Category Archives: For Teachers

Putting It into Perspective: Multiple Points of View in MG

In a graduate writing program I did years ago, a highlight of each residency was the chance to pitch our manuscripts to attending agents. Once, I was nervously pitching my book to a Very Famous Agent. When I mentioned that it was written in three alternating viewpoints, Very Famous Agent interrupted and said, “Why’d you have to do that? Single perspective books are ALWAYS better, ALWAYS easier to sell!”

Umm, ouch…pitch session pretty much over! Afterwards I had a lot of doubt about my choice to show multiple viewpoints. But with the number of high-quality, successful multiple viewpoint MG novels available to readers—both then and now—I ultimately chalked up that pitch session to a lasting reminder that agents have individualized passions about books. Maybe a particular agent has sold more single viewpoint novels, but that certainly doesn’t mean singular POV is always better.

Like many elements of writing, the number of points of view you use to tell the story depends on the story you are trying to tell.

Certainly, writing a book in multiple viewpoints has some challenges you don’t experience with a single viewpoint:

  1. Each POV character must be made clear to the reader with every switch in perspective.
  2. Each POV character’s storyline must be memorable enough to the reader to “survive” the interruption of another viewpoint.
  3. Since your POV character is usually the one your reader gets to know most intimately through your careful character development, adding viewpoints tends to add characterization work for you.

From these challenges, it might seem like multiple viewpoint novels are harder on both the reader and the writer!

But there’s no denying that some stories just wouldn’t be as effective without multiple viewpoints. Sometimes you need to show an event that your main character doesn’t attend or info he/she wouldn’t know. Sometimes it’s important to show more than one side of the story, to demonstrate the importance of differences in opinion. Sometimes you might want your reader to be the only one who knows everything, giving him or her the chance to solve a mystery or identify a villain first—always a reader thrill.

Many excellent MG novels serve as examples of multiple viewpoints, and I hope you’ll offer your favorites in the comments. These titles each employ multiple viewpoints for different uses:

Sharon Creech’s The Wanderer. The narrative is divided between two first-person storytellers, Sophie and Cody. On first meeting Sophie, the reader finds her to be a vivacious, lighthearted dreamer, immediately likable in her innocence and intent to sail the Atlantic with family members. But when Cody picks up the story and shares his thoughts about Sophie’s behavior, the reader realizes that Sophie is a much more complex character than first assumed—that, in fact, she’s a girl not ready to face a past tragedy. Because Sophie cannot let her internal conflict rise to the surface of her own mind for most of the book, a second point of view character is used to give the reader the clues and information they need to see all true sides of Sophie, even before she’s ready to see them herself.

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s. This book is a great study in tense as well as point of view. The book opens in main character Willow’s first person point of view, in present tense; consequently, we are already close to this very likable character on the afternoon she learns her parents have been killed. The author then uses past tense first-person to relay Willow’s backstory in the following chapters, but returns to present tense at the moment in the narrative that has led back to the accident, signified by a chapter appropriately titled “Back in the Now.” The really interesting thing, though, is that each of the other point-of-view characters who “chime” in to help tell parts of the story do so in third-person, and consistently in past tense. So even though each additional voice is clearly characterized and has a need to insert his or her part of the narrative at the given time, the reader remains closest to Willow and her first person immediacy. Each of those secondary voices confesses at various points the extent to which they care about Willow, in a slow build of compounded concern that ultimately parallels our own.

Rebecca Stead’s First Light.  In this example of multiple viewpoints, two characters alternate the telling of two seemingly distinct stories – they are in separate physical locations and don’t know each other. Peter and Thea each have their own concerns and conflicts, each trying to solve a set of mysterious circumstances. When finally the two meet—and their narratives align—about 2/3 of the way through the book, it’s a fulfilling thrill for the reader. The story ratchets up in intensity as the two begin a changed journey together.

