• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Talking Tween with Amy Fellner Dominy—an interview & giveaway
  • OhMG! News

    New-Oh-MG-critter

    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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Talking Tween with Amy Fellner Dominy—an interview & giveaway

Learning Differences

Today on the Mixed-up Files, I’m pleased to introduce readers to Phoenix author Amy Fellner Dominy. Amy’s debut novel OyMG was recently named a “Notable Book of Jewish Content for 2012” by the Sydney Taylor Awards committee.

Before we begin, a bit about the book from Indiebound:

Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she’s sure that if she wins the final tournament, it’ll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot—literally. His name is Devon and, whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she’s confident enough to take on the challenge—until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship’s benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dream?

To be in the running to win your very own copy of OyMG, leave a comment or question after the interview.

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Welcome to the Mixed-up Files, Amy, and congratulations on your recent award.

Thanks!  It was such a wonderful surprise. I’m having a wonderful time sneaking into bookstores and putting award stickers on copies of my book. :-)

Our readers often ask about books suitable for tweens, and OyMG is one of those books that sits right on that line between upper middle-grade and lower YA—somewhere between Little House and Pretty Little Liars. What do you think makes a good story for tweens? What’s the difference between a tween and a teen, anyway?

This question always makes me think of the Goldilocks story. Only in this scenario, it’s Goldilocks in the bookstore.  She goes to the YA section but those books are TOO mature.  She goes to the MG section and those books are TOO easy.  So she goes to the tween section and it’s JUST RIGHT.  The problem, of course, is that there isn’t a tween section. (Yet!) But that’s how I define tween—not so much as a strict age rule, but tween represents that person who isn’t finding what they want to read in typical YA or MG.

Just to comment on how thin that line is there was a lot of discussion about where OyMG should be shelved.  The marketing peeps recognized it might fit in either place.  Interestingly, the book sold as an MG and then was marketed as a YA. My next book also straddles the line, but I edited it with a younger audience in mind and it’s definitely going to be MG.

As far as what makes for a good story for tweens, personally I always loved stories that showed kids (like me) searching for their place within their worlds—home and school, etc.  The focus was more narrow—I wasn’t worried about the great beyond—but I grappled with who I was and who I wanted to be.  Those are the issues that still fascinate me, and why I love writing for this age.

Ellie Taylor, your main character, is so witty and ambitious. What inspired you to tell her story? Were you a speech and theater geek like her?

The story came to life with a question:  “What would you be willing to hide?”  I wanted Ellie to grapple with her identity in the way so many of us do when we find that we’re in some way “different.”  The idea for a speech/theater background came after I saw a newspaper article about a local high school speech team.  It just clicked as the perfect setting for an outspoken girl finding the courage to speak up for herself.  To be honest, I never did compete in speech events but I really wish I had now.  It looks like a lot of fun!

According to my 16-year-old son, once you turn 13 your family is nothing but a source of embarrassment—sorry, son!—but Ellie’s family is important to her, especially her flamboyant Zayde…even when he embarrasses her. He’s the moral compass of the book. Did you have a Zayde in your life?

Yeah, I hear ya. My two teens would rather I removed splinters from their eyeballs then show up at their school. Zayde is a character who first came to life in a play I wrote.  I fell in love with him and knew I had to write about him again. One of my disappointments in life is that most of my own grandparents died before I ever really knew them, though I did have a Grandma Rose who loved to curse in Yiddish.

OyMG was honored by the Sydney Taylor committee for its Jewish content, but the ethical dilemma at the heart of the story—whether or not it’s okay to betray your beliefs in order to fit in or get ahead—is one everyone can relate to. How have readers responded?

That’s been the nicest part of this whole journey—hearing from my readers.  I get emails from kids who begin by saying, “I’m not Jewish, but I loved OyMG.” It always makes me smile because as you said, the story is universal and Ellie’s dilemma isn’t unique to Jewish people.  When I speak to classes, I find that kids feel different for so many reasons.  In fact, I wonder now if anyone ever feels completely accepted for who they are?

As reviewers have noted, you tackle some serious issues in OyMG with a light touch, some romance, and a whole lot of humor. I laughed out loud many times, but I also teared up, especially during the scene at her boyfriend’s church when Ellie recalls being told by a second-grade classmate that she “killed Jesus.” There’s a lot of pain in that scene. How were you able to balance the humor with the heavier elements of the story?

You’ve mentioned a scene that always affects me, too, because that’s something that happened to me when I was that age.

I think the balance comes naturally from writing about a serious situation in the mindset of characters who use humor to deflect and deal with pain. In other words, it’s all Zayde’s doing—he’s the funny one not me.

You did such a great job of capturing Ellie’s inner turmoil after she chooses to lie about her Jewish heritage on her scholarship application. What’s your secret for getting into your characters’ heads?

I usually start out with character monologues. I ask them questions and write out their thoughts, first person, and get a feel for who they are. Ellie came to life when I posed the question:  Would you bring matzoh to your new school during Passover?  She answered, “Why not?  It’s just a big cracker?”  That put me in the mindset of a strong girl (with some attitude) who’s comfortable with herself.  (Or so she thinks!)  I know it sounds like a little bit of hocus pocus, but really it’s just letting the character talk until they begin to sound like someone interesting that you want to get to know.  Sometimes, the character comes right away and sometimes I don’t find the right voice for a long time.

You worked for many years in advertising before earning an MFA in playwriting, and now you’re writing fiction. How do you think your background in theater and advertising has influenced your writing today – or has it?

Advertising was a big help because I wrote a lot of radio and TV spots. For both of those, you’ve got to bring characters to life through dialogue. If you write something stilted and unnatural it’s painfully obvious when you’re in studio doing the recording. Same thing is true of playwriting – you’re telling a story through dialogue so it better flow. That’s why I always advise writers to read everything out loud.  It’s amazing how different it sounds from the way it reads.

While reading OyMG I couldn’t help but think of my favorite tween book when I was growing up: Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. It felt like Judy Blume wrote that book just for me! What were some of your favorite books at that age?

That was one of my favorite books, too.  I wonder how I would have survived those middle school years without Judy Blume!  I also have to mention James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl because that was the first book to inspire me to write a novel of my own. Otherwise, some of the books I’ve saved that are dog-eared and well-loved were the Scholastic books I’d get from school orders. They weren’t famous titles by famous authors, but they were so special to me I still have them on a shelf in my closet.

I understand you have another tween book in the works. Can you give us a sneak preview? 

My next book, Audition & Subtraction, comes out this September from Walker Books. Here’s the blurb:

Tatum and Lori do everything together—including a duet for District Honor Band auditions.  Then Michael Malone transfers in and suddenly Tatum is in danger of losing her spot in the band as well as her best friend, Lori.  In a story of shifting friendships, divided loyalties and unexpected romance, Tatum must decide just how much she’s willing to give up in order to hold on to what she has.

Sounds great, Amy. Thanks, so much for visiting today.

Thanks for having me!  This is such a wonderful site for all things tween. I’m glad to be a part of it.

My pleasure! To learn more about Amy and her books check out her website, Facebook, or Twitter feed. And don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of OyMG. The winner will be announced Saturday, March 10.

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Laurie Schneider grew up in small-town Wisconsin where she was a junior-high speech geek and the only Jewish kid for a hundred miles. She could’ve used a friend like Ellie Taylor.

 

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