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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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  • The Butler Gets a Break (A Bellweather Tale): Giveaway and Interview!

    Giveaways, Interviews, New Releases, Writing MG Books

    Have you ever heard about the three most important aspects of a middle grade novel? Voice, voice, and, oh, yea, voice.

    Luckily, Kristin Clark Venuti, author of Leaving the Bellweathers and The Butler Gets a Break, has it in spades. Or, maybe I should say that the real author of these novels has a wonderful MG voice. Because in writing her novels, Kristin partially channels the voice of a butler named Benway, who is 50% Jeeves and 50% Mother Theresa, sworn by an unfortunate “Oath of Fealty” to the Bellweathers, residents of the Lighthouse on the Hill in the village of Eel-Smack-By-The-Bay. The Bellweathers are “most chaotic family ever to live”: there’s the eyebrow waggling inventor Dr. Bellweather, the wall-painter Mrs. Bellweather, a son named Spider who saves Vicious Endangered Animals (including albino alligators & attack squirrels), a daughter named Ninda who advocates for the Oppressed (whether they like it or not), and a set of triplets named Brick, Spike and Sassy who think removing a few stairs from the staircase (thus causing the butler to break his leg) is an example of ‘negative space’ in art.

    I was hoping to interview the intrepid Benway, but was happy that my first post as a new blogger on From the Mixed Up Files is a chat with Kristin Clark Venuti about writing, publicity, laundry, and the Power of Capitalization.

    Check out the interview and leave your thoughts below – one lucky commenter will win … a butler! No, but you will win a copy of The Butler Gets a Break. How’s that for a New Year’s present?  (Winner announced Dec. 23rd!)

    When I was reading your wonderful novels, Kristin, I felt like you knew my deepest, darkest secret. Because the truth of the matter is, I have always wanted to have a butler (who hasn’t?): someone to do my laundry and dishes, feed me tea and crumpets with Devonshire cream, put my, er, ever-so-delightful children back to bed …  four hundred and eighty three times in the span of 30 minutes… Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Now Benway seems to have it hard. Those Bellweathers are not only Loud and Quirky but all too often Up To No Good.  Do you anticipate him successfully leaving the Bellweathers at any point? Or, er, leaving their bodies in some unmarked literary location?

    Great question!  I too, have always longed for a butler – just as I too, have longed for someone, anyone, to put my children back to bed four hundred and eighty three times in the span of 30 minutes.  Benway’s only hope is for the children in his charge to grow up.  Even then, I imagine he’ll be stuck with the childish Dr. Bellweather… but I like the thought of that.  I sort of picture them growing old together, heckling one another, but appreciating their differences.  Sort of like the Odd Couple, only Felix is British and Oscar is no longer taking his meds.

    Now, I adore Benway and, of course, have ALWAYS WANTED A BUTLER (did I mention that already?), but did anyone ever challenge the choice of having a grown up be such a central character – the protagonist, really – in a children’s book?  How did you make that choice?

    I was actually pretty concerned about how having an adult protagonist in a children’s book would go over, since it is a notion that was challenged on more than one occasion.  But Benway has a personality that kids can relate to.  He definitely has it together better than the Bellweathers do.  He fulfills the need for a straight man in order to show that the family’s actions are out of the norm, even by the standards of Eel-Smack by the Bay. Still, there’s enough privately held petulance coming through in his journal to keep him from being a saint. That makes him more interesting.  At least that’s what I hope.

    BTW – when I myself started to question whether or not Benway as a main protagonist would work for kidlit, my husband pointed me in the direction of Mary Poppins.  I don’t know that anyone ever dreamed of chiding P.L. Travers for her choice there. I’m no P.L. Travers, but it was nice to be reminded that there are successful exceptions to every rule.

    Tell me about your writing process. Because your books are a combination of Benway’s diary entries and third person POV prose. Do you and Benway have a collaboration in the strictest sense or are you a sort of translator and interpreter? (and I’m assuming you are sharing the royalties with him, or else I think Ninda Bellweather is really going to have a labor case against you!)

    He definitely gets a share of the royalties!  As long as he promises not to write a tell-all book about ME.

    Actually, I wrote Spider’s albino alligator story first. I originally envisioned three short stories that had characters in common. But they kind of grew together and morphed into the Bellweathers.  Benway was present in all, but not integral to any. (He’d be astonished to hear me say that though.  He considers himself the most important part of any story).

    Later on, it became evident that Benway needed to not only relate the kid’s stories, he needed one of his own.