R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. I think a lot of the genius of Wonder stands on its use of point of view. If we as readers had heard from no one but Auggie throughout the entire story, it would have been a beautiful and well-crafted book. But with the inclusion of other viewpoints – his sister Via and her new friend Justin, Auggie’s schoolmates Summer and Jack,  Via’s friend Miranda—the story is helped along by those around Auggie, some of whom have known him his whole life, others who meet him only once he takes the brave leap to attend school at Beecher Prep. The first time I read Wonder, I was so taken with Auggie’s voice that when it switched to Via in Part 2 I had a moment of “What? Wait! Go back to Auggie!” But as R.J. Palacio indicates on her website, we need to see inside those other viewpoints to truly understand the extent to which Auggie has left an impact on each of those characters.

Ultimately it may take a little more brainwork to write and to read a novel in multiple viewpoints, but the end result can be deeply fulfilling. After all, being able to understand and to follow more than one viewpoint on a topic helps to prep our kids for this challenging world in which we live. Once young readers understand that each character in a book sees plot events differently, it’s a quick connection to understanding that each of us in real life sees issues from a personal frame of reference. And comprehending one another’s viewpoints can be the first step toward acceptance, empathy, and kindness.

My Summer Fun Reading List

Summer is finally here, and with it comes the memory of summer vacations long ago. One of my favorite things about summer was the local library’s Summer Reading Program. The rules were simple:  1. Read at least 1o books. 2. Record the titles on a chart. Do those things and at the end of summer you were rewarded with a picnic at the park, a dip in the community swimming pool, and a certificate signed by the governor. Which meant my weekly treks to the local library and the long days I spent sprawled in a lawn chair reading were totally justified. Just ask the governor.

All of this got me thinking about my own reading – and my current desire to spend my afternoons lounging in a lawn chair. Needless to say, this train of thought led to the creation of a new Summer Fun Reading List featuring the 10 middle grade books that will be keeping me company as I relax in my back yard this summer.

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson

“Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?”

THE SOMEDAY BIRDS by Sally J. Pla

“Charlie’s perfectly ordinary life has been unraveling ever since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly brothers, and a mysterious new family friend. He decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father were hoping to see someday along the way, then everything might just turn out okay.”

ME AND MARVIN GARDENS by Amy Sarig King

“Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his home, in the last wild patch left, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal–Marvin Gardens–becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.”

RULES FOR THIEVES by Alexandra Ott

“Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Some of these traits have served her well during her nine years in Azeland’s orphanage, and others have proved more troublesome…but now that she’s escaped to try her luck on the streets, she has bigger problems than extra chores to contend with. Surviving would be hard enough, but after a run-in with one of the city’s Protectors, she’s marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical—and seems well out of her reach.

Enter Beck, a boy with a gift for theft and a touch of magic, who seems almost too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be, too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the King of Thieves will assign to her. Join the Guild, collect her yearly reward and buy a cure. Plus, Alli hopes the Guild will be the home—the family—that Alli has always wanted. But when their trial goes wrong, innocent lives are put in danger, and Alli has to decide how much she can sacrifice in order to survive.”

HOLLY FARB AND THE PRINCESS OF THE GALAXY by Gareth Wronski

“Holly Farb is not the Princess of the Galaxy. She may be top of the class in every subject, but she can’t even win a school election, never mind rule the Milky Way. The aliens who kidnapped her have gotten it all wrong.

Unfortunately Holly’s alien pirate kidnappers believe that she’s the princess they’ve been looking for, and so she finds herself hurtling through space on an alien pirate ship together with her teacher, Mr. Mendez, and Chester, the most annoying boy in her class. Now all she has to do is escape the pirates, find the missing princess, and get back to Earth in time for her big test on Friday.

But it turns out that space is a pretty big place, and before they can go home, Holly, Chester, and Mr. Mendez must face down space cruise liners, bounty hunters, giant worms, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, and a robot who is learning how to lie.

Between running from space pirates, defying the President of the Universe, and meeting a host of rather unusual new friends, Holly starts to wonder if there might be more to life than being top of the class after all.”

AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Khan

“Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.”

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson

“It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.”

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Chen

“11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.”

