Browsing the archives for the Writing MG Books category.

  • OhMG! News


    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

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 ...

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  • Five Reasons to Keep a Writing Journal

    Writing MG Books

    This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?

    I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.

    When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”

    And it’s all an absolute mess.

    So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?

    I’ve got my reasons. . . .

    Writing Journal

    1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?

    2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.

    10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”

    3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.

    “Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”

    and . . .

    “Woman fends off bear with zucchini”

    4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.

    Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”

    5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.

    What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?

    So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.

    And, of course, happy writing!

    T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.


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    The case for outlining

    Authors, Writing MG Books

    I outwardly claim to be a “pantser,” writing by the seat of my pants, as I do so many other things in life. Inwardly, I yearn to be a planner in life and an outliner in writing, but my outline resistance has deep roots. And then, last spring, during a workshop on story structure, this simple comment changed my ways:

    “Planning a vacation doesn’t ruin a vacation … yet,” said Claudia Gabel, senior executive editor at Katherine Tegan Books during the SCBWI Western Washington conference in April 2014.

    Okay, it didn’t actually change my ways … yet. But the potential and inspiration are there. I still needed to hear from writer friends who work with outlines. Here’s what I’ve learned (bios of authors interviewed are at the end of this post):case of the library monster

    If you haven’t always been an outliner, what was it about a particular book/project that turned you around?

    Dori Hillestad Butler: Selling a project on a proposal and then having an editor need to see a chapter-by-chapter outline! I was a very reluctant outliner at that time. But now I actually like to outline. I think it saves me time overall. It helps me focus. And because I have an outline, I usually know what’s coming next…unless I get partway into a story and realize my outline is wrong. Sometimes that happens. When it does, I usually re-do the outline. Sometimes I wonder if my “outline” is some other writer’s idea of a “first draft.”

    vanished book coverSheela Chari: I was a pantser type for sure. But when I decided to try my hand at writing a children’s mystery novel, I discovered I really needed to have a plan. Not a foggy one where I had some notion of how it would all end, but something more detailed that could help me construct a satisfying mystery story, where chronology, timing, and the sequencing of information (i.e. clues) were all crucial. There was no way to do this without planning things out on paper.

    Christina Wilsdon: I have always been an outliner. I can remember writing reports about different states back in 5th grade and how putting all the information I gathered into the right categories felt so efficient and kind of like herding sheep into the right pens. Over the years, as projects got more complex, outlining helped not only to corral information but also revealed gaps I should fill and sometimes even fostered connections between categories.

    Stacey R. Campbell: I did not use an outline while writing my first book. That book took me four years to complete …  Then one morning, over coffee, I read an article of the value of creating an outline and decided I would give it a try with my second book Hush. I finished writing Hush in less then six months.

    Briefly, what is your process for creating an outline? Do you know the end, and build in between?

    girls research book coverJennifer Phillips: I used to do a traditional outline starting with the beginning and working sequentially but then I read some writing advice that got me experimenting with the ending first. For fiction, I think this is a very interesting technique and I’m going to try it more. For non-fiction, it depends on the nature of the work. But I’ve been outlining a biography on Horace Mann that I’m slowly tackling in between other projects and life. I started with a high-level outline of the overall chapter structure first, after I had done a bunch of initial research, and then I started outlining within each chapter, just a brief description of the beginning, middle and end to make sure I’m telling a narrative story within each chapter. I also add outline notes about sensory details I want to include when I outline a book or short story.

    Sheela: The outline never stays set in stone – it evolves along with the rest of my story. This way I have room to change, take the story in a new direction, but always have a game plan that I can refer back to when I get lost.

    Christina: Most of my completed works are nonfiction. For these outlines, I know I usually want to go from introductory broad-overview sorts of topics and end with a wrap-up that’s broad. And then I plan the in-between.

    How often do you refer to your outline?

    hushStacey: Daily when I’m writing and rewriting I refer to my outline. It helps keep me moving forward. It is a map of what is to come, what has happened, and what needs to be enhanced.

    Jennifer: I use my outline throughout a writing project. One reason is that it serves as my memory. I have to juggle a lot of family/work commitments and I can’t usually tackle a project in one continuous stream of writing. I also don’t feel constrained and imprisoned by it; I’ll revise the outline if a story is emerging differently than I expected. The one exception is when I’m doing a work-for-hire non-fiction book. The editorial team, in my experience, provides manuscript specs and requests an outline for initial approval before you start writing. If I want to change some significantly from the approved outline, that’s a conversation with the editor first.

