• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Articles by: Tracy Abell
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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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March Madness in the Bookshelves

Book Lists

Hello, my name is Tracy and I’m college basketball-obsessed. It’s been three minutes since I watched a men’s NCAA game, and I’m quite sure I’ll sneak away** from this post to check out another. I’d like to say my family is supportive of my attempts at recovery, but they’re not much more functional than me. And in the case of my 16-year-old son, I’d say he’s got it worse. At least I’m not constantly checking scores on my phone.

(Why yes, it is an ancient flip-phone. What’s your point?)

In addition to love-love-loving college basketball, I adore reading. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there for middle-grade readers who enjoy this sport. While I couldn’t find any books aimed at young people on the art and science of bracketology, I did find a broad array of fiction with basketball playing a prominent part in the story.

MASON DIXON: BASKETBALL DISASTERS by Claudia Mills

Tracy’s note: While author says she personally is “not tall, not very coordinated, and has no hustle,” Mills wrote a convincing story about a reluctant basketball player who makes funny observations on his way to becoming a player.

PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL by Nikki Grimes

Tracy’s note: Grimes does a beautiful job writing in verse about what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl who lives and breathes basketball, and then experiences both physical and emotional changes that affect how she views the boys she used to only see as competitors.

BASKETBALL (OR SOMETHING LIKE IT) by Nora Raleigh Baskin


Tracy’s note: Being the mom of a long-time basketball player, this story, told from the point of view of three sixth-grade boys and one girl, rings absolutely true regarding parental expectations, highs and lows of competition, and the politics of team sports. While this book definitely would hook young readers, I think parents would also enjoy and benefit from these narrators’ insights.

STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG-TIME by Lisa Yee  

Tracy’s note: Stanford loves basketball so much he’s willing to be tutored in English by “the world’s biggest nerdball, Millicent Min” so that he can be on the team. I can relate, seeing as I have to get these blurbs evenly spaced before I can get back to my beloved games. Aargh!

THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richardson

Tracy’s note: This story of 10-year-old Marcus and his twin Mia doesn’t contain basketball action, but instead delivers a message about how it’s okay to dream of being a basketball star as long as you have other dreams, too.

DRAGON ROAD by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road cover

Tracy’s note: I’m interested in reading this book about a 1939 Chinese American basketball team, but stopped when I realized the protagonists are recent high school graduates (the book was shelved in the juvenile section of  my library but is at minimum an upper middle-grade story). If I can find time between games, I’m going to continue reading this.

The NCAA brackets have now been set. I watched Selection Sunday with my two sons as the teams and initial match-ups were announced, and am giddy with anticipation. Happy March Madness, everyone! The first games aren’t until tomorrow so you still have plenty of time to pick up a book. Please add any other basketball-inspired books in the comments and also tournament favorites or predictions.

**I watched the last minutes of the Wisconsin – Indiana game.  Shhh!

Tracy Abell wishes her free throw percentage was higher because, you know, they’re FREE throws. 

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All Those Who Care About Children, Please Stand Up

Op-Ed

This is a group blog of people who write books for children, and it’s safe to say that people who write for children care about children. The same can be said of teachers: they care deeply about children’s well-being. So do their classroom aides and the school librarians, bus drivers, crossing guards and custodians. Even the literary archetype of evil-lunchroom-lady-beneath-the-hairnet cares about children. Mothers and fathers, of course, care about children. As do grandparents, principals, office secretaries, coaches, school nurses, babysitters, daycare workers, pediatricians, and child psychologists. Aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters – they all care about children.

I’d go so far as to say the vast majority of people on the planet care about children.

I am a mother, and I reject the notion that advocating for children’s safety and well-being is a political act. I reject all false equivalencies between cars and assault weapons, knives and assault weapons, falling-off-ladders and assault weapons. I also reject the notion that there’s a right and wrong time to discuss massacre prevention. Because if not now, when?

