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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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  • Flawed Characters

    Writing MG Books

    Recently I read a news article about the growing trend of plastic surgery. I know, in this day and age, it seems like everyone’s been Botoxed, air-brushed and made over until unrecognizable (hello, “Real” Housewives!). But what really caught my eye was this had nothing to do with Hollywood.

    It was about kids. As in, the rise of younger and younger children going under to knife to fix their “flaws.” And right there on the page was a before and after picture of the cutest little girl, maybe eight years old. And, quite frankly, I had to actually read the article to find out what was “wrong” with her in the before shot. Because I just couldn’t see it. Seriously. (As it turned out, it was her ears, which stuck out and caused her to be teased when she put her hair in a bun for dance class.)

    (Now, before this turns into a debate about parenting and such — let me just say I’m a mother and I know how hard it is. I’m not looking to pass judgement on this girl’s parents, who were trying to spare their child the pain of being picked on. I get it. I really do. After all, I STILL remember the middle school classmate who told me I could “be a model”… if I just “had a different nose.” Yeah, if my parents had let me get a nose job, I probably would’ve knocked myself out and hopped on the operating table right then and there.)

    That said, the whole article just made me a little sad.

    Because here’s the thing I learned as I grew up (and into my nose) — people are more interesting not in spite of their “flaws,” but because of them. And this goes for fictional characters, too (see, I was getting to a point about writing, really!). And by characters with flaws, I don’t mean the ones who are utterly perfect… (except for being clutzy/ditzy/too tall, etc.). I’m talking about perfectly imperfect characters. The ones with complex motivations, the perhaps not-so-perfect looking ones. The ones that make bad decisions and fall on their faces.

    Severus Snape via wikipedia

    A perfect example:  Severus Snape.

    Snape has to be one of my favorite flawed — make that just plain favorite — characters in all of children’s literature. He’s surly and seemingly self-serving, not the most attractive guy in the room or even very pleasant to be around. But that made it all the more moving when his true motivations were revealed at the end of Deathly Hallows. I’ll admit, I choked up (especially at the movie — man, that Alan Rickman!). But the whole final scene would have had so much less impact if Snape had been less, well — Snape-ish. I can’t imagine a conventionally handsome Snape (George Clooney — ummm, no). Or one that was kind of tough with his students but really awesome in every other way. It just wouldn’t work.

    In fact, flawless doesn’t work with any character — whether the hero or anti-hero. We all have flaws. Quirks. Things that make us who we are. And as I write this, I think maybe “flawed” isn’t quite the right word. Complicated, maybe. Human. Real. I mean, who wants to live in a world — or read a book — where everyone is exactly the same. Where everyone has been scrubbed down, airbrushed and made over until unrecognizable. There’s plenty of that on magazine covers. And as our kids find themselves surrounded more and more by unreal images of “perfection,” what better place to escape TO reality than in a good book?

    So I say, let’s hear it for the not-so-perfect noses, the complex histories, the layers of good and bad that make us unique — the stories that remind us it’s cool to be different.

    And let’s hear from you! Who are some of your favorite complex characters and why? And how do you go about writing characters that are more than just one-dimensional? Tell me in the comments below!

    Jan Gangsei is glad no one ever let her “fix” her Jennifer Grey nose because she really likes it now. She also credits it with helping her develop a sense of humor (and the ability to detect gas leaks before anyone else in the house). 

     

    3 Comments

    3 Comments

    1. T. P. Jagger  •  Jan 28, 2014 @11:42 am

      Jan,
      Thanks for a great post. Snape also ranks high on my list of favorite, flawed, and complex characters.

      You got me thinking of the work I’ve been doing on my own WIP, which is a bit on the flipside of what you discuss. In my case, I’ve had to look at my story’s antagonists, and instead of adding flaws (they already had plenty), I’ve been working to provide them with greater complexity through the addition of some redeeming (or at least sympathetic) qualities.

      Here’s a related quote that helps challenge me in this area:

      “It is an intriguing fact that in order to make readers care about a character, however bad, however depraved, it is only necessary to make him love someone or even something. A dog will do, even a hamster will do.” –Ruth Rendell (“What to Pack in Your Fiction Tool Kit,” Writer’s Digest, December 2010, p. 21)

    2. Jan Gangsei  •  Jan 29, 2014 @10:06 am

      Great point, T.P., about writing complex “bad guys.” There is also nothing worse than a cookie cutter villain. And what a wonderful quote… so very true!

    3. PragmaticMom  •  Jan 30, 2014 @12:57 pm

      I liked your post! Flawed characters are harder to love and probably to create and love that you champion them! You are right. Books need them. They are the most interesting to love/hate.