• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Memoir and Middle Grade
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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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Memoir and Middle Grade

Learning Differences

When children are small, the line between fact and fiction is wavery at best. As they grow, it straightens and firms, and whether something is actually true or not becomes very important.

Memoir, with one foot in event and the other in how it’s remembered, is an intriguing genre for middle grade readers. It offers all the pleasures of reading fiction, along with the added gravitas of having actually happened (at least sort of). Memoir is a form that even reluctant young writers can try, since it’s based on what they know best—themselves.

In his wonderful memoir Knots in My Yo-yo String, Jerry Spinelli mentions one of his favorite all-time questions from a young reader. It came during a talk he gave after winning the Newbery for Maniac Magee. So, this boy wanted to know, “Do you think being a kid helped you become a writer?”

Anyone who’s read Knots knows the answer. Spinelli’s fiction springs directly from memory, mixed with imagination. Asked if he does research for his novels, he once replied, “The answer is yes and no. No, in the sense that I seldom plow through books at the library to gather material. Yes, in the sense that the first 15 years of my life turned out to be one big research project. I thought I was simply growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania; looking back now I can see that I was also gathering material that would one day find its way into my books.”

Knots is hilarious, poignant, achingly real. Any middle grade reader will recognize something of himself in Spinelli’s fears, passions, peculiarities and ambitions. Zeroing in on only a few years of his life, it’s a wonderful example of how memoir differs from biography or autobiography (even though Spinelli subtitles it the latter!) Memoir is as much about how and why as it is what and when. It emphasizes the internal more than the external. For any student who claims he’s got “nothing to write about”, Knots offers a trove of possibility. Spinelli writes short chapters about his beloved dog, his strange neighbors, girls, his short-lived career as a star runner, God, baseball. All could serve as inspiration to a young writer finding the stories in his own life.

“Ideas,” Spinelli has said, “come from ordinary, everyday life. And from imagination. And from feelings. And from memories. Memories of dust in my sneakers and humming whitewalls down a hill called Monkey.”

From Indiebound: A master of those embarrassing, gloppy, painful, and suddenly wonderful things that happen on the razor’s edge between childhood and full-fledged adolescence, Newbery medalist Jerry Spinelli has penned his early autobiography with all the warmth, humor, and drama of his best-selling fiction. From first memories through high school, including first kiss, first punch, first trip to the principal’s office, and first humiliating sports experience, this is not merely an account of a highly unusual childhood. Rather, like Spinelli’s fiction, its appeal lies in the accessibility and universality of his life. Entertaining and fast-paced, this is a highly readable memoir– a must-have for Spinelli fans of all ages.

A far different example comes from Jean Fritz, author of so many wonderful biographies. Considered by many a classic, her memoir “Homesick: My Own Story” describes her early years growing up as an American inChina. Like “Knots”, it includes family photos that make the story all the more accessible and appealing.

From the jacket flap: Jean Fritz was born in China and lived there until 1927, when she was twelve. Young Jean had spent her entire life in China, but her parents’ memories of home and letters from relatives in Pennsylvania made her feel that she was American–and homesick for a place she’d never seen! Family photographs and illustrations by Margot Tomes show us the real people behind Jean’s vivid and unforgettable stories–memories of picnics on the Great Wall, pranks, holidays in the foreign compound, rebellious moments at her British school, close ties to Chinese friends, and how it felt to be called a “foreign devil” and spat upon in the streets of a turbulent China on the eve of revolution. When her family embarks upon its long journey home, Jean is thrilled, but she wonders: When she arrives in America at last, will she fit in after growing up on “the wrong side of the world?”

Another terrific writer to consider is Allen Say, who’s written and illustrated many books on his family’s immigrant experience. His recent graphic novel, Drawing from Memory, has been widely praised.

From Indiebound: Drawing from Memory is Allen Say’s own story of his path to becoming the renowned artist he is today. Shunned by his father, who didn’t understand his son’s artistic leanings, Allen was embraced by Noro Shinpei, Japan’s leading cartoonist and the man he came to love as his “spiritual father.” As WWII raged, Allen was further inspired to consider questions of his own heritage and the motivations of those around him. He worked hard in rigorous drawing classes, studied, trained–and ultimately came to understand who he really is. Part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history, Drawing from Memory presents a complex look at the real-life relationship between a mentor and his student. With watercolor paintings, original cartoons, vintage photographs, and maps, Allen Say has created a book that will inspire the artist in all of us.

 

It’s heresy, but I’m including one other writer who is not, strictly speaking, middle grade. Patricia Polacco writes and illustrates picture books so rich and evocative, they burst with possibility for inspiring middle grade students to tell their own stories. (Plus, many middle graders still secretly love picture books!) Polacco shapes fact with the techniques of a master story-teller. Thunder Cake tells how, with the help of her grandmother, she conquered her fear of Michigan thunderstorms. Instead of trying to describe her whole summer with her grandmother, she zeroes in on this one powerful memory; we get not just what happened, but exactly how she felt and what she learned. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother is about her childhood rivalry with her brother Richard and their endless attempts to outdo one another—a theme that should appeal to anyone with siblings.

From Indiebound: There’s nothing worse than a rotten redheaded older brother who can do everything you can do better! Patricia’s brother Richard could run the fastest, climb the highest, and spit the farthest and still smile his extra-rotten, greeny-toothed, weasel-eyed grin. But when little Patricia wishes on a shooting star that she could do something — anything — to show him up, she finds out just what wishes — and rotten redheaded older brothers — can really do. Patricia Polacco’s boldly and exuberantly painted pictures tell a lively and warmhearted tale of comic one-upsmanship and brotherly love.

Teachers, librarians, fellow writers and readers: please share your own favorite middle grade memoirs, and any tips for using this genre with kids.

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