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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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Being Small is Good: A Conversation with a Small Press

Industry News, Interviews, Writing MG Series
@ 2013 Familius, LLC.

@ 2013 Familius, LLC.

We talk a lot about middle-grade books here at From the Mixed-Up Files. But most of the books we highlight come from the big, national publishers in New York City. I’ve been curious to learn more about smaller publishing houses.

Luckily for me, I ran into a good friend of mine, Carol Lynch Williams, a well-known MG and YA author.  Co-writing with her friend Cheri Pray Earl, they’ve published their lower middle-grade Just In Time series with a new and very small publisher, Familius. Today I talk with them, their illustrator, the company’s design director, and the company’s CEO to learn the process of publishing a book with a small press.

The cast for today’s interview (click on the links below for a more detailed bio of each of our players):

Carol Lynch Williams, co-author of the Just in Time Series
Cheri Pray Earl, co-author of the Just in Time Series
Manelle Oliphant, illustrator of the Just in Time Series
David Miles, Director of Digital Development and Design at Familius
Christopher Robbins, Founder and CEO of Familius
MUF (the Mixed-Up Files interviewer, aka me)

MUF: Welcome to all of you! First, let’s start at the beginning of this process. Carol and Cheri, how did you decide to write this series of books together?

Carol Lynch Williams

Carol Lynch Williams

Cheri: I asked Carol to write the series with me because (a) we are hilarious when we are together. We sort of feed off each other . . . or something. It’s magic; (b) neither one of us writes lower middle-grade novels—we write YA and adult mostly—but somehow we can achieve a younger perspective when we write together (The Dumbening Effect?); and (c) when the idea for the series first jumped into my head, it came as a story told by both main characters, George and Gracie. I love the variety of personality and the texture that format gives to our writing and to our stories.

Carol: Cheri called me one day, told me her idea of twins traveling in time and started to ask if I might want to write with her. The words weren’t even out of her mouth when I said, “Yes!” Her idea was fun and intriguing. While I have written plenty of middle grade novels, and several young adult, too, together Cheri and I can write for a younger reader. It was scary when we started. But it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve researched like crazy. Gone back and forth like crazy. Worked crazy hours to get the best books we can.

MUF: How did you find Familius, and what was the submission process like with a small press?

Carol: Cheri and I had the first two books written when we went to visit Christopher Robbins. We’d actually sold them to another small press. But things hadn’t worked out there. I’d met Christopher before, was actually working on a nonfiction book with him (a book I wrote with my second daughter entitled SISTER, SISTER). I kept thinking Cheri and I should see what he thought of the Just in Time series. I knew Christopher wanted to start publishing young adult books. I was tentative about approaching Cheri. We were headed to another small publishing house. And a brand new house, at that.

Cheri: Well, our good friend, Rick Walton, put us in touch with Christopher Robbins and we pitched our idea for the series to him. We drove out to his beautiful home in Huntsville, Utah where he introduced us to his family and made us lunch. He liked the idea of Just In Time, and after some follow-up discussions about our target audience and marketing and such, we started working together on the series. I’d say maybe six weeks went by before he said yes to us. That doesn’t happen in big publishing houses, I can tell you. Your agent does all the pitching and the publisher doesn’t make you lunch at his/her house. It could take months and months before you get an acceptance or a rejection, or it could happen on the spot. That happens too. The same with small presses, but in my experience they tend to be even slower at responding than big houses. Fewer hands to manage submissions?

MUF: Since there are two of you writing the series together, how do you decide on a story for each book? Is it harder to pick an idea with two heads in the pot, or do you find The One comes just as easily as it does when writing your own books?

Cheri Earl Pray

Cheri Earl Pray

Cheri: Carol and I begin a new book in the Just In Time series by digging around in whichever state we’re writing about to find interesting people or events in that state’s history. We look for lesser-known historical events, at least lesser known for most people. We talk back and forth for a week or so about the cool stories we’re discovering and then decide which we like best. We’ve never had problems deciding on The One; not sure why. I think maybe we have the same taste in suspense. For instance, Book Four (coming out in Fall 2014) is about an event that happened off the Georgia coast in early 1942, right after the United States entered WWII; Georgia is our state for Book Four. Most kids don’t know that WWII was fought in part on US shores; in fact, most adults don’t know that either.

