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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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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!

    27 Comments

    27 Comments

    1. Tanya Lee Stone  •  Oct 27, 2010 @7:24 am

      Wow, there is so much meat in here, and I’m not just saying that because I am your friend! (How was that for an honest opening sentence?) I thoroughly enjoyed this and it made me think–do I does this, do I ask myself all of these questions, do I need to rethink that beginning–again? Thank you, Sarah!

    2. Andrea  •  Oct 27, 2010 @7:58 am

      Thanks for your thoughts on this very important topic! I’m going to read your post again now, because it gave me so much to think about. Glad you’ve joined the blog.

    3. Sarah  •  Oct 27, 2010 @8:12 am

      Hi Tanya and Andrea!!

      It’s great to have a reason to think about these kinds of questions. Of course, there are some readers who will keep reading, even if the opening doesn’t grab them. But I think that’s a risky gamble for a writer to take! Do I need to look at my beginning again? Always!!!

      Thanks for reading!! :-)

    4. Elissa Cruz  •  Oct 27, 2010 @8:39 am

      Great post, Sarah. I have to admit that I spend lots of time working on my first sentence. It’s so important to have a great hook that doesn’t wait to grab your attention.

      Welcome to the blog!

    5. Sarah  •  Oct 27, 2010 @8:54 am

      Thanks, Elissa!

    6. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Oct 27, 2010 @8:59 am

      Nice post and welcome to the blog! I like your questions to really make the writer think about the promise they’re giving to the reader. My favorite first line of all time is from Nan Marino’s Neil Armstrong is My Uncle…

      “Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old.”

    7. Sarah  •  Oct 27, 2010 @9:09 am

      Hi Karen, I LOVE that first line!!! Love the rhythm of it!

      I just reread this one, from Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer Holm.

      “Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten.”

      (I read that book in ONE sitting!!!)

    8. Augusta Scattergood  •  Oct 27, 2010 @10:30 am

      Your examples of “beginnings” –all books I’ve loved– hold the rest of us to the highest standards! I’m saving this post to reread and recommend. Really terrific advice. Not to mention, I do feel like I just met you, in person, with handshake.

    9. Amber Keyser  •  Oct 27, 2010 @12:37 pm

      I think of the first line as a seed. It must hold the core of what will eventually grow into the story.

    10. Sarah  •  Oct 27, 2010 @1:10 pm

      Hi Augusta, Hi Amber! Great to meet you, too.

      I agree–that first line is a seed. It does grow. It needs tending, too.

      (I like thinking this way!)

      Thanks for stopping in!

    11. Annette Gulati  •  Oct 27, 2010 @2:48 pm

      Sarah aka mother hen,
      You’ve given me lots to think about, as always. I really like your comparison between the first line, paragraph, chapter and a firm handshake or a wink. That makes a lot of sense if we want to keep the reader reading. Thanks!

    12. Diana Greenwood  •  Oct 27, 2010 @2:58 pm

      Great post! Harold Underdown just did a presentation on first lines at the Nevada SCBWI and like you do here, he talked about what we set up with those most important words. I love the idea of a promise to the reader. Thanks for making us think!

    13. kellye crocker  •  Oct 27, 2010 @3:39 pm

      Sarah! Great to see you here. (*waves at new friend Elissa, too!*) I’m shocked by how much you squeezed into this post…and such great (not irritating) questions to think about. Though I’ve long known that first lines, paragraphs, pages and chapters are critical, I’ve never thought of them as an introduction, a first impression, which, of course, you’re right. (I also can vouch that you don’t know commas! But you make up for it in content!)

    14. Elly Swartz  •  Oct 27, 2010 @5:15 pm

      Sarah, fantastic blog. I loved your opening and, I, too, am opening obsessed. Write, revise, write, revise, and begin again. I revise to conquer the fear that someone will put my story down without giving it a chance. After all, isn’t that what we all want…to have the chance to wow the reader. To have the chance to make that good first impression. Here’s a funny story about making a very bad first impression….I was 6 and my mom dropped me off at what is now fondly called a playdate. My friend’s mom greeted us and I stared up at her and said, “Wow, you are the first lady I ever met with a mustache!” I happily skipped away with my friend, eaving my mom standing there with the very unhappy (and hairy) woman. Not a good first impression. But, I suppose it was an honest one. Great blog!

    15. Natalie Aguirre  •  Oct 27, 2010 @5:53 pm

      Great post. I’m in the middle of trying to write a first chapter and I’ve been obsessing on the first two pages. Thanks.

