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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, 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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Golly! An interview with Jody Feldman

Learning Differences
Please help me welcome Jody Feldman to the Mixed-Up Files. She says she may have been a natural-born reader, but has never claimed to be a natural-born writer. Through a series of happenstances, she found herself enrolled in the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and discovered she could write. Her credits a television special, a travel book, speeches, all means of market and promotion and … back to her reading roots … children’s novels. Her first, The Gollywhopper Games received the 2011 Grand Canyon Readers Award and the 2011 Georgia Children’s Book Award among other honors. Her second, The Seventh Level (both books from HarperCollins/Greenwillow) debuted on the Summer 2010 Indie Next List and received the 2011 Missouri Writers Guild Show Me Best Book Award. Jody Feldman lives in St. Louis where she’s always hard at work on the puzzles or mysteries or twists for whichever might be her next book.


Q: In your first book, The Gollywhopper Games, you say your inspiration was a child asking for more books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How is your book similar? How is it different?

A: It’s true I drew much inspiration from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While the majority of that inspiration stayed internal, some did creep onto the pages. Three instances …

I was especially taken by the way Roald Dahl established his magnificent fantasy world within the bleary environment of the surrounding town. I wanted Golly Toy and Game Company in my book to evoke even a sliver of that awe. I did, however, choose to stick to reality, making sure everything that happened in The Gollywhopper Games could happen in real life.

When I first read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it reinforced the concept of the instantly sympathetic hero, one I’d just begun to notice in movies. Admittedly, it’s the easy way out in character development, but this was my first attempt at a novel, and I ran with it. Originally, my character Gil was simply poor as was Charlie, but somewhere among the multitude of rewrites, I explored why Gil’s family didn’t have money and I integrated that into the plot.

I liked the elimination structure of the events in Charlie. I probably would have come up with my riff on that never having read Dahl’s book, but it is a similarity.

Here is what I perceive as the main difference. It took more than a respectful disposition, a kind demeanor, and a set of good manners to put Gil squarely in competition for the prize. While it was Charlie’s passivity that led to him being the last kid standing, Gil actively embraced his leadership and intelligence to shape his fate, himself.

Q: Are your heroes from your books based on real children you’ve known?

A: I like to say all my characters are shaped by people I’ve known. Sort of. To me, that means people I’ve known personally or have observed in real life, in history, in the news or in fictional circumstances. Including my own self. So that’s pretty much every- and anybody.

I have never fully based any character on one person. However, many of Gil’s actions and emotions just might have a direct relationship to how I personally would have faced and felt under those circumstances. In The Seventh Level, Travis and his unmedicated case of ADHD just might have come from a guy I knew in college (and later married). Funny thing, I didn’t make a conscious effort to use him. I started writing the character, the actions followed, and way on down the road, like on my very last read-through before the book went into print, I realized what I’d done. For the three heroes in Hopeful Book #3, like most of my characters, they just sort of appeared.


Q: Where did you come up with the idea for a secret society in your second book The Seventh Level?

A: From the first time I heard the term secret society – probably when I was in the single digits – the thought intrigued me. I wanted to know why they existed, how people got into them, what the members did, when they used their secret handshake … and have I exhausted all 5 W’s (and the one H)? I guess not, but you get the idea.  And if I’m going to spend years on a project, I need to have some amount of passion for the subject matter.

Coincidentally, I’d begun toying with the concept of secret societies about the time The DaVinci Code burst into bookstores. The buzz worked to escalate my interest. Suddenly I found myself constantly thinking about the secret society I might create. I ultimately decided to go against stereotype, away from the often-characterized dark and mean-spirited clubs, and I made The Legend a positive force in Lauer Middle School.

The Seventh Level launch party.

Q: Your books contain lots of clues for the characters to solve to move forward in the story. What can you tell us about your puzzle making process?

A: I can tell you why I feel qualified to create puzzles.* I can tell you the things I do to put me in puzzle-making mode.** But beyond that, all I can say is that a piece from over here combines with a glimpse of what’s over there and with a fleeting thought from last month and with a passing breeze or a kernel of caramel corn or a chord from a song, and I suddenly have the guts of a puzzle. That’s when I get serious and work the process to make sure anything I pose to readers is solvable … but not too, too easy.

