• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Articles by: WendyS
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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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Autobiographies of Middle-Grade Authors

Book Lists

When my 5th grader announced that his class was doing a unit on writer autobiographies, it was all I could do not to run off with the list of suggested books. I love knowing the behind-the-scenes stories, which would also explain why I watch VH1’s Pop-Up videos and listen to director’s commentaries on movies. (For more about the curriculum, click here.)

I was not disappointed. While most autobiographies focus on adult lives, autobiographies by children’s authors take their time with childhoods, providing readers with a fascinating look at growing up in different times and places, while some parts of childhood remain the same. Readers can also find the beginnings of some of their favorite stories, and wonder how their own lives might provide similar inspiration.  Here is a list of memoirs I enjoyed, along with a suggestion of who might also enjoy them.


Boy by Roald Dahl: Fans of Roald Dahl will be delighted to find many of the roots of his stories in his delightful memoir. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for instance, had its beginnings in Dahl’s childhood fascination with sweet shops, and particularly the love/hate relationship between proprietors and customers. Dahl has a lovely knack for recalling the terrors and pleasures of childhood. There are also bonus points for those of us who can’t resist a good English boarding school story. (Do you know what a tuck box is?!)


Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka: From the comic-book appeal of the cover to the wild-growing-up stories, this book all but dares reluctant readers to pick up the book. As one of six brothers, Knucklehead will show readers that Scieszka comes by his zany sensibilities (Time Warp Trio, Spaceheadz and our family favorite, Cowboy and Octopus) very honestly. Readers will find out how to play Slaughterball (and why it was a good thing Scieszka’s mother was a nurse) and how Jon and his brothers livened up the family crèche with toy soldiers.

Abracadabra Kid

The Abracadabra Kid by Sid Fleischman: Born in 1920, Fleischman takes readers to a place that is both familiar and strangely different, with mentions of boot hooks and a level of freedom that most children today would find unsettling. Lovers of magic will find that the book is aptly named, since much of the book focuses on Fleischman’s love of magic, and may want to continue on to his biography of magician Harry Houdini (Escape!) and a novel about a family of magicians set in the Old West called Mr. Mysterious and Company.  History buffs will enjoy Fleischman’s accounts of how he made a living with magic and his service during the war years of the United States.

26 Fairmount

26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola: My family and I enjoyed this Newbery Honor-winning book as a recording, done by the author – a rare treat – and it is full of dePaola’s trademark charm. DePaola recounts short stories from his life in 1930’s Connecticut, complete with the first day of school, holidays and living with two grandmothers. Perfect for transitional readers who have fond memories of Strega Nona and The Barkers.

Bad Boy

Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers: Myers takes his eye for unflinching detail and trains it on his own life in Bad Boy. Starting with his own complicated childhood – he was raised by his father’s ex-wife and second husband – Myers takes readers on his journey toward being a writer as an African-American man in mid-century America. This memoir is probably best suited for slightly older readers, and I would recommend reading this book with Myers’s very thorough and insightful Just Write: Here’s How. Readers may be especially inspired by Myers generous partnership with a young writer named Ross Workman, with whom he co-wrote the book Kick.

Girl Yamhill

I still have a few books on my to-read list that I should mention here. A Girl from Yamhill by one of my favorites, Beverly Cleary, will be read this year, and my 5th grader, who read Jerry Spinelli’s autobiography and is very picky about his reading, recommends Knots in My Yo-Yo String. For adult fiction writers, I also adored Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate, a memoir that proves that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Please share any recommended writer autobiographies or memoirs in the comments below!



A Lesson from Miracle on 34th Street

Book Lists

Building on TP Jagger’s fabulous post on what writers can learn from Christmas songs, today’s post will explore what writers can learn from the classic Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street.  In case you aren’t familiar with this gem, here’s a quick description: when no-nonsense Doris Walker hires  a man to play Santa for Macy’s department store, she quickly finds out that while he is the Best Santa Ever, the man also genuinely believes he is Kris Kringle.  Doris, once burned by love, does not believe in Santa or other fantasies, and does not allow her daughter, Susan, to believe in Santa, either.  Kris Kringle sets to work on changing Susan’s mind, while Doris’ neighbor, Fred Gailey, tries softening Doris’ hard worldview.   When Kris’ mental health is challenged in court, everyone involved finds that their views of Christmas have changed because of meeting Kris.  (Note: This movie is so popular that it has been remade several times; do yourself a favor and watch the original 1947 version.)

miracle on 34th

See this one first!