A DASH OF DRAGON by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartoski

“For years Lailu has trained to be the best chef in the city. Her specialty? Monster cuisine. When her mentor agrees to open a new restaurant with Lailu as the head chef, she’s never been more excited. But her celebration is cut short when she discovers that her mentor borrowed money from Mr. Boss, a vicious loan shark. If they can’t pay him back, Lailu will not only lose her restaurant—she’ll have to cook for Mr. Boss for the rest of her life.

As Lailu scrambles to raise the money in time, she becomes trapped in a deadly conflict between the king’s cold-blooded assassin, the terrifying elf mafia, and Mr. Boss’ ruthless crew. Worst of all, her only hope in outsmarting Mr. Boss lies with the one person she hates—Greg, the most obnoxious boy in school and her rival in the restaurant business.

But like Lailu always says, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And she’s determined to succeed, no matter the cost!”

ROOTING FOR RAFAEL ROSALES by Kurtis Scaletta

“Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and—someday—play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret—the same secret—that forever changes how they see the world.”

What’s on your Summer Fun Reading List this year? Please share your summer must-reads in the comments below. I can’t promise a certificate signed by the governor, but I can give you permission to schedule a picnic in the park and a dip in the local pool. Happy summer reading.

Summer Series for the Adventuring Child

Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and temperatures are rising. Now I know that during the summer we just want to get those adorable little mess-makers out of the house and into the outdoors to explore nature and discover the world around them, but sometimes it just gets too dang hot. Parts of Arizona are going to be 120 degrees this week – and I’m headed there Wednesday for a family reunion! At the moment, northern California is hotter than southern California! (That never happened when I grew up there.)

So, after you’ve had them run around outside for the cooler hours of the morning here is a list of great series to keep their minds adventuring instead of melting crayons into the carpet. (True story, don’t ask.)

How to Train Your Dragon Series, by Cressida Cowell

The series that inspired the beloved movies, the Train Your Dragon series tells the story of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless and their adventures together. Great for those who love the movies and just can’t get enough of Toothless! Bonus points for having a very well-read audio book by none other than David Tennant!

The Heroes Guide Series, by Christopher Healy

A fun quirky series which doesn’t follow the leading ladies of the more popular fairy tales but the leading men, whom after being discredited by lazy bards are out to prove that they are more than just the “Prince Charming” of their stories. A great read with wonderful illustrations to help you know whom is who.

Enchanted Forest Series, by Patricia C. Wrede

So, we all know that when the dragon steals the princess the brave knight has to go rescue her. But what if the princess didn’t get stolen but instead ran away and is having a much better time hanging out with dragons than being a princess? This quirky series has it all.  Smart Princesses, silly knights, and cunning wizards. Forget rescuing the princess, someone should maybe help that poor knight out instead.

The School  for Good and Evil Series, by Soman Chainani

Not another magical school series! I know its summer break and no kid wants to think about school let alone read about one, but this series is worth it. Following the two lead females who seem to have accidentally been placed in the wrong school (see title) the series leads you to question, what makes one good or evil? And can appearances be deceiving?

The Unicorn Chronicles Series, by Bruce Coville

An oldie but goodie. Following a young protagonist who has been dumped into a magical land by her grandmother, Cara must find out how to make it back to her own world and learn what secrets this land may hold about her missing parents. Unicorns and Adventures! Need I say more?

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started and if your kids are anything like mine you’ll need every one of those books just to survive until July! Don’t forget that your local library is always a great place to check for more series and see if they may be hosting a summer reading contest. Nothing gets kids’ reading like the thought that they might win a gift card or something better!

What are some of your favorite adventure series? Share in the comments!

Happy Reading!

~Kimberley

P.S. And if your child likes contemporary stories with adventure and magical realism, you’re always welcome to check out my 4-book MG series set in the mysterious swamps of Louisiana. Gators and danger abound! The Healing Spell, Circle of Secrets, When the Butterflies Came, and The Time of the Fireflies.

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the award-winning author of ten Middle-Grade and Young Adult novels with Scholastic and Harpercollins. She’s been juggling book launch parties, research trips, drafting new proposals, eating too many cookies and wrangling a household that never sleeps . . . On location book trailers and Teacher’s Guides at Kimberley’s website: www.KimberleyGriffithsLittle.com. Friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimberleygriffithslittle