• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > ‘Differences’ as Superpowers in Middle Grade Novels
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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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‘Differences’ as Superpowers in Middle Grade Novels

Learning Differences

I have a confession to make. I fully intended this post to be about body image in middle grade novels. I had recently written about various issues of body image in YA novels, and, remembering fantastic MG books from my own childhood like Paula Danzinger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Judy Blume’s Blubber, I wanted to explore the many current day middle grade novels tackling the tricky issues of weight, disordered eating, body difference, and self image.

But I couldn’t find them.

I begged my brilliant fellow Mixed Up Files bloggers for suggestions and found this great site on body image in picture books as well as MG and YA novels. Although some of the middle grade titles suggested look fascinating (including Susan Shreve’s Jonah the Whale and Pamela Todd’s Pig and the Shrink), the truth is, most of the books we immediately thought of, including Allen Zadoff’s Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have, Robin Brande‘s Fat Cat, Erin Dionne‘s Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies and Carolyn Mackler‘s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things were actually young adult novels.

I kept searching, growing increasingly frustrated, until I stepped back and decided to re-examine my assumptions. Certainly, there are middle grade novels out there portraying characters with disabilities. Last year, I posted here at From the Mixed Up Files on the topic, and since then, have found several other fantastic book lists of disability in children’s literature, including this one at YA highway (MG novels included here).

But it occurred to me that while there are surely some middle grade books out there dealing with body image in the same realistic way as Danzinger or Blume (please feel free to share them below!), many are choosing to take difference (both within the realm of ‘different’ able bodies and disabilities) and put it on its head, such that kids’ ‘non-normative’ bodies, abilities, or conditions aren’t problems, but assets.

Consider Rick Riordan’s choice to have his protagonist Percy Jackson’s ADHD be a sign of his demi-god status. What’s called hyperactivity in modern life is in fact the quick reflexes required for battling gorgons and monsters. And Percy’s dyslexia? Why that’s of course because his brain is wired to read ancient Greek, not English. Even secondary characters in Riordan’s series have disabilities that in fact mask their superpowers. Percy’s wheelchair bound teacher is the mythical centaur warrior Chiron (whose special chair magically hides the fact he has the the lower body of a horse), and his best friend Grover’s leg braces and crutches mask the fact that he has goat’s fur and hooves, because he is a satyr.

Or consider Michael Buckley’s N.E.R.D.S (National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society), in which braces and headgear, buck teeth, asthma and a tendency to eat paste all become secret weapons – the ability to walk on ceilings, for instance (the kid who eats paste, Agent Name: Gluestick) or fly around using an asthma inhaler and nebulizer (Agent Name: Wheezer). Similarly, Ross Venkur’s titular hero in The Autobiography of Meatball Finkelstein is an overweight, socially ostracized vegetarian who discovers that eating meatballs actually gives him superpowers.

Or what about Gitty Daneshvari‘s School of Fear books in which, four twelve-year-olds with morbid phobias – including of confined spaces, water, bugs, and death — are forced to face their worst fears in order to escape a bizarre school run by a seemingly crazy ex-beauty queen. Similar frady-cats headline Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things where wimpiness is, if not a virtue, at least a relate-able state of being. No longer the marginalized sidekick or pick-on-able freak, these wimps are the heroes of their series.

As fellow Mixed Up Files blogger Erin E. Moulton points out, many invincible characters in books are of common upbringing but are ennobled by a lofty cause like glory, truth, honor, or love. The ‘different’, potentially marginalized kids in these middle grade books are in fact ennobled and empowered by that which would otherwise be seen as their deficits.

I find this trend in middle grade fiction not only fun and appealing, allowing kids of all shapes, sizes, abilities and bodies to see themselves as protagonists and heroes, but also a sort of political gesture – to stop framing difference as solely a problem. In the groundbreaking The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Dubois asked “How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?” Since that time, marginalized communities have used this idea to critique and address the way we are represented, such that we are not problems but three dimensional people.

A similar rallying cry has been taken up by some sectors of the children’s literature community. Kidlit authors from David Levithan to Mitali Perkins have long made the point that books about LGBTQ kids and kids of color need to stop treating sexuality and ethnicity as only traumatizing, only oppressive, or only a problem – but rather celebrate the ordinary, funny, silly, and romantic lives of queer and of color kids as well. The modern middle grade books discussed above are taking a comparable step with kids of various abilities and bodies. Like activist movements organized around the concept of “pride” including gay pride, disability pride, and mad pride, these books are (consciously or unconsciously) portraying difference from a position of pride and (super)power.

Now, certainly, if kidlit were to only ‘brightside’ difference, that too would be problematic – despite recent bru-ha-has in the venerable Wall Street Journal on the subject, one important function of children’s literature is to reflect back to young people their own lives, worlds, and problems. Yet, it is clear that there is a canon of realistic (YA and MG) literature doing this quite well already.

In re-framing otherwise non-normative, marginalized bodies and abilities as ‘superpowers,’ these middle grade books are making room for difference as an asset to be celebrated rather than simply a problem to be ‘dealt with.’ (Which is a trend begun perhaps with the X-Men and other similar comics but that’s a longer blog post!) In doing so, these authors have created some fantastic stories. A kid James Bond who makes spy gadgets with braces and headgear? Sounds like a superhero any kid would like to meet; and any kid can imagine becoming.

What are your favorite MG titles celebrating ‘difference’ as a superpower? Or some modern MG titles we missed on body image?


If Sayantani DasGupta had a nerdy superpower, it would be a supersonic beam that blasts out of her mouth every time she laughs (because she laughs embarrassingly loudly). But, as Spidey would say, with great power comes great responsibility…

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