• OhMG! News


    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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  • CROW – interview with author Barbara Wright

    Learning Differences

    With so many books about fantastic superheroes, wimpy kids, and children trying to survive wars in dystopian worlds, parents, teachers, and librarians are looking for something different to add to their young readers’ lists. I always recommend a good historical fiction. Recently I read great reviews about a new book titled, Crow, by Barbara Wright. As it happens, Barbara lives in my town and I was able to attend a reading and book signing at our local indie bookstore, The Tattered Cover. Intrigued by the excerpt she read I had to get a copy of Crow and after I read it, I knew I wanted to put it in the hands of every kid I know.

    Crow has received several starred reviews including this one from the December 12, 2011 issue of Publishers Weekly:


    Barbara Wright. Random, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-86928-0

    Adult author Wright, in her first book for children, presents a hard-hitting and highly personal view of the Wilmington race riots of 1898
    through 11-year-old narrator Moses. Though the story initially meanders, the pace builds as Wright establishes the Wilmington, N.C., setting, with its large black middle class, and Moses’s family life, which is primarily influenced by his slave-born grandmother, “Boo Nanny,” and his Howard University–educated father, an alderman and a reporter at the Wilmington Daily Record, “the only Negro daily in the South.” Wright sketches a nuanced view of racial tension and inequality from Moses’s sheltered yet optimistic perspective, such as a bike shop’s slogan contest that is only open to white children, or the farmer who fires Moses after he helps another okra picker determine his true pay. A Daily Record editorial ignites racial backlash and catalyzes a series of attacks on hard-won rights, thrusting Moses and his father into the violence of the riots. This thought-provoking novel and its memorable cast offer an unflinching and fresh take on race relations, injustice, and a fascinating, little-known chapter of history. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

    After reading the book, I got in touch with Barbara and asked if I could interview her for The Mixed-Up Files blog. I was thrilled when she agreed to meet me again at our lovely Tattered Cover for coffee and questions. Here’s how our conversation went:

    Without being didactic, the story is a great lesson in strength, courage, and hope. Barbara, given that you and Moses are very different, how were able to get inside his head, hear his thoughts, and tell his story?

    Moses as a character was a real challenge.  First, he’s a boy and interested in all kinds of things I am not—trains, fire trucks, schooners, building things.   I wanted to give the reader a sense of what it was like to be a boy in a Southern port city at the turn of the century.  When possible, I tried to stay local.  There were black firemen in Wilmington, so it made sense that Moses would be proud and look up to them. The African-American conjoined twins Millie-Christine are based on historical figures who were born in the county next to Wilmington.  Blackbeard, the pirate, plied his trade in the waters off the coast of the Outer Banks, just north of Wilmington.

    Since Moses is from a different time period, I had to be careful with the historical details.  I couldn’t say, “He zipped up his jacket,” because zippers didn’t exist.  I couldn’t say “He slammed the screen door,” because screens were not widely used then.

    The hardest aspect of Moses’s character was race.  I wrote the novel to discover how the concept of prejudice filtered into the mind of a bright, curious boy who was raised to believe he was the equal of any man. To do this, I had to get deeply inside his skin, and at times, the plot took turns that surprised me.  At one point, Moses witnesses something really degrading and horrible and he thinks that he’s responsible when in fact he has nothing to do with it.  This scene broke my heart, but I felt absolutely sure he would feel this way.

    As amazing as Moses is, I have to admit, my favorite character is the wonderfully wise Boo Nanny. My own copy of Crow has many pages tagged with what I call Boo Nanny-isms. My favorite is where she’s looking for shells on the beach with Moses and he asks her how she knows so much about the ocean, and she says: “I’ve got my own two eyes. All you gots to do is look. Now, your daddy could talk a possum out of a tree, but sometimes he can’t see what’s dead straight in front of his nose if it ain’t in a book. Knowing’s first and foremost ’bout seeing what’s in front of you.” Was there something in your own life that inspired you to create Boo Nanny?

