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Mad For Middle Grade: First Lines

Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’re here the first Monday of every month, discussing middle grade writing, chatting about from our favorite middle grade books, introducing our own middle grade titles, sharing middle grade writing advice, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Today, we’re sharing our first lines! What better way to celebrate the beginning of the year than with the beginning of our 2014 debut books!

But first: A SHOUT OUT to our wonderful January releases!

9780448456836_IHB_1Heart_CV_front (1) 9780448456843_IHB_2Friends_CV_front

I HEART BAND

by Michelle Schusterman

Release date: January 9

(I HEART BAND Book #1 and Book #2 will both release on January 9th!)

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15995772-i-heart-band

And…

THE LOST PLANETTHE LOST PLANET
by Rachel Searles
Release date: January 28
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17454743-the-lost-planet?from_search=true

Congratulations to Michelle and Rachel on the release of their AMAZING debuts!!!

And without further ado, our first lines:

HumTracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

All I had to do was walk up to the coffin. That was all. I just had to get there and set the gardenia on the smooth brown wood. Grandma said gardenias were a proper funeral flower. As if there was such a thing.

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author photo with Leia smallEdith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

When I get home from school, every cabinet in the kitchen has been thrown open. There’s a mess in the living room, too.

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THE LOST PLANETRachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

The boy opened his eyes to a sky the color of melted butter and a sense of inexplicable terror.

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AllFourStarsTara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

Gladys Gatsby stood at the counter with the spout of her father’s heavy blowtorch poised over the ceramic cup. Her finger hovered over the trigger button that was supposed to turn her plain little custards into crunchy, tasty treats. That’s when she heard a car door slam outside.

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Skila Brown
caminarCAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Where I’m From

Our mountain stood tall,
like the finger that points.

Our corn plants grew in fields,
thick and wide as a thumb.

Our village sat in the folded-between,
in that spot where you pinch something sacred,

to keep it still.

Our mountain stood guard at our backs.
We slept at night in its bed.

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ByTheGraceLouise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

“Little ones, have I ever told you the legend of how the Great and Powerful Todd rescued your Granny and me and all of our people from slavery to the demonic being called ‘Max’?”

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Levy_Dana_author_catDana Alison Levy
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
Delacorte/Random House

Eli sat on the wooden porch steps, crammed in with his brothers, while Papa fiddled with the camera. On one side of him, his youngest brother, Frog, was vibrating with excitement. On the other side, the older two weren’t as eager.

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UnderTheEggLaura Marx Fitzgerald
UNDER THE EGG
Dial/Penguin

It was the find of the century. Or so I thought at the time.

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TheOnlyThingWorseTh#FEB1942Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

Rupert was down in the dumps. Literally.

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WhenAudreyRebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

It is ridiculously difficult to get a pizza delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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9780448456836_IHB_1Heart_CV_front (1)Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BAND
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

Sometimes being a perfectionist just isn’t worth the effort.

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ThereWillBeBearsRyan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

Country Orchard Prune Juice, reads the label on the plastic jug in front of me. They say this thick, nasty-looking juice is a potent laxative. Well, I’m about to drink the whole thing.

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

cover coming soonThere have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.

I expect you’d like to know about the most famous of all pirates, Captain James Hook. As I am the world’s foremost expert on him, naturally you turned to me. Children come to me all the time, begging to hear what I know. I graciously seat them in a circle around me, lean in, and whisper, “Not a chance.”

I don’t like children all that much.

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HopeIsRobin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

Everyone at Pepperwood Elementary knows that I live in Treasure Trailers, in the pink-tinted trailer with the flamingo hot-glued to the roof.

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bWF9njFSoPiovwFCJUtNAovKP4AYgX4CNkj5tAhh-S0Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks

Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un-chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural relations.

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MoonSaidGayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

Esther planted her feet on the curb. Her older sister Violet tugged at her arm and said, “Come on! We’re going to be late for the matinee.” But Esther wouldn’t budge–not until a streetcar had clattered past and the street was empty in both directions.

“Ma said to be extra careful today,” she reminded Violet as she finally stepped off the curb and crossed the street. “She saw a ring around the moon last night. That means something bad is going to happen.”

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What are some of your favorite first lines from middle grade books? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year, and we’ll see you again on February 3rd! TTFN–ta ta for now!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forth-coming from Dial/Penguin on August 14, 2014.
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Mad For Middle Grade: Congratulations, Lucky 13s!

We have a very special post today… one that we have been planning since the summer!

As you may know, our “Mad For Middle Grade” series was originally inspired by the Lucky 13s’s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” installments. And today, as we enter into the last month of 2013, we are so excited to celebrate the extraordinary middle grade debuts of our Lucky 13s friends! We can’t recommend their books enough, and it has been an honor watching them gracefully and successfully navigate their debut year!

Congratulations, middle grade authors of the Lucky 13s! YOU DID IT!

Here are our shout-outs to these spectacular 2013 debuts:

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT
By Caroline Carlson

Magic Marks the SpotCaroline Carlson’s The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is a spectacularly refreshing breath of sea air. The book features a winning combination: a plucky heroine, a pet gargoyle, and all sorts of characters who are not at all what they seem. Our heroine must battle pirate bureaucracy and entrenched discrimination (when she applies to be a pirate she is directed instead to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School of Delicate Ladies), as well as hold her own in sword fights and other battles of the more straightforward type. This book, the first is a series, offers humor and adventure that landlubbers and pirates alike will love.