Carol: And Cheri and I wanted to write about facts that kids might not know about. Sure, lots of children in Pennsylvania know about the chocolate factory there in Hershey. But few kids in other states know what a kind and good man Milton Hershey was. We seek out stories we know little about. That spark our interests.

MUF: So, what happens at Familus after you finish writing a book in the series?

Cheri: Carol and I draft a book, revise and edit it to get it as clean as we can—for content as well as micro stuff—before we email it to Maggie Wickes, the executive editor at Familius. She emails the manuscript to our editor for the series, Amy Stewart, who then reads the book and gives us input on the story (macro stuff). We revise and email it back to her. We do this back and forth until Amy thinks the book is ready for micro editing, which she also does. Then she emails the manuscript to Maggie. David designs the book and emails the galleys to Amy, Carol, and me before the book goes to press, then he inputs the edits we suggest.

For our first three books, all of this back and forth was done via email. But starting with Book Four, Maggie will send us (me, Carol, and Amy) hardcopies to look at just before and just after the book is designed. The beauty of working with a new and small press is that if a process, for instance the editing process, needs some tweaking we get to say, “This needs tweaking,” and our publisher listens to us. We negotiate the new process until everyone is happy. That’s why we now work on hardcopy pages instead of electronic pages midway through the editing process; it was a negotiation. Very cool.

Carol: This IS one of the cool things about being at a smaller house. We work closely in all parts of the process. Again, that’s different in the national world of publishing.

MUF: And that’s a great segue into the art and design aspect of creating a book. David, as Cheri mentioned, you are in charge of the book designs for the Just in Time series. How does the design process work with a small press?

David Miles

David Miles

David: As we’ve talked with librarians and sales reps, we continue to find that design is a critical—and sometimes tricky—part of the success of a series. On one hand, you want the books’ look to be fresh and original. On the other hand, I hear from librarians that they’re expecting a certain “look,” a result of years of successful children’s series that have inadvertently set the conditioned standard for children’s packaging. And therein lies the challenge: make something different, that isn’t. We’ve worked to create a series look that we feel incorporates our favorite elements of some of the most celebrated children’s series packages, while still offering our own flavor. It took a few goes to find what we wanted, but we’re excited with the result. That new look will be rolling out later this year.

The art department of a small publisher is, well, small. For the Just in Time series, I’m acting as both the art director and the book designer. This presents some definite challenges, but it does have some pros to it as well. Between just Manelle and myself, we complete every detail of the cover illustration, the cover design, the series logo, the layout, the interior illustrations, the back-cover marketing copy, the visual extras in the front matter—all down to the last semicolon. It’s a lot of work for just two people, but it also means that we have a cohesive, solid package that’s consistent throughout. And it means that we work more as a team. I work to guide Manelle in the development of her illustrations, but Manelle is also welcome to offer critique and suggestions for the development of the front cover or book design. The emails fly back and forth and the result, I think, is a much stronger package. Roles do emerge more strongly when final decisions need to be made, but for the most part, it’s a team effort.

MUF: Manelle, as the illustrator, when were you brought in on this project?

Manelle: I was chosen as the illustrator when Carol and Cheri had the manuscript at a different publisher. It was a project I was really excited about so when they decided to move to a new publisher I was disappointed. I found Carol at a writers and illustrators conference and told her I really wanted to illustrate the books and to suggest me when she found a new publisher. I sent her the sketches I had been working on and later when they found Familius they recommended me. I was lucky that Christopher and David thought I would be good a illustrator for the project too.

MUF: What is your process for creating illustrations for this series?

Manelle Oliphant

Manelle Oliphant

Manelle: I usually don’t see the manuscript until one of the final drafts. I know I can start sketching and the story isn’t going to change. It makes for less work that way.

As I read it, I underline things that are important for the illustrations, scenes, descriptions etc. Then at the end of each chapter I write down a few ideas of what in the chapter will make a good illustration. After that I start researching. It’s important to get the historical details right and I usually need a good amount of photo reference. I usually use the internet for this and I pin any relevant image on a Pinterest board. By the time I’m finished with the book I have around two hundred images pinned on my board. The images can be anything from pictures of the historical character in the book, to costumes, to a picture of what corn looks like. I also ask the authors any questions I have about the story or the time it takes place.

