Tag Archives: fiction

Start with a Bang–Or Not: Story Openings

     “Begin with a bang!” Is the advice I’ve heard as a writer over and over from the very beginning.
     “Kids attention spans are short.”
    “Grab them from the very first line and don’t let them go!”
     It seems like sound advice. Certainly there are clear advantages to beginning a book with a scene of physical action, high suspense or emotional intensity. It establishes what’s at stake at once and sets up an expectation for a fast paced, high energy plot. It can create an element of mystery or suspense. It can highlight a distinctive voice

 

     A splashy opening is lots of fun to write and who doesn’t love a gripper of an opening line? And yet in my own writing I’ve come across a few limitations to the big bang beginning. For example, If the reader doesn’t identify with the MC right off the bat, the stakes you create won’t matter to your reader. Also there is a danger that the reader
 may not know who the MC is and feel sympathy for and loyalty to a character you don’t intend them to. A power house opening can feel manipulative & jarring at best and over-wrought & silly at worst. And sometimes a very intense first scene sets an expectation that’s nearly impossible to top.

     So what’s a writer to do? I have always been drawn to a high action beginning, but more and more often I’ve found myself editing out my zippy opening paragraphs or moving them a page or two into the story.
As I often do in a quandary I turn to the books of authors I admire, to stories I’ve found moving. In a quick search on novel beginnings. I chose 12 books, 10 of which were published in the last 15 years. They were all award winners and strong sellers. To my complete shock only one of the 12 had an action opening. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry begins with the main character and her friend racing home from school only to be stopped and questioned by a Nazi soldier. Two others had action scenes that started within the first 3 pages, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Heart of a Samurai by Margie Preus. And in the case of Speak the it’s a scene of great emotional intensity rather than one of action in the classic sense.
But by far my sample of best selling and award winning books did not begin with action. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie begins with an explanation of encephalitis, and its repercussions in the life of the narrator Junior. The first scene that has anything resembling action is actually a moment of incredible emotional power in which Junior’s father shoots Junior’s dog because they can’t afford to take him to the vet. The scene occurs on page 9. Holes by Louis Sachar maybe the most popular MG novel ever to win the Newberry, but it does not begin with action either. Stanley doesn’t start digging a hole until page 26.
So what are those authors doing in those precious first pages?

In every book I looked at they were introducing me to a character so unique and compelling that I cared about what happened when the high stakes action finally came into play. They opened not with a bang but with a voice–a choice well worth emulating.
So here’s my reading challenge for the week. Pick up 5 of the books you’ve read in the last year that you admired the most. Go look at the opening scene and analyze what you see there? You might be surprised. I’d love to hear about your favorite opening scenes in comments below.

 

Interview with Author Mike Lowery — and a Giveway of a set of Doodle Adventure Books!

I’m so excited to welcome the awesome Mike Lowery to the MUF blog today!

He is celebrating the release of his new book:

The Rise of the Rusty Robo-Cat! by Workman Publishing.

A little bit about the book: Carl the Duck is back and needs help on the very important mission of discovering why the cats around town are acting like jerks. Can you track them down and break the spell they are under? (And maybe draw a space vampire along the way?)    Each page combines hand-lettered text, delightful illustrations, plus prompts and plenty of space for the reader’s own contributions. The book is sturdy paper over board with high-quality cream paper that’s a pleasure to draw on. Kids will love using their imaginations to complete the story, then reading it over and over again.

“Perfect for a summer birthday gift, a travel distraction, or for gathering out on the porch and enjoying a warm evening together.” — Geek Dad

Thanks for joining us today, Mike! Here are a few questions for you

Why do you write graphic novels/illustrated stories for middle grade readers?

I really got into comics and reading when I was around 9.  Later, when I was given the chance to pitch my own ideas for books, I tried to make something that 9-14 year old me would’ve loved.  Also, I like making jokes about pizza and pirates and slugs and silly stuff.

What comes first—the art idea or the book idea? 

All of my projects are usually based on something that I came up with in my sketchbook, so I guess I’d say art idea comes first.

You seem to love random facts—why is that? Why do you think these appeal to kids? 

We used to take a LOT of road trips when I was a kid.  My dad would get audio books on tape, and we’d listen to lots of stand up comedy…and sometimes we would listen to non-fiction interesting facts books.    You could say I started collecting weird facts at a very young age, and never really stopped.  So, it made sense years later to start drawing some of the stuff that I found particularly interesting.

How long does it take you to do the illustrations for a book?

It really depends on the book.  For some stuff it might be just a few months, but the random facts book that I’m working on has taken almost two years!

Where do you come up with your wacky and fun characters? 

Every morning,  before I start drawing for projects that I’m working on, I spend some time just making doodles and sketches in my sketchbook.  Sometimes these doodles turn into funny looking characters and I develop them to have personalities that might be funny in a book.

Why did you decide to invite kids to write in your book?

