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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:
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    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:
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    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:
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    October 14, 2013:
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    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:
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    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
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    August 21, 2013:
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    August 19, 2013:
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    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

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    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

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    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

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    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

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    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

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    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

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    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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Character Lessons from Doctor Who

Writing MG Books

If I say watching a television show is a study in writing, does doing so then qualify as “work?” (More importantly, can I write off Netflix when I do my taxes?)

I watch Doctor Who for the awesome characters, creative sci-fantasy elements, and off-the-wall stories, all of which have taught me a ton about writing (and often leave me shaking my fist and screaming “MOFFAT!”). But after every episode, I feel more inspired as a writer – and more inspired to mess with my characters. If you’re a Time Lord fan, or a would be-fan, beware: ahead there be spoilers.

1. Give minor characters so much history and personality and life that they could carry their own series.

Most episodes of Doctor Who introduce new characters who are only present for that episode. They could easily be two-dimensional, but they rarely are. As an example, take the series four episode, “Midnight,” which is more psychological horror than your normal whimsical Doctor stuff. Not a single character on the shuttle (aside from the Doctor) would ever appear in another episode, but they were as real and developed as any long-time companion…making their actions and fates near the end of the episode all the more horrifying.

This isn’t to say that every single name you drop in your novel should have a five-page character sheet. In fact, that can be detrimental – “character soup” is something I often have to deal with in edits. But your story will be all the more rich and real if each character has problems and passions that drive their actions, no matter how short their page time.

2. Give everyone a chance to be a hero.

Because good heros (and good characters) are flawed, and they can’t do it all. The Doctor is all kinds of flawed (and if you don’t believe me, you clearly haven’t watched The Waters of Mars). But one of the things I love most about Doctor Who is that so often it’s those minor, one-episode characters I mentioned a few paragraphs up who really save the day, often by some sort of personal sacrifice.

This is particularly valuable in middle grade stories, where the main character is likely very internally focused. Think about Hermione accusing Harry of always trying to be the hero. Sometimes the load must be shared – a great lesson for middle grade characters (and readers). The main character can’t do it alone, and shouldn’t have to.

3. Don’t just be cruel to your characters – be creatively cruel.

Death? So not the worst thing that can happen. Take a look at some of the companions’ fates.

When I think of Captain Jack and the Face of Bo, I want to weep. (Even though Jack’s fate to live a bajillion years and die as a giant head might not be canon, I still just…ack.) Then there’s Rose and her not-quite-Doctor – a strange end to a character arc that managed to be both satisfying and devastating. Martha’s whole year just made me feel bad for her (although admittedly irritated at times). And Amy and Rory – I’m glad they had each other, but if you didn’t tear up at “raggedy man, good-bye” then you have no soul.

But let’s look more closely at Donna, because she’s my favorite companion. She doesn’t die. She doesn’t lose any family members or friends (that she knows of). She’s not physically or mentally harmed in any way. She is, in fact, the exact same person she was before she met the Doctor – a temp from Chiswick in a wedding dress. We last see her happily leaving a church with her new husband and a winning lottery ticket tucked in her cleavage.

Sounds like a happy ending, yeah? But in context it’s a more brutally heartbreaking finale than anything I could’ve possibly imagined for her. For her, Donna. That’s the key – it was an ending that wouldn’t have had the same emotional impact with any other character. It could only work with Donna, with her cutting humor masking that enormous inferiority complex, with her mother who constantly made her feel worthless, with her gradual development into becoming a woman who would quite literally save the world. Maybe it’s not a fate worse than death, but for the Doctor (and the viewers) it was gut-wrenching. And it would have been for Donna, too, if she could only remember.

What are the stakes for your characters? The threat of death is certainly motivating, but try being more creatively cruel. Think of Artemis Fowl in The Time Paradox, forced to deal with the consequences of his own regrettable actions by literally confronting his evil 10-year old self. Pinpoint what really makes your characters afraid and vulnerable, and make them face it head-on.

Any other Whovian writers out there? What lessons have you learned from the Doctor? I’d love to hear them!

Michelle is the author of the upcoming I HEART BAND series (Penguin, Fall 2013), about the thrills and spills, practices and performances, crushes and crises of middle school band geeks. She’s a screenwriter for a Manhattan-based TV/film production company and lives in Queens with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She blogs, tweets, and tumblrs.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Stephenie Hovland  •  Nov 1, 2012 @7:20 am

    I love that you posted on Dr. Who today. I will have to get my Tardis out when I need my next motivational jolt. The intricate plots that are woven throughout most episodes amazes me. Like a very complicated (and sometimes tangled) Celtic knot, we don’t even see some of the strands until later. It amazes me. I can’t imagine keeping all that organized! My favorite episode is with Van Gogh. Makes me cry every time. It even spurred me to study him last year. I adore almost every episode of Dr. Who (except the one I completely loathe – Love & Monsters.

  2. Michelle Schusterman  •  Nov 1, 2012 @9:25 am

    Thanks, Stephenie! I love the Van Gogh episode too, and all of the ones that work in a heavy amount of real history, like The Fires of Pompeii and The Unicorn and the Wasp. (Love & Monsters was one of my least favorites, too.) Plotting Lessons from Doctor Who would be a whole other post! It’s really phenomenal how they tie things together, like you said.

  3. Beverly Patt  •  Nov 1, 2012 @8:49 pm

    I’m sorry to say I’ve never watched an episode of Dr. Who but my youngest son was a big fan when we lived in London. That said, I do want to agree with your ‘cruel TO THEM’ point – and that not every ‘devastating’ thing has to be a car chase or a life-or-death scenario. Many times these more subtle ‘cruelties’ are more relate-able and therefore more powerful.
    Thanks for this reminder!

  4. Julie H. Mata  •  Nov 2, 2012 @9:53 am

    Your post has definitely made me want to watch Dr. Who. I’m going to go to the library and see if I can find it. I’ve often heard about it, and I think I saw a couple episodes long ago, but now I must find out just who is Who!

  5. Michelle Schusterman  •  Nov 2, 2012 @10:11 am

    Beverley and Julie — come over to the dark side! ;)