After that I start sketching. Before I can do the images I have to makes sure I know what any new characters look like. I sketch up quite a few character sketches before I can start drawing the images that actually go into the book. I have to make sure the new characters will look the same every time I draw them, as well as fit the style of the reoccurring characters like George and Gracie. After that I start on the sketches that will become the finished illustration.

When the sketches are done I send them to David. We talk about any changes that need to be made and make sure everything is reading clearly. Once we make changes if any I can then finish the illustrations.

MUF: Let’s talk a little bit about the business side of a small press. Christopher, as founder and CEO of Familius, you can see the company’s big picture. Is the process of editing and publishing a book the same with your press as with the larger publishers?

Christopher Robbins

Christopher Robbins

Christopher:  The process of editing and publishing a title is basically the same between national publisher and small press. Both have an intention to publish nationally, even globally. However, the large publishers sometimes have more influence due to economies of scale and size to influence buyers. Editorial still requires careful editing, but large houses traditionally have editors who have had decades of experience while small presses are either start ups or houses that depend on quick learning and intelligent editors with less overall experience. However that is not always true as I know many small independent presses who have editors with 40 or more years of experience.

MUF: Cheri and Carol, what do you see is the biggest difference between publishing with a small press and one of the Bix Five?

Cheri: You’ll be, as my agent, Steve Fraser, says “A big fish in a small pond” with some small presses. You may get more attention, more marketing dollars, more access to your publisher, depending on the press.

Carol: Cheri and I know the owner of the company. He’s our friend. He’s invested in this series. When we met with him in his office that first time, he wanted to know what Familus could do for us, as writers. In all my years of publishing, I’ve never had the big boss say much more than, “Love your book.”

MUF: Speaking of the business side of things, marketing and distribution make up a huge part of publishing. How does Familius, and other small presses, compete with the larger publishers, Christopher?

Christopher: All publishers regardless of size have the same access to the traditional bookstore market, either online or brick and mortar. For titles with established authors or platforms, both types of publishers have opportunity to influence in store marketing. Where national publishers have an edge is that they have larger marketing budgets. This does not always result in success however. I have published multiple best-selling authors who then left for much larger houses for large advance royalties who were extremely disappointed in the sales results with the national publisher. Smaller publishers often have a competitive advantage in that they are more hands on and able to reach niche markets. The internet and democratization of publishing has leveled the playing field and independent presses and self-published authors are dramatically influencing the industry with bestselling titles, marketing creativity, and industry innovation far more than the national houses.

MUF: It sounds like, because your company is so small, that many of you do the job of several people, particularly when it comes to the marketing side of this business. Do you find this to be true, David? You did more than just the book design, is that right?

David: Because Familius is still launching out of the gate, your hats don’t end there. I’ve also been heavily involved in the marketing strategy for the Just in Time books, doing everything from designing bookmarks to creating a website to planning virtual author visits and book orders. Again, there are challenges, but the pros are rewarding. I love seeing a book progress from start to finish. I see the earliest, roughest manuscript filled with notes from Cheri and Carol to each other (and believe me, those are hi-la-ri-ous), the illustration sketches, the marketing copy, the layouts, the advanced galleys, the finished book, the book signings, the school visits, the notes from kids that love them—even a photo of one girl that dressed up like a horse to deliver a book report on the first book in the series (whose courage I applaud—I was Augustus Gloop in 3rd grade). It means you get a bird’s eye view of the full series progressing while simultaneously wringing your hands over the details. And that’s honestly fun!

MUF: Thanks to all of you for sharing your journey with us. It’s been illuminating to see how small presses, and yours in particular, are making a difference in today’s publishing world. We wish all of you the best of luck with this and the rest of your projects.

Readers, check out Carol and Cheri’s newest book in the Just in Time Series, THE WIZARD OF MENLO PARK, out May 20, 2014.  Also check out the other published titles in the series, THE RESCUE BEGINS IN DELAWARE, and SWEET SECRETS IN PENNSYLVANIA.  And be sure to visit Familius on the web at

And as an added bonus, Familius is offering the first two books in the Just in Time series to one lucky winner. Please leave a comment below to be entered. The winner will be announced Sunday, April 6, 2014.