Again, I wanted something that I would’ve liked as a kid.  I loved drawing, but I didn’t always know what to draw.  I wanted a book for kids that needed a little push to help with drawing, and I’ve gotten to see some really crazy and awesome ideas from the folks who have been filling out the books.

Do you have a  favorite of all of your books?

That’s tough.  I’ll say I’ve had a lot of fun drawing the Doodle Adventures series because I get to draw a grumpy duck named Carl.

Can you give us a hint about the next book you are working on?

Yes!  But just a little hint.  One book is a collection of drawings of random facts, one is about an evil character (who turns out to be not-so-evil).

That sounds really cool! Thanks for being with us today, Mike.

If you want to learn more, please check out this information :

Mike Lowery is the creator of the Doodle Adventures series and The Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar. He lives with his wife and daughter in Atlanta, GA. Mike shares daily sketches on Instagram @mikelowerystudio. Find out more about him and his work at www.mikelowery.com.

Workman Publishing is offering a FREE SET of Doodle Adventure Series books!

Just leave a comment below to be entered.

May 2017: New Releases

April showers bring May blossoms, barbecues, & books! This is a great time to start compiling that summer middle grade reading list. You can read one on your porch, sunning by the pool, or even in the car – Well, as long as you’re not the one driving. And what better way to read a book then together? Take a peek at some of these new tales just waiting for you to welcome them along your summer journey.

Mia Measures UpMia Measures UP by Coco Simon

Mia is being cyber-bullied, and she’s determined to find out who is responsible in the latest addition to the Cupcake Diaries series.

Mia is upset when her parents tell her she’s too young to go to a concert without adult supervision. She’s old enough to help run a cupcake business! Why can’t her parents see that she’s also responsible enough to do whatever she wants? And just when she’s reached a compromise with her parents (her older brother Dan will go to the concert with her), Mia finds out she’s being cyber-bullied on social media. It’s the Cupcake Club to the rescue as they all help Mia solve her online bullying mystery!

Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink

Fifth grade was the worst year of Marc’s life. He stunk at gym class, math was too hard for him, the school lunch was horrible, and his class field trip was ruined because he couldn’t swim. But what was most awful thing about fifth grade? Kenny Williamson, the class bully, who calls himself the “King of the Jungle.”

When Marc’s mother tells him that his Uncle Jake is coming to stay for the whole summer, Marc can’t wait. Uncle Jake is a for real, super-cool Navy SEAL. And Uncle Jake has a plan.

He’s going to turn Marc into a warrior.

Becoming a warrior isn’t easy. It means a lot of pull ups, sit ups, pushups, squats, swimming, eating right, and studying harder than ever before! Can Marc transform himself into a warrior before school starts in the fall – and finally stand up to the King of the Jungle himself?

Ages of Oz: A Fiery Friendship by Gabriel Gale; Lisa Fiedler 

Lions, and tigers, and bears, not quite Travel down the red brick road with the world’s most iconic Good Witch, Glinda, as she embarks on a brave adventure in Oz in this start to a brand-new series from Gabriel Gale and Lisa Fiedler.
On her Declaration Day, a day meant for celebration and happiness, Glinda’s peaceful life in Oz is shattered when her mother is imprisoned for practicing forbidden Magic. As she is ripped from her home by a fearsome bounty hunter sent by Aphidina, the Witch of the South, Glinda soon uncovers a startling truth: the Oz she’s always know is not good and right–it’s a world governed by the wickedest of the wicked, overrun with tyranny, corruption, and dark power. And Glinda’s mother? She is actually a high-ranking member of a secret society whose mission is to overthrow the four Wicked Witches and set the stage for the return of the rightful ruler of Oz.
With the help of a feisty, purple-haired girl named Locasta, Glinda sets across the unforgiving landscape to rescue her mother. They are soon joined by Ben, a revolutionary New Yorker, and a mysterious girl called Shade. Armed with their individual gifts, these unlikely heroes mount an epic attack on Aphidina to free Glinda’s mother…and save the future of Oz from the Wickeds before it’s too late.

Hamster Princes: Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

A magical beanstalk leads to a GIANT surprise in book four of the series that’s chock-full of girl power and perfect for fans of Princess in Black and Babymouse.

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone doesn’t go looking for trouble. She prefers to think of it as looking for adventure. But when she climbs to the top of an enormous beanstalk and sneaks into the castle at the top, Harriet finds plenty of both. The castle is home to one very poetically challenged giant rabbit with two unusual prisoners—a girl who is half harp, half hamster, and an extremely large goose. This calls for a heroic rescue, and Harriet is just the hamster for the job.

The fourth installment of the critically acclaimed Hamster Princess series turns the story of Jack and the Beanstalk upside down, with plenty of laughs along the way.

How to Be a Supervillain by Michael Fry

Victor Spoil comes from a long line of famous supervillains and he’s fully expected to join their ranks one day. But to his family’s utter disappointment, Victor doesn’t have a single bad-guy bone in his body. He won’t run with scissors, he always finishes his peas, and he can’t stand to be messy. Hopeless!

As a last-ditch effort before they give up and let him be a–gasp!–civilian, Victor’s exasperated parents send him to apprentice under a disgraced supervillain called The Smear. This matchup starts off as a complete disaster, but Victor and The Smear eventually find that they have a lot to learn from each other. When the stakes get high as Victor is forced to choose between his mentor and his family morals (or lack thereof)…what will the world’s nicest bad guy do?

In this rollicking middle-grade adventure, Michael Fry’s witty text and hysterical artwork combines superhero action with classic fish-out-of-water humor.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

In this compelling and thought-provoking fantasy set in the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Newbery Honor-winning author Gail Carson Levine introduces a spirited heroine who must overcome deeply rooted prejudice—including her own—to heal her broken country.

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Love You Like a Sister by Robin Palmer

Four soon-to-be-stepsisters must learn to work together as they try to make their parents’ wedding day a day to remember in this witty M!X novel in the tradition of Bridesmaids.

When Avery was two, her parents divorced, and it’s just been Avery and her mom ever since—the Two Musketeers. Until Avery opens her email—on a non-holiday and not her birthday—and receives a bombshell announcement from her father. Not only is he moving back to the New York area, he is remarrying—and his soon-to-be wife has three daughters. Avery’s future stepsisters. Holy. Moly.

Avery’s father is determined to make them all one happy family, so he and his fiancée ask the girls to be the bridesmaids in the upcoming wedding. And they want the girls to help with the something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Meaning that Avery and the girls—who clearly want nothing to do with her—are going to be forced to spend time together.

It’s one (hilarious) disaster after another as Avery tries to help and get to know her future stepsisters—who are all dealing with their own issues with the wedding. From spilling a chocolate-y drink on a very expensive dress when they go dress shopping, to turning her future step-mother’s hair bright blue days before the wedding. Can they all manage to make the wedding a day to remember—or will it be memorable for all the wrong reasons?

Science Comics Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus

Take to the skies with Flying Machines!

Follow the famous aviators from their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, to the fields of North Carolina where they were to make their famous flights. In an era of dirigibles and hot air balloons, the Wright Brothers were among the first innovators of heavier than air flight. But in the hotly competitive international race toward flight, Orville and Wilbur were up against a lot more than bad weather. Mechanical failures, lack of information, and even other aviators complicated the Wright Brothers’ journey. Though they weren’t as wealthy as their European counterparts, their impressive achievements demanded attention on the international stage. Thanks to their carefully recorded experiments and a healthy dash of bravery, the Wright Brothers’ flying machines took off.

5 Worlds Book I by Mark Siegel; Alexis Siegel

The #1 New York Times bestselling creator of Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi, hails this first book in this groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy adventure series as -a magical journey, as fun as it is beautiful – Think Star Wars meets Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves–and more to their worlds–than meets the eye. . . .
– The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.
– A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.
– Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends?
When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

“A wondrous book, wise and wild and deeply true.” —Kelly Barnhill, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

For readers who loved Sara Pennypacker’s Pax and Lois Lowry’s The Giver comes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

Restart by Gordon Korman

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

Hero: Hurricane Rescue by Jennifer Li Shotz

The action-packed follow-up to Hero, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Li Shotz.

When a dangerous hurricane strikes town and Jack and his puppy, Scout, go missing, retired search-and-rescue dog Hero is the only one who can track them down.

Hero and his human, Ben, set off into the woods, but when the storm surges out of control, the group is suddenly trapped with no way out. Now it’s up to Hero to get everyone home safe and sound. Together, Hero and Ben fight for their lives—but can Hero battle his way past alligators, mudslides, and raging floods?

Join Hero for another epic adventure and discover what a dog will do to save his best friend. This edition is a paper-over-board hardcover.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses—and her friends decide to join. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

In the newest novel by beloved National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff, kids have turned the tables on their parents, and all the rules have been tossed out the window. But does Winnie have what it takes to hold her ground and keep everyone happy?

The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by AVI

In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery—and London might be the most dangerous place of all.

In the tradition of his Newbery Honor book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi mixes high adventure and short, page-turning chapters with a vivid historical setting featuring a cast of highwaymen, pickpockets, and villainous criminal masterminds.

A Trio of Tolerable Tales by Margaret Atwood

In Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, Ramsay runs away from his revolting relatives and makes a new friend with more refined tastes.

The second tale, Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, features Bob, who was raised by dogs, and Dorinda, who does housework for relatives who don’t like her. It is only when they become friends that they realize they can change their lives for the better.

And finally, to get her parents back, Wenda and her woodchuck companion have to outsmart Widow Wallop in Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery.

Young readers will become lifelong fans of Margaret Atwood’s work and the kind of wordplay that makes these tales such rich fare, whether they are read aloud or enjoyed independently. These compelling stories of resourceful children are a lively introduction to alliteration.

There you have’em! Hope you enjoy your reading time during the month of May!