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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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  • Interview with Betsy Bird

    Interviews

    Today on the Mixed-Up Files, we are thrilled to have with us, Betsy Bird! Betsy, a NYPL children’s librarian, is best known for her lively blog, A Fuse #8 Production, which has gathered the praise and attention of authors, editors, agents, and other industry professionals, for its wit and detailed commentary on children’s literature.             

                 

    Here’s a little more about Betsy:             

    Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird is a children’s librarian at the main branch of New York Public Library (a.k.a. the one with the big stone lions out front). In 2006 she started  A Fuse #8 Production, which was picked up by School Library Journal in 2008, where it is housed today. She currently reviews for The New York Times, Kirkus, and TimeOut Kids New York, as well as on her own blog. She has also written articles for School Library Journal and Horn Book Magazine. Bird is the author of the ALA Editions title Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career, and has sold two picture books to Greenwillow. The first, Giant Dance Party (illustrations by Brandon Dorman), is out in Fall 2011. Ms. Bird is also writing a non-fiction adult title for Candlewick with two of her favorite bloggers, Peter Sieruta (Collecting Children’s Books) and Jules Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast), about the true hidden histories behind your favorite children’s books.             

    Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Betsy! We’re delighted to have you here!              

    One of my favorite features on Fuse #8 was the top 100 chapter books poll you did earlier this year. Not only did you tabulate the results from your followers, but you provided an in-depth history behind each book that made the list. Could you tell us a little about this gargantuan project? How long did it take? Were there any surprises along the way?             

    Sure thing! It was, as you say, gargantuan. In 2009 my husband had an idea. One of his favorite comic book blog (Comics Should Be Good) had established a poll to determine the best comic book runs in history. It sounded like a great little notion, and Matt told me it would make sense to follow the guidelines of the blog to establish a poll of my own. So in 2009 I conducted the Top 100 Picture Books Poll. Each person participating would send me their Top 10 Picture Books, with their #1 choice getting 10 points, their #2 getting 9, and so on. Then I’d tabulate the points and post the results. The amount of work for the picture book poll wasn’t too bad. At night I’d tabulate results for the month of the polling, in my spare time. At the end of the month I received a HUGE amount of submissions, but I got them all done. Then when I posted the results I thought it would be fun to provide background information on the books. It was fun, but exhausting.             

    I apparently didn’t learn my lesson, though, since I conducted the Top 100 Chapter Book Poll this year. I got a lot MORE submissions this time, and I also received a lot of submissions from classes of children. That was unexpected. Unfortunately, a lot of the time these weren’t classes where the kids carefully selected their choices, but rather classes where kids just happened to put down all the names of their favorite series. I therefore had to establish the rule that child votes only counted if two adults voted for the same book. Some people didn’t like that last minute rule, and I can’t blame them since I should have thought of the possibility of class votes from the start. Still and all, the poll was a huge success, though I would have liked more diversity. I’m now trying to figure out how to top it for 2011.             

    What were the biggest or most important things you discovered about people’s passions when it came to middle grade?             

    Maybe that it’s the book that made a difference in your life when you were ten that will always trump the new fabulous middle grade novel that’s winning the awards today. Our sense of nostalgia (for lack of a better word) is strong. I saw a few lists where space was left for a new book here and there, but most of the top spots belonged squarely to the classics. In some ways, the lists I received were a combination of books adored when people were little, the canon of classic literature, and current favorites.             

    Switching gears a little bit, you were on the Newbery Committee in 2007. First of all, wow! What an honor! So what I’d like to know – what was the process like? How many books did you read? And how on earth did you all come to a consensus?             

    Newbery Medal ImageWell, of course I can’t talk about the discussions that went on inside the room. That information is forever unknown to the world. But I can answer the technical details. The process is fascinating. I was brought on as a mid-year replacement for a member who was removed due to the fact that she was thanked in a dedication. She had been assured that the book in question wouldn’t be out in 2006, but that was changed and she was left in the cold. Don’t worry, she was on the next year’s committee instead.             

    So I came on very late (June) and had to read as many books as humanly possible. Each month my committee submitted a list of the books that we thought were particularly good and our committee chair would calculate the results and email them to everyone, so that we got a sense of what was particularly swell. In October and November we sent in our lists of top titles and each person was assigned a title to present to the group. Of course, once we arrived in Seattle to meet for the final discussion, every single book we had even considered discussing was sent to us in a huge trunk from ALA. We handled every book in that trunk, I remember. Then we talked up our top books. Then the votes came.             

    Newbery voting probably changes a little each year, but in our case there was a definite 20 point spread that had to be maintained. When we voted we gave our #1 choice 5 points, our #2 choice, 4 and our #3 choice 3. Then the results were tabulated and the book with a 20 point spread between itself and the other books became the winner. Other books that did exceedingly well became the Honors.             