    16. ShannonMessenger  •  Oct 27, 2010 @5:55 pm

      Sarah: Fabulous, fabulous post–and totally put my Monday post to shame. For realz. And as someone who has rewritten her opening chapter so many times I honestly can’t keep track anymore (but I do know I’m on draft 18, and that there were many false starts before I started numbering the drafts) I can so relate to this. I like your approach. I may have to try it next time. Maybe I’ll get it right sooner. :)

    17. Sarah  •  Oct 27, 2010 @6:21 pm

      Thanks, everyone! Annette, you have quite a beginning yourself!!! I’m glad this made sense.

      Kellye, I KNEW you were going to comment on my commas!

      Elly: that is so funny. Of course we ALL have stories like that. Sometimes, when my scenes are stalled, I think: what if one of these people is having the worst day ever? What if they say the very thing that would incense the other??? (It doesn’t always work, but it always makes me think!)

      Diana: Harold Underdown and I are talking about the same stuff? COOL. I am in the big leagues!

      Good luck with the chapter, Natalie! Write with intention! Try everything! (Those are my mantras!!)

      Shannon, you humble me!

      Big smile!!!!

    18. Laurie Schneider  •  Oct 27, 2010 @6:31 pm

      Ah yes, my favorite place to obsess: Page one, chapter one. I’m never sure I’ve gotten it right, though, until I get to the end of the story and then I obsess more…. Richard Peck claims he always throws away his first chapter when he finishes his first draft and then “writes the chapter that goes at the beginning. Because the first chapter is the last chapter in disguise.”

      Great post!

    19. Kenda  •  Oct 27, 2010 @6:48 pm

      Great intro, great post! You’ve provided some important stuff to think about. I’m still experimenting with that first impression, first line, first chapter, so I think I’ll bookmark this and revisit from time to time…

    20. Wendy S  •  Oct 27, 2010 @9:24 pm

      I’m pasting this one into my writing journal. I don’t even think you can take it all in at once! The last great first page I read was Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. By the end of the first page, I knew I was in good hands.

    21. Mike Jung  •  Oct 27, 2010 @11:11 pm

      Hey Sarah, this is a great first post, what are you worried about? :)
      My all-time favorite first line (and it’s not even close) is from Lisa Yee’s MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS:

      “I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things.”

      Best first line EVER.

    22. Tami Lewis Brown  •  Oct 28, 2010 @6:47 am

      Great post Sarah! The value of a great opening line- one that leads into a fantastic opening paragraph then chapter can’t be over-estimated. But…
      last weekend I hosted an editor at our local SCBWI conference. Afterwards as we drove to her train we talked about the many many submissions she receives that have fantastic first lines and even first chapters but then fall flat. She pointed out that your first line makes a promise to your readers– this is what this book will be like, and this is the quality writing you’ll read, too. The rest of the novel has to live up to the promise of that first line. Hmmm

      And WELCOME to the Mixed-Up Files!

    23. Sarah  •  Oct 28, 2010 @7:35 am

      Hey Tami, this is why writing is so hard! Because you can’t just make a promise…you have to keep it!

      Mike: why do I worry? My kids would tell you: She worries all the time! (To reference the great Debbie Wiles beginning: “I come from a family of worriers!”

      Kenda: keep experimenting! Re-imagine! Glad this was helpful!

      Laurie: I agree with Richard Peck. And the whole time I’m revising page one, over and over again….I know that when I get to my ending, I’ll probably scrap it. But the truth is, that revising helps me get the voice down. And if I didn’t fuss over it, I wouldn’t be able to move forward. So it serves a purpose!

      Thanks for your welcomes and comments!!!

    24. Donna Gephart  •  Oct 28, 2010 @2:20 pm

      Welcome, Sarah! Great first post!

    25. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Oct 28, 2010 @4:27 pm

      Hi Sarah! WONDERFUL post! So fun and informative and friendly. Just like YOU, I well imagine! Congrats!!! So glad you’re here.

    26. Sarah  •  Oct 28, 2010 @5:51 pm

      Hi Donna and Kimberley! I’ve feeling very welcomed! Thanks!

    27. Liesl  •  Oct 31, 2010 @10:12 pm

      Excellent post! My personal favorite beginning is from my favorite MG book ELLA ENCHANTED…

      “That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intent to lay a curse on me.”

      There so much information in that little sentence and the rest of the book absolutely lives up to it!