• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Inspiration > Revision–the BIG picture
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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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Revision–the BIG picture

Inspiration, Writing MG Books

One of the hardest parts of both finishing and revising a novel is keeping the big picture in mind–juggling all the elements so that you end up with a story-shaped book that delivers the ending you promised at the start. I’ve tried different strategies over the years and this is the one that is working pretty well for me at the moment.
5 steps to seeing your novel as a whole

1. Shrink your text to 8 point type, remove space between chapters and make margins as narrow as possible so that the whole novel will fit on less than 50 pages. Print it out. Put it up on a wall or lay it out on a large table or bed.

  • Observe the balance of dialog to description.
  • Notice chapter lengths relative to each other.

2. Highlight setting descriptions

  • Are they present throughout but not large?

3. Highlight physical intensity/action in a different color. Do the same for emotional intensity/tension and humor

  • Is there balance? Some action in every chapter; some tension in every chapter?
  • If it’s not a funny book, is humor providing a respite? If it’s a funny book, is the humor consistent throughout?

4. Use a post it notes to mark where each character is introduced.

  • Does the main character appear in the first page or first 400 words of the book?
  • Are all the major characters introduced in the first third of the book?
  • Are there clumps of 3 or more characters introduced in a single scene?

5. Use post it notes to mark the major events of the plot

  •   Are setting and main character established in the 1st 500 words?
  • Is the inciting incident in the first chapter?
  • Does every chapter contain an obstacle, or a reversal, or an important plot point?
  • Is there a single clear climax?
  • Does the story resolve and end shortly after that climax?

Remember these are questions and not commandments. You may have additional questions to ask yourself or different aspects to highlight based on the type of story you are telling. It’s just a tool, so feel free to make it your own.

This is how big picture revision looks in my office.
This is a 45,000 word MG novel shrunk down to 34 pages. Setting details are in green, humor is pink, action is yellow, and emotional intensity is orange.
Over the top of the highlighting I used cross-hatching to indicate view point narration. I have two view point characters. One is indicated by right slanting red lines and the other is shown with left slanting green lines. Putting the alternating point of view up on the wall like this made it clear that in the middle, the POV character is not clear. I can also see that there is too much of the red characters POV and not enough of my green character’s POV in the final section.

I’d love to hear from you about what works for you when you are revising with the flow of the whole novel in mind. Leave your suggestions in the comments!



  1. Karen Schwartz  •  Sep 26, 2012 @8:20 am

    I love posts on process. I will do a version of the shrunken manuscript with summary lines of scenes and impt info on POV, time, emotional and plot changes. I will also read the whole thing in a single sitting to hold it in my mind.

  2. Michelle Schusterman  •  Sep 26, 2012 @6:14 pm

    Ditto – I love seeing how everyone writes and revises. And Rosanne, this is pretty brilliant. Pretty sure I’m going to give this a shot myself. Thanks!

  3. J Moraski  •  Sep 26, 2012 @6:28 pm

    I really needed this one today. Perfect timing for good info. Thank you!

  4. PragmaticMom  •  Sep 26, 2012 @10:19 pm

    So helpful. I sent it to a friend of mine who is writing her first book and she’s struggling with exactly this step. Thank you!

  5. T. P. Jagger  •  Sep 26, 2012 @10:45 pm

    Love it, Rosanne! I’ve done some highlighting to guide my revision before but never tried the shrunken-font-hang-it-on-the-wall approach. Very cool. Thanks for sharing your brilliance! :)

  6. Sue Cowing  •  Sep 26, 2012 @11:43 pm

    So neat and clear, Rosanne! Timely for me, too, because I started with one character POV for my next novel but decided on two in revision. A great improvement, but t’s hard to keep the structure and balance in my head, so making it visual should really help. Thanks!

  7. Dede Perkins  •  Sep 27, 2012 @7:35 am

    So simple and seemingly quite effective! I’m going to try your technique with my current wip. Thank you, Rosanne!

  8. Dianna Winget  •  Sep 27, 2012 @12:50 pm

    This is an intriguing idea, Rosanne. I’ve written several MG books and what seems to work best for me is to tweak and revise until I know it’s getting close, and then read it all in one sitting. This takes several hours straight, but if I can pull it off it really helps me to see the big picture. I can’t see it if I only read a chapter or two at a time.

  9. Mathilda Wheeler  •  Sep 30, 2012 @12:09 pm

    I’ve read about doing this, with a slight tweak–Highlight in different colors as you suggest, but on a copy of your mss in the computer, then shrink as small as possible so you really just see the colors and print out. I think you can do a full novel in ten pages this way. However, I don’t think you can actually READ it, so it may not work for the post-it additions. Thank you so much for sharing this technique!