• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Writing MG Books > Muddling through the Murky Middle
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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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Muddling through the Murky Middle

Writing MG Books

Although this is my first post for the Mixed-Up Files, I decided to write about middles. What better place than a blog devoted to middle grade books to examine the middles of stories, and specifically, how to muddle through them. I admit, this is a challenge for me, and I think (I hope) for other authors, too. It’s like rowing a boat across a really murky lake. I can see both shores clearly. I know my beginning, and I can completely visualize the end, but then there’s that whole lake to get across. That whole muddy lake, with floating tree branches, weird looking fish, deep water, icky brown stuff, and who knows what else lurking beneath the surface? How do I get from here to there without straying off course, or worse, sinking?

Working on my second middle grade novel, it seemed I was over-thinking everything — from characters to plot to pacing to…okay…the whole point of the story. Actually, I was stuck. In the middle of the lake. Not sure how to paddle ahead. My inner critic was working overtime, and I was getting worn out.

So I did what most writers need to do at some point. I put the novel aside and gave myself a mental break. During this time, I decided to find out: who navigates middles really well? What do they know that I don’t?

I took four of my all-time favorite middle grade books: Holes by Louis Sachar; So B. It by Sarah Weeks; Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles; and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, curled up in my favorite chair, and did a “middle experiment.” I placed my thumb smack dab in the middle of each of these terrific books to attempt to solve this whole middle mystery. And here’s what I discovered.

In the middle of Holes, Stanley finds out Zero’s real name, plus in the historical part of the story, Sam is shot. Then there are these three amazing sentences. “Since then, not one drop of rain has fallen on Green Lake. You make the decision. Whom did God punish?”

In the middle of So B. It, Heidi meets Georgia Sweet on her bus ride and muses: “I had begun to think that certain things that seem to happen by accident don’t really happen by accident at all.”

In the middle of Love, Ruby Lavender, the Town Operetta is announced and the chicks are peeping and ready to hatch. And, in Esperanza Rising‘s middle, Esperanza, adjusting to her new life, takes a bath for the first time without her servant helping her bathe and dress.

Ta da! All of these “middles,” I realized, have a few elements in common:

1. The reader finds out something important (no rain fell on Green Lake), or gets a clue to a puzzle in the story (Zero’s real name is Hector Zeroni).

2. Something happens that will connect to the ending (the chicks are peeping).

3. The main character has a moment of insight (things don’t happen by accident).

4. There is a turning point (Esperanza finds out she can do something she never did before).

I jotted these words down: important, clue, connect, insight, turning point. But then I realized something else. In the middles of these books, the characters are also lost. On their journeys, searching for answers. Not sure how to forge ahead.

Just like I was, in the middle of my murky lake.

And I thought, gasp, what if being stuck in the middle is a good thing? Maybe it’s okay to be lost for a while. In fact, maybe I need to be stuck in order to figure out how to get to the end. What if not being sure where to head could prompt me to think outside of the box, or, um, water? Are the tree branches, weird fish, deep water, and icky brown stuff supposed to be there; all part of the grand plan? They’re just rough patches to navigate around, bumps along the way, places I need to row a little harder…each one bringing me closer to the opposite shore. When I pictured them like that, they seemed less like obstacles and more like challenges. After all, what would writing — or anything in life — be without challenges?

Now I have a different way of thinking about middles. I’ve decided it’s the perfect place to stop, let go of the oars, rest, look around, and listen to the stillness. And have faith that at some point, the right path will come floating my way, like a lily pad that was there all along.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011). She’s happy to report that after floating around for a while, she recently completed draft #1 of book #2. Yay! Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com.




  1. Jen Gennari  •  Jul 16, 2012 @8:13 am

    So on target! I really love the lake analogy, too. I think the hardest part is keeping the suspense up in the middle without throwing the character a lifeline too soon.

  2. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 16, 2012 @12:50 pm

    Jen, couldn’t agree more! Thanks!

  3. Angelina C. Hansen  •  Jul 16, 2012 @2:41 pm

    Excellent discussion and thanks for the book recs. ^_^

  4. Michelle Schusterman  •  Jul 16, 2012 @6:18 pm

    Great post, Michele! I go through the exact same thing – but you’re right, getting stuck in the middle doesn’t have to be tragic. Maybe it’s good for us to be as confused and lost as the characters for a little bit. :)

  5. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 16, 2012 @7:16 pm

    Hahaha – absolutely!

  6. Marilee Haynes  •  Jul 16, 2012 @7:32 pm

    Wow! If this is your first post, I can’t wait for your second:) Seriously, you’ve given me so much to think about as well as a jolt of hope to keep pushing through to the end of my own middle muddle. Thank you for that!

    I’m going to try that same experiment with some of my own all-time favorites.

  7. Eating as a Path to Yoga  •  Jul 16, 2012 @7:44 pm

    It’s fun to read the story-writing process of others. Thanks for sharing your insights! I love how you pulled out key concepts, too. Blessings!

  8. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 16, 2012 @8:03 pm

    Thank you everyone, for your great comments :)

  9. PragmaticMom  •  Jul 16, 2012 @8:17 pm

    So helpful! Love your post about middles though I am not yet in the middle of writing an MG book though I hope to be soon!

  10. Lisa Rogers  •  Jul 16, 2012 @8:55 pm

    Thanks, Michele, for your insights and inspiration! I’ve been taking a break and avoiding the middle–by actually paddling or just floating in the middle of my pond during this hot summer. So my plan is to enjoy the middle (of my book!) and keep your tips in mind while I’m there.

  11. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 16, 2012 @10:17 pm

    An idea might just come floating your way in the pond :) !

  12. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Jul 17, 2012 @10:07 am

    GREAT post, Michele, and beautifully written! So happy you’re with us here at MUF!

  13. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 17, 2012 @11:54 am

    Love the lake metaphor. Fantastic post, Michelle!

  14. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Jul 17, 2012 @3:11 pm

    Thank you so much!

  15. Pam Beres  •  Jul 17, 2012 @9:11 pm

    Excellent post! This is just where I am–muddling through the middle. Great insights. I especially love the idea of my being lost and confused in the middle mirroring how my mc is feeling at that point, too–lost confused. Can’t wait for your next post!

  16. Kenda  •  Jul 18, 2012 @10:42 am

    Love how you analyzed books you like, and your helpful insights. Thanks!

  17. Greg Pattridge  •  Jul 19, 2012 @12:55 pm

    Congratulations Michele on getting through the middle and onto a first draft of your second story. I liked your suggestion of getting away from the story for awhile. It has certainly helped me to go out and exercise my own middle before coming back to reduce the too large one I had in my story. Sometimes the lake needs to be smaller.

  18. Dianna Winget  •  Jul 20, 2012 @8:13 am

    Your post makes me feel so much better! Now I know I’m not alone. I’m currently in the middle of my third book and floundering a bit, but now I know it will all eventually work out.

  19. Sheila Brodhead  •  Aug 16, 2012 @8:30 pm

    very helpful and inspiring information! great article– thanks