    For Horse-Crazy Girls OnlyChristina: For a long nonfiction book, I actually copy and paste the outline into my document, and start writing in the outline sections. I go back later and re-title the outline’s items and move and delete as  necessary.

    How do you use your outline in writing a synopsis? 

    Jennifer: My outlines become the first draft of a synopsis. I make a copy and work right from that file.

    Stacey: As for the synopsis- so much easier with an outline!! It’s practically done for you

    Any tips for reluctant outliners?

    Jennifer: Just start with a high-level beginning, middle and end. Don’t get bogged down in the type of outline you may have used to write an English composition assignment. And if you’re a visual person, make it visual. Don’t torture yourself over trying to find a perfect format. Do whatever works for you!

    Thank you so much to these generous authors for their insights on outlining:
    Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of the Edgar-winning The Buddy Files mystery series and The Haunted Library (August 2014) chapter book series.
    Sheela Chari is the author of the Edgar-nominated middle grade mystery Vanished, the book that switched her from pantser to outliner.
    Stacey R. Campbell is the author of Hush; her debut middle grade Arrrgh! is coming in September 2014.
    Jennifer Phillips is the author of Girls Research: Amazing Tales of Female Scientists, for grades 4 through 6.
    Christina Wilsdon has written many nonfiction books, including the middle grade For Horse Crazy Girls Only.

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    Recipe for a mystery

    Teachers, Writing MG Books

    Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 8.53.53 PMEarlier this month I had a delightful classroom visit with third grade readers who were studying mysteries. I was about to go into a segment on the ingredients of a mystery when I realized these eight- and nine-year-old readers knew exactly what went into a satisfying mystery. Not only had they read a few mysteries as a class (including one of mine in the Hannah West series), they were prepared with questions about plot, setting, character motivation, red herrings, and tracking clues.

    case of the lost body from the buddy filesWe talked about how there’s an element of mystery in almost any story. Getting to what makes a novel a true mystery is a bit harder. “Every good book should be suspenseful and should have a question to be answered, but suspense and questions alone don’t make a mystery,” says Dori Hillestad Butler, author of the Edgar Award-winning Buddy Files mystery series. To be classified mystery, she continues, “… the main character needs to follow clues, confront red herrings, and use some basic reasoning skills to solve the mystery. A lot of books that are labeled ‘mystery’ are lacking that. The author just sort of moves the character from one place to the next … the mystery doesn’t flow organically from the character’s actions.”

    Not only is Dori an accomplished mystery writer, she also chaired this year’s selection committee for the Edgar Awards’ Best Juvenile Novel. That meant reading and evaluating about 70 middle grade mysteries. Not surprising, what she looks for in a good mystery is exactly what young readers have told me they want in a page-turning story.  They want to see a detective they can identify with who is deciphering clues and following leads; they want to be inside the detective’s head and get a feeling for how to analyze what people are saying, what is true — and what they might be hiding.

    When considering mysteries for the Edgars, Dori says, “I wanted to see a main character taking action, following leads, sifting through clues. I wanted to see red herrings. I wanted to see a main character considering the evidence, forming a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, and actively solving the mystery on his own rather than simply being led to the solution by the author.” Precisely what most of us desire in reading mysteries – and good reminders for those of us writing detective novels.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 8.41.07 PM

    Just a portion of a checklist from to help young readers who are exploring the mystery genre. Click on the image to go to the full PDF.

    Scholastic’s Ingredients for a Mystery lesson plan for third- to fifth-graders has been handy for me when talking to young readers. It’s also a useful reminder when drafting and revising to be sure that the recipe’s ingredients are all included, with the proper pacing, mixing, and timing added.

    This recipe may seem a bit simple when plotting a novel, but it still proves to keep me on my toes. Do I have the right number of suspects? Who are the witnesses, and what might they know that’s not immediately evident? How is the pacing and timing? Is 90 percent of the action taking place over two days, but the story takes much longer?

    If you’re looking for middle grades that include the essential ingredients of a mystery, be sure to keep an eye on the Edgars. Here’s a list of the past 10 years’ winners (and be sure to look at recent finalists, too):

    Edgar Award Winners for Best Juvenile Mystery 

    • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (2014)
    • The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo (2013)
    • Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (2012)
    • The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Hillestad Butler (2011)
    • Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn (2010)
    • The Postcard by Tony Abbott (2009)
    • The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh (2008)
    • Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements (2007)
    • The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith (2006)
    • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (2005)

    I’d love to hear recommendations for mysteries to add to my summer reading list!

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