Tag Archives: Lisa Yee

On the Eve of Escape

Here at The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, we have scheduling fairies who put names on a magical calendar so that we all know who is posting and when. And, weeks ago, when I saw the date I would next post, I immediately thought, “Oh! That’s the day before I escape to…”

maine beach web small

Every year, this land-locked Ohio farm girl spends a week in a cottage on the  Maine shore with nine writing friends. It is often the most inspiring and productive week of my writing year. I can smell the ocean air already!

I began to wonder how other middle-grade authors escape the daily grind. Where do they go to think more clearly? Breathe more deeply?

And, so, I just asked.

Some of you might follow author Cynthia Lord on Facebook. If you don’t, you probably should click on her name and do that now, because she posts thoughtfully and with her heart, and you’ll love following her. And if you already do, you know that she has this great little escape in her own backyard.

cynthia lord's writing shed

Cynthia told me that she got her writing shed (aptly dubbed “Walden Backyard”) after RULES won a Newbery Honor and she and her husband were a bit cramped sharing an office in their house. Cynthia’s escape is close to home, and she loves writing in her multi-season shed. (We would say all-season, but she does live in Maine, and I’ve seen pictures in which the snow was piled nearly as high as the shed!)

lisa yee   Author of WARP SPEED and THE KIDNEY HYPOTHETICAL, Lisa Yee was caught in mid-escape when I contacted her. She wrote back:

“Ha! As I reply to your question, I am sitting in a hotel room where I’ve escaped to get writing done.”

Enough said, Lisa! Now, get back to work and don’t let me get in the way of progress!

I was surprised how many authors escape to water.  Kirby kirby LARSONLarson, author of HATTIE BIG SKY and the new DASH and DUKE, escapes ocean-side to be with the eagles and hummingbirds. It’s interesting that negative ocean ions can positively affect one’s blood pressure!  Thanks, Kirby!

tricia springstubbMixed-Up Files Author Tricia Springstubb echoed the water theme as well. Her newest middle-grade novel MOONPENNY ISLAND is set on a fictitious island. It’s no small coincidence that Moonpenny Island mirrors Kelley’s Island and Tricia’s favorite rocky and remote get-away.  Tricia finds water so motivating, she often swims to clear her head and has solved more than one plot dilemma after coming out of the pool!

Some writers, though they enjoy a good vacation, have found a more accessible escape. Margaret Peterson Haddix (the MISSING series and the SHADOW CHILDREN series) and Marlane Kennedy (THE DOG DAYS OF CHARLOTTE HAYES and the DISASTER STRIKES series) both agreed that when they are caught up in a good writing moment, their best escape is the story itself. Marlane shares, “When I am deep within  a story, I am not even aware of my surroundings. I am transported to wherever and whatever is happening in my story, and my writing escape is more within my mind than anywhere else.”  (Margaret’s escape mode, however, is not entirely waterless. Like Tricia,  she’s another swimmer/thinker!)

Peterson and KennedyMargaret Peterson Haddix and Marlane Kennedy

Lots more  Mixed-Up Files Authors weighted in as well! You can see their pictures and read about their books here But first, take a moment to read about their escapes:

Jacqueline Jaeger HoutmanCoffee shop. Earbuds. Vivaldi.

Michele Weber HurwitzI’m a big walker. Nothing like a long walk to clear my head and work through trouble spots in a WIP.

Greg R. Fishbone – Long train rides are great for writing.

Amie Borst – When my office won’t suffice, I love to sit on my back deck or by the lake. (There’s that water thing again!)

Valerie Stein – On the sailboat! Calm, quiet motion at the dock, free of distractions. (And again!)

Rosanne Parry – Love writing in my treehouse in the summer. Fresh air, lots of birds & squirrels for company and no distractions. Bliss!

Okay, I admit it. I just couldn’t leave Rosanne’s comment without hoping on over to her website to see if, just maybe, she had a picture of said treehouse. And, bingo! Here it is.

rosanne tree house

So, we would love to hear about your writing escape. Comment below and let us know where you go! I’ll try to respond, but remember, in less than 24 hours, I’ll be escaping to…

maine porch web small

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. She loves mail (the real, slow, stamped-envelope kind) so she created the 52 Letters in a Year Challenge to encourage writers young and not very young to help revive the art of letter-writing. Visit Michelle at www.michellehouts.com. On Twitter @mhoutswrites and on Facebook as Michelle Houts.