Reviewed by Dana Alison Levy, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER, Delacorte/Random House

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THE KEY AND THE FLAME
By Claire M. Caterer

The Key and The FlameIn THE KEY AND THE FLAME, Claire M. Caterer weaves a wonderful, timeless fantasy where children travel to an otherworldly land in the classic tradition of Narnia and Fantasia. The rich, atmospheric world-building, both in magical Anglielle as well as in present-day England, pulled me right into the adventure, as did the wide cast of whimsical characters. Clever Holly is just the sort of brave, quick-thinking heroine I love to root for, and I loved her transformation as she learns to access her own magical powers. Eagerly awaiting the sequel!

Reviewed by Rachel Searles, THE LOST PLANET, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

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THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET
By Nancy Cavanaugh

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet“Unique” hits a whole new level in Nancy Cavanaugh’s This Journal Belongs to Ratchet. One-of-a-kind main character Ratchet (real name Rachel) captures your imagination and your heart in this wonderfully fresh take on a young girl’s experience growing up with a dad who loves but doesn’t understand her. Ratchet’s quest for a friend and to find her own “style” without the help of a mom is a roller coaster ride of ups, downs, and twists that she captures in her home-school journal. Smiles and heartaches abound when you join Ratchet on her unforgettable journey of self-discovery. Whatever you do, don’t miss the trip!

Reviewed by Gayle Rosengren, WHAT THE MOON SAID, Putnam/Penguin

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PARCHED
By Melanie Crowder

ParchedReading Melanie Crowder’s superb debut PARCHED was a visceral, almost physical experience for me. Set in a future with almost no remaining fresh water, it didn’t take long for me to feel the dryness of the landscape–and of the thirsty characters’ mouths–like it was my own. I attribute this to the author’s extremely skillful use of language; in a book as sparely written as PARCHED, every word counted. My favorite chapters were those told from the perspective of Nandi the dog–just astonishingly good, evocative writing. Readers won’t soon forget this book.

Reviewed by Tara Dairman, ALL FOUR STARS, Putnam/Penguin

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GENIE WISHES
By Elisabeth Dahl

Genie WishesFirst off, what a fantastic cover! No, we are not supposed to judge books by their covers, but this cover fits the novel so well that I kept flipping back to it while reading. That’s Genie on the cover, and her navigation through fifth grade is both thoughtful and wonderfully true-to-life. The episodic narrative rings true and made me feel like I was in fifth grade all over again.

My favorite scene takes place in the middle of the book,when Genie goes to a popular girl’s makeup party. Elizabeth Dahl managed to speak volumes on each character in that small scene. It was a pure joy to read!

Reviewed by Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Amulet Books

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SKY JUMPERS
By Peggy Eddleman

Sky JumpersYou won’t want to think twice about jumping in to Peggy Eddleman’s SKY JUMPERS. Make the leap, and you’ll experience an exhilarating adventure through a uniquely invented world. You’ll meet thrill-seeking, twelve-year-old Hope, who, in the process of capturing a few villains, is also likely to capture your heart. I love books about kids figuring out how they can contribute to their community. And Hope’s search for purpose drew me in, along with my favorite character to worry about, five-year-old, Brenna. She likes to tag along, and who can blame her? Hope’s adventures are worth following.

Reviewed by Edith Cohn, SPIRIT’S KEY, FSG/Macmillan

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BETTER NATE THAN EVER
By Tim Federle

Better Nate Than EverYou know how sometimes you hear about a book and you think “no seriously, I need this book like yesterday,” and then when you finally get it, you’re positive it won’t live up to your high expectations? Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever soared over mine like an alien on a moonlit bike ride. Nate observes everything in his world in that hilarious yet achingly honest way kids do before they put on the convoluted goggles of adulthood. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit in or ever wondered if you had the courage to follow your dreams–or if you sing Sondheim in your sleep–then you’ll want to check this one out.

Reviewed by Michelle Schusterman, I HEART BAND, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

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THE PATH OF NAMES
By Ari Goelman

The Path of NamesFrom magic to mobsters, summer camp to Jewish mysticism, ghosts to creepy secret societies, Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names has it all. It’s funny, magical, and completely original, but that’s not the most impressive thing about the book. Where it really stands out is in how vivid and immersive it is. Whether I was back in 1940s New York where David is trying to keep his secret from the Illuminated Ones or holed up in the modern-day with Dahlia, navigating the frustrations and spooky goings-on of summer camp, the world was absolutely real. The Path of Names is enormously, confidently accomplished, and what is more, it’s great fun. It’s exactly the type of adventure I love.

Reviewed by Patrick Samphire, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan

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EVERY DAY AFTER
By Laura Golden

Every Day AfterEvery Day After is one of those books you know will be an instant classic. The character development is rich, the setting is so real that you start to feel like you have GooGoo Clusters stuck in your teeth (a candy that the Depression-era protagonist, Lizzie, longs for), and the themes are timeless. A story about a young girl staying strong in the face of economic troubles is so relevant today, and Lizzie’s determination is a model to anyone, of any age, who is struggling. But this is also a marvelous middle-grade book about community, friendship, and finding yourself—and one with plenty of sweet humor.