    I probably identified more with Boo Nanny than any other character.  We’re both grandmothers with inquisitive grandchildren.  I love Boo Nanny’s folk remedies, her deep intelligence and wisdom that comes, not from book learning, but from character and the unspeakable horrors that she has endured in slavery.  I came up with her name because she loves ghost stories.  It wasn’t until a month after Crowwas published that I realized that my high school nickname, still used by friends from that era, is Boo.  Perhaps my subconscious was at work.

    I wanted to create a complicated family.  Moses’s father is a community leader and college graduate while Boo Nanny cannot read or write.  Moses loves them both but has to learn to navigate between two very different viewpoints.

    In order to make the story completely accurate, I know you spent years researching the 1898 events that took place in Wilmington, North Carolina. Tell us where and how you found your information.

    A key source for me was We Have Taken A City, written by H. Leon Prather, Sr..  This historical account of the riot was published in 1984 and did not receive the attention it deserved.  It was not until 2006, when the NC Legislature financed the voluminous Riot Report that people began to take notice of the long-forgotten incident.

    As part of the research, I went to museums and looked at old photos.  I also read the oral histories of former slaves in the Library of Congress, which were recorded and transcribed as part of the Depression-era WPA.   An original late-19th Century diary written in long hand by a white boy in a nearby town was particularly useful.  Thank goodness his handwriting was easy to read.  This is where I picked up Moses’s fascination with bicycles.

    On one of my frequent trips to Wilmington, I read the historical markers that are placed along the docks for tourists.  It was here that I learned about the tunnels under Wilmington that figure in an important plot point in the novel.

    What led you to the decision to become a writer?

    After graduating from college, I went to Seoul, Korea to teach English to Koreans at a private language school.  At the time, Korea was a third world country, and few Americans lived there, outside of the military base.  I started writing on Korean culture for a hotel magazine.  When the editor left, I took over, and had a whole magazine to fill each month.  I started writing, and never stopped.

    After Korea, I made a trip around the world, going to Southeast Asia, and then Nepal, where I met up with a group of 10 people who traveled overland in a converted army truck with roll-up canvas sides.  We blazed trails across Afghanistan and Iran and camped out in the desert.  I kept a diary, which I have held on to only as a reminder of how truly bad writing can be.

    When I returned, I got a job as a fact checker for Esquire Magazine in New York, where I was exposed to some of the best writing in the country.

    Most people don’t know this, but the top magazines have someone verify every fact that is printed in the publication.  Sometimes the facts are hidden.  My worst mistake came when I had to check a shopping column for men.  I verified the features of a Swiss Army knife:  Two knife blades? Check. Scissors? Check.  Corkscrew? Check.  “A fish scaler to scale freshly caught trout?”  Check. What was my mistake? Trout have no scales!  Who knew?

    Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how a teacher would be able to use Crow in a classroom? Will you be doing classroom visits in person and by way of skype?

    Crow offers all kinds of possibilities for teachers to combine language arts with social studies lessons on slavery, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.  I believe that students, by getting to know Moses and his family intimately, will be able to relate on a deeper level to what happened at this time in history.

    The Random House Educator’s Guide for Crow is linked through my website and offers innovative activities and ideas for middle school teachers on how to use Crow to get students talking about hypocrisy, racism, inequality and character.

    The website also provides links to lesson plans on the Wilmington Race Riot and Jim Crow era, as well as two short videos that provide historical context for Crow, a power point presentation on the Race Riot, and additional resources.

    I have classroom visits lined up in North Carolina, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico.  So far, I haven’t explored the possibility of Skype, but that’s an excellent idea.  I’ll look into it.

    Wow, you’ve made it easy to access great information in the classroom!

    Finally, a question that always interests us MG lovers here, what were some of your favorite middle-grade books when you were a child?

    I will never love a book as much as I love Little Women.  I read it when I was ten or eleven, an impressionable time.  I longed to become Jo, the writer, and marry the warm-hearted Professor Baer, and I pretty much did.  I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries, thrilled to have a clever, spunky role model.  I adored To Kill a Mockingbird. No amount of re-reading diminishes its impact.

    Thank you so much for joining me and for answering so many questions for our Mixed-Up Files readers!

    Jennifer Duddy Gill is the author of The Secret of Ferrell Savage and Mary Vittles, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), released 2014.


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