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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,


    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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Teaching Writers of All Ages

Authors, Inspiration

We are getting close to (or perhaps, for some of you, have already arrived at) that most wonderful time of the year, as a certain famous and favorite commercial goes. While this blog normally focuses on the reading part of the old 3 “R”s of school, it also seems appropriate to talk about reading’s hand-in-glove partner, writing. Many authors conduct school presentations on writing and of course, teachers and parents are frequently on the lookout for a great writing exercise.

With that in mind, today’s post features another multi-author blog which focuses on lessons for anyone who teaches writing. The Pencil Tips Writing Workshop blog provides concrete, hands-on lesson plans, and practical ways to approach writing and illustration. Have a child who innocently but clearly plagiarized a work? Pencil Tips provides the words and steps to take in such a situation. Does your student want to illustrate his or her work, but isn’t getting the right expression for the characters? Pencil Tips can tell you the three places on the face that show expression. Think of this multi-author blog as a Hall of Justice for anyone who wants to engage children in writing. Remember the Hall of Justice cartoon from the 1970s? It was a pantheon of superheroes, ready to use their particular superpowers for anyone in distress. In this case though, instead of Superman, Aquaman and Plasticman, Pencil Tips offers the talents of writers who, collectively, have experiences to share as workshop leader, school librarian, parent, teacher, illustrator and author of everything from picture books to YA to non-fiction.

According to the members of Pencil Tips, the blog was born out of a desire to provide effective posts on the art of writing. “We know everyone–teachers, parents, librarians, writers–has limited time so our goal was to craft practical posts that would offer lessons/tips that could be implemented in the classroom or at home,” said Mary Quattlebaum, a writing teacher with 20 years’ experience and an author whose middle-grade titles include the Jackson Jones series. “It was important to all of us to create a specific focus for our blog…we wanted ours to provide something more specific than musings on the creative process,” added Jacqueline Jules, whose school librarian experiences inspired many of her titles, including the Zapato Power series. “Our mission statement was discussed at length and went through several revisions.”

Many of the lessons provided by the blog contributors come from the “tried and true” file. Pam Ehrenberg, whose most recent title is Tillmon County Fire, uses her “twenty percent off” exercise in her classes and her own work. However, the fact of belonging to the blog can also be inspiring. “Now that I’m involved in writing this blog, random things that I read or hear about will trigger ideas for writing lessons,” said Laura Krauss Melmed, the author of sixteen picture books including I Love You as Much. Pam Smallcomb, author of middle-grade titles such as The Last Burp of Mac McGerp, has had posts inspired by her experiences as the mother of a reluctant reader. Instructors and students alike may appreciate her suggestion to use video games as writing inspiration.

Pencil Tips has no age limits in mind when it comes to its posts. For Joan Waites, a neo-natal intensive care nurse-turned-illustrator, her what’s-inside-the-egg writing/illustration exercise has generated wonderful, imaginative work from children as young as the preschool age. Quattlebaum, meanwhile, has found that her five senses lesson will work with everyone from second grade to college and beyond.

Some lessons provide broader, but still very relevant, lessons in writing. In describing her post on Remember the Reader, Jules offers this insight: “All writers, but especially young ones, do their best when they think about their readers…This provides incentive to change a confusing sentence, add details to make a scene clearer, or vary sentence structure to make a story more interesting.” Melmed, meanwhile, suggested this viewpoint for writing teachers. “Our goal when teaching creative writing should be to help kids access the right brain process, within the parameters of an assignment, without imposing stifling requirements like forced rhyming schemes. Later on, we can help them cast a critical eye on the raw material they have mined.”

As for school visit “nightmares” that authors have about losing control of their audience, the Pencil Tips offer some hard-won advice. Jules advises having activities that involve movement at the end of a presentation, when kids are at their wiggliest. What about when one child is acting out? “[T]he most effective way I have found to turn things around is to have that child become a ‘helper,’” said Waites. More concerned about literally getting lost? “Mapquest your route in both directions and review carefully the night before,” said Melmed, who describes herself as ‘directionally challenged.’ Ehrenberg likes to keep an extra activity or sub-presentation planned, just in case, but also gently notes, “I don’t think anything that’s actually happened to me could live up to the horrors I’ve imagined.”

Everybody ready now for a new school year? Sharpen your pencils and share your favorite writing exercise below! (And stop by Pencil Tips for information on how to win a signed copy of Pam Smallcomb’s I’m Not.)

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