Reviewed by Rebecca Behrens, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE, Sourcebooks

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THE FLAME IN THE MIST
By Kit Grindstaff

The Flame in the MistKit Grindstaff’s The Flame in the Mist has a creepy, evocative title, and a cover to match. From the golden rats peeking out from under the girl’s hood to the army of ghosts lurking behind, you know you are in for a spooky tale, best read curled up by the fire. Jemma’s story, as it unfolds, offers enough twists and turns and hair-raising near misses to keep readers on the edge of their seats. But Grindstaff counters this spookiness with warm friendships and family loyalty, crafting a story that builds to a totally satisfying ending.

Reviewed by Dana Alison Levy, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER, Delacorte/Random House

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SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY
By Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazyTwelve-year-old Sarah has a big problem to solve: once summer ends and school begins, she’ll have to do the Family Tree Project. And everyone will find out about her family’s secret. Karen Harrington does a remarkable job weaving humor and heart into this story without ever making light of the tragedy at its core. Sarah’s quirks (from her best friend Plant to her secret letters to Atticus Finch) and her brutally honest observations about love, kissing, and the power of words make her a character you won’t soon forget.

Reviewed by Michelle Schusterman, I HEART BAND, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

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THE NEPTUNE PROJECT
By Polly Holyoke

The Neptune ProjectIn this unique MG dystopian, global warming has threatened Earth’s environment to the point where scientist undertake THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, creating human hybrids genetically engineered to live underwater. Nere doesn’t realize she’s one of these experiments until she’s forced to leave her mother and the life she’s known to dive deep below the ocean with the dolphins she’s always loved and trained. I especially appreciated how the author’s love and respect for the ocean comes through so clearly in this story, without being the least bit preachy. I think readers will enjoy the unique setting, as well as the non-stop adventure!

Reviewed by Jennifer Malone, AT YOUR SERVICE, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

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THE WIG IN THE WINDOW
By Kristen Kittscher

The Wig in the WindowKristen Kittscher’s The Wig in the Window hooked me from the first page with seventh grader Sophie Young repelling out her bedroom window–sneaking out for a late night reconnaissance mission with her best friend, Grace Yang. Spying on the neighbors started out as a game, but when they begin to suspect that their school guidance counselor is hiding something, and that she might be dangerous, they dive headfirst into solving the mystery.

There was much to like in this book, but I have to commend Kittscher especially on her pacing. She kept me turning pages right up until the conclusion.

Reviewed by Heidi Schulz, HOOK’S REVENGE, Disney-Hyperion

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BULLY.COM
By Joe Lawlor

BullydotcomIn Joe Lawlor’s Bully.com, Jun Li is in big trouble. Someone has posted terrible things online about the most popular girl in school–and Jun is the number one suspect. He has only days to prove it wasn’t him or face the threat of expulsion.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Jun, a more comfortable with computers than people junk-food junkie, and Chris, a tough girl basketball star. On the surface, they have little in common, but their friendship works. It’s fun to see them use their different strengths as they try to uncover the real bully, before it’s too late.

Reviewed by Heidi Schulz, HOOK’S REVENGE, Disney-Hyperion

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SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY
By Jennifer Ann Mann

Sunny Sweet Is So Not SorryJennifer Mann’s Sunny Sweet is So NOT Sorry delivers funny and heartfelt soul balm to older sisters coping with the menace-and-mayhem monsters known as “Little Sisters”. The story, told through older sister Masha’s eyes, on a day that begins and ends with little-sister created havoc, captures with authentic finesse the sense of frustration and love that vie in an older sister’s heart. It was a delight to follow Masha through her snowballing disaster and then into her moment of truth which deftly leaves open the possibility that Little Sisters might be worth something after all.

Reviewed by Jennifer Downey, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS, Sourcebooks

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THE GLITTER TRAP
By James Mattson and Barbara Brauner

The Glitter TrapJames Mattson and Barbara Brauner’s Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap is a sparkly fun book for middle grade readers full of bad names (Lacey Unger-Ware!), bad haircuts (bangs!), and really, really bad spells (pickles falling from the sky!) It’s laugh-out-loud funny in the cheekiest sort of way, though its heart deals with the toughest part of middle school—fitting in. I loved Lacey’s sense of humor, the fast-paced disastrous action, and the fun illustrations throughout the book. And bonus—there’s glitter on the cover!

Reviewed by Skila Brown, CAMINAR, Candlewick Press

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RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN
By Liesl Shurtliff

Rump

Think you know the real story of Rumplestiltskin? Guess again!

Liesl Shurtliff took the traditional story of Rumplestiltskin and completely turned it on its ear… and, gosh, was it magical! Not only is RUMP one of the cleverest fairy tale retellings I’ve ever read, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny, adorably charming, and wholly captivating. Rump’s quest was engaging and heartfelt, and I found myself rooting for him the whole way. The tension and conflicts made for an excellent plot arc! For all those who love fairy tales, smart retellings, humor, adventure, and a dash of magic, this book is–it has to be said–golden.