    Was Leaving the Bellweathers was your first children’s book? Can you tell us about the process of getting it published?

    Leaving the Bellweathers is my first book for children.  I have to thank my lucky stars that it was in the right place at the right time on all accounts.  I had never written for children and wasn’t sure I was on the right track. (I could go off on a tangent here about language choices and vocabulary for kids… but instead I’ll let that slide so I can sit back and enjoy the all-too-rare feeling of self control)

    Someone told me about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and mentioned a conference that was sure to have workshops addressing craft.  I sent the first 15 pages of what was then a forty-page manuscript to the national summer conference in LA.  The fabulous Kim Turrisi passed my ms along to a lovely woman who was a junior editor at Harper Collins.  Jaira loved it, invited me to send it to her once I was finished with it.  Of course, by the time I did so, she was no longer working at Harper Collins.  Back to the conference I went, learning all the way. (The workshops on craft are super-helpful).

    Through the SCBWI summer conference I met Tracey Adams of Adams Literary, who really liked it and had a good idea of who in the industry might share our slightly dark, slightly twisted senses of humor.  Fortunately for us Regina Griffin at Egmont US, too, has a peculiar sense of humor. Egmont US bought LTB and it came out the next year, which is lightning fast in terms of a publishing timeline.  The sequel, The Butler gets a Break came out a year later (October 22nd, 2010) again, lightning fast in terms of the publishing world.

    I once heard you give a fantastic talk called “I’m published… now what?” (undoubtedly you had a more clever title, but along those lines). What are a couple pieces of advice for writers to create their own publicity buzz? What’s worked for you? (Tell us about the stuffed animals!)

    Ahh, yes.  The old author as public relations person.  I’m very fortunate in that my book was on the launch list of Egmont’s US venture (they’ve been around forever in Europe, but just decided to get into the US market recently) so my book got maybe more publicity than it otherwise would have… still there’s a lot for me to do.

    Middle grade fiction writers are lucky in that if they’re halfway decent at presenting, they have a captive audience in elementary school kids.  What kid wouldn’t rather go to an assembly than sit in class? So getting school visits is a great way to publicize a book.  Another way to increase buzz is through blogging, but this is a strictly do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-you-ninny sort of a thing.  I am very bad at it.

    One marketing thing I stumbled upon though, turned out to be a lot of fun.  I found a website that had these cute little albino alligators for sale.  (In my book, the oldest child brings an Endangered Albino Alligator home to live in the Lighthouse.) In my other life, I’m a scenic artist, so I ordered some alligators and then painted these little crates for them to live in.  I sent them to my agent’s kids for fun.  She thanked me on Facebook, at which point my Very Funny publisher, Elizabeth Law, saw them and let me (and our hundred or so mutual Facebook friends) know she really thought SHE should have one too.  So I made a special one for her (it had a lot of needs, as I recall, such as injections four times a day among other things).  The head of marketing at Egmont US saw the alligator and liked it so much that she ordered hundreds of them to be used in promotion.  She even had them custom made with red eyes. This was a very nice thing.  I carry them with me when I do school visits, and leave each school library with one as a mascot.  The alligators come with a letter from Sir Tennyson Prufrock that details how they are to be cared for.  It’s a lot of fun – and again, a very nice, above and beyond kind of a thing for my publisher to have done for me!

    I have read on your website , that you are in fact a Very Untidy Individual. If you had a butler…say, Benway… working for you, what would you have him do? I know your family is the inspiration for many of the Bellweather children, would they be as awful to Benway as Spike, Ninda, and the triplets?

    I am indeed a Very Untidy Individual – and may I just say, that the world (and in-laws in particular) became far more forgiving about this personality trait once I became a Published Author.  Here’s how folks see the math: Untidy Individual = Lazy Housekeeper

    BUT Untidy Individual + Published Novel = Creative Genius.  It may not be true, but it works for me!

    If Benway lived with me, I think I’d just have him fold and put away laundry.  Really.  I often have visitors to my house sign my laundry room walls – but it’s usually a pigsty.  If a first time visitor is invited to sign, I try to make sure a copy of my book is Prominently Displayed, so I can wave toward it airily – as if to say Published Author here, Don’t Judge.  It doesn’t usually work, but it makes me feel better.

    As for my kids mistreating Benway – it’s true that the Bellweather kids are based in large part on my own tribe, however my kids really are Very Conscientious Individuals, who have been raised to take the feelings of others into account…so, no.  I don’t think Venuti Villekula would be as hard a place for Benway to work as the Lighthouse on the Hill.

