• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > The Absolute Value of Kathy Erskine
  • OhMG! News


    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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The Absolute Value of Kathy Erskine

Learning Differences

We are delighted to welcome Kathy Erskine, National Book Award-winning author of MOCKINGBIRD, to the Files today. Kathy has a brand-spankin’ new book out called THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE. When math-challenged Mike is sent by his father to live with relatives so he can add an engineering project to his academic resume, Mike discovers his true strengths and abilities in a town just teeming with odd characters.  It’s a funny book with a serious message.  Kathy was kind enough to sit down with us for a few minutes to talk about her award, her new book and the writing life.

What has been the most unexpected experience or moment resulting from the National Book Award?
Wow, there have been many lovely moments — getting to meet the other finalists at the National Book Award events, being invited to Wisconsin where they had a whole school unit and community event around Mockingbird and autism, being asked to judge contests, doing talks and school visits in Guam — it has all been fabulous. I guess I’d have to say the most unexpected delight is being invited to join the faculty this summer at the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. I attended seven years ago and thought, hoped, dreamed about coming back some day as a published author.

Wow, what a seven years it’s been! What was the inspiration for your new book, THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE?

I’ve seen too many kids down on themselves because they have some kind of learning disability. Often, these kids don’t perform well in school because standard school doesn’t play to their strengths. It may be years before they see how valuable they really are. I wanted to write something for them, to give them hope and encouragement. They will succeed at LIFE which is more important than school.

I love that message! Can you talk about the writing process behind this book? I’ve read that MOCKINGBIRD just poured out of you – was it a similar experience for THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE? Are you a plotter or a plunger?

I’m a plunger. And sometimes I plunge in several times and come out with multiple versions. The Absolute Value of Mike took more time and revisions than Mockingbird. Partly, I think it’s where you are at the time, and what’s happening, that dictates the ease at which a particular book can be written. And, I started it as a very light-hearted book and decided that I really wanted it to have more substance — humor, but still something weighty behind it — so it took a while to get it right.

When I read MOCKINGBIRD, I was really struck by your ability to create humorous moments in the middle of some fairly painful scenes, and in THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE, I thought you created the opposite effect – there are some very difficult moments for the character in a pretty crazy situation. Do you think it is more challenging to “write funny” or “write serious”?

I think it’s harder to “write funny.” One reason is that most of us can agree on what’s sad but we all have a slightly different sense of humor (you don’t hear about different “senses of sadness,” right?). One person will think slapstick or farting is funny but another person won’t. Also, it seems easier to describe something that’s sad than a funny or silly situation — although I try! I love humor and I think it’s almost as important as breathing, so I like to use humor in my books.

What advice do you have for young writers?

You probably get tired of hearing this but . . . read lots, write lots. Also, take a class if you’re interested. Share your stories with friends or even create your own writing group. That’s what Wendy and I do — we share our stories to get feedback from others, and we read theirs and give our comments. Be brave and submit your work to magazines like New Moon, http://www.newmoon.com/ (girls only, I’m afraid) and Stone Soup, http://www.stonesoup.com/ (can’t be older than 13), or online writing sites like Figment, http://figment.com/(must to be 13 or older for this one). Above all, keep writing!

And now for a little fun…the Inside the Actor’s Studio Questionnaire (Middle-Grade Style!)

What is your favorite word in a middle grade book? Wool Pooh. (The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963, Christopher Paul Curtis)

What is your least favorite word in a middle grade book? Snot (especially green).

What turns you on in a middle grade book? Humor.

What turns you off in a middle grade book? Kids who are too adult to be believable.

What sound or noise do you love in a middle grade book? Laughter.

What sound or noise do you hate in a middle grade book? Excessive whining.

What is your favorite curse word in a middle grade book? Corpus bones!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Research scientist.

What profession would you not like to do? Telemarketer.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? We have chocolate!

Oh yes, pass the chocolate, please!  Thank you, Kathy! If you’d like to win an ARC of The Absolute Value of Mike, tell us what you absolutely value in the comments below. You may receive extra drawings for re-posting or Twittering; please note that in separate comments. This contest is open only to mailing addresses in the U.S. or Canada. And don’t forget that this is the last day to enter the Mixed-Up Files anniversary giveaway. Both winners will be announced tomorrow!

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