Reviewed by Lauren Magaziner, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES, Dial/Penguin

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TRASH CAN DAYS
By Teddy Steinkellner

Trash Can DaysTeddy Steinkellner’s Trash Can Days has a lot going on within its pages: multiple points of view, a diverse cast of characters, and a format that is a scrapbook of reports, status updates, posters, lists, songs, and more. It’s hard to pull off a novel using four distinctly different voices, but Steinkellner did this in a masterful way, while still delivering a gut-wrenching story about friendship, middle school, and fitting in. Every reader will find something that rings true in these pages. I expect this one will soon be a classic and loved for generations to come.

Reviewed by Skila Brown, CAMINAR, Candlewick Press

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GOLDEN BOY
By Tara Sullivan

Golden BoyGolden Boy brings to light a shocking human rights tragedy in Tanzania–the effects of Albanism. It’s bad enough that Habo feels responsible for his father’s abandonment, but when forced to move to Mwanza, he discovers something far worse. Sought for his body parts, as they are thought to bring good luck, Habo decides it’s best to leave his family for the safety of Dar es Salaam, but attracts the attention of a fearsome man wielding a machete who tracks him like an animal. With a deft hand, Tara Sullivan has created an engaging read for middle graders that is one part heartbreak and two parts triumph.

Reviewed by Tracy Holczer, THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY, Putnam/Penguin

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BROTHERHOOD
By A.B. Westrick

BrotherhoodA.B. Westrick’s Brotherhood is the powerful story of Shad, a fourteen-year-old in the post Civil War south who is secretly taking free reading lessons at an all-black school, all while his impoverished and war-torn family is growing increasingly involved with the KKK. This book does not sanitize the issue of racism for younger audiences, but rather shows just how difficult it was to do the right thing in a time when everyone you love tells you that it’s wrong to befriend African Americans. This book impressively conveys the atmosphere and voice of the Confederate south while making Shad a sympathetic narrator.

Reviewed by Ryan Gebhart, THERE WILL BE BEARS, Candlewick Press

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GONE FISHING
By Tamera Will Wissinger

Gone FishingFor fishing tomorrow, it’s just us two. Not Mom, not Grandpa…not Lucy.

What can I say about Gone Fishing? Only that this Junior Library Guild Selection will leave you turning pages, not just to find out how Sam comes to deal with his pesky little sister horning in on his fishing trip with his dad, but how all different manner of poetry is introduced to the reader. From free verse to couplets, interspersed with silly illustrations, this middle grade book of verse is accessible and engaging. Tamera Will Wissinger has created a collection of poetry reminiscent of Shel Silverstein. A must have for school and home libraries.

Reviewed by Tracy Holczer, THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY, Putnam/Penguin

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Congratulations to our Lucky 13s friends for an excellent debut year! We are so proud of you all! ❤

Have a happy, healthy, and cookie-filled holiday! We’ll see you in our debut year (!!!!!!!!!), and we are so excited to share our books with you very soon! Wish us luck as 2014 quickly closes in (eeeeep)!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forth-coming from Dial/Penguin on August 14, 2014.
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Mad For Middle Grade: Giving Thanks!

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014, have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE! We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Ahhh… autumn is in the air, pumpkin-spiced everything is on the tongue, and crispy golden leaves are on the ground. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means–It’s almost turkey time (hooray!). But more important than the food is the idea of giving thanks. And this year, we all have a lot to be thankful for.

Question: What are you thankful for this year?

Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

Rachel SearlesI’m always grateful for my fantastic family and friends, but they’re so supportive that if I told them I wanted to wanted to be a circus performer, they’d sign me up for trapeze classes and buy out seating in the Big Top. There are two people that THE LOST PLANET certainly wouldn’t have happened without. One is my incredible critique partner, Liz–I honestly don’t know where I’d be without her help and friendship. The other person is my amazing agent, who consistently impresses me with how thorough and forward-thinking she is, and whose one little “yes” over a year ago set off such wonderful changes in my life.

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

Rebecca BehrensIt takes a person to write a book but a village to publish it, right? This year I’m thankful for all the village people (ha!) who are helping me take When Audrey Met Alice from a story that existed in my head and hard drive to a published book. I’m grateful for my family and friends for their enthusiasm and encouragement; for my agent and agency for their savvy and support; for my editor and the wonderful team at my publisher for taking a chance on me and my characters; for my writer friends for keeping me sane (or what my version of sane is, anyway); and for readers and book-lovers, most of all. Oh, and I’m also extending thanks to the pizza delivery guy because otherwise I would’ve starved to death this year.

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

When you love books as much as I did growing up, the desire to write for kids often follows quite naturally. It certainly did for me. Being a children’s author is all I ever wanted to be, Gayle Rosengren 100x100and now it’s really happening! Gratitude and euphoria are inseparable in my heart. The fact that my book was inspired by the two women I loved most–my mother and my grandmother–makes my happiness even sweeter. I’m thrilled that soon kids will be reading my book! For that I’m indebted to my awesome critique group, and to my husband, family and friends for their encouragement and support. And I’m fall-down-on-my knees grateful to my brilliant editor, Susan Kochan, for bringing Esther’s story to life.

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Laura Marx Fitzgerald
UNDER THE EGG
Author photo 357KBDial/Penguin

I was walking around today, my brow furrowed, scowling at everyone I saw, eaten away by problems on the book I’m currently writing. Why isn’t the plot working? Is this character believable? What will my editor think? Haven’t a thousand other writers already said this better? And then I realized . . . what a wonderful, fun, and unbelievably fortunate set of problems to have! Working on a novel? That’s a gift, not a curse. So today I am grateful for my current batch of problems, which I’d rather have than an easy day at something I don’t love.

