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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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Get to the funny faster: Stand-up comedy and middle grade writing

Authors, Interviews, Writing MG Books

Debra Garfinkle is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever known or read. So, why would she be taking a stand-up comedy class? Debra — author the Zeke Meeks series (writing as D.L. Green), the Supernatural Rubber Chicken books and five YA novels — shares a bit about the intersection of stand-up comedy and reaching middle grade readers.

zeke meeks TV turnoff weekYou’ve written about trying comedy for your “3/4 life crisis.“  What was the writer in you thinking about this venture?

Creative writing had always been my hobby, since I was a little kid writing poems and through my years as a lawyer when I wrote short stories to de-stress after work. After I sold my first novel, writing became more of a job than a hobby. I still enjoyed it and loved getting paid for my former hobby, but got stressed out about publishers, deadlines, promotion, etc. I wanted a hobby to do just for fun, so I turned to stand-up comedy.

I thought doing stand-up would suit me for several reasons: I’ve always loved going to stand-up comedy shows; most of my books are humorous and I write a humorous newspaper column, so I was used to writing humor; I had experience acting in high school and college plays and doing moot court in law school.

Stand-up comedy turned out a lot harder than I’d thought. I learned that good stand-up comics should make the audience laugh every 10 to 15 seconds. So in a six-minute set, that’s 24-36 jokes to write and perform. Also, what may seem funny in writing often fails in performance, so I’d have to write maybe ten jokes for every one that really worked. And it’s scary being on the stage by oneself, with no other actors, directors, or writers to blame when the set bombed. But when the set went well, it was wonderful to hear people laughing at jokes I wrote and performed.

How does comic timing on stage translate to on the page?

I think on the page, there’s more time to set up a joke. Readers can skim if they want. Stand-up audience are less patient. They don’t want to sit through a long set-up in order to hear the punchline.


Debra Garfinkle (D.L. Green) with a Zeke Meeks’ fan.

Bill Word, my stand-up comedy teacher, used to say, “Get to the funny faster.” I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing children’s books. I think child readers are similar to a stand-up comic’s audience in that they mostly want to laugh and have a good time. Sure, I can slip in some meaningful messages, but my main purpose is to entertain. With that in mind, I try hard to delete extraneous things in the set-ups to my jokes.

Stand-up also helped me value callbacks (a joke that references something that happened earlier in the set) and tags (a second punchline added to the first punchline, so that one set-up makes the audience laugh twice as long).

Bill Word constantly said, “There’s something there.” We used to make fun of him for saying it so much, but it was very helpful. Even if we told the worst joke ever, we were encouraged to work with and play with it to make it better. Sometimes the worst joke ever eventually led to funny stuff. So I try to keep an open mind when I’m conceptualizing or drafting books, telling myself that there may indeed by “something there.”

Debra is published under the names D.L. Garfinkle and D.L. Green. You can read more about her books, writing, and treadmill desk at her website. Check out her book reviews written in haiku on her blog, too. They’re fantastic.








  1. Jill  •  May 10, 2013 @8:35 am

    WOw. Super impressed by this author. A lawyer, a writer, a successful publishing career that continues. I need to see if I can find these books at my library, I love humor in writing.

    Interesting timing of this post also. I just started reading “I Funny” by James Patterson and that is centered on an MC and his comedy/stand up comedy.

    I wonder if the author has any favorite comedians? Authors or entertainment inspiration for comedy writing?

  2. Debra Garfinkle  •  May 10, 2013 @12:01 pm

    Thanks a lot, Jill.

    I haven’t read I Funny. Sounds like I would love it. I’m putting it on my To Read list. I love stand-up comics Alonzo Bodden, Kathy Griffin, Joan Rivers, and the late Mitch Hedberg. Some funny middle grade authors I love are Gordon Korman, Dav Pilkey, and Roddy Doyle. For grownup books, Sophie Kinsella, Jen Lancaster, Maria Semple, and Jill Mansell make me laugh.

  3. Jill  •  May 10, 2013 @12:53 pm

    Oh good picks!
    I read the book by blogger Jenny Lawson “Let’s Pretend this never happened” and that was funny. Loved it.

    I really enjoy funny MG and funny chapter books also : The Dear Dumb Diary series & the Franny K. Stein series with scholastic (by Jim Benson) are great. I also love humor like in “Milo” and “The Hero’s Guide to saving your kingdom”. Love that stuff. There are so so many great MG books that have that “Smart humor” in it, know what I mean?

    I do like Sophie Kinsella also, she’s great for a fun, fast read.

    I’ve just picked up “Tiimmy Failure” from the library and that looks like a fun MG also.

  4. Donna Gephart  •  May 10, 2013 @1:11 pm

    Huge fan of Debby’s hilarious books! Not that writing funny novels is easy, but to me stand-up seems really hard. And brave!

  5. Linda Johns  •  May 10, 2013 @1:35 pm

    Two of my favorite recent middle-grade funny books are PICKLE by Kim Baker and BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle. So many good titles mentioned here!

  6. Karen Schwartz  •  May 10, 2013 @5:42 pm

    I’m a fan! Interesting to hear how stand up works with writing humor. Ba-dah-boom!

  7. Debra Garfinkle  •  May 11, 2013 @9:44 am

    Thanks so much!

    My son and I both loved the Franny K. Stein series. Great writing and illustrations. I mostly read grownup books now that my kids are older, but you guys are making me want to read middle grade books again.

  8. Joan Y. Edwards  •  May 13, 2013 @9:58 am

    Dear Linda,
    Thanks for sharing this technique for developing humor for middle-grade books. That is awesome.

    Celebrate you.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards