Browsing the archives for the dystopia tag.

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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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4 Lessons from a Brave New World


Dystopian novels are a guilty pleasure. For a few hundred pages, readers can lose themselves in a bleak landscape where humans have gone virtually extinct, or where a vindictive government regularly tosses children into a gladiatorial arena, or where most folks remain oblivious to the environmental wasteland just outside their protective city-sheltering domes–or why not all three at once? As horrific as these worlds would be to live in, they are fun for readers to explore for a while before returning to a reality that won’t become genuinely dystopian for at least a couple more election cycles.

I recently spent some time with one of the great-granddaddies of modern dystopian novels, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Actually, considering that book was first published eighty years ago, it literally might have been your great-granddaddy’s dystopian novel.

Huxley was playing against the long-established tradition of utopian novels, based in worlds so idealized and theoretical that not even an English professor could find fault in them. (As an aside, I once thought my professor had an inappropriate crush on The Republic, but it turned out to be platonic. Ha!)

Brave New World wasn’t the first novel to show the dark side of a utopia, but it was an early example and has influenced decades of dark futures that have come along ever since. For that reason alone, it’s worth reading and studying.  The more we learn about our past dark futures, the better we will be able to understand our present dark futures and prepare for our future dark futures.

Lesson 1: Coming of Age Is Even Harder in a Dystopia

A typical coming of age story involves a character who learns valuable lessons, changes and evolves, tests social boundaries, experiences inner growth, and finally finds his or her own special place in the world.  In a dystopian coming of age story, there’s an added difficulty. How do you find a special place in a world that’s completely dysfunctional? Would you even want to?

To answer this challenge, authors have come up with a number of alternatives. One popular approach is for the main character to develop so much integrity and inner fortitude that it’s the rest of the world that ends up changing, evolving, and coming of age to accommodate them. The characters are brave, the world is new, so why wouldn’t this “brave new world” outcome appear in a book calling itself Brave New World? I spent the entire book wondering how Huxley would pull off the inevitable downfall and transformation of his dystopia. I kept wondering up until the very last page when–if a book from 1932 gets a spoiler warning, consider yourself warned–our coming of age character kills himself, and the horrific future world of 26th Century London continues unchanged. Unless that part is handled in the sequel, in which case don’t spoil it for me!

Which leads us to…

Lesson 2: Dystopia and Other Genre Tropes Evolve Over Time

This is probably obvious to everyone else, but I lost sight of it for a while. Most dystopian fiction I’ve read lately has been new and modern, so going back toward the root of the tree really helped me to get a better appreciation for the branches and leaves. While reading Brave New World, I was reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 and other books that bridge the gap and form the trend lines between then and now.

I’d studied 1984 in high school and college, like everyone else in the world, but not in the context of genre. Probably because the professors thought it would seem more impressive and literary if we thought the book descended from the clouds directly into Orwell’s brain. It would have been so much more interesting to see how much 1949′s 1984 was inspired by 1932′s Brave New World, which was itself inspired by something else I’ll have to read someday (We by Yevgeny Zamyatin from 1921, if you’re keeping score at home).

Brave New World is a 1930s dystopia that ends with a character escaping into death. 1984 is a 1940s dystopia that ends with the main character staying alive but surrendering his soul to Big Brother, at least for the time being. A 1950s dystopia, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, ends with the character finding a hopeful solution to someday fight back against his society. Finally the “brave new transformative world” ending becomes common in the 1960s, as in the Tripods trilogy by John Christopher and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Then came decades of further refinement, and the rest is all those branches and leaves I was talking about.

Lesson 3: Dystopias Are Meant for the Ages They Are Written In

Aside from the ending, it was jarring that this proto-dystopia didn’t include some familiar modern anxieties. The 26th Century world of Brave New World suffered no environmental problems, climate change, religious conflict, nuclear war, mutated supergerms, zombies, killer robots, or technological singularities. Instead, Brave New World reflects the anxieties of the early 1930s: the rise of fascism, the spread of mass production, social conditioning, and the eugenics practiced before the discovery of DNA.

One world war later, we have 1984 with its all-powerful combination of propaganda and perpetual global conflict (“We were always at war with Oceania… We were never at war with Eurasia…”). Oh, and television! There hadn’t been any TVs in Huxley’s 1932 book because there hadn’t been any TVs in 1932, but Orwell sure put them to good use. During the Cold War came dystopias set in radioactive post-nuclear hellscapes, and zombies to represent communism. (Including some where survivors gather in a shopping mall that represents capitalism. What, you thought it was just about monsters?)

To have a successful dystopia, you need to tap into the worries of the day, preferably fresh ones that haven’t been tackled before. Recently, Suzanne Collins successfully combined the Patriot Act with reality TV to create The Hunger Games. Looking ahead, there have to be some even fresher fears on the horizon.

And finally…

Lesson 4: Dystopias Can Adjust to Technological Changes

There’s a device described in Brave New World that functions something like a cell phone, except that it’s ridiculously clunky and only journalists seem to use them. The battery is worn on a belt holster, the transmitter is located in an aluminum stovepipe hat, and a microphone pops out of the hat and dangles in front of the user’s face when in use. It sounds exactly like the car phones we had back in the 1980s! Unfortunately, this is for a story set in 2540.

A common problem in science fiction is that technology outpaces speculation. Captain Kirk’s communicator that seemed so far-futuristic in 1967 is like a toy compared to my early-2012-and-already-obsolete smartphone. Three-year-olds are walking around today with beeping, flashing devices that sing songs and play videos. Captain Kirk would have been amazed!

But having a dystopia can actually solve this problem. In Brave New World, science is controlled by the government. Technological innovation and labor-saving devices are withheld, unless they serve to increase the stability of society. R&D is channeled into better human cloning, subconscious conditioning, better drugs, and distracting sports. In a world such as this, we can assume that smartphones have been considered and rejected in favor of stovepipe hats with dangly bits.  Because the technology is chosen by the society to fit the society, the book holds up internally and remains fairly immune to tech changes even after eighty years. My 2007 book with the click-wheel iPod, on the other hand, not so much.

Those are my lessons from this book. Now go forth and create some brave new worlds of your own!

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the “Galaxy Games” series of midgrade sports and sci-fi from Tu Books at Lee & Low Books. Visit him at