• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > An interview with award-winning author Elizabeth Partridge
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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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An interview with award-winning author Elizabeth Partridge

Learning Differences

Welcome to the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, Elizabeth, and congratulations on your new novel for middle grade readers, Dogtag Summer.

Elizabeth is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Marching to Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary, as well as biographies of Dorothea Lange, Woody Guthrie, and John Lennon. Her books have received many honors, including National Book Award Finalist, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Michael L. Printz Honor, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Elizabeth is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Dogtag Summer centers around Tracy–or Tuyet, during the summer before junior high, as she struggles to reconcile her harrowing memories of Vietnam with her life in California. The novel asks–where is home when you’re a child of war, caught between two countries, two identities? When is love enough to carry you through what you’ve discovered about your past? About your father’s past?

Tracy, your protagonist, breaks stereotypes of Asian females—passive, calm. Instead, we find out that the first few days when she was with her adoptive family, she bit her father.  And then later when her best friend Stargazer first met her, she had stolen a baloney sandwich. How did you create Tracy’s personality?

This question gets at the heart of my fiction writing process. First, I did a ton of research on the Vietnam War. I read books and interviewed Vietnamese who were refugees here after the war. They had vivid memories of their time in Vietnam during the fighting, and what it was like for them after the war. They were dislocated from their homes, often from family. Perhaps the most difficult position of all would be to be someone like Tracy – pulled away from everything you knew as a young child, with no one able to explain what was happening to you.

I knew Tracy had to be a really tough kid to have survived everything she had already gone through, and to meet the new challenges she faced in America. She knew adults could be dangerous, so she fought and bit if she had to. She’d known real hunger, so of course she would steal food.

After immersing myself in research, Tracy sprung into life. She started showing up in my dreams and my daydreams. Her actions and reactions came tumbling out of my fingers as I wrote. This is a hard state to get in as a writer, but isn’t it what we long for?

You chose to make Tracy’s adoptive family, a working class, struggling family. Why did you choose to make them struggling versus a more suburban middle class setting?

Dogtag Summer came from a conversation I overheard many years ago, in the mid-eighties. An electrician, Jim, and my husband, Tom, were doing some rewiring at Tom’s family ranch on the Northern California coast. Afterwards Tom and Jim, a Vietnam vet, sat by the fire and talked. Tom asked him what it had been like to serve in Vietnam. Stories came pouring out of Jim. How he always walked point, because he’d learned to hunt as a kid and he wasn’t going to trust his life to a city boy. What it was like to fight. What he saw, and heard. And the fear, always the fear he carried with him.

 Tracy has a hippie best friend, Stargazer. Why did you choose to make Stargazer from a hippie family?

I liked the contrast of Tracy’s working family and Stargazer’s hippie family.  It was sheer fun to write about Stargazer and his family. No research required. I was raised in the San Francisco bohemian art world, a precursor to hippies. And probably I was a hippie myself. I just loved Stargazer’s family, and honestly, I loved exposing some of the contradictions in Stargazer’s father, Beldon. He was all about peace and love, but he could be a scary, angry person in defending his idea of peace and love.

Your setting seems to be very important; you have the vivid setting in Vietnam by the river and then the setting in Northern California by the Pacific Ocean. How did you choose your settings?

I love setting. It so totally informs everything – who the characters are, why they react the way they do, where the story goes. I have always traveled to where a book is set, fiction or nonfiction. It helps me to see how things relate to one another geographically. I like to smell the air, feel what the rains feel like on my skin, see how people move in their environment. In Vietnam I spent time by the rivers, at the markets, in small villages, talking to anyone who would talk to me, soaking up stories. In Da Nang I visited an orphanage.

 You used a series of vivid and emotional flashbacks that unravel the mystery of Tracy’s story. Why did you choose to structure the book this way?

Tracy starts having flashbacks that give her increasing bits of information about her early life, which she had totally suppressed. I put them in as she was remembering them. It’s almost a feeling of vertigo, which PTSD sufferers have told me about.  These images or sounds or smells come at them in pieces, at difficult, vulnerable times.

 Tracy’s best friend Stargazer is intent on making a funereal Viking sailing vessel. Why did you choose for Stargazer to focus on this project?

Every year on the fourth of July our extended family makes Viking funeral ships out of wood and paper-mache, with cloth sails. We fill them with flammable stuff like pine needles, bark, and twigs, and haul them down a steep cliff to the Pacific Ocean. Just as the sun is about to set, we set them on fire and launch them into the water. It’s a spectacular sight as the sun falls into the ocean and the burning boats rise and fall on the dark blue waves. I just had to write about it. Also, Stargazer is so beautifully oblivious – he’s busy making a ship that commemorates dead warriors with someone who has actually lived through war. I liked the irony.

 There are several symbols in this book. But the dog tag really resonates. What do you want middle grade readers to take-away from that symbol of the Vietnam War?

This was a highly personal symbol for me. I had read and thought a lot about dogtags – they are so loaded. While I was working on the book, a friend and I were cleaning out an old, unused burn barrel on the property of our summer cabin, a few miles away from Tom’s family ranch. She dug her shovel into the ashes and something shiny came up on the shovel. “What’s that?” she said, and held the shovel out to me.

It was a dogtag belonging to Jim, the Vietnam vet. I held onto it the whole time I was writing the book, often wearing it on a chain around my neck. When I finished the book, I called him (I hadn’t seen him since the fireplace talk) and told him I had his dogtag. His response: “No you don’t.” I read him his social security number, second line on the tag. Silence. “Yes,” he finally said. He came to my cabin to pick it up.  As a kid he’d learned to hunt on our property with his father, and later was friends with the guy who owned it before us. Jim had no idea how his dogtag had ended up in the burn pile.

I was trying to figure out for myself all the complicated ways people survive, and love, and do their best.

This story is set not too long after the Vietnam War. Why did you choose to write about this period of history?

I thought this was a perfect way to explore how the war had affected everyone who was caught up in it, and how it kept reverberating in their lives.

Thank you for asking me such interesting questions!

Hillary Homzie writes books about tween girls because she has three sons and a husband and has to get girl time in somehow! To find out about Hillary and her books go to www.hillaryhomzie.com

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