Tag Archives: The Healing Spell

Historical Fiction is A-Changing!

Many folks hear the genre, “historical fiction” and smother a yawn. They want fantasy, dragons, action, danger, incantations, magical wands and lightning bolt scars on their main character’s forehead – BUT STOP! WAIT!

The saying, “Kids don’t really like historical fiction” is a long-held mantra, and it’s true that many publishers  don’t publish much historical fiction, and some publishers none at all. I don’t really blame publishers for being leery of a type of book that will only a few hundred or a few thousand copies because bookstores want the hot new thing and even librarians often have a hard time luring kids into reading it.

And yet.

When I was growing up, I was a Nancy Drew and Phyllis Whitney mystery fanatic, but I also vividly remember reading books about Jenny Lund, the famous singer, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.

There’s a book that has stuck in my head (although the title has not – so if this rings a bell for anyone I would love a clue about it!) about a young woman who was a Confederate spy during the Civil War. As the enemy was about to ambush her, this girl spy ATE the secret note she was carrying! Chewed it up and swallowed it! How daring and thrilling!

Oh, and love me some Abraham Lincoln! I read everything I could get my hands on about him. I also loved stories like The Endless Steppe, about a girl and her family who were exiled to Siberia.  And then there are all those exciting stories about European queens getting their heads cut off.

Of course, this was long before Harry Potter and fantasy tomes as thick as your thigh. Kids are different nowadays, folks say. They have shorter attention spans. They don’t care about dead people. Kids today have grown up with computer games and IPhones and 10,000 television channels.

Screech! Put on the brakes, people. Shorter attention spans? Me-thinks-not. They’re reading 800 flippin’ pages of Harry Potter, for crying out loud. Recently, a local librarian told me that her nine-year-old daughter loves thick books. Thick books have become a status symbol.

So it all comes back to content.

Can historical fiction grab a reader? You betcha.

Can historical fiction be heart-pounding, exciting, fast-paced and thrilling? You betcha.

Can parents and teachers and librarians introduce these books in meaningful ways and get kids hooked on stories and time periods THAT REALLY HAPPENED? Yes! And I believe that’s they key to historical fiction: parents and teachers and librarians introducing those books to their kids, reading them aloud, talking about them – and I also believe that the historical fiction of today is written in a more relevant way to our lives, finding those common, universal feelings and problems of kids no matter what time period they live(d) in.

Historical fiction is better written, better researched, and more in-depth than ever before. Children’s Literature in general just gets better and better every year and a high quality of research, superb writing and fully developed characters and plot shows in historical fiction, too. So if you haven’t picked up a title before–or given it a shot in a long time, try it, you might like it!

Since I’m a writer and not a librarian or teacher, my job is to bring the historical fiction I’m working on alive, to make it relevant and exciting to my readers – and that will be the topic of my next blog post when my turn comes around again here on the Mixed-Up Files: How I research and why – and does it matter?

First Lines OR Love at First Sight

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

(A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle)

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

(Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White)

Some people call them “hooks”—that all important first line of a book. Imagine a fishing hook with a big, fat juicy worm on the end wriggling like a delicacy. That worm is much more appetizing to a fish swimming by than the metal hook will ever be dangling all by itself–and so will a juicy first line of a book to potential readers cruising the shelves in a bookstore or library.

A fishing rod and worms is how I describe the creation of story hooks when I do my Creative Diary writing workshop with kids. You want to throw that great, delicious hook out there, capture your reader, and then reel them in. As a writer or a librarian or a teacher trying to grab a child with a book, we want our potential reader to get intrigued, to *Get Hooked* and KEEP READING.

So just how important IS that opening first line or first page for Readers and how important are first lines for Writers?

Let’s go to our panel of experts:

Readers First!

Aubri, 15-years-old: “The cover of a book definitely draws me in first, but the first line makes or breaks it. I have to be intrigued, but I also like funny stories like the Junie B. Jones books that start out really funny and scary books where a character might be in prison and something is going to happen to them.”

Shelby, 12-years-old: “A first line makes me want to keep reading. If it’s boring, I’ll stop. I will probably read the whole first page, but unless I like it, I’ll stop reading the book. When I’m browsing the bookshelves, I read the synopsis on the jacket, too. And the Author stuff on the back.”

Milyssa, 16-years-old: “I like good first lines, but it’s more than that. The whole first paragraph has to be great.”