    The Habit of Capitalizing Important Things in your text – tell me about it. Is it an Homage to The Bear of Very Little Brain? (Ie. Pooh?)

    You know, it’s funny.  Capitalization is one of Benway’s quirks.  He uses it to draw attention to phrases he thinks are important – but I never considered where this quirk might come from.  Now that you mention it though, I am a huge A.A. Milne fan, and it very definitely seems like one of those things that creeps into one’s subconscious and works its way out in writing.  Good call, Sayantani!

    I also read that one of your inspirations for the Bellweathers books was Roald Dahl. What other authors – from your own childhood or now – do you turn to for inspiration? (and do they have butlers?)

    Roald Dahl is by far the biggest influencer in terms of tone, but the Cheaper by the Dozen books by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth had a big influence, as did Little Men by Lousia May Alcott, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (my house is named for Pippi’s), Helen Creswell’s books about the Bagthorp family, and of course, the Moffat books by Eleanor Estes.

    Albino Alligators, Attack Squirrels – what next? For the Bellweathers, Benway, or for you, Kristin?

    I worked nonstop on the Bellweathers over the last two years, so that the sequel could come out so soon on the heels of the first one.  I love him, but Benway is taking a bit of a break. I look forward to revisiting him and the Bellweathers in the future. There are at least two more stories to tell regarding that family’s misadventures.

    Presently I’m at work on something completely different, though. I’m Very Excited about this new project and it’s going Extremely Well, but I’m keeping it under wraps for now.

    Are your stories good medicine? [And I don’t mean in the sense of  “I had to go to the hospital at Eel-Smack-By-The-Bay because I broke my leg on some negative space, er, art.”]  How so?

    I am a firm believer in laughter being the best medicine. I used to write tortured short fiction for adults.  It was all very depressing, but that’s just what I was interested in at the time.  Then, a week after his 18th birthday, my Godson was killed by a drunk driver.  We were all devastated.  It occurred to me during that time, that there was enough sorrow on the planet – and that there were enough people writing about important issues – and writing about them better than I could at the time.

    I stopped writing for a while – but eventually I started again. I wanted to put some light back into the world.

    I began writing about the Bellweathers, and I’d read what I’d written aloud to my Godson’s mother.  In spite of the tragedy of her life, she would laugh.  It really was very healing, the discovery that there were still funny things in the world. That there were reasons to smile let alone to laugh. So yes, I’d say Leaving the Bellweathers is good medicine.

    Thank you Kristin, for your time, generosity and humor! And most of all, your fabulous middle grade VOICE!

    Leave a comment below to enter to win a copy of Kristin’s book! Twitter or post to your FB (and tell me about it) and increase your chances of winning! Check back on December 23rd to see if you’ve won!

    Sayantani DasGupta is a big fan of butler-based literature. If she could ever steal Benway away from the Bellweathers, she would have him fold all her Very Untidy laundry, and wrangle her Sometimes Naughty but Very Adorable children. She, like Kristin, is a Big Believer in Capitalization.

    29 Comments

    29 Comments

    1. Robin  •  Dec 20, 2010 @12:28 am

      What a great interview. I would love to win a copy of Kristin’s book.

    2. Robin  •  Dec 20, 2010 @12:29 am

      Posted interview and giveaway to my facebook page.
      robin.mccoy.ramirez

    3. Cheri Williams  •  Dec 20, 2010 @2:03 am

      On Ellen Hopkins’ recommendation, I asked for Leaving the Bellweathers for Christmas (I have it on good authority it’s In the Bag :)

      I have no doubt I’ll need to read The Butler Gets a Break too!

      Thanks for the awesome interview and giveaway–I’m posting them to fb and Twitter now!

    4. Mariska  •  Dec 20, 2010 @2:20 am

      oh, i love to read this ! :) enter me in please !

      i tweeted : http://twitter.com/#!/becunique/status/16769586854633472

    5. Karen Scott  •  Dec 20, 2010 @7:14 am

      LOVE the pics of Kristin with her attack squirrel! And I’d love to win a copy of this book… GREAT interview, Sayantani. You’re going to be a great addition to the fab writers here at Mixed Up…!

    6. Sara Zoe  •  Dec 20, 2010 @7:20 am

      in addition to sounding like such a great book, I love that cover!

