard or from a book but bits of wisdom gained from experience? Absolutely correct!

Tami Lewis Brown is a former child and a former elementary school librarian. She wrote much of her middle grade biography SOAR, ELINOR! with the help of second grade students at Sheridan School in Washington DC. SOAR, ELINOR! will be released on October 12, just in time for the new school year.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Caroline Starr Rose  •  Sep 3, 2010 @8:24 am

    Tami, this is lovely. Thanks!

  2. Karen Scott  •  Sep 3, 2010 @12:18 pm

    Thank so much for this article! It is a great summary of the valuable info you can gain in roles that keep you exposed to children — and how that can improve writing for children. I know a few school librarians, and now have an urge to take them each out for coffee and pick their brains about the kids they know and the books they’ve most recently read! Thanks!

  3. Leda  •  Sep 3, 2010 @1:01 pm

    Thanks, Tami. And just so everyone will know–the quotes that Tami includes from me are from many years ago. I am no longer on any of the Vermont book award committees and I no longer do book reviews for the state. I still write and teach, however!

  4. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Sep 3, 2010 @2:03 pm

    You’re right! Librarians are a great source of information- not just for patrons looking for a book on the shelf. So many teachers and librarians are fantastic writers (Leda included!) I think part of that writing brilliance spills over from their “day jobs.”

  5. Karen Schwartz  •  Sep 3, 2010 @3:51 pm

    That was so interesting, thanks!

  6. Laurie Schneider  •  Sep 3, 2010 @4:55 pm

    I wonder how many of my favorite authors are (or were) teachers and librarians. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few: Patricia Reilly Giff, Ann Burg, Jordan Sonnenblick. I’m sure there are many many others. Whether or not you’re an “official” teacher or librarian there’s some sound writing advice here. Thanks, Tami.

  7. Elissa Cruz  •  Sep 3, 2010 @10:02 pm

    My kids and I both agree that the best books are the ones that play like a movie in our heads while we read. And those are the books that I, as a writer, want to write. I’m glad to hear someone else has the same point of view.

    This is a great post, Tami. Thanks for sharing all this interesting and thought-provoking information.

  8. Amie Borst  •  Sep 4, 2010 @8:50 am

    i couldn’t imagine reading a story that didn’t produce a visualization. maybe i’ve attempted to read those books, but quickly put them away when those qualities were lacking.

    great post!

  9. Donna Gephart  •  Sep 4, 2010 @2:41 pm

    Great post! Thanks!

  10. Tricia Springstubb  •  Sep 6, 2010 @10:12 am

    This is a wonderful example of what writing for kids is all about: saying much in few words! Thanks, Tami.