• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Book Lists > Where’s the Delorean? Or Traveling Back to Middle-Grade
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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,


    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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Where’s the Delorean? Or Traveling Back to Middle-Grade

Book Lists, Inspiration, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized, Writing MG Books

In honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Back to the Future, let’s travel back to the days before we were buried by adult responsibilities and unearth the child that was. Need practice tapping into those lost memories? Check out the book examples or try the exercises. No Delorean required.

1. Look at things from a different perspective: While driving down the road the other day, I spotted a small group of middle- grade kids sitting on top of a wall at the entrance to a nearby subdivision. Now you won’t very often find a group of adults sitting anywhere but Starbucks in the afternoon, but middle grade students love to look at life from unusual perches. From atop the monkey bars to under a bridge, middle-graders never forget to examine life from all angles.

Book Example: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 

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Exercise: Each day for a week, take a different route to or from work or school. Or pretend you are new in town and play tourist in your own city.

2. Remember how it feels to try something new: Now that I’ve been a fully immersed adult for a couple of decades (or more, shhh!), I can go through good portion of some days on autopilot. But even the mundane is fresh when you are a middle- grader. Travel can be a great way to relive the excitement of trying something new. But simpler things, such as tasting a different type of food can remind an adult autobot what it’s like to do something new, like giving a speech in front of the class, going on an overnight school trip or moving away from all that’s familiar.

Book Example: Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta 

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Exercise: Stop in at an international grocery store. Look at the colors, smell the spices and take in the unusual names of the foods. Ask someone how to cook a vegetable you’ve never seen before. Then do it. Better yet, eat it!  Or go to an ethnic restaurant that features foods you aren’t familiar with and try something completely outside of your comfort zone. Extra points if the location is also vastly different than your normal hangouts.

3. Make a big deal about small things: In spite of sometimes demonstrating a complete lack of safety awareness and forethought (Can you say “Don’t text and skateboard?”), middle-graders often sweat the small stuff. That’s because there is no such thing as small stuff in the middle grades. It is the time when test anxiety develops and relationships change as often as some kids change their socks. Or not. But that’s a different topic.

Book Example: The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies 

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Exercise: Do something small that makes you a bit uncomfortable—like wearing a different shade of lipstick, combing your hair to the other side, painting your nails an unusual color or wearing an outfit you don’t like. Remember how it feels to focus on something that really isn’t that big of a deal and how it contributes to making every other little thing feel much bigger than it really is.

4. Take off the rose colored glasses: Think back. Way back. Way, way back. Remember the innocence and freedom of childhood. Now remember what it was really like. Childhood then and now is way more complicated than a Hallmark card. By the time kids reach the upper end of middle-grade, they are often able to handle topics that are a little more challenging. Each child is different, but many have compassionate hearts that are motivated to action by stories of life’s challenges. For some inspiring examples of kids who aren’t afraid to face a less-than-perfect reality and are doing something about it, check out this spot.

Book Example:  Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong 

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Exercise: When I was in sixth grade, a huge fire made an indelible impact on our community. Thirty years later, we are still linked by that memory. Think of an event that happened in your town or the world when you were a child that influenced your perspective.  If you can, talk to others who shared a similar experience. Write a journal entry about it.

5. Laugh a lot: It doesn’t matter whether you like funny middle-grade books or not (I do!), humor is a huge part of the middle-grade experience. Puns, word play, funny observations, bathroom humor . . . middle-graders use their ability to think more abstractly to find the humor in unexpected places and to cope with the challenges of life in the middle-grades. That is a skill we should never outgrow.

Book Example: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger 

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Exercise: Make an Origami Yoda and talk to it. Out loud. At the mall. In December. Funny you’ll be.

Joanne Prushing Johnson writes boy-friendly books with humor and heart. She is also an occupational therapist and mom of four boys. Until she finds a modified Delorean, she’s making do by squeezing twenty-five hours of activity into a twenty-four hour day. Visit www.joanneprushingjohnson.com for more about what she’s writing. Joanne is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary.



  1. Caroline Starr Rose  •  Nov 3, 2010 @2:21 pm

    It’s evident you respect children a lot, something that is so key in writing for a mid-grade audience.

    I’ve just started ORIGAMI YODA on my son’s recommendation. In fact, he informs me I’m not reading it fast enough! It is utterly original. Love it.

  2. Tracy Edward Wymer  •  Nov 3, 2010 @3:29 pm

    Great post. When You Reach Me is terrific, and I’ve been meaning to read Scaletta for a while. Thanks for the reminder about kids observing the world from various perches. So true.

    I’m reading One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-garcia. Terrific transportation to the 60′s and the days of revolution. Also, the voice is so authentic.

  3. Laurie Schneider  •  Nov 3, 2010 @3:57 pm

    Yes! You captured both of my kids, the 6th and the 9th grader…and thanks for reminding me to climb the monkey bars.

  4. brian_ohio  •  Nov 4, 2010 @7:16 am

    You pose such great challenges. Things I forgot I used to do as a middle grader. Thank you! This post was a pleasure to read.

  5. Sheela Chari  •  Nov 4, 2010 @8:39 am

    I love the voice in your posts, Joanne: funny and laid-back, and always, wise.

    Sometimes I find myself accidentally doing these things when I’m with my children, like #1, and well, laughing. I don’t think I’d laugh nearly enough w/o them.

    Thanks for the post.

  6. Joanne Prushing Johnson  •  Nov 4, 2010 @7:24 pm

    Thanks everyone for the great comments. @ Sheela, I’m not sure if I’m laid back or a little like a deer in the headlights! Writer’s angst is a curse! Thanks again to all for the boost.

  7. Amie Kaufman  •  Nov 5, 2010 @5:46 am

    This is absolutely fantastic. I’m off to do these exercises for my homework. My mind’s ticking over even reading through this.

  8. Rebecca Molin  •  Nov 27, 2010 @5:56 am

    Other great reads for middle grade: The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes, by Kelly Easton; Ellen Potter’s Olivia Kidney series and Slob; Kimberly Newton Fusco’s The Wonder of Charlie Anne. All have great messages for kids.