    Some people claim that in recent years, the Newbery choices are out of touch, with books that don’t really speak to young people. What’s your take on that? Do you see the Newberys and the popular books starting to converge?             

    Oh, that’s a debate that’s raged since the Newbery began. First off, there’s nothing in the Newbery criteria that says that books have to be “popular”. Not a factor. The criteria says that the awards go to the best writing, bar none. So there’s that. Then there’s the argument that the Newbery has “lost its way” so to speak. I find this a hilarious statement since it assumes that all child readers like exactly the same books.             

    Let’s examine some of the recent winners. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz is sometimes considered one of these books that don’t speak to young people. That’s the theory anyway, and I reckon it comes from adults who didn’t want to read it themselves. However the book has been amazingly popular in my library, in part because it’s found a great deal of life with kids trying out for plays and needing to give monologues in auditions. My aunt’s forensic team in California won some huge awards because they used the speeches in this book. On top of that if a kid has to do something on a medieval village it’s the funniest, drollest, most amusing book you’ll ever find on the subject.             

    Now let’s look at The Graveyard Book, a title that supposedly was more kid friendly. I can tell you honestly that I have never had a kid ask for that book. Never. It’s by Neil Gaiman, and I’ve had plenty of children ask for his other title Coraline. But The Graveyard Book is, surprisingly enough (and unlike Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!), a bit of a shelf sitter. It gets assigned in school, so kids check it out for that reason, but so is that old Newbery winner Secret of the Andes, for crying out loud.             

    So really, you see this argument crop up periodically every couple of years and folks always think it’s new. Anita Silvey, author of the last Has the Newbery Lost Its Way article wrote a very similar piece about the Caldecott back in 1986 called Could Randolph Caldecott Win the Caldecott? So you see, it’s all relative.             

    And now, what about those actual readers! What are some of the books do you think might make their top favorites list? What kinds of books are young people asking for when they come to your library?             

    Well, I can only really speak to New York kids, but recently I’ve been getting the usual requests for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and any books at all that might be in any way similar to it. The kids really vary in their tastes, though. For example, I know one 10-year-old who grabs anything at all that was written by Walter Dean Myers while another just read Bink & Gollie and can’t get enough of it. Kids are gaining a real appreciation of humor these days, though I had one young man come in and ask for biographies. I handed him the new Charles Schulz bio and he nearly exploded with joy. So it really depends on the kid.             

    On thing they do ask for and that NOBODY has, are books about professional wrestlers. There are none, as far as I can determine and I have children who ask me for them all the time. Mexican wrestlers, professional wrestlers, you name it. Nuthin’.             

    We know that books like the Percy Jackson series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The 39 Clues are enormously popular, and that young people tend to keep returning to what they already know. Are they also willing to try something different and new? As a librarian, do you ever find yourself balancing the need between giving kids what’s popular, with what you might think are “good for them?” (and hey, maybe they might be the same books!)             

    Dressing up for the job.

    Well, yeah. It’s part and parcel with the job. Generally speaking, I don’t like to have all that much junky fiction in my collection at all. But my definition of junky probably differs from that of a lot of people. For example, I turn up my nose at the latest iCarly novelization but I’m perfectly a-okay with any Dav Pilkey book you want to mention.             

    Kids are willing to try something new, but only if you can sell them on it. That’s why booktalking is such an art. You have to be able to pick out those elements of the book that gets the kid interested, but leave ‘em wanting more. You can’t give anything away. It’s tough to do, and sometimes I’m shocked when I go back and see which of the books I booktalked the kids took, and which ones they abandoned. It’s never what I expect.             

    I’ll definitely hand a kid something popular, but I’ll work in my own subversive books as well. So the little girl who asks me for “princess books” will get the usual crew, but I’ll also sneak in The Paper Bag Princess or Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, and find she’s just as content with those. There are ways to work with a kids’ whims to give ‘em what they want AND quality. But sometimes you have to be sneaky.             

    Do middle grade kids who are good readers, go on to become teenagers who are good readers? What do you think helps kids to stick with reading through all the social and academic demands of their teen years?             

    I wish they did, but as many a study proves, it’s those tween years where you really lose a fair amount of readers. With that in mind it’s a wonder the YA industry does as well as it does. Sticking with reading requires the intervention of parents and teachers, much of the time. Libraries have tried to combat it by creating teen spaces where teens who wouldn’t normally read like to hang out. But parents who take the family to the library and teachers that take class trips there also help out a lot. There’s also some evidence to suggest that those kids who plug in and never were readers are drawn to ereader and other electronic books. You may lure in a whole new kind of readership in the future thanks to the changes in technology. Is that a good thing? Depends on how you look at it, I think.             

