• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Articles by: T. P. Jagger
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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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The Thing about Birthdays

Book Lists
                    b-day cake

Two weeks ago, my daughter turned twelve. I celebrated the milestone by threatening to pluck out the eyes of any boys who happened to notice her climb toward womanhood.

Not sure what I’ll do once she becomes a teenager.

A week later, my son turned ten. I wrestled him to the ground and gave him a wedgie. I’m not getting any younger. He’s not getting any smaller. Figure I have to whoop him while I can.

Anyway, all those birthdays got me thinking. While my middle-aged self grudgingly accepts each birthday as a reminder that my knees are getting achier and my hair is getting thinner, my kids’ birthdays remain highpoints of celebration and anticipation. A birthday-kid may only be one day older than the day before, but it feels bigger than that.

And since birthdays hold a lot more significance for the middle-grade crowd than the middle-aged crowd, they often play a major role in middle-grade stories, too. Here are a handful of books where a kid’s “special day” helps get the story moving:

 Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

by J. K. Rowling

Come on, you’ve read this. Harry turns eleven. Everything changes.

11 Birthdays

by Wendy Mass

Amanda Ellerby’s eleventh birthday doesn’t go so well. So it’s kind of a bad thing that when she wakes up every morning, it’s her birthday again.

(Don’t neglect the other three birthday-based books in the Willow Falls series: Finally, 13 Gifts, and The Last Present.)

11 birthdays

   the challengers

Galaxy Games: The Challengers

by Greg R.   Fishbone

This is the first book of the Galaxy Games series by MUFs very own Greg R. Fishbone! For his eleventh birthday, Ty Sato has a star named in his honor. Only it’s soon discovered that Ty’s star is not a star at all—it’s a spaceship bringing news that will change Ty’s life…and maybe the world.

Wringer

by Jerry Spinelli

This Newbery Honor book takes a twist on birthday-based stories because the protagonist, Palmer LaRue, isn’t looking forward to his tenth birthday at all. In fact, it’s something he dreads.

wringer    

    Savvy

Savvy

by Ingrid Law

Yet another Newbery Honor book, Savvy tells the story of Mibs Beaumont, an almost-thirteen-year-old who comes from a family with a secret—each member gets a supernatural talent when they turn thirteen.

So what birthday-based stories have you read and enjoyed? Feel free to post a favorite title (or two or three).

7 Comments

Five Writing Truths We Can Learn from Christmas Carols

Writing MG Books

 

 2103 Christmas-Snow I have a confession to make: I love Christmas music. In fact, I like it so much that my wife had to institute a family rule—no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I eventually got her to compromise, convincing her that Christmas music was allowed before Thanksgiving, as long as it had snowed first. This year, pre-Thanksgiving, I had the stereo pumping “Jingle Bells” as soon as Virginia had its first snowfall.My wife accused me of cheating because we live in the state of Washington.

I say that she never specified the location of the snow.

Anyway, with Christmas now only one week away, I began to wonder what writing wisdom might be gleaned from the music of the season. From the traditional “Away in a Manger” to Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” here are five Christmas songs and the writing truths they reveal:

1)      “Away in a Manger”: I don’t care if you are reading this while at work in a busy office. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and belt out the opening lines of this Christmas classic. What do you have? Within the first four measures, you already know about the no-crib issue.

If you want to pull in the reader, start with a problem that needs overcome.

2103 Christmas-Rudolph

2)      “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: There’s more to be learned from Rudolph than the proper hyphenation of phrasal adjectives*. In fact, the writing truth embedded in the song is as illuminating as Rudolph’s nose:

A single unique trait is often enough to create a memorable character.

3)      “Blue Christmas”: Elvis had snow. He’d finished decorating the Christmas tree. But none of that could pull him from the doldrums of a blue Christmas. He was missing his “Dear.”

Have your protagonist struggle with the loss of something or someone he cares about.

4)      “Christmas Don’t Be Late” as sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The squeaky voices of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore get really annoying, really fast. My tolerance of their singing definitely doesn’t extend to listening to the whole song. So . . . when you write, I don’t care if your character is a singing chipmunk or a granny who grew up deep in the mountains of Kentucky.