Writers Next! (Clicking on the author’s name will direct you to their website)

VIVIAN VANDE VELDE

“The first line needs to set the stage, giving us a glimpse into when and where the story takes place so we can immediately begin to picture things. Optimally, it should give us a meaningful glimpse at the main character–saying, thinking, doing something relevant to the story. (That is, I don’t think highly of stories that try to grab you with a cheap falsehood, as in: Terrified, Melanie screamed, convinced she was going to die. Of course, no one had ever died from seeing a mouse, but it COULD happen…) It should set the tone, giving us the voice of the character if it’s in 1st person.

And, if possible, hint at the conflict which will be at the heart of the story.

The story where I think I accomplished this most successfully is GHOST OF A HANGED MAN, which starts: “Pa said we were too young to go to the hanging.”

GREG LEITICH SMITH

“The voice has to grab you and make you want to continue and there should be some follow-through in the rest of the novel about the thing(s) that arose in the first line.

In NINJAS, I used, “I knew I was in trouble when I heard the cello,” which lets us know the protag is (a) in trouble and (b) is in some strange situation wherein that trouble is announced via a cello. And the “trouble” itself forms the basis for the main conflict.”

BARBARA O’CONNOR

“First lines set the tone for the story (funny, dramatic, etc). First lines are the front door of the story and should say “come on in”.

My new favorite first line is from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester coming out the end of August: “Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.”

ANDREA BEATY

“I have a very simple requirement for Line #1. It has to make the reader want to read Line #2!

My favorite first line is from my book, Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies.”

“Meanwhile, in space . . .”

ALEX FLINN

I think the first line should give the reader a certain amount of information but also leave the reader with questions.

Nothing to Lose: “I should never have come back to Miami.”

The information in this short line is: The Main Character is in Miami. He left Miami. Now, he’s back. He’s regretting it.

The Questions raised: Why did he leave? Why did he come back? Why does he regret it?

Enough to keep the reader reading on.

UMA KRISHNASWAMI

“I never know my first line until I’m sure of the last. Several first lines often fall off.

The first line of my new middle grade The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (Atheneum, June 2011) has stayed almost intact from about the 3rd draft.”

“Dolly Singh’s fabulous face floats across the screen of the TV in the family room.”

HEATHER VOGEL FREDERICK

“The former journalist in me always thinks of first lines as the “lead” to a story. When I was writing for newspapers and magazines, I always found that once I got the lead right, the rest of the article flowed from there. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation.

My goal for the first line is to reach out and grab the reader by the lapels and pull them into the story.”

Favorite first line? Still my first-born, from The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed:

“‘Absolutely, positively not!’ roared my father in a voice meant to be heard through the teeth of a Cape Horn gale.”

BARBARA BROOKS WALLACE

“Tell him, Muddle! Tell him we’re not mice!”

The first sentence of The Barrel in the Basement is a first sentence that HAS to be followed by the second – which is even better!

“Pudding gazed with horror at the huge yellow cat who lay on his side daintily probing the mouth of the jar with his paw.”

LAURIE CALKHOVEN

“I often go back and change my opening after I’ve written the end. In Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, my main character thinks in the end that the siege was like one long staring match between the British and the Patriots. I wasn’t happy with my opening, so I went back and decided to open with a staring match:

“I stared into Josiah Henshaw’s red brown eyes and vowed not to blink.”

“I wanted to open with action, and this sets the tone for the rest of the book.”

M. J. AUCH

“Here’s my favorite from a short story called “Witch’s Son”.”

“When Abigail Brewster brought her son, Hugh, back from the dead the first time, he looked all fragile and wispy, like morning mist on the village commons.”

A big thank you to all of our reader and writer experts on the subject of First Lines and Hooks!

Now Go forth! Find a Great Hook Today or Write a Great Hook  – and Fall In Love at First Sight!

Kimberley Griffiths Little’s been juggling book launch parties for The Healing Spell (Scholastic) with her right hand, twirling a handful of new characters with her left while typing her next book for Scholastic with her toes. Throw in a pot of Louisiana gumbo, too many pecan pralines, fishing for the perfect worm . . .and you have a typical day in the life of a writer on deadline.

And the Winner of THE HEALING SPELL hardcover is:

Patricia Cruzan!

You entered the book giveaway for The Healing Spell, and the random number generator has selected you, yes you! to win this fabulous book!


The author would love to personalize her signature for you; please email kglittle at msn dot com and let Kimberley know to whom she should sign the book. Include your mailing address, and The Healing Spell will be headed your way. Congratulations!

And one lucky winner is yet to be chosen for our NEWEST, STUPENDOUS, SUMMER, THREE BOOK GIVEWAY! Favorite this site and keep your eyes peeled–that lucky winner might be you! You can still enter! Winner announced Tuesday, July 6th!