Browsing the blog archives for October, 2010.


  • From the Mixed-Up Files... > 2010 > October
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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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Writing it Real

For Kids, Inspiration, Interviews, New Releases, Teachers, Writing MG Books

Writers are often asked where they get ideas. I was thinking about this the other day and I realized my house is too quiet. For me, ideas come when I’m surrounded by sounds and images and snatches of overheard conversation. Since my daughter trekked two states north for college, there is an eerie silence here and the cat and I don’t talk much. I think the fat lump is depressed. Or she hates me for sending away her favorite person.

So I went to lunch. At River Middle School. As an upper middle grade and young adult novelist, this was just what I needed. Not television or playlists or movies or even books. I needed real kids. Kids that gallop and goof off and chatter incessantly. Kids that express opinions and sometimes make more sense than adults I know.

It was loud. Very, very loud. River School is a charter of about 300 students; 6th, 7th, and 8th graders full of energy, eating and laughing and apparently, making body parts out of packing tape for art class. Someone’s leg was propped on a bench; another student wrapping furiously. How she was going to get that tape off the model’s leg was beyond my comprehension.

I sat down, notebook in hand, and clicked on my tape recorder. A see-through tape-head lolled in the middle of the round lunch table. It was a little disconcerting but cool, in an artsy way. Looked like Bill Clinton. (My apologies to the artist) I let the students know that I was visiting for story ideas and had so many questions we’d never finish in one lunch period. A crowd gathered. Short, tall, pink-haired and pierced, sweatshirted, brand-named, not brand-named, peanut butter and jelly smelling, elbows digging, grabbing, bouncing, shoes-untied, knees-jiggling, giggling, kids.

I scanned for teachers, instantly regressing to my twelve-year-old brain. The coast was clear so I asked the first question, possibly the most important question.

“What’s the dumbest thing a teacher has ever done?”

Heh, heh. Now we all know that laughing at our mistakes is the best cure, right? I heard the story of a teacher who got “sidetracked” and forgot to give a test and another where the teacher fell asleep in class and woke up to marker drawings on his face, which, according to the storyteller, were there the remainder of the day.

Conner, a lovely, soft-spoken girl with the coolest glasses, said, “Once, a teacher did not know there was water on the floor and she slipped, tripping through a bunch of cords. All the TVs and computers smashed to the floor. She wasn’t hurt, though.” (Whew!) Max told the story of a teacher who asked students to literally count the words they had read during silent reading time. Since he’d read 80 pages, he found it hilarious that he could just do the math—word count per page times 80. Which he did. Without a calculator. “It would have taken me about an hour to count all the words,” said Max, “more time than it took me to read them.”

Andrew mentioned that when giving instructions, “quite often” teachers “make no sense.” So they give instructions again. And again. Sometimes they still make no sense. (I totally get this one)  Jameson’s story was about two fire drills, two days in a row. “The first day was a real drill and the second day when the bell went off everybody thought it was because we didn’t do a good job on the first drill. But it was because we were in science burning magnesium, which smokes up, you know?” Conner added, “The best part about that was our P.E. group didn’t have to run.”

When I asked students who they most admire, though, it was teachers, hands down. Parents and grandparents tied for second place, with musicians third. Not necessarily indie electro hip rock. Yo-Yo Ma, for example, was mentioned as was Charlie Parker. Band Directors, of course, were cited, with forgiveness for the song “Pomp and Circumstance.” Ben, a spirited 7th grader, tucked away the sillies, morphed into deep-thinker mode, and said, “One person I admire is Galileo Galeili. Not only because of his contributions to science and how he stuck to his principles even when placed under house arrest, but that he remained positive through all the bad stuff that happened to him.” Galileo: influencing middle school kids since 1632.

If he hasn’t already read it, Ben might like:

Science aside, stupid-humor is alive and well in middle school today. It’s still hilarious if ketchup squirts up someone’s nose. There is the “occasional” inappropriate joke, said 8th-grader Alec, his blue eyes serious but the corners of his mouth twitching to stifle a smile. Tripping and falling, a towel slipping in the locker room, spilling food, stubbing a toe and otherwise random embarrassing mishaps always bring guffaws. According to one student, protocol is, “First we laugh, and then we show other people and they laugh, and then after everyone in the school is done laughing, one or two people might help the person.” Sounds like real life to me.

Using the wrong word in a sentence cracks them up, which reminded me that words count at this age. And words can be hurtful. Each student had experienced betrayal; secrets told, rumors spread, rejection, lies. I heard the screech of a tape gun as yet another strip was applied to the see-through tape-head’s mouth and I couldn’t help but recognize the symbolism. Middle school kids are transparent but stifled, too, partly limited by society’s perceptions of their capabilities. Yet they are resilient. They bounce back from friendships gone astray to make new connections. They trust. They try. It was refreshing to sit with them, laughing, listening, and learning. If we remove the tape, they have much to say. I asked the question, “What’s your biggest worry?” Answers were so varied and thoughtful and even profound, that I will spend an entire blog post on that single question some other time.