You’ve got a friend in Grandma

Gennari grandparentMy Italian grandmother lived to be 104, and you could always count on her to tell you what you needed to hear. No sugar coating. No blaming either. Just move on and make the best of life.

Every kid needs a caring adult, especially after age 10 when parents start to become uncool. That’s when grandparents can step in. Once preteens stop confiding in their parents, it’s important to have someone who listens.

YeecovercreechcoverThat’s the case in Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee. Millie is super smart but too often misreads how to behave with her peers. Millie’s grandmother Maddie is the one who provides the reasoned voice when Millie won’t listen to anyone else. She provides the crucial guidance, advising Millie to patch up her friendship with Emily: “Sometimes it’s better to be liked than it is to be right.” And my all time favorite grandparents are Gramps and Gram in Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.

manzanocoverSometimes the grandmother isn’t always wise. In Sonia Manzano’s The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, a Pura Belpré honor book, the arrival of Abuela shakes things up. Set in El Barrio in New York in 1969, Evelyn is pulling away from the family life she’s always known. Abuela dresses flamboyantly and always gets involved in causes, which both thrills and embarrasses Evelyn. The occupation of the church by the Young Lords Puerto Ricans teaches Evelyn to embrace her heritage. But she also understands her grandmother for the first time:

“I turned to see what Mami was doing. She was staring at her mother. I was looking at my mother and she was looking at her mother. Mami was looking at Abuela the way you look at a puzzle and can’t quite figure it out. How many times had I looked at Mami the same way?” It is then Evelyn understands the hurt her grandmother has caused her own mother, “like she missed her even though she was looking right at her.”

urbancoverRuby’s grandmother has died in Linda Urban’s newest book, The Center of the Universe. Ruby struggles with her grief and regret that she didn’t listen, just a little longer. For Ruby, her big moment in the Bunning Day parade in her small town gives her the chance to pay homage to her beloved grandmother Gigi. As Meg Wolitzer writes in her New York Times review, “The Center of Everything uses the premise of a grandparent’s death in a surprising way, exploring not only grief but also its occasional companions, anxiety and guilt.”

I love it when books acknowledge the role grandparents play in young kids’ lives. What other grandparent books do you love?

Books That Help Kids Take the Leap Into Middle-Grade Novels

In my last post, I interviewed author Laurie Friedman and mentioned that her Mallory books help kids make the important (and sometimes scary) transition into novels.  Not only is Mallory a fun character kids love, but she starts off as an eight year-old in the series and finishes at age ten, so she takes the leap into middle-grade along with readers. My pup, Lolly, loves listening to chapter books and middle-grade novels.  She can’t wait until she can chew…um, I mean read them along with her favorite picture books.  Longer books can seem scary at first, but there are so many amazing characters and worlds to discover.  I especially love funny books that have a quirky main character with a voice that jumps out at you and put together a list of fun books that can help kids make the transition from picture books and early chapter books into middle-grade novels.

Ellie McDoodle Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw (there are two other great books in this series).

I laughed my way through this book that’s loaded with funny and creative pictures, plus instructions for games you can play.

Description from Indiebound:

When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, the other kids tease her, and even the teachers can’t seem to get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue! And if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?

And for the second book: Just in time for the back to school season, Ellie McDoodle takes pen in hand again as she chronicles the woes—and the happy surprises—of being a new kid. Chock-full of cartoons, diagrams, lists, games, and plenty of witty asides, this charming follow up to Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen,Will Travel will ease the new kid blues–and perhaps inspire some creative doodling, too.

Geek Chick: The Zoey Zone by Margie Palatini

Imagination, illustrations, and fun word fonts pop from the pages of this funny, quirky book.

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Zoey.  She’s eleven. Well, almost eleven. Okay—halfway to eleven. And Zoey’s got a few problems: She has the lowest possible score on the coolability meter, a  bad     hair situation, and growing earlobes. What Zoey needs is a fairy godmother who can give her a very chic makeover and a seat at the primo lunch table. Will Zoey be able to pull it all off? Tune in!

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee (there are several more in this fun series).

Between the amazing voice and illustrations, it’s easy to immediately connect with Clementine’s spunky, larger than life personality.

Description from Indiebound:

Clementine is having not so good of a week.

  • On Monday she’s sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
  • Tuesday, Margaret’s mother is mad at her.
  • Wednesday, she’s sent to the principal…again.
  • Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
  • Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
  • And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.

Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week.