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Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Skila Brown I am crazy thankful for my three kids. They ask me questions about what I’m writing, read my stories, and share ideas they have for future books. They also keep life in perspective for me—pull me away from my desk to get outside and do something else—exactly what a writer needs to do.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

I want to take this opportunity to thank some of my early teachers. Some of them 2013-10-18 02_50_38encouraged my writing, even before I knew I wanted to be a writer! So thank you:

MS. LAWSON (5th/6th grade) – I probably would have ended up in juvie without her guidance.
MR. BLAKE (high school Theater) – Thanks for giving me a safe place to go after school!
MS. TURNER (high school English) – The first teacher to tell me I should consider writing as a career.
MR. MIDDLEMISS (high school Journalism) – For letting me write a bunch of crappy newspaper articles! Wait… maybe I shouldn’t be thanking him…

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
SourcebooksJen Downey

I am grateful to have realized with crystal clear clarity (thanks to the tutelage of unsung heroes, Winter Daphne and otters), that once my book is out in the world, no matter how many people abhor it or dislike it or remain indifferent to it, or develop a faint fondness for it or even (dare I hope) delight in it, I will essentially remain the same shmuck I am at this very moment, and the world will continue to pour out its sorrows and its treasures of scent, sound, and sense, friendship and courage, intellectual lightning and loving connective thunder.

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Ryan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

To Grandma and Papa.
OneFourMe
I’m thankful for them lending a hand in raising me and my siblings growing up. I’m thankful for all the trips they took us on, and for their unquestioning support in me and all my random dreams. Although my grandparents never hunted a day in their lives like the grandparents in There Will Be Bears, I still love them just as much as my main character Tyson loves his grandparents.

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Tracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

Things I’m grateful for:

My fabulous agent, Rosemary Stimola, for having the patience of seven people and NIK_5082CROPknowing just what to say to calm writerly nerves.

Kouign-amann. If you know what that is, you know why. If not: http://www.bakedonoceanview.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19%3Ala-weeklys-best-kouign-amann-in-la&catid=11%3Apress&Itemid=5

The time to write stories, which hasn’t always been the case.

My awe-inspiring children. Each of them have special gifts and will change the world in their own big and small ways. I’m so grateful to be able to watch it all happen.

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Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

taradairmanAs my debut creeps ever closer, I’m so grateful to be sharing the ups and downs with a whole community of fabulous kidlit writers. But I would never have gotten to know these writers if someone hadn’t made the effort to organize groups like OneFour KidLit, Mad for Middle Grade, and Emu’s Debuts (the other group blog to which I belong). So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the organizationally-minded folks who make it possible for the rest of us to connect—and give a special shout-out to our Mad for Middle Grade den mama, Lauren Magaziner! 🙂

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Dana Alison Levy
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
Delacorte/Random House

Levy_Dana_author_catI’m grateful for many elements of my life, from really good cheese to the hugs my giant children still occasionally bestow upon me. But I am particularly grateful for my writing partners. It takes a special kind of friend to:

Gently point out a massive plot hole
Highlight a ludicrously over-used word
Cheerlead and tell me I’m awesome
Reread the Same. Darn. Paragraph. Fifty times or more.

Without these patient and talented people I’m not sure the journey to publication would have happened at all. And it certainly wouldn’t have been as fun.

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

IMG_1907WARNING: I’m about to get as mushy as a mashed potato.

I am so incredibly grateful for this whole process; this is a lifelong dream come true. I have many people to thank for that, but that would seriously take a whole ‘nother novel. So a quick THANK YOU to the team: editor Nancy, assistant editor Stacey, and agent Brianne. Thank you for your insanely genius editorial letters. Thank you for laughing at my weird jokes. Thank you for believing in Rupert and Witchling Two… and me. My world is so much more amazing with you three in it!  Every day is like a cauldron full of sunshine!

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

Profile 13I have so much to be grateful for this year, particularly when it comes to my writing. I’ll let my book’s acknowledgment pages give specific thank yous to those that have helped me the most, but today, I’d like to say: I am grateful to my mom, who taught me to read so many years ago, to the authors who made me fall in love with words, and to those whose work continues to inspire me. Thank you!

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Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

author photo with Leia smallI’m grateful for my craft, the joy of writing, the magic moments when a story appears to me. I’m grateful for my readers—those thoughtful people who take the time to tell me how I can improve my story. I’m grateful to the writers who don’t critique my work, but who sit next to me while I type or lend an ear when I need it. I’m grateful to the friends who don’t live nearby but still call or email to cheer me on. I’m grateful to my agent, my publisher and my editor for making this journey so much fun.

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What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season?

Have a happy turkey day! We’ll see you again on December 2nd for a really special segment of Mad For Middle Grade. Stay tuned–you definitely don’t want to miss it!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
 
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Mad For Middle Grade: TRICK OR TREAT, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something Good To Eat!

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

BOO! Did I scare you? No? Well, maybe next time! We, the Mad For Middle Grade authors, are so excited and inspired by the most terribly terrifying time of year, where you’ll find witches walking the streets, vampires ringing on doorbells, and zombies running around neighborhoods! No, we’re not talking about the apocalypse… it’s HALLOWEEN!

