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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, read more...

     

    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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School for S.P.I.E.S–Giveaway and Interview with Bruce Hale

Giveaways, Interviews, Writing MG Books

I’m thrilled to welcome author Bruce Hale back to the Mixed-Up Files. He’s one of the funniest and most entertaining people I’ve ever met. He’s been busy since his last Mixed-Up Files interview. Today, we’re celebrating the launch of Playing With Fire, the first book in his newest series, School for S.P.I.E.S.

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Bruce Hale and his School for S.P.I.E.S. editor, Stephanie Lurie.

Juvenile delinquent and budding pyromaniac Max Segredo belongs in juvie hall. At least, that’s what his most recent foster family would tell you. Instead, Max ends up on the doorstep of Merry Sunshine Orphanage-their very heavily guarded doorstep. As he begins to acclimate to his new home, Max learns a few things straightaway: first, cracking a Caesar Cipher isn’t as hard as it seems; second, never sass your instructor if she’s also holding throwing knives; and third, he may not be an orphan after all.

I love Playing With Fire! How did you come up with the idea for your School for S.P.I.E.S. series?

PLAYING WITH FIRE represents the coming-together of several ideas and loves.  First, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved spy stories.  James Bond, Get Smart, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible — all these and more inspired me to want to write a spy story myself.

Second, I had a yoga teacher in Hawaii who was like the ultimate drill sergeant — crusty on the outside, but big-hearted underneath.  She spoke in a kind of hybrid of Japanese and broken English, and she was such a character, I wanted to put her in a book someday.  And third, I had an odd what-if thought: What if an orphanage was actually a covert school for spies?

When all these influences came together, I hit upon the title “Shanghai Annie’s School for Spies (and Merry Sunshine Orphanage).”  For a long time, all I had was the title (which changed), but eventually I developed that germ of an idea into the book it is today, with my old yoga teacher in the Hantai Annie role.

 

The spy school feels so authentic. How did you learn so much about spy techniques?

Sadly, college didn’t teach me any of what spies call tradecraft.  (An education, wasted!) Instead, I learned it all — lock picking, code breaking, surveillance — through interviews and reading.  I read lock-picking articles online (while wondering if the FBI was tracking my reading habits). I interviewed a computer guy about hacking.  In fact, I even took a kickboxing class to help me with the martial arts stuff.  I tell you, if they ever offered a spy summer camp for adults, I’d take it in a heartbeat.  That stuff is fun!

 

Once you get a book published, is it easier to get offers for future books?

Yes and no.  Yes, in that they know you can deliver, so all else being equal, they’re inclined to trust your abilities.  No, in that it always depends on the quality of the book you’re submitting and whether it fits their list.  To my occasional exasperation, publishers will still pass on one of my stories if they feel it’s not right for them.

 

What are some of the pros and cons of writing a series?

First off, I love reading series, so it’s a joy to write the kind of books I like to read.  Series give you the chance to deeply explore the world and characters you’ve created, and to build a relationship with your readers, which will carry over into other books you write.

On the down side, series can be challenging.  You have to strike a balance between familiarity and freshness — introducing new elements and characters while preserving enough of what readers loved in the previous books.  Also (if you’re lucky and your series lasts long enough), you may find you’ve cycled through all your ideas and are having a hard time coming up with plots you haven’t used already.

Bruce Coville once said that series books are training-wheel books, helping kids learn to read more confidently.  I’m honored to be producing these kinds of books for young readers.

 

How do you develop characters strong enough for an entire series?

Main characters need a number of key elements to make them series-worthy.  First, they must be likeable, even if they’re an anti-hero.  Second, they must have some quality that makes them stand out (Harry Potter’s wizarding abilities, Katniss’s archery skills and loyalty, Chet Gecko’s punning, etc.).  Third, they must have a certain optimism and drive that keeps them moving forward.  And fourth (just to keep this list short), they must be active.  Passive characters can’t sustain a series.  When asked to move the plot forward, they just say, “Eh, maybe later.”

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Photo of Bruce Hale taken by Sonya Sones

Can you share a writing exercise for series or humor?

Here’s a fun one for humor: Experiment with the triple play.  A triple play is a list of three words or things, in which the first two are expected and the third is a surprise.  That surprise creates the humor.  For example: in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted say that Beethoven’s favorite works include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem, and Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  The first two items set up an expectation, which is subverted by the third.  Like, “Tall, dark, and loathsome.”

Have fun experimenting, and remember comedy writing’s Rule of Nine: For every ten jokes you come up with, nine will suck!  But that tenth one will be a gem. 

