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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:
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    November 9, 2013:
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    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:
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    August 6, 2013:
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    July 2, 2013:
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    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, read more...

     

    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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Interview: Uma Krishnaswami’s Grand Plans

Learning Differences

Today, I’m delighted to welcome our guest, Uma Krishnaswami, to the Mixed-Up Files.  Uma’s new book, THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, came out last month, and has garnered some wonderful attention, including a starred review from Kirkus, Writes Kirkus: “Full of references to Bollywood movie traditions and local customs, this is a delightful romp with a fresh setting and a distinctive and appealing main character.”

Here’s a little about Uma in her own words: “Uma Krishnaswami was born in India and now wrestles with plot and character in northwest New Mexico. She is the author of many books for young readers including Monsoon, The Broken Tusk, and The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story. Uma also teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.”

Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Uma! The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (or The Grand Plan from now on) is very different from your previous books. I think of some of your past books – Naming Maya, Monsoon, and others that are more serious in tone.  Yet The Grand Plan is a very funny book! How does it feel writing humor? Does it come naturally to you?

I think even my previous books had elements of humor, whether those lay in particular scenes in Naming Maya, or the image of feet in the air in The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story. In some ways, with The Grand Plan, I took my usual balance of serious and humorous and turned it on its head. Naming Maya is serious but does have its moments of humor. The Grand Plan is humorous with an underlying emotional thread that is grounded in the realities of children’s friendships and their place in a world run by adults. So it felt very natural to shift that balance here, to pull out the funny stops if you will and let the joky narrative voice yank the story along.

What inspired you to write a book about Bollywood? How did you come to sense that India’s film industry might be great material for a middle grade novel?

It wasn’t such a conscious decision. In early versions Dini had a brother who loved the movie Lagaan and wanted to learn to play cricket. Soon I realized that any obsession needed to be hers, and so of course I got rid of the brother and created a best friend with whom Dini could share her love of movies. Dolly Singh, I like to think, is perhaps the (real) Bollywood star Gracy Singh’s long-lost sister. I understand that Gracy can also dance and act and everything although of course Dolly can also sing which has caused, you know, some jealousy over the years…well, all right, you can see where all this came from. Mind you, I’m no Bollywood expert. I did watch a few classic and contemporary Hindi movies while I was working on the book. By way of research, I suppose we could say.

Many of your books deal with the balance of two cultures, namely India and the West. How do you decide how much to show and how much to explain when writing about elements of Indian culture?

I think that depends on what kind of narrative voice you employ in writing your story.  The rather wacky narrative voice in The Grand Plan does do a little commentary on everything from post office procedures to the dreams of goatherds. But in all the scenes in which Dini’s present that voice stays pretty close to her consciousness and is much more concerned with her movement  through  the scenes of the story than with any larger context. Regardless of whether you’re using scene or summary to move the story forward, what I believe you should never do is step out of the story to deliver cultural explanations. I also never employ parallel translation in dialogue—you know, when a character speaks italicized words in a “foreign” language, and then repeats them obligingly in English. In The Grand Plan, I use a sprinkling of Hindi and a few Tamil words. I have to. That’s what Dini would see and hear around her in her Bollywood circle and in small-town Swapnagiri respectively. But there are no italics, and the meanings are all made clear in context.

The Grand Plan was such a lovely read for me – what I enjoyed most was that it seemed to be a book that dealt with happy coincidences – the kind that gives one hope that in spite of our setbacks, things works out eventually for the best. How do you write about fate and coincidence in fiction? How do you make your reader believe in them, even when life is stranger than fiction? :-)

All I know is that I didn’t try to mask it. Coincidence can be a nasty thing to find in a novel—a sort of caterpillar in the fictional salad—but only if you’ve been led to believe that there’s no such thing. I think I could place it here because this is a realistic novel in most ways, but it also has some elements bordering on the magical. I don’t of course mean spells and wands, not that kind of magic, but the kind that takes place when dreams come true, or the kind that can turn a girl’s everyday life into a movie script. There’s also trust, and optimism, and the sense that the world is a good place even if it’s a bit confusing sometimes, and coincidence is just a part of all that.

What’s special about middle grade to you? As a teacher of many years, including the Vermont College Writing for Children and Young Adults program, is there something unique/distinct about middle grade that you try to teach to your students?

I think we all have ages  in our childhoods that resonate forward into adult life. For me that age was 11. It was a kind of awakening year, the year it occurred to me that adults had feet of clay and that people died. But I still had boundless enthusiasm about life in general and my life in particular. It’s a very natural age for me to return to in fiction which is why I think middle grade novels hold such appeal for me. I don’t think they’re for everyone, just as picture books aren’t for everyone. When I teach, I want my students to follow their natural interests and inclinations. I do think that when you write fiction for young readers the only way you can craft emotional truth in your characters is to reconnect with the young person you once were.

Source: Interview by Got Story Countdown

The illustrations in The Grand Plan are delightful and precise. How did Abigail Halpin get those details, especially the ones set in India, so perfect? Did you get a chance to work with her on developing them? (Check out this interview by Got Story Count Down for a fascinating interview with Abigail Halpin, including some super-cool illustrations).

Not really. I did get to see roughs and I had a few comments–mostly about the way a sari drapes and whether it should be night in India and daytime in America or vice versa.  Abigail has added lovely touches like the flower garlands at the bakery. But she also carefully followed cues in the text, like Chickoo Uncle’s nose, for example.

Describe the editing process. How long did it take to finish working on the book with your editor? What were some of the big-picture ideas you worked on with her? What were some the finer details?

Well, speaking of magic, Caitlyn Dlouhy, my editor at Atheneum, is one of those rare, astute people who can read a fractured text and spot the intention beneath it. The version of The Grand Plan that she accepted had the storyline pretty much in place the way it is now but the girls and their role were sketched in, and needed developing. The big work of editing for me was heightening the focus on Dini and Maddie’s friendship, making it credible that it could stretch across miles and remain strong while allowing Dini to grow. I did a lot with what I think of as echoes in the text, taking ideas and making them resonate across all the multi-genre text—emails, magazine articles, letters—as well as in the scenes of the story. All that took about two months. What I hadn’t realized was that this round of edits completely tore up the timeline of the story, so that when we got to copyedits a few months later all kinds of awful tangles had to be undone. That copyeditor was more than slightly heroic, in my opinion. I have come to the conclusion that I must have deep-seated issues with the passage of time. Caitlyn was terribly patient but it must have been a trial dealing with a temporally challenged author. I had to manufacture dates and times for all the emails, and allow for the time difference. Oh, there were moments when I doubted my sanity. I’d walk around the house waving my hands and muttering, “If Dini sends an email at 18:09:53 IST and Maddie replies…” All that happened in stages over another couple of months.

Dini, the main character in the book, often asks herself when she doesn’t know how to fix a problem, “What would Dolly do?” (In this case, Dolly is an Indian film star that Dini hopelessly adores). Do you have a special mantra when it comes to writing? What’s your way of working out a problem in one of your books?

It depends on the problem. Sometimes it’s “just show up.” Sometimes it’s “push the character to the cliff and then push her off.” But often I think my way of working out problems is to try not to come at them too directly. Instead I go read something completely unrelated or write notes to myself in different colored inks until the knots begin to sort themselves out.

Thank you so much for being here, Uma! And be sure to look for Uma on our Skype Tour!

_______________________________________

Sheela Chari‘s middle-grade novel, VANISHED, set partly in Boston and partly in India, comes out this August by Disney*Hyperion. No Bollywood – just a musical instrument with a curse!

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