• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Parents in Books – a Writing Perspective
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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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Parents in Books – a Writing Perspective

Learning Differences

Maybe Mother’s Day is still in the air, or it might be the two recent Mixed-Up Files posts on parenting tips, and moms in middle grade fiction; or it might be the mother-daughter book club visit I did recently. Whatever it might be, I have been thinking seriously about moms and dads in MG.

And before I go further, I want to pass out some writer hats. If you aren’t a writer – don’t worry.  Even if you are a parent or educator, or simply a middle grade reader, I have several hats. I’m sure one will fit you.

Because what I want to talk about pertains to writing, and the decisions we make as writers regarding plot, conflict, and the role of parents in MG fiction.

Conventional writing wisdom has been telling us for years to cross out parents from books, and to leave the adventuring, detective work, and problem-solving to the kids.  How else might we explain classics like The Secret Garden, or Heidi, or more recent phenomenons like Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, and The Graveyard Book?  I know as a writer, it’s just easier to leave out the parents. Fewer people to deal with, fewer permissions to grant, easier plot twists to render. As a young child, I understood the necessity of eliminating parents. I scarcely knew what divorce was, and yet in many stories I wrote, there were divorced parents, missing parents, or mothers and fathers who met an untimely demise. Why? Because it was so much easier to get to the real story without them there!

Even so, I’d like to make a case for the parents, and why as a writer, I think they add a dimension to the story that is gaining importance over time. There might be several really good reasons, but I will give you my personal 3. And then I will add one more, which might be a truth that has remained constant, but bears considering.

3 Reasons for Keeping Parents Present

  1. The rise of parent-child book clubs. I have no hard data, but one can easily observe that the number of parent-child book clubs have grown over recent years. Some of these are run through the schools, some through libraries, and sometimes a group of like-minded people form their own. It’s a great way to spend time with your child and devote time to reading. Along with that, is the opportunity to discuss stories that resonate with both adults and young people. Whether it’s about fitting in at school, or dealing with a job loss, or the death of a family member, there are many stories out there that can be approached and discussed from multiple
    perspectives. And in doing so, there might be a great chance for parents and kids to understand each other better.
  1. Multicultural families and their experiences have changed from generation to generation.  As a child of an immigrant family that came to the United States in the 1970s, I can attest to how much has changed from what we experienced then as first-generation immigrants with what my children and their second-generation and third-generation peers experience today.  In the 1970s, it was about fitting in and being like everyone else.

    Today, what “fitting in” means has changed. Interestingly, the Census Bureau reported for the first time that White births account for less than half the number of total births today, clocking in at 49 percent. So while the face of our nation undergoes changes, it makes sense that the stories for and about our children have changed. And what better way to observe that change than through books that include multi-generations of immigrants in its pages?

  2. The need to accept people in our society who may be seem different, but deserve the same level of respect and dignity, and with equal rights to education, friendship, and acceptance. I think this is an especially important reason. In an interview about her debut novel, Wonder (about a 5th grader with facial deformities that attends school for the first time), RJ Polaccio comments, “I hope that readers will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted.” More importantly, Polaccio goes on to say that, “I also hope parents take heed and do more interfering in their kids’ lives…They need to remind their kids to be kind and do right exactly because it’s the hardest thing to do at that age.” What’s wonderful about Polaccio’s novel is that she allows us to see the shortcomings of everyone, from kids to their parents, and to those who mean well but still inflict pain through their ignorance. It’s this quality that makes her novel an excellent way for children and adults alike to discuss how we should treat other people.

So, does this mean that all MG books need to spotlight parents? Of course not. Often times, parents in novels can interfere with the immediacy of the main character’s personal growth. And sometimes, kids really do have to solve their own problems. On the other hand, parents being fictionally “there” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The other day I read a post by young adult author, Jennifer Hubbard, on the dynamics of being older and younger, and she notes how “There are so many ways to look at age, and at intergenerational relationships.”

Which brings me to the 4th reason I value parents being in the books I write. I truly believe that our experiences as adults matter and have relevance in a kid’s world. I also believe that for those of us who are parents as well as writers, writing children’s books is a way for us to explore the successes and setbacks of grown-ups when it comes to decision-making. For my ownself, writing has allowed me to consider my parenting decisions, and how they might hold up under the scrutiny of a young person.

As writers I think it’s possible to write what we know, even when it comes to writing for kids — and this doesn’t necessarily mean remembering stuff from our distant past. In her parenting post, Mixed-Up Files blogger Elissa Cruz extends a thoughtful invitation: “Parents, I encourage you to pick up a title and read.”

I’d like to go one step further by saying, Writers – I encourage you to write about parents. Because for all you know, they might be reading.

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Sheela Chari is the author of Vanished,  a 2012 APALA honor book and a nominee for this year’s Edgar award in the best juvenile mystery category. She lives in New York.

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