 

Want a chance to win one of two signed copies of Bruce Hale’s School for S.P.I.E.S.: Playing with Fire? Click on the Rafflecopter widget below, and you’ll see seven quick and easy ways to enter! The winners will be announced on Tuesday, July 23. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files, and for your generous giveaway, Bruce! 

 

The second book in Bruce’s School for S.P.I.E.S. series is called Thicker than Water, and is scheduled for June 2014. While waiting for the next spy book, you can check out some of the other humorous series Bruce has written. Bruce has sixteen books in his Chet Gecko series, and four books in his Underwhere series. He recently released his new picture book, Clark the Shark, the first of seven in that series. Clark the Shark – Dare to Share! will be out in January 2014.

 

You can find out more about Bruce Hale on his main website, his School for S.P.I.E.S. site, his writing tips website, or on Twitter. Here’s a link to Bruce’s Chet Gecko activity guide. You can view a message from Agent X: School for S.P.I.E.S., and watch the below video of Bruce Hale reading an exciting scene from Playing with Fire.

 

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her twelve and fifteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

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Happy Flag Day! Let’s celebrate with an interview with award-winning author Kate Messner and a giveaway!

Authors, Book Lists, Giveaways, Holiday, Interviews, Librarians, Teachers, Writing MG Books

 

Happy Flag Day!

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What better way to celebrate than to talk to award-wining author Kate Messner        

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about her middle-grade mystery book, Capture the Flag!

 

Kate’s newest middle-grade novel series has it all – excitement, intrigue, high-stakes action, and best of all it centers on the stolen American flag! What a great idea and a fun topic for our Flag Day post!

 

 

A stolen flag, a secret society, and three complete strangers . . .
Capture-the-Flag
Anna, José, and Henry have never met, but they have more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington, DC, airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have just announced that the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in, too, recruits Henry and José to help find the thieves and bring them to justice.
But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there’s even more than a national treasure at stake. With unexpected enemies lurking around every corner, will the trio solve the heist before the flag is lost forever?

 

 Praise for CAPTURE THE FLAG
A Junior Library Guild Selection
“A fast-paced mystery . . . a sparkling start for a promising new series.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS
“A novel as cinematic in execution as it is patriotic in theme.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

 

I just finished reading your delightful book, Capture the Flag, I was wondering – where did you get the inspiration for this story? Did you visit the actual flag in the Smithsonian?

I did visit that flag – but not until I already knew I was going to let it be stolen in this book!  The inspiration for CAPTURE THE FLAG was actually the setting — I love airports and thought it would be great fun to set a mystery in one during a snowstorm. I love the super-charged atmosphere…everyone coming or going someplace. In airports, everyone has a story.  And I loved the idea of the snowstorm keeping everyone stuck there for a short period of time so my kids could investigate the crime, knowing that if they didn’t solve it, all the evidence and suspects would fly away as soon as the storm let up.

 

Much of the book takes place in an airport and the baggage area underneath. Were you able to go behind the scenes of the baggage handling area to do research for this book?

That’s the one thing I wasn’t able to explore firsthand in my research. Not surprisingly, airport security in a post-9/11 world doesn’t make exception for children’s authors.  However, I was able explore those under-the-airport worlds virtually, since most companies that build baggage handling systems have videos online showing how they work.

 

How much research, if any, do you do for your fiction books? Do you think this is  important?

I do extensive research for my books, especially when it comes to making sure I have the setting just right.  For CAPTURE THE FLAG, that meant spending a day at the Smithsonian, exploring behind the scenes with the curator of the flag exhibit and talking through just how those fictional bad guys might get out of the museum with the flag.

 

This book is your first mystery. Did you have fun writing it?

Great fun – but it was a great challenge, too, and taught me to plan in much more detail than I’d been accustomed to with my previous books.

 

Any tips aspiring authors should be aware of when writing mysteries for middle grade readers?

When I teach mystery writing workshops, I focus a lot on planning – the idea that suspects aren’t the only ones who need motives; investigators do, too.  It takes a lot of playing around with ideas to make sure all the details end up fitting together just right. And I think setting is huge in mysteries, too. The place can be a huge part of the story, and I encourage writers to think of it as the playground for their characters. What adventures can happen in a museum? In an airport, or a rainforest, or at the World Series?

 

Do you tend to stick with one writing level at a time or go back and forth depending on what inspires you?

I write across genres — middle grade, chapter books, and picture books – both fiction and nonfiction – and I love them all, so I couldn’t choose just one as a favorite. Most often, it’s my deadlines the determine what any given writing day looks like. The book that’s due first gets first priority, and when I’m not on deadline, I tend to play a lot, working on whatever seems to be calling me that day.