Don’t overdo dialectical speech in yer dialogue. It’ll get distractin’.

5)      “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a., “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”): Written on a hot summer day in 1944, “The Christmas Song” went from a few lines penciled in a notebook to a finished song in about 40 minutes. No, you probably won’t crank out a timeless masterpiece in under an hour. But . . .

You never know when the muse might strike.

Sometimes you just need to sit down, start writing, and see what happens.

Now, before you give your muse an opportunity to inspire, take a moment. Pick a Christmas carol. Pause and ponder. Then share with us some holiday-based writing wisdom of your own.

 2103 Christmas-Gift *Note: If you have no idea what a phrasal adjectives is, you may not know why you should never write about a “ten year old boy.” Thus, in the spirit of the season, I offer this ever-so-useful link as my grammatical gift to you: Grammarist: Phrasal adjectives.

 

8 Comments

“Page 5 Test”

Writing MG Books
Stop twitching. This post is not a 5-page test, so I don’t care how scarred you are from childhood test-taking trauma. Build a bridge and get over it. Then keep reading in order to learn something that may help your writing.You okay now? Good. Here’s the scoop. . . . Thanks to a giveaway on Goodreads, I recently received a free copy of Darcy Pattison’s book Start Your Novel. When reading it, my interest was captured by one of her ideas for checking the characterization in a novel’s opening—she calls it the “Page 5 Test.” (See, I told you it wasn’t a 5-page test. You should have trusted me. I’m very reliable. Except when I’m lying.)  Start Your Novel
 Runaway Twin Not only did I decide to use the Page 5 Test to check my own work-in-progress, but as a bonus exercise, I decided to run a Page 5 Test on a children’s novel I’m currently reading—Runaway Twin by Peg Kehret. Based on Darcy Pattison’s idea, here’s what I did:

  • I read the beginning of Runaway Twin, only going as far as what would equal approximately five double-spaced pages of a typed manuscript.
  • After I finished reading, I listed everything I’d learned about the main character from those opening pages. Here’s my list:
  1. The main character lives with a foster mother named Rita.
  2. The main character’s name is Sunny.
  3. Sunny is 13 years old.
  4. She loves Twinkies and junk food, but Rita is a health nut.
  5. Sunny is opinionated. (As the first-person narrator, she states: “In my opinion it is cruel and unusual punishment to put a thirteen-year-old girl who was raised on junk food into a home that serves tofu and cauliflower.”)
  6. Sunny wears her hair in a ponytail (at least sometimes).
  7. She has switched foster homes frequently, running away from at least a couple of them. (This also tells me Sunny isn’t afraid to take action when she sees the need.)
  8. She seems to like Rita (despite all the tofu and cauliflower) and doesn’t plan to run away from her.
  9. Sunny doesn’t consider herself a “bad kid,” although she doesn’t do much school work because she knows she’ll just get moved to a new home and school again anyway.

Notice the variety of things Peg Kehret wove into those opening pages. There are basic things such as the main character’s name and age. There are bits about Sunny’s family situation (foster child) and a glimpse into her outlook on life (Why bother with school work if you’re going to get moved again?). And there’s the barest mention of her appearance.

In only a handful of pages, Peg Kehret effectively pulled me into caring about her main character by not skimping on the information about Sunny and by making sure the details she included provided depth, not an inundation of surface-level facts. (Hey, I’d rather know Sunny has the guts to run away from a bad foster family than know how tall she is and whether or not she has a dimple in her chin.)

So consider printing out the first five pages of your own WIP. Read ’em. Then make a list.

What details are revealed about your main character? What isn’t revealed? Are you building a strong character with a unique voice, or is your protagonist coming across as shallow and boring? By running Darcy Pattison’s Page 5 Test, you may be surprised at what you discover, and you may get ideas for strengthening your novel’s opening pages.

Besides, you’ve got to try this. Know why? There’s gonna be a test tomorrow.

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