• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Giveaways > Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Voice I Learned in… Drama Class
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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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Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Voice I Learned in… Drama Class

Giveaways, Inspiration, Miscellaneous

Recently I attended my first writers conference. Amid all the great information about marketing, the state of publishing and what surprises awaited in the boxed lunch, one elusive topic kept popping up during agent and editor panels.

What is voice?

How do you identify a good voice?

If a voice falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

Er, okay — maybe not that last one. But, you know, several hours parked in a folding chair and the mind starts to wander. Plus, there were rumors of cookies in that boxed lunch…

In any case — pretty much without fail — whenever the question of voice came up, the most common answer was something akin to the Supreme Court’s take on obscenity:

I know it when I see it.

Frustrating. But true, right? Like most of you, in addition to writing MG, I read a whole lot of the stuff. In fact, I really started thinking about the power of voice while reading with my ten-year-old son. We’d just finished the Percy Jackson series (one of your great post-Harry Potter reading suggestions… thanks!) and had moved on to The Red Pyramid. To say my son has become an enormous Rick Riordan fan would be something of an understatement. He simply devours those books. Why? Sure, there’s action. And humor. And Gods and kids with awesome powers. But that’s not it. Well, not all of it, at least.

The secret ingredient: voice.

My son connects with these stories not because he can move oceans with his mind (although I’m sure he wishes he could) — but because Rick Riordan writes characters that sound just like him. (So much so I occasionally find myself wanting to tell those little demi-gods to just get their socks off the floor, eat their vegetables and for-crying-out-loud-shut-off-their-bedroom-lights-and-take-out-the-trash-already! Sheesh!).

So yeah, I know good voice when I see it.

Nailing voice when you write? Much trickier. There are countless books, seminars, websites that do an excellent job teaching voice. But I have to say — the best lesson I ever learned about voice didn’t come from a writing class. It came from a drama one.

See, back in college I signed up for theater as an elective. Like most teens, I suppose I harbored secret dreams of being discovered by some famous Hollywood scout (because, heaven knows, there are plenty of those roaming the freezing campuses of remote northern colleges in search of the Next Big Thing). Also, I had a horrible crush on a boy who, in the interest of anonymity, will heretofore be known simply as “Algernon Moncrieff,” in honor of the role he played in the class production.

Well, as it turned out, I was a horrible actress (just ask anyone who’s had the good fortune of playing poker with me), and Algernon, I learned, had a girlfriend. Still, the class wasn’t a total bust. It sure beat the heck out of chemistry. Plus, we did some really fun exercises. Like one particular day when our professor sent us up to the stage with the open-ended instruction to just “act like little kids.”

Easy, right?

We all started skipping around, pretending to jump rope, licking imaginary lollipops and smiling coyly. Each of us, I’m quite sure, was convinced we’d nailed it. (And I was positively certain Algernon would be unable to resist my pigtail-twirling impishness.) Then, the professor clapped his hands. We stopped on stage and looked at him expectantly.

He shook his head, no.

Outrage filled the theater! Well, okay, maybe not. But needless to say, we were all perplexed. What could we have possibly done wrong? We were acting just like little kids, right? Doing little kid stuff. Plus, we’d all been little kids once. We knew what it was like. How could we mess that up?

The professor clambered on stage.

“The problem is,” he said. “You are not acting like four-year-olds. You are acting like a bunch of nineteen-year-olds thinking about acting like four-year-olds.”

Lots of confused faces. Wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing?

“Look,” our professor said. “Have you ever actually observed the way a four-year-old walks across a room? A four-year-old doesn’t stop to consider whether the guy next to him thinks he looks cool. He doesn’t filter his actions through the lens of someone else. If a four-year-old wants to walk like a broken robot, he just does it.”

And with that, our professor lurched himself across the stage, arms twitching, head jerking — then abruptly stopped when he spotted something interesting on the floor, got down on his knees and picked at it.

Just like a little kid.

Total lightbulb moment. And a lesson I’ve always remembered when it comes to writing.

Namely, to be authentic you have to remove the filter. You have to see the world through your character’s eyes — not through the lens of your own perspective and experiences. You have to be able to step outside of yourself and just observe.

And successfully doing that? Well, it’s your turn to hop on stage, Mixed-Up community…

So tell me, what do you do to get into character? How do you remove the filter? And what are some of your favorite examples of great middle-grade voice? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below!

Jan Gangsei might never have mastered acting, but she’d much rather write interesting characters than pretend to be a robot anyway. She invites you to follow more of her random observations (and share yours!) at twitter.com/jangangsei.

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