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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, read more...

     

    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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Strengths and Weaknesses

Miscellaneous, Writing MG Books

I’ve loved writing ever since I can remember—I wrote poems and stories at home, and it was my favorite part of school (and not just because I usually received A+ on my writing assignments). When I started writing middle grade novels, I was surprised that my talents weren’t enough. I think I do a great job of coming up with ideas, and creating fun, vivid characters, but I didn’t realize that most writers have at least one area they have to work on way harder than the rest. For me, that was plot. I kind of masked my problem, because I was able to add tension to my manuscripts by always considering the worst thing that could happen to my characters…but that wasn’t enough to create a full, exciting arc that could propel readers through an entire novel. I’m always working on finding ways to improve my writing, and am thrilled to see how much stronger my plotting is now.

I’ve never been a fan of outlines, but I realized that just knowing the beginning, ending and some possibilities for the middle, plus character sketches, wasn’t enough. After studying plotting, I found a method that works great for me. It’s a Plot Clock, created by writing coach and mentor, Joyce Sweeney, and breaks the novel up into four acts, starting in the normal world, which prevents me from jumping into the middle of a situation before readers care about my characters.

Joyce Sweeney Plot Clock

When I first started writing children’s books, I had no idea how deeply I’d have to dive into revisions. I love seeing characters come alive and watching all the wonderful layers evolve through revision after revision. I don’t remember having to revise my stories when I was in school. We’d get an assignment, hand it in, get a grade…end of story. I’ve really been impressed with the way I see writing taught now—with children as young as elementary school receiving feedback and being asked to revise their writing. I can’t even imagine writing children’s books without receiving critiques—feedback from peers and professionals really can help your writing grow!

Here are some things I’ve learned that I hope will help you, too:

  • Take a good look at your strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to know what they are, so you can really focus on them! If you’ve had writing critiqued, what types of comments are there? I used to hear that some of my earlier manuscripts seemed episodic…it took me a while to realize it was because my plotting wasn’t strong enough to propel readers through the entire story.
  • Try to swap critiques with people whose strengths are your weaknesses.
  • Critique often—it helps the person who wrote the manuscript or story, but it also helps you a lot, too. It’s easier to spot areas that can be strengthened when you critique the work of others…and in time, you become better at finding those areas in your own manuscripts.
  • Read as many books as you can, and stretch past your favorite genre to explore other types of books, too. Once you know your weaknesses, you can search for books that master those aspects.
  • Read your story out loud. It’s easier to find places that need streamlining, dialogue that doesn’t feel natural, and where you can improve the pacing. Reading out loud often feels different with an audience, so even if you’re alone, you can record yourself, or read to your pets.

Teachers and parents—I’d love to know what you’ve noticed about the strengths and weaknesses of your students or children, and what you do to help them become stronger writers. And to all the writers out there—what are your strengths and weaknesses, and how have you overcome your weaknesses?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fifteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Joyce Magnin  •  May 13, 2013 @7:32 am

    Hey Mindy, great post. Yes, I love the revision process also. I often say it is where the real writing happens. And I also have been impressed with how writing is being taught to students these days. I like that teachers break the writing process up and even separate the difference between editing and revision. IN fact as a kids book author and teacher I do workshops for kids on the revision process. Most kids balk at the idea becuase they think it’s doing work over. But once they see how much revision I do to turn out a book and how much better their story has grown they get excited and want to keep improving. Revision rocks. Writers get to do-overs. Neurosurgeons? Not so much.

  2. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  May 13, 2013 @8:34 am

    Thanks, Joyce! It’s wonderful that you teach revision workshops for kids, and they see how much it can help their stories. Revision definitely rocks!

    I think it’s easier to revise now than when I was younger, because of technology. I used a typewriter for my earlier papers, and loved how much easier it was when I got a word processor. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to revise without my computer now!

  3. Janet Smart  •  May 13, 2013 @12:06 pm

    Those are all great points, and I try to do all of them when I write. I love revising and making the story better.

  4. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  May 13, 2013 @1:37 pm

    Thanks, Janet. I love revising, too!

  5. Beverly Johnson  •  May 13, 2013 @6:41 pm

    Hi Mindy,

    I enjoyed reading your post, and was glad to hear of advantages of going through the revision process and learning from feedback. I think your question of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of students is a valid one. In fact, it is one I am struggling with this year. I teach English language learners who are motivated to learn, but get discouraged when issues with spelling and grammar get in the way. How do you suggest I handle this while encouraging them to keep writing?

  6. Wendy S  •  May 13, 2013 @9:10 pm

    I’d never heard of the plot clock, though this reminds me a bit of the screenplay structure in Save the Cat. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Suzanne  •  May 14, 2013 @7:20 am

    Great post. Plotting is my weakness and the plot clock is becoming my nourishment for getting stronger. :)

  8. Tami Brown  •  May 15, 2013 @6:18 am

    Great post, Mindy!

    Coincidentally, this morning I saw this slideshow of great writer’s plot charts on Flavorwire. They’re not quite as graphic as the plot clock but it shows that even very experienced writers benefit from drawing their plots out and seeing what’s happening from a bird’s eye view- http://flavorwire.com/391173/famous-authors-handwritten-outlines-for-great-works-of-literature

  9. Mindy Alyse Weiss  •  May 15, 2013 @5:41 pm

    Thanks, Beverly. Is there a way you can focus only on the content of the writing first, then work on spelling and grammar in the final version? This could free up their creativity and help them have enough confidence to dig deeper into their assignments. I’d love to hear how everything goes with your class, and I’ll see if other Mixed-Up Files members have additional suggestions to add.

    Thanks, Wendy and Suzanne.

    Thanks, Tami. Those plot charts were so interesting (and different). A few of them looked hard to read. I absolutely love the one up on the wall! My mind moves so much faster than my hands, it’s hard to read my writing sometimes. I ended up typing up the Plot Clock into a file, so I can easily type in each item (and also change them without making a mess and having to start over).