As children’s authors, we need to write real, whatever our style or genre. That means believable characters, settings that resonate, plots that strike home. Maggie, bouncy, with straight bangs and a direct gaze, told me that she reads Ellen Hopkins’ young adult books because they are “full of truth” and said that she would recommend them to kids who feel that they are mature enough to take on tough topics. She eloquently stated, “These books gave me an idea of what could happen, impacting the way I am and showing me, okay, this is what I don’t have to do with my life.”

Maggie might also like:

Alec cited Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series as “stories that relate to how we are with characters that interact the way we do.” A good story rocks with middle school kids. These are savvy readers, many of them reading beyond the state-assigned level. Ben, for example, is currently reading Grapes of Wrath because he likes Steinbeck’s writing style. Max reads most genres, especially graphic novels (and wishes there were more), sci-fi, and fantasy. He said, pointing to a Dean Koontz novel, “I don’t believe that any book is beyond my reading level.” Sci-Fi is big with both boys and girls. Ghosts are huge. Girls want paranormal romance with male characters who are not vampires. Reading for fun should be, well, fun.

This age group also accepts books with a global focus where the storyline reveals an unexplored issue, dilemma, abuse or trauma in an unusual or foreign setting. One student reminded me that “kids are more plugged into the world and people around them than adults think we are.” Kathy, the school librarian, was passionate about two titles rich in contemporary realism and social issues: Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth and The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis. I would add Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins to that list.




And here’s one for Alec:

The bell shrieked, students scattered, snatching body parts from benches, slinging backpacks over shoulders, aiming trash toward cans. I scooped my notebook and recorder into my bag, resisting the temptation to line up, fold into a desk, sharpen a pencil, pat the classroom bunny. I drove home in such silence. The fat lump of a cat stared at me when I came through the door as if to say, “How was lunch?”

Lunch was good. I’ll be visiting River Middle School again. I need sounds and images and snatches of conversation. Real kids. By staying in touch, I will keep my writing real and the next time someone asks me where I get ideas, I will say from you, my friends. From you.

Diana Greenwood and the fat lump of a cat live in Napa Valley, California. Her debut novel, INSIGHT, Zonderkidz (Harper Collins), will release in the fall of 2011.

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NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

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NaNoWriMo Logo

(Note: This is the first of a five-part series about NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program.  Click the following links to read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 of the series.)

Twenty kids at my elementary school have taken on the challenge of writing an entire book in one month!  November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, and you can learn more about it here: www.nanowrimo.org.  Last year, 35,000 kids around the country participated.

Here’s how it works: The Office of Letters and Light has put together what they call a “100% Awesome, NON-LAME workbook” and this workbook, which really is awesome, can be downloaded from the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program website.  There are also detailed lesson plans to download.  Having never taught kids as young as five years old how to write a book, these guides have made teaching a lot easier!

A co-worker, whom I’ve nicknamed WigMo, and I started prepping our brave writers at the beginning of October.  Since our project is an extra-curricular activity, we were asked not to use school class time for our NaNo instruction, so we faced a bit of an obstacle there.  Plus, space for twenty writers in a busy school is often hard to find.  But our dedicated writers helped us find a way to make it work.  Three days a week they arrive a full forty-five minutes before school even starts and we meet at the back of the library, the auditorium, or, if those spaces aren’t available to us, we sit on the floor in the hallway.  When there’s a will to write, there’s a way to get ‘er done!

On our first day, we discussed our “inner editor” and how sometimes criticism can stop us cold dead in the middle of a sentence.  To write a book in a month, the kids agreed that they needed to temporarily feel free of punctuation and spelling rules.  So, they each made a cut-out paper doll of their inner-editor and WigMo gathered them up and locked them away.  They will be allowed to come out in December for the revision, but until then, they stay quiet in a box, high on a shelf.

We’ve warmed the kids up with discussions and exercises on developing really cool and interesting main characters.  As a group, they created Cleopatra, a faceless goddess of work who lives inside a whale and invents toys that she distributes through the whale’s blow hole.  What Cleopatra wants more than anything in the world is to get out of the whale.  There’s more to the story, but I probably shouldn’t spoil it for you because our youngest authors from Kindergarten through second grade, will be working on this story as a collaborative effort in November.  WigMo and I will scribe the book for them and I can’t wait to find out how Cleo will get out of the whale!

Our older authors will be writing independently.  We’ll all still meet at the same time and same places during the month of November, but they’ll be doing their own writing while getting some help and encouragement from WigMo, me, and the other authors.  Yesterday we had our kick-off party.  Parents came for juice and pastries while their kids signed the NaNo contract, agreeing that they intended to write a book and meet their designated word count (most chose to write 3000 words) during November.

Wish them luck!  And if you’d like to follow their progress, check back here every Thursday during November.

Jennifer Duddy Gill has the privilege of working with truly amazing kids in an elementary school in Denver. She also writes humorous middle-grade novels and is represented by Wendy Schmalz.

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Making a great first impression

Writing MG Books

There is no denying the importance of making a good first impression. Look online…ask a friend…go to the bookstore! You can find a lot of solid advice about how to impress in a variety of environments. Regardless of the relationship – personal or professional—getting off on the right foot is critical to establishing credibility. And likeability.

I have made my share of good and bad first impressions. I have stumbled over words. I have said the right…and wrong thing. Once I fell flat on my face.

So on that note, I’d like to introduce myself!

Hi, My name is Sarah Aronson. I have just joined this very wonderful blog, and this is my first post. I am so very happy to be here.

Some of you may find me likeable. Others may wonder if I am just too grateful to be true.

I could start this way:

Hey there—I’m Sarah and this is my very first post. Shannon’s first post scored a lot of readers and comments. I am really nervous that mine will be the first to receive none.

Both these introductions are honest, but they project extremely different images. And appeal to different readers. If we were all hanging out, I would know what would work. I could make eye contact. Shake hands.

But we’re not.

You’re just reading my words. So I can’t know. I can’t react and respond.  Online, I can only hope that you’ll get the sense that I’m humble. And friendly. It has to be clear in my words that I am a bit of a mother hen. Also self deprecating.
You might think I don’t know how to use commas.

(My Vermont College advisors would tell you: No. She does not know how to use a comma!)

This is my topic for today. Knowing how to create a good first impression on the page…in a middle grade novel.  It is so important.  On Page One, we have to convince readers to keep reading.  To trust us.  To care.

How long should it take to hook the reader? How long will a skeptical reader read?

One page? Two? Ten? Fifty?  We don’t know.

What I can tell you: Over the past few years, I have organized many conferences, classes, and retreats. I have participated in three first pages panels for New England’s annual SCBWI conference. I have probably read at least 600 beginnings! I know that it is absolutely magical when a book makes such a good impression that I cannot put it down.  Often, that magic happens on LINE ONE.  I also know that it is really easy to miss the mark and alienate the reader with ONE WORD. Usually, the impression made by the end of the very first paragraph is accurate.

That is why I spend so much time on my openings, my first impression. Frankly, it borders on obsession! I love fussing over my beginnings. I probably write my first paragraph fifteen, twenty, thirty times before I am brave enough to move forward. For a good beginning, I don’t rule anything out. Some day, I will write a book called Chapter One. It will be a collection of all my false starts!

It’s just like my introduction here. I have to think about my voice, the particular words, and syntax. I have to think about white space, and where the reader might want a pause. I have to consider my intended master effect with what is actually on the page.

And then, I have to trust the reader. I have to also accept that some readers won’t like my beginnings. Not all books are for all readers. Our job is to make sure our intended readers know that this one is for them.

So…let’s dig in. What do we need to do to make a great first impression?

You cannot underestimate the power of a great first line.

Barbara Kingsolver said that the first line of a novel must offer up a promise to the reader. Keep reading, and something or someone is going to be changed. The story is going to have a point and a meaning. It’s worth your time. You will connect emotionally.

A great first line HOOKS the reader. Do not underestimate its power. The first line is a signal to me that I will like the book, that the book will suit my sensibility. It is the ultimate good impression.

Let’s put three first lines to the test:

What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays.

When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jamie saw Van throw his baby sister Nin, then they moved.

Just let me say right off the bat, it was a bike accident.

Are you hooked?

I am. In each case, these lines made an impression on me. They drew me in. Or they made me laugh. A promise was made and accepted. As a reader, there is nothing more exciting that. In each case, I knew this was my kind of book. My kind of promise. I couldn’t wait to keep reading.

The first line, and by extension, the first paragraph and page and chapter, act like a firm handshake, a wink between people who realize right away they are going to be good friends, that sense that YES. I get you.

So now, let’s think like writers. How can we make that impression? How do we ensure that our readers know our books are for them? How can we hook the reader??

The first thing I do is become a reader. I read like a writer, a reader, a teacher, a skeptic. I read my opening seriously. I think about who my intended reader is.

We really should understand whom we are writing for! I spend a lot of time thinking about my “ultimate reader.” I read the books my ultimate reader would love. And hate.

Then I ask myself the following questions:

___Is this a book of character? Or is this a book of action? Is that reflected in the opening?

___When do we first learn something interesting about the main character?

Note: there must be something about the main character that is important/essential to you, the writer.

___What is your book about? Describe it in LESS THAN ten words. How soon will the reader know this?

___Can you describe it in ONE word?

If you are having trouble, and even if you are not, here are some other irritating questions that will help you figure out the big picture:

___What does the character want?
___Why does the character want it?
___Why is he doing this NOW? Why is he doing this HERE? In this setting?
___What is your character’s joy? Pain? How does your character use joy to deal with pain?
___Why does your book have to open where it does?

With these questions in mind, I evaluate. I remind myself that there is a sacred relationship between my book (and me) and my reader. I remind myself that no book is loved by every single reader in the universe, but that my readers. . .the people I am writing for. . . should know that this book is for them. And they should know it fast. Because that is what a good beginning does. It makes a great first impression.

Do you have a trick for making a good impression? A story about when you missed the mark? Do you have a favorite opening line? I’d love to hear it. Let’s chat!

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