Please understand: I don’t pretend to have the absolute solution. All I know for sure, with every fiber of my being, is that we must make some changes.  Big changes.  Meaningful changes.  A society is measured by its treatment of its most vulnerable, and few are more vulnerable than kindergarten children.

If not now, when?

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Tracy Abell is a former teacher who is very grateful for the men and women who work in the schools with our children.

 

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Tragedy Averted or How I Almost Talked Myself Out of Another Manuscript

Inspiration, Op-Ed, Writing MG Books

Years ago I came up with an awesome high-concept novel. I’d only written one other book at that point, a low-concept book begun in secret and pretty much written as a challenge to myself. I wrote early in the morning before my kids were awake, marveling at how the words added up. Writing a novel was like living an alternate existence free of poopy diapers and tantrums, and I loved it. When the manuscript was “done” I made a few attempts to get it published before recognizing it as a learning project.

The second book was a whole other matter.

By then I was a member of a weekly critique group for adult fiction. The focus was on publication.  My critique partners loved my new premise and when our annual conference approached, encouraged me to get an appointment with a visiting editor or agent. I’d only written about five chapters but with input I polished opening pages, wrote a synopsis, and practiced my pitch in front of the group. I talked about my project. A lot.

And then a strange thing happened: I had no desire to write that very cool, high-concept book with its unique setting.  In talking about my project I’d talked myself out of a manuscript.

Since then I’ve warned other writers about the perils of talking too much. I cautioned my sons’ elementary school classmates to keep story ideas to themselves until they’d written at least a first draft. I brought in an inflated balloon and as I told the story of Tracy’s Abandoned Project, let out a bit of air. Throughout the whole sordid tale of me blah-blahing to my writing partners, I slowly released more air and by the time I reached the part about losing my love for the story, the balloon was flat. And lifeless.

Shouldn’t someone who goes around bossing other people on the issue of keeping their mouths shut know better?

Despite my No-Talking-Before-Completed-Draft policy, I fudged a bit on my latest project and shared a one-line description with my new agent (and felt validated when he liked the premise). I still successfully finished the draft. But when talking to a critique partner about whether I should rewrite the book in third-person I remember hesitating before answering his questions; it felt risky. But hey, I had a first draft. So I talked.

And not only did I talk to him but also to my spouse. I’m blessed with a partner who fully supports my literary efforts and never, ever complains about me not bringing in an income. However, because he never finished reading the one manuscript I asked him to read (in his defense, my learning project), I’ve armored my heart by only speaking about my projects in generalities.

But suddenly I was talking to him in great detail and it was wonderful to finally be one of those writers with an involved spouse. It felt especially good because my agent had just read the first fifty pages and synopsis of the second draft and basically said he liked my premise but not the execution. A couple weeks later he dropped me.

I needed to start all over. Again. But I wisely recognized I was still too fragile to work on that particular project so set it aside and revised another manuscript. When that was finished and sent off, I felt ready to return to my difficult project.

I began talking about the story again, trying to sort out some character issues. I brain-stormed with my spouse and felt I was getting closer to truly knowing the kids at the heart of my story. And yet, I couldn’t gain any traction; I was unable to move beyond character sketches to drafting and despaired the story would ever get written.

Then one day not too long ago I experienced what felt like a balloon-inspired epiphany: Stop talking and write the story.

Hello, I needed to get back to the guilty pleasure of stealing away to scribble down scenes, sharing in the lives of people no one else has met. I needed to return to writing for me.  Me and no one else.  And that’s where I am right now.  I’ve got this story inside I want to tell, and if I keep quiet from here on out we’ll make it.  However, I need to trust my instincts no matter how many drafts I’ve written.

But just in case I ever falter in my resolve, I can check in with one of my favorite writers:

“It makes me so uncomfortable for them. If they’re talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate. I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, “You’ll lose it if you’re not careful.”   ~ Anne Tyler

(By the way, you can buy a signed copy of this quote on ebay for only $399).

* * * * *

These days Tracy Abell is talking less and writing more, although she reserves the right to talk to herself when she’s feeling stuck.

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