Category Archives: Book Lists

The Epistolary Middle-Grade Novel – A Big Word for “Lots of Fun!”

This post is about the epistolary middle grade novel.

WAIT! Don’t stop reading just because that word sounds so, well, boring. And academic. Because I promise, epistolary middle grade novels are some of the most entertaining books out there!

But first, the academics:  Dictionary.com defines the word epistolary [ih-pis-tl-er-ee] as an adjective meaning:  of, relating to, or consisting of letters.

See? Novels made of letters! Who doesn’t love reading letters?

Actually, the epistolary middle grade  novel can consist of much more. Diary entries, newspaper clippings, even advertisements can be sprinkled about, giving these novels a lighter feel and making them a visual feast.  These days, we can add emails, text messages and social media posts to the list of devices used in contemporary epistolary novels.

Here’s one of my all-time faves!

regarding the fountain web small

That’s the cover. But, it’s the interior of the epistolary novel that is always so delicious!

regarding the fountain inside web small

Sisters Kate and Sarah Klise blend written and visual storytelling in such a fun and inviting way! Mixed fonts, lots of drawings, short snippets of this and that all contribute to this book (and to its numerous sequels that ask us to please regard other plumbing essentials, such as the sink and, yes, the privy, too).

Another great EMGN (my new acronym! Like it?) is  Jennifer L. Holm and  Elicia Castaldi‘s Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff.  Believe me, the “stuff” this book is made of is way better than meatloaf!

middle school meat loaf web small

Epistolary novels are not only entertaining to read, I’ve decided they must be a blast to write as well.  Mixed-Up Files member Greg R. Fishbone recently confirmed my hunch. He told me how much fun it was writing his epistolary middle grade novel The Penguins of Doom, From the Desk of Septina Nash.

the penguins of doom web small

I could go on and on from Caddie Woodlawn to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Let’s keep the list going. Add in the comments below your favorite – EMGN –  Epistolary Middle-Grade  Novel.

Michelle Houts is the author of four middle grade books, fiction and nonfiction. She loves getting and sending letters so much that she started the 52 Letters in a Year Challenge. So far, she has heard from letter-writers as far away as Germany and as old as 72. She hopes one day to try her hand at writing an EMGN.

In Todd We Trust by our own Louise Galveston

InToddWeTrustThe Toddlians have always believed in the omnipotence of their god, twelve-year-old Todd Butroche. After all, Todd is their creator and they would not exist if it were not for him and his benevolent grossness. But when the Toddlians are confronted with a vile “red thing” (a moldy apple) and its mysterious and horrifying inhabitant (a worm!), they begin to believe Todd has forgotten all about them. There’s only one solution to the Toddlians’ problems: to find a new god! And so they decide to build a raft à la Noah’s ark in order to search for a more thoughtful deity. But who can the Toddlians turn to in their time of despair? And does Todd really not remember the miniature race generated by the dirt on his smelly sock? It will take more than divine intervention to save the Toddlians and mend their relationship with their neglectful creator.

Rosanne: Congratulations on your second book! That’s a real accomplishment. How much of getting published is determined by luck and how much of it do you think is due to hard work and talent?
 
Louise: I don’t really believe that things just “happen,” but I do believe that circumstances can definitely line up in your favor: you meet an agent or editor at a conference who happens to mention liking your favorite Jane Austen book and you strike up a conversation that ends in an invitation to query your manuscript… But even then, the manuscript has to be written, you had to make the effort to go to the conference in the first place, both of which usually equal quite a bit of effort on your part. LGBioPicture copy
 
Rosanne: So true.I’ve found unexpected opportunity and had a few fortunate meetings but if the hard work on the pages wasn’t in place ahead of those “lucky” circumstances, they would have come to nothing. In Todd We Trust is a sequel. Did you find it difficult to return to familiar characters, or was it easy to find their voices again?
 
Louise: It didn’t take long to get back into their heads, but it was challenging to keep the voices separated since there are four point of view characters (Todd, three Toddlians, and Todd’s baby sister, Daisy.) In the first book, the Toddlians only had a few chapters, so I had to really delve deeper into their characters for the sequel and make sure their voices were unique. Also, Todd has matured a lot since the beginning of book one, so his way of looking at things had to be more responsible, yet still leave him room to grow. Discovering his first crush helped do that.
 
Rosanne:  I’ve only ever attempted two points of view in a story so I’m really very impressed. Making each character distinct and strong enough to carry the story is a terrific challenge.