Elissa Cruz likes to talk to her writing and illustrating friends about today’s kidlit publishing world. In addition to working here on this blog, she is also the founder of #MGlitchat and ARA for SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Josh Getzler of HSG Agency.


Why It’s Okay to Judge

Industry News, Inspiration, Librarians, Writing MG Books


With the ALA Youth Media award announcements just a little under a week away, I can’t help reflect over my own experiences this past year as a part of the Asian-Pacific American Library Association (APALA) Children’s Literary Awards committee, as well as an adjudicator for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Now while I can’t share the exact details, I’d like to talk about what these activities meant for me as a writer. I’m also hoping that for those of you who might find yourself in the position of being on such a committee, to take the plunge! Not only will you learn so much, but you will be a better writer for it. Here are some of the simple but significant reasons I discovered for myself this year.


I’m one of those writers that finds it hard to make time for reading. But I finally decided to do something about it. When I joined APALA, I saw an opportunity to join the 2014 Children’s Literature Awards committee, and I pounced on it. This meant I had read anywhere from 15-20 middle-grade novels with Asian/Pacific-American themes, published in 2013. Not just read, but discuss them with the rest of the committee, to select the award-winning title that held the highest literary merit in depicting the Asian/Pacific-American experience.

Reading that many books in a short time really forced me to get to the end of a book, no matter what. The more often I did it, the easier it became. It was in short, a mental exercise for my brain.

As an adjudicator for the Scholastic Awards, I had to read through much shorter pieces (1000-3000 words) – but several over one weekend. That helped to build my reading muscle in a different way – and teach me to recognize patterns of writing from work to work. In fact, reading several works that share an element in common (i.e. the Asian-Pacific-American experience, or works all written by teenagers) taught me to spot similar motifs as well as unique ones. Which brings me to the next section.


There is nothing like reading a high volume of material to train you to recognize story ideas that are repeated – the best friend sidekick, the insatiable zombie, the nagging parent. And when you see these ideas repeated in different ways, you learn to recognize them in your own work – and avoid them.

On the flip side, you will come across some a startlingly beautiful piece of writing – a premise you might have never quite seen before, and as you keep reading, the best discovery of all – you are surprised. Not only that, you are happy you are surprised, and suddenly you keep reading with your breath held because it’s the same feeling you have if think you’ve discovered something no one else does, that you’ve been let in on some delicious secret. I think we have all experienced this feeling when we read that special book that moves us outside our own experiences, and stays with us even after we close the covers. As an evaluator, this discovery feels especially sweet.


When you come across that rare piece of beautiful writing, when you find yourself not just surprised and happy, but moved, it’s the greatest feeling in the world –like falling in love. It’s a kind of love that’s loyal and fierce, and that prepares you to champion this piece to the end so it receives the recognition it deserves.

This type of love – I don’t know if it serves any writerly purpose from a craft perspective. But it’s a love that fills us in other ways, when we love something beautiful and true and authentic, and suddenly the whole purpose of writing becomes brighter for us. At least it did for me. Reading something that sweeps you off your feet is the greatest affirmation that you are doing exactly the kind of vocation you should be doing.


At the end of the day, the best part of reading such a wide and varied range of writing – funny or dark, historical or contemporary, high stakes or quiet tension, plot or character – is that you discover or confirm the kind of writing you want to write. You might see yourself aligned with a new group of writers, or you might be nodding quietly to yourself: yes, I really am a fantasy writer after all.

Most of all, reading many titles at a time is a fantastic way to take yourself out of your own writing, and your own comfort zone. The best part is that you don’t even have to be an evaluator to do this, you just have to be a reader. What gives me satisfaction at the end of my experiences is knowing that not only have I grown as a reader and writer, but that my contribution has been a part of a writer’s recognition, and that I am person along the way to light the journey for them.

Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED, which was awarded the 2012 Children’s Literature Honor Award by APALA. She served on the APALA’s Children’s Literary Awards committee for 2013. Stay tuned for the announcements of this year’s winners at the end of this month, following the ALA awards announcements. Medal winners for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards will be notified in March, followed by an awards ceremony in June.


Take the Polar Plunge! (into reading and writing)

Authors, Industry News, Inspiration, Librarians, Teachers, Trends, Writing MG Books, Writing MG Series

ice-caps-267298   Happy 2014! It’s that time of year.

