• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Inspiration > Service – It Builds Character
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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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Service – It Builds Character


In August of this year, Hurricane Irene tore through upstate New York completely devastating a large region, including many small, quintessential towns. Part of this area included the Catskill Mountains, home to the setting of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and “Sleepy Hollow.” Although Irving’s writings are quite descriptive, I think he would agree that no words could ever truly depict the beauty of the area.

Irving couldn’t have selected a more idyllic setting for those stories. The beauty of the Catskills is majestic and yet somewhat mysterious, with rolling mountains and trees as far as the eye can see. No other place could have evoked the same enigmatic emotions as the Catskills.

The Catskill Mountains hold a special place in my heart, for they are part of my childhood. I grew up there and still bring my own children to enjoy the beauty of the region each and every summer. When pictures of the devastation circulated the web –

homes swallowed up in the depths of water,

bridges swept away in raging rapids or buried beneath layers of driftwood,


and entire towns and homes destroyed beyond repair


– something swelled within me.

I wanted to help.

So, in a very unlikely character trait of spontaneity, I packed my bags and made the eight hour drive from my home in Virginia to the small towns of upstate New York – many of which were still without power. I wasn’t sure how I could help or if I would even be put to work, but it didn’t take long to find ways to serve. From mucking knee-deep mud out of basements to shoveling and sweeping dirt off of sidewalks to removing debris and destroyed belongings onto large trash piles, there was always something to keep me busy. Even a simple act of delivering homemade cookies to workers brought a sense of overwhelming joy. A reward of knowing I’d served someone in their time of need.

Over a week later, when I arrived home, my middle-grade children greeted me with smiles. “We’re proud of you, Mom,” they all said. When I went to New York, all I wanted was to help others. What I didn’t know is that my efforts would have a profound effect on my children.

While I don’t write this post for praise, I do write it in hopes that the readers will come to understand how service can impact not only those in need, but the innocent eyes of our children, eagerly anticipating our example.

And believe me, middle-graders notice. While we think they’re too busy with homework, friends and afterschool activities, they’re quietly (or not so quietly) absorbing the information that’s provided to them. They’re observing everything about the world around them. They are perceptive.

So as adults – parents, teachers and leaders – we need to be cautious in our words as well as in our actions. We also need to remember that middle-grade children are capable. They can serve in the community, too. Their efforts can make a difference. The best part about serving is that you don’t have to travel out of state, there are plenty of opportunities right in your own community.

A few years ago, when my middle daughter was in second grade, her entire class made blankets for Project Linus. This organization takes handmade fleece blankets and delivers them to local hospitals, specifically for children in need or with long term illnesses. It is, in fact, perfectly reasonable for a roomful of eight year olds to make these blankets with adult supervision and assistance.

Middle-grade children can write letters to soldiers and missionaries. Cheerios and the USO has teamed together to provide free postcards on the front of marked boxes. They’re easy enough for a middle-grader to fill out, stick on a stamp and send off to a military family. It’s a simple and fun way to say thanks!

Tree Musketeers is an organization founded by kids, run by kids and lead by kids. They encourage other children to care for the environment. The Arbor Day Foundation also has programs for children and adults to help plant trees and gardens at your school or in your community.

photo courtesy of photobucket

There are countless other ways to get involved. Assemble care packages for our service men and women, collect canned goods for a food drive and donate clothes, toys and other items to shelters. The list is endless. Or for literacy based service, be a reading buddy to younger children, create bookmarks then donate them to school and local libraries, and form a monthly book club.

Studies have shown that serving strengthens families, provides a greater sense of community and boosts self-esteem. There is also evidence that it improves health as well as helps students earn better grades in school. It teaches children job skills, gives them a sense of responsibility and aids in their realization that even one person can make a difference.

At Service Leader one study showed that children under the age of fourteen who participated in service projects were less likely to be involved in at-risk behaviors. And at the National Service website their study provided interesting statistics as well. “When compared to a youth with no family members who volunteer, a youth from a family where at least one parent volunteers is almost two times more likely to volunteer, and nearly three times more likely to volunteer on a regular basis.”

Service provides just as much to the recipient as it does to the volunteer. It truly is an act of selflessness, a path to learning to think beyond yourself. We live in a world of instant gratification, but service provides an opportunity to learn patience and perseverance. In the spirit of giving this holiday season, I hope you will find ways to serve within your community. I hope you’ll encourage the middle-graders in your life to participate and grow with you through these endeavors. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll build character!

If you’ve created a volunteer organization within your community, and encouraged middle-grade children to take part in it, please tell us about your experience. If you have additional ideas for serving, particularly with middle-graders, we’d love to hear them!

Amie Borst writes humorous fairy tales with a twist. She’d love to have you visit her at her little slice of fairy tale heaven. www.amie-borst.com

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