 

Speaking of first crushes and boy-girl friendships, did you draw on your experiences to develop this aspect of the story? 
 
Louise: Growing up, I was often the only girl on my block, and I have a younger brother, so I hung out with boys a lot. Several of my best friends at school were boys as well; I seemed to relate better to them than girls my own age. In the book, Todd has a massive crush on the new girl, Charity, but (spoiler alert!) eventually realizes that he’d rather just be friends. To him it’s much more fun and far less complicated. I really hope readers will see that boy-girl friendships can be awesome without turning gooey.
 
Rosanne:  In my first teaching job I had a class with twice as many boys as girls and it was interesting to see how that gender imbalance changed the usual classroom dynamic. I found your depiction of a boy’s point of view particularly strong. So the luck part would be growing up in a neighborhood full of boys, and the skill part would be paying attention to all those boys so that you can now write them well.

 

You mentioned In Todd We Trust has more chapters from the tiny Toddlians’ point of view than the first book. Did you find it hard to write from the perspective of wee folk?
 
Louise: It definitely requires a lot of imagination to describe objects like apples, flies, and carpet (fiber forests) from an ant-sized character’s vantage point, but I’ve always loved the notion of tiny people or creatures existing among us, Borrower-style. When I was a kid, I was forever on the lookout for fairies and leprechauns, and was a huge fan of Sea-Monkeys, naming each and every one! So I was thrilled when my editor asked me to add more Toddlian chapters to the sequel.
 
Rosanne: I loved The Borrowers! The Wee Free Men is a family favorite. I’d love to pull together a wee folk display at the bookstore. 

 

We’d love to hear from you, especially if you were (are) a fan of fairies or leprechauns! What are your favorite books about wee folk? One “lucky” commenter will win a signed copy of In Todd We Trust.

The Original Earth Day

2Tomorrow (March 21) is the original Earth Day. So how did April end up becoming Earth Month? I asked an expert on the environment, middle-grade author Bonnie J. Doerr, to tell us the story. Along the way, she highlights great books about the environment, so you may want to pick up copies now for your April Earth Day celebrations. And don’t forget to add Bonnie’s titles, Island Sting and Stakeout, two eco-mysteries about endangered animals.

Island StingStakeout

Read Green. Bee green.

By Bonnie J. Doerr

The origin of Earth Day is both interesting and surprising. The man who inspired Earth Day’s first official day of recognition built a plastic production factory. Seriously—plastics. But John McConnell (March 22, 1915 – October 20, 2012), was also a man with vision. In 1939, his laboratory work aroused his interest in ecology and conservation. He recognized, to protect the earth, humans would need to find ways to use the waste products from manufacturing. McConnell ultimately inspired the United Nations to proclaim March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, as a day to honor the Earth.

One month after this day, a different day spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson (June 4, 1916 – July 3, 2005), was celebrated. The first Earth Day teach-ins were held on April 22, 1970. Programs were held at schools, universities, and in communities all across the United States. For his work, Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1990, Denis Hayes (August 29, 1944–), who helped Senator Nelson establish the Earth Day celebrations in the United States, was tasked with launching a worldwide movement. More than 190 countries now organize Earth Day events to encourage people to help protect the environment.

last childAlthough Earth Day celebrations have expanded around the world, some believe the need to make children aware of environmental problems is greater than ever. With our fast-growing cities and technology, there is a greater separation between children and nature than ever before—a separation Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods defines as “nature deficit disorder.” Louv argues that “this separation produces adults who don’t personally interact with nature, don’t understand the importance of our connection with it, and therefore are unlikely to care much about it.” It’s up to us as authors, parents, and educators to find ways to encourage that appreciation.

We can initiate this encouragement through books. One of the best things about reading is that it’s not weather dependent! The list of entertaining and/or meaty titles is endless, but let’s look at some I’ve found to be tasty appetizers, beginning with reference titles.

sharing natureEven if there’s no time to read the entire book, I highly recommend Last Child in the Woods. This enlightening adult title includes ways to reconnect to nature no matter your age or location. Skim through it and see if you agree.
Two classics by Joseph Cornell that parents and other educators find valuable are Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing Nature with Children II. These titles provide ideas on how to increase enjoyment and appreciation of nature in children and adults.