    One of the missives of From the Mixed-Up Files was to fill in a gap we felt existed in the kidlit blogging community, and to put middle grade literature on the map. Your blog also focuses primarily on younger children’s books – specifically picture books and middle grade. What drew you to these age groups? Is there something special that appeals to you about middle grade over say young adult fiction?             

    It’s funny you should ask that. When I was a fresh-faced lass straight out of my Minnesotan library school, I headed to New York City for my first job in youth services. They handed me the world’s most gorgeous library in Greenwich Village and on my first day there the head of the library said to me, “Well, do you want to be a children’s librarian or a teen librarian?” BAM! Just like that I had to make a decision. And I suddenly realized that while I have nothing but respect for the YA world (and it is exceedingly hip right now) I’m a children’s librarian at heart. Get ‘em while they’re young, that’s what I say.             

    To be frank, I feel like teen lit is a limited world. In children’s books you can go a whole range of reading levels and styles. There are fantastic pictures in both the picture books and the graphic novels. Children’s books in middle grade have to walk a line that I find fascinating, and I guess I eventually decided that my blog was going to follow my job. Also, it’s much easier to review books if you cut yourself off at age 13 and up. The sheer wealth of YA is overwhelming. If I had to consider reviewing those books as well as those 0-12, I think I’d be crushed beneath the weight.             

    Additional thought: Middle grade rocks. So honestly, there’s no contest.             

    Well, there’s definitely no contest here. ;-)              

    And now I can’t help asking about a recent party you attended with Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler. So those stereotypes of librarians with the buns, shushing people…are they just that, stereotypes? Do you librarians lead glamorous lives?           

    Betsy shares a merry-go-round with Lemony Snicket

      Boy, I love the stereotype so it’s hard for me to put it down. But at least here in New York we librarians have the chance to be very glamorous indeed. We have Kidlit Drink Nights with folks like Robert Forbes in the Forbes Gallery (as happened just last month). We do sometimes get invited to parties with sword swallowers and mermaids, like the Cynthia von Buhler party you alluded to.              

    In my own children’s room I get to hobnob with the authors and illustrators that waltz through my door, and I get to hold Children’s Literary Salons that cover all the hot topics. There’s a librarian social group in Brooklyn called Desk Set that’s so hip they got featured in the Style section of the New York Times once. Heck, librarians even get to appear on the cover of School Library Journal holding drinks . . . and then get yelled at later for breaking the stereotype. So, yeah. It’s possible to lead a glamorous life as a librarian. Just so long as you remember that the next day you’re going to be doing storytime again with a 5% chance of having your shoes vomited on by a four-year-old.             

    On that note, we’ll end our interview here. Betsy, thanks so much for being with us today!           

    __________________________________________________________________________________
    Sheela Chari is wondering how to get her hands on a good lion costume. Her debut middle grade novel, VANISHED, will be published by Disney*Hyperion, August 2011.         

     

    24 Comments

    24 Comments

    1. Kim Harrington  •  Nov 12, 2010 @8:46 am

      Wonderful interview!

    2. Terry Lynn Johnson  •  Nov 12, 2010 @8:56 am

      Wow! What a fantastic interview! I soaked in every word. Thanks for this behind-the-scenes look at the Newberry Awards, popular books, and the dangers of being a children’s librarian!

    3. Randy Russell  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:12 am

      Make me want to write MG! Oh, and move to NYC and get a library card.

    4. Ruta Sepetys  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:43 am

      What a great interview. Thank you!

      Wow, this comment from Betsy really resonated with me:
      “…the book that made a difference in your life when you were ten that will always trump the new fabulous middle grade novel that’s winning the awards today.”
      That’s so true. Books I read at ten are still the books I refer to when people ask me about my favorites. And interesting – books are so different than music in that way for girls. The songs I liked when I was ten or eleven are not songs I cling to today. I’ve noticed women cling to books from their childhood and men cling to music from their childhood. Interesting…

      Thanks again!

    5. Caroline Starr Rose  •  Nov 12, 2010 @10:21 am

      This was fabulous, ladies!

      Betsy, your 100 book list encouraged me to pick up two titles I hadn’t yet read: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and The Great Gilly Hopkins.

      Thanks for the glimpse into the Newbery process. Off hand, how many books were submitted your year?

    6. Helen Landalf  •  Nov 12, 2010 @10:22 am

      Fantastic interview! I had the pleasure of hearing Betsy speak at our Western Washington chapter SCBWI conference a few years ago, and her energy and spark are evident in this conversation.