Question: What does your main character fear?

Ryan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

Tyson Driggs is afraid of asking out the cute new girl in Choir, grizzlybearand of losing his best friend to the kids on the football team. He’s really afraid his gramps is going to get sick and die on their elk hunt at the Grand Tetons. But that’s if they even get the chance to go. Because there’s been a bunch of bear attacks at the park and his parents don’t want them going. And that’s what Tyson is afraid of most, that he won’t get the chance to show everyone that he’s capable of dealing with all this.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Tyson’s absolutely petrified that a grizzly bear is going to maul his face off.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

Star Mackie’s Top Five Fearswitch
5. Getting expelled from school – because then she would have to go to delinquent school. Which sucks, according to her big sister.
4. Eddie’s fist – he punched a sixth-grader right in the face! A SIXTH-GRADER! IN THE FACE!
3. Meeting her father – maybe she’s not so much “afraid” as she is “nervous as heck.”
2. Drifting apart from Winter – the sister, not the season. Winter has been very aloof since attending delinquent school.
AND NUMBER ONE…
1. Gloria’s haunted microwave – it’s definitely haunted, because normal microwaves don’t turn on by themselves.

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Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

Wild dogs have been mysteriously dyEdith-costumeing on the remote island where twelve-year-old Spirit Holden lives. Spirit is afraid more dogs will die before she can figure out what’s killing them. Spirit is the dogs’ only hope. No one else cares, because island superstition says the dogs are infected with a devil spirit. Spirit isn’t scared of devil spirits, because she doesn’t believe in them. She believes in the Holden family gift, the ability to see the future, but when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does, all she sees is darkness, like the beach on a moonless night. Her biggest fear of all: Did her ancestors decide to leave her in the dark?

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photo-2

Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

BUNNYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

I am so excited for my very first Mad for Middle Grade–and in my favorite month, too!

Heidi3 (2)In Hook’s Revenge, my main character, Jocelyn, is the 13-year-old daughter of Captain Hook. At first glance, she seems pretty fearless. She doesn’t mind handling spiders, snakes, or any other creepy critter. She stands up for herself against the mean girls at finishing school. And if Jocelyn hears a mysterious noise in a dark and gloomy place, her first response is to run—toward the noise and explore.

But Jocelyn has a pretty heavy task placed upon her young shoulders. She must avenge her father by hunting down the Neverland crocodile that was his doom.

Her deepest, darkest fear is this: What if she can’t do it?

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Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BAND
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

Holly Mead might be a little nervous abmichelle-schusterman-creepifiedout her first day of seventh grade, but she’s not afraid – after all, this is a girl who thinks horror movies are the only kind worth watching. She’s even ready to try out for first chair French horn in the advanced band, never mind all those experienced eighth graders. But when it turns out her best friend Julia bonded with new girl Natasha Prynne at summer band camp, Holly starts to think seventh grade might be more intimidating than she thought. Natasha is pretty, smart, and as good at horn as Holly – maybe even better. Fear of Losing is definitely Holly’s biggest fear…whether it’s band or best friends.

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Tracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

After the sudden death of her mother, Grace is acreepiest clown everfraid of many things. Like the sound of the river, her estranged Grandma, and the small town Mama fled years ago when she was seventeen and pregnant with Grace. Then there’s the fear she won’t be able to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey, friends she and Mama had come to love. But when Grace finds a crane, the first clue in a treasure hunt she believes Mama has left for her, she’s hopeful this is Mama’s way of leading her home. Her true home with Mrs. Greene. Her worst fear is the hunt will lead her somewhere else entirely.

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Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/PenguinTara Dairman with horns

Eleven-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby’s biggest fear? Getting found out! If her editor at the New York Standard learns that Gladys is only a kid, she’ll fire her. If Gladys’s parents discover that she’s been sneaking around behind their backs to review restaurants, they’ll surely extend her temporary at-home cooking ban for life. And if the meanest girl at East Dumpsford Elementary figures out what Gladys has been up to…well, maybe Gladys ought to bake her another pie, just to stay on her good side.

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Dana Alison Levy
THE FAMILY FURNIVAL
Delacorte/Random House

The Fletcher Brothers Fear NOTHING! (Except maybe these things)9838404365_c40ab80e58_z
Sam Fletcher (age 12)
Scared of: throwing up. Secret Fear: not making the elite soccer team.
Halloween Costume: the grim reaper
Jax Fletcher (age 10)
Scared of: bees. Secret Fear: his best friend blowing him off.
Halloween Costume: intergalactic ninja
Eli Fletcher (age 10)
Scared of: logic suggests riptides, but illogically, sharks. Secret Fear: won’t tell.
Halloween Costume: Zeus
Frog Fletcher (age 6)
Scared of: slimy stuff in the bottom of the sink. Secret Fear: still the slimy stuff in the sink.
Halloween Costume: lion

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAIDAuthor Photo--witchy
Putnam/Penguin

Esther’s not afraid of many things–except for spiders (eek!). But her mother knows how to read signs that other people miss altogether, and although sometimes the signs foretell good things, like a baby’s birth or money coming,  more often they are signs of warning that illness, bad luck, or even death is on its way!  The harder life gets after their move to the farm, the tighter Ma clings to her superstitious beliefs and the scarier things get for Esther.  She worries about what sign Ma will see next!

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS OF PASSAIC
Sourcebooks

Twelve-year-old Dorrie Barnes? Afraid? Well,images definitely not of Renaissance Faire sword-fights, unplanned plunges into ancient Roman Baths, or a should-be-extinct auroch’s occasional rampage. But, her inability to ferret out the identities of the genuine villains of the modern world? And her growing realization that they probably won’t go along with her plan to vanquish them at sword-point? Now that’s a specter that gives her the deepest of creeps. Plus she’s a little tiny bit terrified of puppets. And speaking of puppets…Pretty convincing a spooky costume I managed to pull together, eh?

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Jennifer Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

Thirteen year-old Cimg1071hloe Turner isn’t afraid of the wooly mammoth at the American Museum of Natural History or of the rats in the subway stations. She’s a little afraid of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square (because: ewwww). But she’d move to New Jersey before telling you her real biggest fear, which is not being utterly perfect as the first kid concierge at the fanciest hotel the Big Apple has to offer.  Unfortunately, losing a guest—a visiting princess at that—just outside Central Park isn’t boding well for her flawless reputation…

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Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/MacmillanRachelSHalloween

What isn’t there for Chase Garrety to be afraid of? After waking up on a strange colony planet with a head wound and no memory, he meets strangers who offer to help him and keep him safe…but soon learns they have their own secret agenda. Attacked by alien monsters, chased by the authorities–his new life is one long terrifying adrenaline rush. Chase quickly proves that he’s tough enough to survive anything that gets thrown at him, but with no sign that his memory will return, his biggest fear is still: What if I never figure out who I am?

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Skila BrownSkila--vampire
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Caminar’s main character, Carlos, is afraid of sleeping on the ground, holding a gun, and doing the wrong thing. But he’s most afraid of being afraid, and others seeing his fear. And aren’t we all just a little bit like that?

Me – I’m deathly afraid of frogs. I know they can’t hurt me, but still. They hop! Right at you! When you least expect it! Utterly terrifying.

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

Audrey isn’t afraid of spooky stuff—notIMG_1500 even the ghosts rumored to haunt the Lincoln Bedroom. What rattles her is the Fear of Missing Out. Being a first daughter means spending lots of time wandering the White House and little making friends at parties and school trips. What good is having your own bowling alley if you don’t have anyone to play with? When the president and the “first gent” tell Audrey she can’t go on the big class trip, she’s afraid that her crush, Quint, will forget all about her. When she finds Alice Roosevelt’s diary, though, Audrey realizes she’s not the only first daughter to worry about the White House not allowing her to sufficiently “eat up the world.”

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Are you afraid yet? ……. BOO!  Gotchya that time, didn’t I?  What are YOUR greatest fears, dear reader? And what are you going to be for Halloween this year? Let us know in the comments!

Hope you have a delightfully spooky October, full of many pumpkin-flavored treats! We’ll see you again on November 4th!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
 
2

Mad For Middle Grade: That’s My Favorite Part!

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Because middle grade is targeted for 8 to 12 year olds, the way middle grade authors handle some elements/topics is quite different from the way a YA or adult author would handle them. So today, we are here discussing how we as middle grade authors tackle particular elements and make them middle-graderific!

Question: What is your favorite element of middle grade? How did this element take shape in your book?

Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Bravery is one Skila Brownof my favorite elements in a story. In middle grade fiction, bravery is defending your ship against pirates or singing a solo for an audition or walking into school when you haven’t got a single friend. In my novel, Caminar, bravery is about telling the truth, facing your fears, and growing up in a time of war. My main character spends most of the story feeling like a coward, but I think (and I hope readers will too) that he’s filled with bravery—bravery that’s rooted in humility—and that’s really the best kind of courage there is.

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

My favorite element of middle grade fiction is character growth. On page one, the main character is usually naive and only minimally interested in the world beyondGayle Rosengren 100x100 his or her family and neighborhood. By the final page they’ve begun to see the imperfections in their parents and the world as a whole. Their wide-eyed trust has disappeared, but hope and confidence have emerged in its place. They have begun to realize they have choices. We see this in my own MG–WHAT THE MOON SAID–as Esther increasingly questions her mother’s behavior, especially her devotion to superstitions, when life sends one harsh reality after another their way. Ultimately, Esther realizes that she can choose to live her life differently than Ma, free of superstitions. But it will take great courage and faith. Does she have enough?

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

I think my favorite element isimage dialogue. I love writing dialogue, and using dialogue to get from one point to another. But writing MG dialogue is different from every other kind of dialogue. After working with kids for six years, I picked up on a lot of the things they said. Sometimes they said exactly what they meant, and other times it was a puzzle. Sometimes they yelled out “TARTAR SAUCE!” when they got angry or frustrated. Sometimes they spun wild stories out of the smallest, most mediocre incidents.

Dialogue is about so much more than words! I tried to give everyone in HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL a very distinct way of talking. Because no two kids talk exactly alike!

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Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

One of my favorite Rachel Searleselements in MG stories is friendship, a common theme for this age group. Human relationships in general fascinate me with all their wonderful complexities, and in MG the characters can have a lovely purity of intention, removed from the angst and hormones and disenchantment of their older counterparts. In my novel, THE LOST PLANET, the two boys start out as cautious, prickly strangers before trouble strikes, and I really enjoyed writing the way that their bond grew and strengthened as they came to rely on and protect one another.