Amber Brown Goes Fourth by Paula Danziger, illustrated by Tony Ross (check out all the other fun Amber Brown books)

Amber’s quirky personality makes me laugh (and feel for her when things don’t go her way).

Description from Indiebound:

Amber Brown isn’t entirely ready for fourth grade. She has her pens, pencils, new clothes, and new shoes. But the one thing she doesn’t have is her best friend, Justin       Daniels. Justin has moved away, leaving Amber utterly best friend-less. Amber knows Justin can’t be replaced, but she is on the lookout for a new friend. Brandi seems a likely choice–but does Brandi want to choose Amber in return? Will Amber Brown go fourth, and go forth, with a new best friend?

My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe (look for the other great books in this series)

I had fun reading the secret notes, and couldn’t wait to see things work out for Ida May.

Description from Indiebound:

As Ida May begins fourth grade, she is determined never to make another best friend–because her last best friend moved away. This is a doable plan at first. Thanks to bratty, bossy Jenna Drews who hates Ida, no one in class has ever really noticed her before.  It’s when the sparkly Stacey Merriweather comes to her school that her plan goes awry. Ida reaches out despite her fear, but doesn’t say hello—instead she writes Stacey anonymous notes. Soon their friendship develops without Ida ever having to reveal her real identity. Until she has no choice. And that’s when the true friendship begins.

* If you’re looking for books boys will love, I bet you’ll find some amazing ones below (and I think they’re great for girls, too).

Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat–also check out Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)

I laughed so much (and okay, a few tears escaped during one scene).  I love Bobby, the fish named Rover, and the static cling scene was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.  The expressions of the characters are amazing—the illustrations just leap off the page!

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Robert Carver Ellis-Chan — a perfectly normal fourth-grader who gets into perfectly crazy situations! Like when he was running for class president and discovered his big sister’s panties (static-)clinging to the back of his sweater. Or when he got stuck to the rare sticky (and stinky) Koloff tree on a field trip. . . . Then there’s his family — busy mom, ex-pro football player dad, a bossy older sister and an adoring younger one — and best friends (one of whom is a secret, because she’s a *girl*). Life may be complicated for Bobby, but it’s going to turn out just fine.

Prince of Underwhere by Bruce Hale, illustrated by Shane Hillman (check out the rest of this funny series)

Zeke’s quirky sense of humor immediately hooked me, and I love that this is such an unusual format—half novel, half graphic novel.

Description from Indiebound:

It’s tough to be Zeke.  He’s got his hands full: There is his prissy, know-it-all twin sister; his mean cousin Caitlyn, who’s house-sitting for his missing parents; and a bully making life tough at school (as though it wasn’t hard enough already). And now, thanks to a stinky, scruffy, good-for-nothing talking cat, he’s also got to cope with zombies, midget freedom fighters, devious spies, superstar rappers, and a whole weird world beneath our own where people wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes.

Lin Oliver writes incredibly funny series with voices that pop off the page.  I’ll list two of them below.

Hank Zipzer #1: Niagara Falls, Or Does It? (Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Underachiever) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Description from Indiebound:

For Hank, fourth grade does not start out on the right foot. First of all, he gets called to the principal’s office on the very first day of school. Then the first assignment his teacher gives him is to write five paragraphs on “What You Did This Summer.” Hank is terrified-writing one good sentence is hard for him, so how in the world is he going to write five whole paragraphs? Hank comes up with a plan: instead of writing what he did on vacation, he’ll show what he did. But when Hank’s “living essay” becomes a living disaster, he finds himself in detention. Strangely enough, however, detention ends up becoming a turning point in his life.

Attack of the Growling Eyeballs (Who Shrunk Daniel Funk?) by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Daniel Funk, a regular guy who’s stuck living in a house full of girls. Why couldn’t he have a brother instead of all those sisters? That would be so cool. When Daniel shrinks to the size of the fourth toe on his left foot, he discovers that he actually does have a brother. A little brother. A very little brother. He’s Pablo Funk, Daniel’s tiny twin, who is a toeful of trouble.

Wow, I could go on and on—there are so many fantastic books to help kids make the transition into middle-grade novels.  Here are a few others to check out (click on them for more info):

Author Laurie Friedman thinks that finding a character they like is what helps kids take the leap into more substantial middle-grade books.  Here are some of the series she thinks can help kids make this transition:  Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and Captain Underpants.

Which books do you think help children take the leap from picture books and early chapter books to middle-grade novels?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and twelve year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.