Who’s up for a Polar Plunge? You know, the thing where crazy — I mean awesome people decide to jump into the  frigid ocean or lake on in the month of January to… to… well, invigorate themselves and start the new year off right!  Come on, who’s with me?

(Uh, I don’t know about you, but  that looks a little icy and… cold. REALLY cold)

Don’t  worry. I’m not talking about THAT kind of Polar Plunge. The one I’m referring to is more metaphorical. You can do it at home… in your comfy, cozy pajamas if you wish.  I say, let’s take the Polar Plunge into reading and writing!!

What does that mean? Well, people who actually do the Polar Plunge say they it gets their juices flowing, you know so they warm up.  That’s what we want to happen with THIS type of Polar Plunge. We want to get our CREATIVE juices flowing so our brains will warm up and be focused!!

So where do we start?

First of all, since this is January, think about any goals you might have for yourself. They don’t have to be big ones, but anything that pertains to reading and writing.


Do you want to read more books this year? Be specific. How many? What kind? Maybe you want to try different genres or expand into different authors or series.  If you feel the need to keep motivated to meet your goal, join a group that supports readers.  Here are a couple:  They have a 2014 Reading Challenge. Simply enter the of  number  books you plan to read this year. You can track what you read, take a look at what others are reading and see recommendations on new and exciting books.   Has a reading resolution that you can fill out. Get your kids to do it, too!

TBR Reading Pile Challenge   This blog has a “To Be Read” challenge that helps you keep track of what you’re reading, motivates you to post reviews and communicate with others. It even offers some giveaways!

Reading Olympics  Many schools, library systems and towns are having this contest. It is a way to get kids (and adults) excited about reading.  Simply do a web search on “Reading Olympics” and see if something comes up in your area. If not, start your own! (Good Reads has recommendations for Reading Olympic books here.)

There are TONS of blogs that cover the idea of “Reading Goals for 2014″. Simply do a search and see what you can find. If the blog looks interesting, follow it.  Or maybe start your own blog about cool books.  (We did!)



Have you always wanted to write a book? Well, 2014 is your year to do it!  If you’re nervous about it or don’t have any idea where to start, don’t worry. There are a phenomenal number  of ways to find information — and more importantly — support. The children’s writer community is a very welcome and open group and we all LOVE to help each other.  There are soooo many great websites and blogs out there about writing for kids — too many to mention in just one post. So I’ll focus on some motivational challenges that are going on right now to get you started:

KIDLIT411     A brand new blog that has  SO MUCH information on it, it’s hard to put it into words.

Start the Year Off Write!   This is great for the new writer who has no idea how to get started. The blog gives 21 fast and easy writing prompts to get you started. Perfect for a new writer who needs direction (and inspiration). The challenge started on Jan 5th, but you can still sign up and, if you go back and do all the exercises and post, then you could be eligible for some awesome giveaways.

Revi Mo  The sign-up for this Revision Month blog is closed, but anyone can access the awesome posts. Check them out for great revision ideas.

12 x 12 in 2014  If you’re ready to dive into writing, check out this fantastic challenge. You are challenged to write 12 Picture Books in 12 months. Wow! Plus, when join, you get access to tons of writing advice, connect with other writers, all of which will inspire you to keep going. Registration is open until the end of February. Even if you don’t register, there’s some wonderful information on Julie Hedlund’s blog.

Mini-WOW Non-fiction Pic   Is nonfiction your thing? Check out Kristen Fulton’s nonfiction picture book challenge in February 2014.

Chapter Book Challenge    Want to write chapter books? Sign up for this challenge in March of 2014.

Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo blog   And don’t forget this awesome event! Tara runs a Picture Book Idea Month challenge in November of every year. While it’s not going on now, this is a fantastic blog with tons of information!


These are just a few of the MANY places you can find writing inspiration. I know there are TONS more out there.

But hopefully, this list will give you the motivation to dip your toe in… Or maybe to just take a deep breath and jump! Come on in, the water’s fine. :)



What are your goals for reading and writing in 2014? Post them below. Also, if you know of any more reading or writing blogs that offer terrific advice and provide great camaraderie, feel free to add them, too.


Jennifer Swanson is the author of more than 16 books for children. When not writing, you can find her with a book in her hand. Her goal is to read 30 or more books in 2014!






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