    7. Wendy Shang  •  Nov 12, 2010 @10:31 am

      Utterly fabulous interview! The top 100 chapter book list was an inspiration to me, but more surprisingly, my husband’s interest was piqued as well. He has read several of the books on the list – most memorably being quite upset by the ending to Bridge to Teribithia.

    8. Clete Barrett Smith  •  Nov 12, 2010 @10:52 am

      Great interview. How interesting to hear about the Newbery selection process. Also a good reminder to not let nostalgia for the classic books from out childhood interfere with our study and enjoyment of middle grade books being written today. I learned a lot!

    9. Fuse #8  •  Nov 12, 2010 @12:14 pm

      Thanks so much for the interview, Sheela! And thanks for reading, everybody. Caroline, I think the year that I served on Newbery we saw something between 400-500 books. That was my impression anyway.

      Cheers!

    10. Pragmatic Mom  •  Nov 12, 2010 @3:48 pm

      Your post on potential 2011 Newbery/Caldecott winners ROCKED! I love your blog! It’s nice to meet you virtually through this interview!

    11. Angela Cerrito  •  Nov 12, 2010 @4:26 pm

      Betsy,
      I love your blog & thanks to you, your library allowed me print out two copies of my full mss when I was visiting NY years ago. I had this great idea, “two editors requested it so I’ll print it off and hand carry it to them.”
      Boy did I walk a lot that day!

      Maybe you’ll doing a YA list next?

      Wonderful interview, Sheela!

    12. Karen Schwartz  •  Nov 12, 2010 @4:37 pm

      Fantastic interview! Thanks for a good and fascinating read!

    13. Joanne  •  Nov 12, 2010 @5:50 pm

      What a great interview, Sheela! Thanks to Betsy for giving us some inside perspective. There’s so much great stuff in this post I can’t pick a favorite question or answer. MG books do rock–and so does this post.

    14. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Nov 12, 2010 @7:29 pm

      What? No books on wrestlers? Alrighty, I’m on it.
      There’s a lot of important and fun information in this interview. Thanks Sheela and Betsy!

    15. Donna Gephart  •  Nov 12, 2010 @9:11 pm

      Fabulous, insightful interview. Thanks, Sheela and Betsy.
      Love the line about being vomited on in story time. Yeah, one of those hazards of the job.
      And I definitely agree with Betsy — MIDDLE GRADE ROCKS!

    16. Victoria Schwab  •  Nov 12, 2010 @11:36 pm

      Wow! What an incredible and informative interview!! Thank you both for sharing this.

    17. Cathe Olson  •  Nov 12, 2010 @11:48 pm

      Great interview. Thanks.

    18. sheelachari  •  Nov 13, 2010 @7:08 am

      I’ve been a long-time fan of Betsy’s blog, and I was so happy we could host her on our blog. I think librarians are also like a window for us writers, into the world of readers, especially younger readers. Thanks to everyone who stopped by. Thanks again, Betsy, for being here with us!

    19. Kiki Hamilton  •  Nov 13, 2010 @10:01 am

      What a great interview! Thank you Sheela and Betsy! I loved the insight into the Newbery process as well as the book selection process for both librarians and kids. Also love to hear about the parties! Fun!!

    20. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Nov 13, 2010 @12:36 pm

      Love, love, love this, Betsy and Sheela! I’ve been reading Betsy’s blog for a looong time and enjoy it very much. Thanks for all you do for children’s lit – and for love. :-) I’ve always said that if I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a children’s librarian.

    21. Amy Fellner Dominy  •  Nov 13, 2010 @11:52 pm

      I bookmarked this interview so I could come back to it, and I’m so glad I did! Really interesting stuff about the Newbery. I loved the peek into Betsy’s world… a great reminder of how much I love libraries and librarians who care! Thanks.

    22. Debbie Reese  •  Nov 14, 2010 @6:10 am

      Books about wrestlers… Check out Xavier Garza’s book, Lucha Libre:
      http://www.cincopuntos.com/authors_detail.sstg?id=47

    23. Debbie Reese  •  Nov 14, 2010 @6:52 am

      In a 2009 interview, Garza says he’s also working on a YA novela:

      http://wowlit.org/blog/2009/11/02/interview-with-author-xavier-garza/

    24. Fuse #8  •  Nov 16, 2010 @8:16 am

      Oh, we’ve already a couple of YA novels on the subject (“Prizefighter in Mi Casa”, etc.) but “Lucha Libre” is a new one on me. 2005 was right before I started as a librarian and it looks as though my library system never bought it. Hm. Looks as though we should correct that. In any case, one book in all this time is a startling lack. Thanks for the tip!