*Crossword and other such puzzles have been part of my life pretty much forever. Also, from the moment I knew brainteaser-type riddles existed, I would ask adults to stump me some more. With such a solid and constant background, it’s as if I understand puzzle mechanics by virtue of my Ph.D in Puzzle Engineering.

A sample peek at one of Jody's brainstorming sheets. Blurry on purpose to perserve the mystery.

**Okay. So there I sit on the comfy couch, an 11” x 17” piece of white paper on my lap and a collection (from 2 to 20) of gel pens of various colors at my side. In front of me, the TV is on. Yes, the TV. But I’m not watching it like a normal person. See that tower in the action scene? Draw it on the paper. Hear gelatin in the commercial? Write it down. Oh, and write down fancy-free, curly, and circumvent, too. Now, how’d that doodle of a snail get on my paper? And what’s with the words in chartreuse?

Q: What would you like your readers to take away from the stories?

A: Wow! That was a fun ride!

(Anything else is extra icing.)

Q: Are all your books written for the middle-grade audience?

A: All my published books for children are middle grade. And those I have lined up to write are for that age as well. When I was finding my voice as a writer of children’s books, though, I dabbled in everything from picture books to edgy young adult. That means I have around four dozen completed manuscripts, most of which will never escape drawer incarceration.

Q: What is your favorite part of book creation?

A: You mean other than writing The End? Okay, so I don’t write The End. I put ###.

Seriously, writing is hard. It’s boring. I tell kids that it’s frustrating to have these flashes of genius pass through your brain, only to see them lie flat on the page once you put them down in black and white.

So it follows that my favorite part is away-from-the-page brainstorming. Daydreaming about a character who will, one day, become completely real to me. Visualizing setting and how I might be able to kick the ordinary up a notch. Pondering over ideas that range from here to there or beyond. Any one of these ideas may soar or may bomb, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is, right then, anything is possible.

Q: Do you have a favorite writing food or snack?

A: I have to stop and think about this. Really. I have a huge sweet tooth, but when I visualize myself going to the kitchen to grab a handful of something, it’s of the salty variety. Or fruit. I’ve trained myself to eat more fruit. Sometimes, nothing works like a protein – cheese, nuts, leftovers. Most honestly, it’s whatever will power me through writing the next scene.

Q: What inspires you most?

A: Reading something – a phrase, a sentence, a scene – I’d written yesterday or last week or the month before and wondering what elves came in during the night and put some really good words onto the page. Realizing a). I can actually write and b). those ideas might not exist without me? It’s heady stuff.

Q: Do you have any new books coming out soon? Can you tell us anything about them?

A: After several substantial rewrites, I just turned in hopeful Book #3 to my agent. Its working title is The Deep Downstairs, but for the first time, I’m not entirely positive the title will stick. What will stick are the mansions, caves, and backstory with pirates. Also the puzzles.

Q: Do you have any advice for middle-graders who might be interested in writing their own story?

A: When kids ask me how many books I plan to write, I say I’ll keep writing as long as it keeps being fun. So my advice: When writing stops being fun, stop writing until you feel it might be fun again.

I know. I know. That’s not real advice. So here comes the real stuff. Warning: it’s not easy. After you finish your first draft, put it away for 2-3 months. And I mean if it’s printed on paper, you take that copy and triple wrap it in plastic, put it in a triple-taped box or bag or envelope, then put the package in a hard-to-reach spot so you’re not tempted to look at it. If the story is on your computer, print it out AND copy it to a disc or a flashdrive, hide those away from yourself then delete the file from the computer. When those months have passed (and mark that date on a calendar), get out your story. If you’re reading it with an open mind, you will find places that don’t make sense, that are less interesting or exciting than you’d like, that use boring language … those types of things. And that’s good because the most important part of writing is in the rewriting. When you can see and accept what’s not perfect with your story, then you have the ability to craft it into something you’re very, very proud of. It took me lots of years to learn and understand that, but when I did, well, that’s when my books got good enough to get published.

Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site http://wendymartinillustration.com

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