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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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In the Name of Research

Parents, Research, Writing MG Books

For school, my fourth-grader is preparing to be Marco Polo. Or to be more exact, an imaginary female accompanying the fourteenth-century merchant traveler from Venice. I don’t know if Marco Polo had female companions on the Silk Road, but since my nine-year-old is a girl, this is the best way she can pretend to be a part of that time and place.

Venetian merchant traveler, Marco Polo. Source: Wikipedia

This isn’t her idea, by the way. It’s her teacher’s. It’s part of their “Explorer” unit, where they get to research a famous explorer from the past, and present their findings to the class, while dressed in period costume. The challenge isn’t finding enough information from books or online. The challenge isn’t writing it all down. The challenge, and this is where the dear parent being me is involved, is finding the dang period costume.

Where exactly am I supposed to find a Venetian, medieval gown for a nine-year-old girl?

Source: Morgue Files

My daughter and I have been discussing ways to render this outfit, using items from our 21th century, Indian-American household. These include sari material, scarves, throws, Indian bedspreads, and a belt I used when I was nine-years-old myself. You could call it improvising. But would you call it research?

Research is an interesting concept, especially in the life of an author. These days, you have the most amount of information you’ve ever had right at your fingertips. A simple Google search can yield paintings of women in the time of Marco Polo, online catalogs where you can purchase period costumes for adults, children, or pets, and Wikipedia pages describing the items Polo discovered on his journey to the Far East. You don’t have to go far to go back far in time.

When I was first writing my children’s novel, VANISHED, I did similar research online, learning as much as I could from Google, about an ancient, South-Indian instrument known as the veena. This was the instrument that would belong to my book’s main character, the one that would go missing, and that she would go to great lengths to recover. At the time, the only person I knew who owned this instrument lived in another state. There were no nearby teachers or veena players.So I did what any other able-bodied author did – I imagined everything. I used my years of being a violinist to imagine how the strings felt when you played on a veena instead, the calluses that formed on your fingers from practicing, the fears of sounding “twangy” in front of others, and what a seemingly unsympathetic teacher might sound like when she’s badgering you to practice. During the summer, I interviewed a real veena teacher in person, and took photographs. And that’s how I wrote my book.


The box I carried my veena in from India to New York.

Today I actually have a veena of my own. With great care and a certain amount of luck, I was able to bring one back from a trip to India last year. Not only that, I actually found a teacher near me, one I didn’t meet until very recently. And I have to say, imagination aside, there is nothing like playing on the real thing. Finally I know firsthand what being a veena player is all about. Looking back at the book I published, I strangely got the details right – the strings really do feel the way I’d written about them! Still, nothing beats the feel and sound of a real instrument – for me the author, and for others who have read my book and get to see and hear the instrument for themselves.

Creative research is definitely a way to bring something otherwise inaccessible to life. Perhaps the materials my daughter will use for her Explorer project will be derived from a silk sari given by her Indian grandmother, or from a Rajasthani bedspread brought back from a trip to India. And maybe the cloak will come from Walmart. She, like her classmates, will have to imagine much.


Source: Flikr

But the real physical and tactile experience of assembling the various materials together,  of wearing them and walking around in them, might evoke a sense of what it was like to be a lady in Marco Polo’s time, hundreds of years ago.

We cannot underestimate the value of a real experience, even a simplified or modified one. Sometimes these real moments have the power to take us farther than a Google search, and we become the musicians and explorers we first could only imagine being inside our heads. 

In the meanwhile, if someone has a spare Venetian, medieval gown that fits a nine-year old, please let this parent (and author) know.


Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED, which was recently featured as an Al’s Book Club Pick on the Today Show. She lives in New York.



  1. Peni Griffin  •  Jan 30, 2013 @8:03 am

    Google Society for Creative Anachronism in your area. Find a contact number – preferably for the hospitaller, who is the person in charge of (among other things) finding garb for newbies and visitors. You may not find the costume ready-made, but I bet you can get good advice.

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @Peni Griffin, Thank you, Peni! I will try that! But who knows, it might be more fun coming up with something homemade. :)

  2. WendyS  •  Jan 31, 2013 @6:09 am

    Hi Sheela – Great post! I couldn’t agree more about making the time to do the research. Not only is it about “getting it right,” but I think authors who take the time are often rewarded with additional story ideas.

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @WendyS, The funny thing about research is that there is a right time to do it. At least I’ve seen for me what works, is to get the story down first, and then research to make sure you’ve got it down right. I find that if I do too much research first, I lose the story.

  3. PragmaticMom  •  Jan 31, 2013 @9:09 am

    We had the EXACT same assignment but my daughter was Hernando de Soto. We used a motorcycle jacket and wrapped the arms with aluminum foil, added a plastic sword, fake moustache, and made a red silk sash.

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @PragmaticMom, I will have pull all the stops on this outfit! From the images I have searched online of medieval, Venetian women, they often wore their hair in 2 conical buns on their head. I’m trying to convince my daughter (who’s horrified) that it’s all in the name of research and authenticity.

  4. PragmaticMom  •  Jan 31, 2013 @9:11 am

    By the way, thanks for your Skype visit to our 3rd grade yesterday. The kids and teachers raved about you. Now the kids want to read your next book and the teacher had to explain that it won’t be ready by the time they finish Vanish. They are about half way through.

    These kids are ready for your next book. Just say the word!

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @PragmaticMom, Thank you! They were so much fun! It’s amazing how good Skype is now!