Green TeenTo suggest fun and creative ways for youth to live a more green life all year, try The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet by Jenn Savedge and Generation Green by Linda and Tosh Sivertsen.
I have a tendency to get wrapped up in shiny book covers. So before that happens to you, here are three terrific links to help you find environmentally focused books, both fiction, and nonfiction.Generation Green

If you’re not yet familiar with the Authors for Earth Day organization, now is the perfect time to get to know this amazing group. Everything you need to know about them can be found at their website.They have a recommended list of middle grade and teen fiction on the environment.

The Children and Nature Network suggests books for adults and children.
Each year, the Green Earth Book Awards are presented to books that best use the power of story to teach children about our natural environment and the responsibility we all have to protect it. (Just a note: Bonnie’s book Stakeout was Green Earth Book Award finalist in 2012.)
Milkweed GuidesIt would be a disservice if I did not mention a series of unique literary field guides published by Milkweed Editions. These books travel the United States by region combining social studies and literature through stories, poetry, and essays that tell what makes each area distinct.
Adventure novels with tweens and young teens as environmental heroes are good reads any time. A virtual experience with nature may initiate interest in a real outdoor encounter.
talking earthThe late Jean Craighead George remains a favorite author who provided such experiences. She said it well in her preface to My Side of the Mountain, “Be you writer or reader, it is very pleasant to run away in a book.” A lesser known of her titles about a Seminole girl’s solo journey into the Everglades is The Talking Earth. ALA Booklist says of it, “…the story’s message that the earth is precious and we are all part of it will be well taken.”
SkinkAny young reader novel by Carl Hiaasen is a winner, though his latest, Skink No Surrender, is one of my favorites, perhaps because he’s finally put the ex-governor of Florida— Clinton Tyree (Skink) who is a fierce environmentalist—in one of his children’s titles.

Sammy KeyesSammy Keyes and the Wild Things pits Wendelin Van Draanen’s wonderful Sammy against a poacher of the endangered California Condors. What could go wrong combining a group of lost kids, limited supplies, an injured condor, and a dangerous poacher?
operation redwoodReaders more interested in plants than animals will enjoy S. Terrell French’s Operation Redwood, “a funny, fast-paced adventure that shows the power of determined individuals, no matter their age, to change the world.”
For those who’d rather be eco-minded without tackling the outdoors (we all know at least one, right?), I recommend Lisa Greenwald’s My Life in Pink & Green. Twelve-year-old Lucy, a whiz with makeup, finds a way to save her family’s business and help the environment, too.My Life in Pink

Before I go, I would like to share with you part of a personal message I received from Jean Craighead George when she was 90 years young and still writing: “That you were teaching ecology to youngsters will make all the difference in how we handle this ‘sixth mass extinction’ since the Ordovician Period—which we are causing, not lava flows or meteors. Since we are the cause, we can solve it with the help of people like you raising the awareness of the next generation… Bonnie, may you sell millions of copies.”

Let’s all “sell” reading to children, and let’s work together to raise the ecological awareness of millions of children!

Thank you, Bonnie, for this history of Earth Day and all your wonderful book recommendations. We can head into Earth Month prepared with lots of great reads. Oh, and don’t forget to add Bonnie’s titles to the reading list. They feature thirteen-year-old Kenzie Ryan, who starts Keys Teens Care (KTC) to protect the environment. KTC also serves as her cover as she and her friends track down poachers of endangered animals.

Island Sting

“An exciting adventure, highly recommended.” ~ Midwest Book Review

“Stakeout is a riveting read for younger readers and nature lovers.” ~ Midwest Book Reviews

“Stakeout is a riveting read for younger readers and nature lovers.” ~ Midwest Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY

To help you celebrate Earth Day, we’re giving away an autographed copy of each book. To enter for the drawing, tweet or post a link on social media and post the link in the comments &/or leave a comment. One entry for each social media mention and comment.

**WINNERS will be announced on Friday, April 3, 2015.**

About Bonnie J. Doerr

A love of nature, travel, and working with children are the building blocks of Bonnie J. Doerr’s life. These passions inspire her books about teen guardians of the environment. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at her website and on Facebook.

About Laurie J. Edwards

A former teacher and children’s librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 magazine and educational articles as well as 20 books. Two recent titles include Cyber Self-Defense, which includes tips on combatting cyberbullying, and Grace & the Guiltless, the first in a YA series set in the Wild West. She is also an illustrator whose work appears in Stakeout and Island Sting, and in the picture book The Teeny Tiny Woman. Find out more about her and her books on her website, blog, and Facebook.