 

Your characters are ethnically diverse. How important do you think it is to have ethnically diverse characters in middle grade  books?

Very much so – and I’ve actually been quite involved in providing input for the covers for this mystery series. Scholastic has been amazing about asking for feedback, and we’ve talked about just this topic – the importance of not only including kids from different backgrounds on the covers but also showing their faces.  When I was teaching 7th grade, it was important to me that all of my students could find books with faces on the cover that looked like theirs. It was frustrating to me when most of the books I could find with brown faces on the covers were historical or issue books, where the story was about the character’s race.  In real life, it’s not like that — kids of all different backgrounds go to school and play lots of different sports and solve mysteries and have adventures, and I feel like we need to be mindful of that when we write and market books, too. I’ve been thrilled with the covers for the books in this series!  (And I can’t share the cover for book 3, MANHUNT, quite yet, but I can tell you that I think it might be the best of all!)

Many thanks!  ~Kate

 

And many thanks to you, Kate, for giving us a peek into your writing process. Mysteries are my favorite and I really loved this book! Can’t wait to read the new one in the series.

To learn more about Kate’s many amazing books, see her website http://www.katemessner.com/

Now, for what you’ve all been waiting for,  Kate has generously offered to donate an autographed copy of Capture the Flag to one lucky reader!  Simply leave a comment below and you will be entered in the giveaway.

 

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Jennifer Swanson is a life-long mystery lover. Some say she was born with a magnifying glass in one hand a Nancy Drew book in the other.

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Get to the funny faster: Stand-up comedy and middle grade writing

Authors, Interviews, Writing MG Books

Debra Garfinkle is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever known or read. So, why would she be taking a stand-up comedy class? Debra — author the Zeke Meeks series (writing as D.L. Green), the Supernatural Rubber Chicken books and five YA novels — shares a bit about the intersection of stand-up comedy and reaching middle grade readers.

zeke meeks TV turnoff weekYou’ve written about trying comedy for your “3/4 life crisis.“  What was the writer in you thinking about this venture?

Creative writing had always been my hobby, since I was a little kid writing poems and through my years as a lawyer when I wrote short stories to de-stress after work. After I sold my first novel, writing became more of a job than a hobby. I still enjoyed it and loved getting paid for my former hobby, but got stressed out about publishers, deadlines, promotion, etc. I wanted a hobby to do just for fun, so I turned to stand-up comedy.

I thought doing stand-up would suit me for several reasons: I’ve always loved going to stand-up comedy shows; most of my books are humorous and I write a humorous newspaper column, so I was used to writing humor; I had experience acting in high school and college plays and doing moot court in law school.

Stand-up comedy turned out a lot harder than I’d thought. I learned that good stand-up comics should make the audience laugh every 10 to 15 seconds. So in a six-minute set, that’s 24-36 jokes to write and perform. Also, what may seem funny in writing often fails in performance, so I’d have to write maybe ten jokes for every one that really worked. And it’s scary being on the stage by oneself, with no other actors, directors, or writers to blame when the set bombed. But when the set went well, it was wonderful to hear people laughing at jokes I wrote and performed.

How does comic timing on stage translate to on the page?

I think on the page, there’s more time to set up a joke. Readers can skim if they want. Stand-up audience are less patient. They don’t want to sit through a long set-up in order to hear the punchline.

ZekeMeeksfan

Debra Garfinkle (D.L. Green) with a Zeke Meeks’ fan.

Bill Word, my stand-up comedy teacher, used to say, “Get to the funny faster.” I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing children’s books. I think child readers are similar to a stand-up comic’s audience in that they mostly want to laugh and have a good time. Sure, I can slip in some meaningful messages, but my main purpose is to entertain. With that in mind, I try hard to delete extraneous things in the set-ups to my jokes.

Stand-up also helped me value callbacks (a joke that references something that happened earlier in the set) and tags (a second punchline added to the first punchline, so that one set-up makes the audience laugh twice as long).

Bill Word constantly said, “There’s something there.” We used to make fun of him for saying it so much, but it was very helpful. Even if we told the worst joke ever, we were encouraged to work with and play with it to make it better. Sometimes the worst joke ever eventually led to funny stuff. So I try to keep an open mind when I’m conceptualizing or drafting books, telling myself that there may indeed by “something there.”

Debra is published under the names D.L. Garfinkle and D.L. Green. You can read more about her books, writing, and treadmill desk at her website. Check out her book reviews written in haiku on her blog, too. They’re fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

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