    7. Sherrie Petersen  •  Dec 20, 2010 @8:13 am

      What a great interview! These books sound fantastic. Thanks for the chance to win a copy :)

    8. Julie Z. Rosenberg  •  Dec 20, 2010 @8:41 am

      Wow. Chock-a-block of inspiration. Can’t wait to read it! Sayantani, thanks for the great interview, which was full of energy, insight and incredibly useful tidbits. – Julie Z.

    9. Sophie  •  Dec 20, 2010 @8:49 am

      What a great interview!! The alligator story is wonderful (4 injections and all!). I’d live a copy of the books for my kids (and me!!). Thanks you for the giveaway! I’ve tweeted under @MundieKids and under @MundieMoms!!

    10. TZel  •  Dec 20, 2010 @9:07 am

      The attacking squirrel picture is so cool! Thanks so much for the giveaway :)

    11. Karen Schwartz  •  Dec 20, 2010 @1:03 pm

      Wonderful interview! Now I’ve got to read the books! Don’t enter me in the drawing, since I’m a member.

    12. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Dec 20, 2010 @1:25 pm

      Thanks for all your comments, everyone! I just realized I didn’t give credit for the pictures. All are courtesy of Kristin or her website. The attacking squirrels photos are brilliant, no?

    13. Mindy Hinkle  •  Dec 20, 2010 @4:36 pm

      Great interview. I will have to read these novels!

    14. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Dec 20, 2010 @5:13 pm

      Loved the interview, you two! GREAT pictures. Kristin’s story reminds me so much of my own. We share Tracey as an agent and it was at the 2007 SCBWI summer conference that I met Tracey for the first time, chatted at the party, pitched my ideas, she said “oooh, send me those!” and the rest is history. :-)

      I’ve already read the Bellweather books, too – and they’re fabulous and funny and delightful!

    15. Ame Dyckman  •  Dec 20, 2010 @6:40 pm

      Got to hang with Kristin at this year’s NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, and she is Totally Freakin’ Awesome! (Can I say “Freakin’” here?) Great interview, Sayantani!

    16. Heather  •  Dec 20, 2010 @8:35 pm

      Just found this blog. As a fourth grade teacher, and avid reader of children’s books, this blog is a great resource. Leaving the Bellweathers sounds like a book my students would enjoy!

    17. penny  •  Dec 21, 2010 @8:10 am

      Kristin Venuti is the best! And this was an insightful interview. The Bellwethers are going to become the first inhabitants of my grandson’s library.

    18. Heidi Phelps  •  Dec 21, 2010 @8:51 am

      What a wonderful interview and the book sounds delightful. I lobe learning from other writers and this one sounds like a very good lesson in voice and humor. Can’t wait to read it! Way to go :)

    19. Heidi Phelps  •  Dec 21, 2010 @8:52 am

      Oopsie! I meant I “love” learning from other writers :)

    20. Stephen Messer  •  Dec 21, 2010 @8:54 am

      Great interview – now I have to read this book.

    21. Stephanie Greene  •  Dec 21, 2010 @10:18 am

      I would Very Much like to be the winner of This Book because my chances of Ever Having a butler are limited. In fact, Zero. So to give me This Book would be Right and Fitting.

      Oh, and I also Loved the interview.

    22. Yahong  •  Dec 21, 2010 @1:15 pm
    23. Deb  •  Dec 21, 2010 @8:28 pm

      This is on my to read list!

      Have added get a butler to my to get list!

    24. JKB  •  Dec 22, 2010 @3:04 am

      Great interview!! I love the idea of this book!!

    25. Gregory K.  •  Dec 22, 2010 @3:09 am

      Loved Leaving the Bellweathers, so was quite happy to see a sequel (which, ya know, I don’t own yet. Just saying :-)). Regardless, thank you both for the interview.

    26. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Dec 23, 2010 @7:56 am

      The magic hat has spoken … and the winner of the butler (er, “The Butler Gets a Break”) is DEB!!!

    27. Deb Marshall  •  Dec 23, 2010 @8:30 pm

      Thanks so much…Happy Holidays to the Mixed-Up Files team and Kristin!!!

    28. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Dec 24, 2010 @8:18 am

      Congratulations Deb! Send us your information at the mixed up files contact address above or to sayantani16 (at) google (dot) com so I can get your book to you after the holiday weekend!

    29. Sayantani DasGupta  •  Dec 25, 2010 @1:27 pm

      Ack! Deb, I meant sayantani16 (at) gmail (dot) com!!