There are four main characters in the movie: Kris Kringle, Doris, Susan and Fred, but the movie is well-buttressed by several secondary but important characters.  There is RH Macy, Doris’ boss, who insists on keeping Kris In spite of his apparent delusions because he is so popular with the customers.  Granville Sawyer is the company psychologist who takes a disliking to Kris, and forces the mental health hearing.   We meet the prosecutor and his family, as well as the judge in charge of the hearing and his political advisor, who reminds the judge that finding against Kris could create a public backlash.

Write your secondary characters as if they are the main characters.

What’s remarkable about all the characters is that while they exist to move the story along, they are also handled with much care and detail.  When I watched the movie this year, I could not help but marvel at how fully developed they were.  Each one brings to life the writing advice, write your secondary characters as if they are the main characters.  We know what each character wants, whether it’s boss man Macy wanting to beat rival Gimbels, or the political advisor seeking a winning election for the judge.  We also get to meet their families and see others interact with them, not just for the purposes of the story, but for their own sake.  You even know the opinions of the district attorney’s wife and meet the judge’s grandchildren.  (My favorite family background moment is when Kris questions whether the twitchy company psychologist is happy at home.  Mr. Sawyer does not respond immediately, but eventually announces, with a bit too much protestation and much manic plucking at the eyebrow, that he has been happily married to Mrs. Sawyer for many years, thank you very much.)

The next time you’re adding a minor character to your story, consider whether he or she (or it!) can be more than a cardboard cog for the story.  Do they have their own motivations and backgrounds?  How would they tell the story from their point of view?  And then, if you like, add your own cinematically-inspired writing advice in the comments below!


…But Letting Kid-Characters at the Grown-Up Table, Too

Authors, Inspiration, Writing MG Books

I’ve often teased my family for turning me into the calendar-wielding maniac of (attempted) organization that I am. I, like many other moms (and dads) in America, am the keeper, expediter and outfitter of soccer practices, birthday parties, Brownies and other such obligations. I have, at time, indulged in the fantasy that had I not become a mother, I’d be running, obligation-free, through a field of wildflowers, oblivious to time and details.


That all changed when my parents decided to downsize last spring. I helped them sort through their belongings, taking the old Life magazines and Trivial Pursuit game for myself, but it was my mom who discovered a real piece of myself and my childhood.
“Look,” she said, pulling out a folder. She carefully lifted up red construction valentines made brittle with age and pictures from the first day of school. And then, she pulled out my notes. This was pretty representative idea (my mom kept the notes, so this is from memory).

Dear Mom,
I’ve gone to baseball practice and should be home by 6:30. I have taken a jacket with me. I have eaten a light snack, but would like something warm to eat when I get home.

I was 11 when I wrote this note, and there were others like it. Notes detailing where I was going, what I had done and what I expected to do when I got home. I realized, to my horror, that I had always been like this, detail-focused and time-conscious. I am only grateful that at that age, it was not possible for me to have a Blackberry or other such device; I probably would have attempted minute-by-minute scheduling.

What this incident reminded me, though, was that while it is fun (and even necessary in middle-grade) to write about characters who are sassy and immature (in need of growth might be a nice way to put it), it is also fine to give them a few characters that hint at what’s to come. Yes, yes, there are also adults who remain sassy and immature but as Michele Weber Hurtwitz’s post pointed out yesterday, we writers for kids get very nervous about being sufficiently kid-like. A kid would never say that, we say, glancing around for a 9-year-old to talk to about the latest lingo. Kids don’t do that.

Certainly, out of my three kids, none would leave me a detailed note about their whereabouts. But my point is that without necessarily turning the trait into a caricature or creating an overly serious character, it is okay to add a little adult-ness. Claudia, the main character in the blog-inspiring-novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, is a perfect example of this:
Claudia knew that she could never pull of the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn’t like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes.


We can certainly imagine Claudia as an adult, running a corporation one day, though author E.L. Konisburg never lets us forget she is a child, too. She does not know about typing exercises or how to manage money, and she tries to send her brother a psychic message at one point to warn him. But that’s what makes her utterly believable and delightful; to the extent that a line exists between childhood and adulthood, she sits astride it, taking in from both sides. The note from my parents’ house reminded me to worry less about making sure my characters are stereotypical kids and to focus more on keeping them real.

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