• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Rich Wallace on Writing for Middle-Grade Readers
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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
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    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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Rich Wallace on Writing for Middle-Grade Readers

Learning Differences

Today we welcome Rich Wallace, former senior editor at Highlights for Children and current prolific author of middle-grade and young adult novels, to the Mixed-Up Files! [Wild applause here!]

Rich is the author of the WINNING SEASON series, the KICKERS series, and most recently the middle-grade novels SPORTS CAMP and WAR & WATERMELON. He frequently leads workshops for the Highlights Foundation on writing for children, and when we heard he recently lead a workshop on Writing for Middle Graders we just had to get some tips.

What advice would you give the writer new to middle-grade novels?

Always be honest with your reader and never write down to them.

Any books you’d recommend for studying the craft of writing middle-grade fiction?

Read everything E.B. White ever wrote, including the volumes of essays he wrote for the New Yorker and other publications. Great writing is great writing; the perspective just shifts a bit depending on the sophistication of the audience.

What’s your favorite thing about writing for middle-grade readers?

Well, it tends to be more fun than writing for teenagers. Most of what I write draws pretty heavily on my own experiences, so my YA books like Wrestling Sturbridge and Perpetual Check are laden with a lot of teenage angst. There’s angst in my middle-grade books, too, but the characters are more innocent and naive and open-minded.

How do you balance the role of parents and authority figures with the need for your main character to make independent choices that drive the plot?

When I’m writing for quite young kids, as in my Kickers series, I do want there to be a parental presence, but they stay more or less on the sidelines. For older middle grade and certainly for YA, my parents tend to be mostly absent or somewhat dysfunctional. In Sports Camp, the “authority figures” Riley has to deal with are primarily kids just a year or two older than he is. In War & Watermelon, Brody has a fair amount of freedom to roam, but his parents provide a loose safety net. His role model is his older brother Ryan, who isn’t making particularly good choices and is in definite conflict with their father. So I give my middle-grade characters a great deal of independence within a relatively safe environment.

What’s the key to realistic dialogue? Do you use slang? References to current music, TV, technology, pop culture?

Listen to the voice in your head. If something a character says doesn’t sound right, rewrite it. I do let them use slang (and swear words in my YA books) if it suits the character and the situation. Generally I avoid pop culture references unless I want to anchor the story in a particular time. War & Watermelon is set in the summer of 1969, the era of Woodstock. So without burdening the story with historical references, I did want to include some phrases and slang that were prominent that summer, at least in suburban New Jersey. Like Brody in the book, I was 12 that summer, so it was easy for me to fall back into that time and place and assume his persona. All I had to do was remember to think like me.

Photo note: Rich as a junior football player around the time of War & Watermelon (looking at the camera):

Rich Wallace circa 1969 (#27)

What is voice? How do you create a compelling one for middle-grade readers?

This is the hardest question to answer. As a reader and editor, voice is what I most seek in a story, yet I find it almost undefineable. I know it when I hear it. But one part of voice is trust — I need to trust that the storyteller knows his place and time and characters so well because of what he’s revealing to me. Off the top of my head, I love Sherman Alexie, Annie Proulx, Junot Diaz, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jerry Spinelli and John Updike because they know their way around their neighborhoods and invite me in to experience it with them.

What are high stakes for middle-grade characters?

I want my characters to overcome some bit of adversity through their own courage and perseverance. In War & Watermelon, Brody knows that the challenges he’s facing — trying to figure out girls, find his place in the social order, and earn playing time on the football field — are nothing compared to what his brother might be facing because of the draft. But these are what the stakes are for him at this stage of his life, and he’s inspired to meet the challenges.

You’ve written a lot of sports stories aimed at boy readers, what’s the secret to holding their attention?

Staying inside that boy’s head, making my reader feel as if he’s in there with me, experencing every bit of bad luck and good luck and embarassment and triumph.

What advice would you give the female writer for writing an authentic boy voice?

I’ve always shied away from writing from a girl’s perspective because I just don’t know enough about what goes in those minds. Some people can pull it off very well. My wife wrote a beautiful middle-grade novel called Little Joe that’s from a boy’s point of view, and her upcoming YA goes even further with a teenage boy from 1950. Again, really listen to your characters, get inside their heads. If you’re comfortable there, you might be able to sustain it for an entire novel.

Editors and agents say they’re looking for middle-grade stories. What types of stories would snag their attention?

Editors fall in love with books for the same reasons kids do. Ask any 25 kids or 25 editors what their favorite book is and you’ll get 50 different answers. Write a book that you love and someone else will love it, too.

Thanks for stopping by, Rich! We’re giving away a copy of WAR & WATERMELON, so leave a comment below to win!

From IndieBound: It’s the summer of 1969. We’ve just landed on the moon, the Vietnam War is heating up, the Mets are beginning their famous World Series run, and Woodstock is rocking upstate New York. Down in New Jersey, twelve-year-old Brody is mostly concerned with the top ten hits on the radio and how much playing time he’ll get on the football team. But when he goes along for the ride to Woodstock with his older brother and sees the mass of humanity there, he starts to wake up to the world around him-a world that could take away the brother he loves.

Karen B. Schwartz writes middle-grade novels because her inner voice is permanently set on 12. Seriously!

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