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

I’ve always loved reading—and writing—abouRebecca Behrenst friends: good ones, bad ones, best-forever ones. (Even imaginary ones!) Many books for young-adult and adult readers focus on love and romance, which is great and understandable (hey, love is a pretty big part of life). But that means that it’s rarer to find books in those categories in which friendship is a larger focus. As a middle-grade writer, I love getting to explore the dynamics and emotions of tumultuous tween friendships. The First Daughters in my novel, When Audrey Met Alice, rely heavily on their friends to help them handle life in the White House–and also to have plenty of fun together.

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

A middle grade without humor is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter, jelly, and bread. Humor is definitely aLauren Magaziner hard thing to nail down (see: voice), but when humor is done right, it’s like a Disney movie where the princess is singing, the sun is shining, the flowers are swaying, and the totally-non-rabied animals are frolicking and taking care of all the household chores. (In other words, TOTALLY AWESOME. Where can I find a cottage full of furry forest friends who will dance and clean my apartment for me?)

My funnybone philosophy in THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES was to follow my gut instincts and OWN my kooky sense of humor. I thought that if I cracked myself up when writing, hopefully readers would crack up, too. (And yes, I’m one of those oddballs who laughs at her own jokes… awkward!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michelle-Author-2Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BAND
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

While lots of different elements can make a middle grade book great, it’s hard for me to get past the first page without an awesome voice. Because voice can tell you so much in such few words: is the main character brave? Vulnerable? Funny? Lonely? Bored? Curious? Voice doesn’t just set the tone for the novel – it’s what makes the story, and the character, real.

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Patrick Samphire
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan

When you’re young, the world is magic. Anything could happen, and sometimes it even does. When I was 10 or 11 or 12, I could walk along a patrick-samphire-1path, and when I came around a corner, I really believed the rocks might split open, revealing the entrance to the cave where King Arthur and his knights lay sleeping around a pile of gold. I thought that if I just concentrated hard enough, I could lift things with my mind or take off and soar through the sky. I knew I couldn’t, but I thought I might. I just might.

When I decided to write Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, that’s how I wanted it to feel. I wanted a sense of overwhelming wonder. I wanted you to think that there might — just might — be dragons up there on Mars, and strange clockwork machines, and ancient, mysterious ruins, and pterodactyls and airships and thrilling adventures. I wanted you to go, Wow! Because for me that’s what middle grade is about.

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What do you think? Is there anything you particularly love about middle grade? What’s your favorite element as a reader or writer? Let us know in the comments!

Have a lovely transition into autumn, and we’ll see you again on October 7th!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
2

Mad For Middle Grade: Killing Your Darlings

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

This week we’re talking about revising and—as the expression goes—killing your darlings. Sometimes, deleting words is extraordinarily tough, and we’ve all been there. So if you need advice, if you’re looking for a bunch of authors to commiserate with, or if you are ready to ax some words, then this post is for you. Just repeat after me: HELLO, MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA. YOU KILLED MY MANUSCRIPT. PREPARE TO DIE.

Question: What was your revision process like, and what are some tips for killing your darlings?

Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

IMG_6512For me, revising a manuscript is a unique process with every story (and every pass). But these all-purpose tricks help me through every revision:

—Wordle it: Make a word cloud out of your manuscript, using Wordle or Tagxedo. Do you find that some filler words, such as “like,” “just,” “said,” are huge in your cloud? Use the find function to go through your MS and cut those words whenever they aren’t truly necessary.

—Chunk it: Break up your MS into three to seven “chunks.” Put the text for each into its own, fresh document. Revise each as its own entity. Then weave them back together. Sometimes it’s a lot less daunting to face a twenty-five page section of text rather than the whole thing.

—Reverse it: I often get revision fatigue when I hit the second half of the story. I start letting things slide as my energy and creativity dwindles. So sometimes I’ll start revising backward, moving from the last chapter to the first. This also helps me read the text with as close to “fresh” eyes as possible.

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Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BAND
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

Michelle-Author-2Best way to kill your darlings? Crash your hard drive and lose it all.

That’s not sarcasm…well, maybe a little. But a month ago, right before I was about to start on a pretty major revision, my drive crashed. I didn’t lose my draft of the book, but I DID lose dozens of documents filled with darlings: sentences I loved for the prose but which didn’t fit the new draft, ideas and scenes that didn’t make sense in this new version of the story, backstory that didn’t belong to the characters anymore.

I remembered a lot of it, of course. But not having all those darlings staring me in the face really helped me let go. The result was what I feel like has been my most effective revision to date. So while you might not want to literally lose all that stuff, try revising with a blank document and keep all of your previous research and drafts closed. (And back up your work, kids. Safety first.)

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Ryan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

OneFourMeI think the revision process is a pretty personal thing and no matter how much advice someone gives you, in the end you just have to discover what works best for you. With that being said, here’s some advice: be patient. If you’ve written a book you’re really proud of, really give it time it to fully mature. Once you think it’s perfect, enlist beta readers to prove you wrong. Then take the suggestions that ring true to you and at least consider the ones that challenge your vision. Lather, rinse, rewrite.

I wrote my novel in three weeks. I revised it for three years. Great ideas sometimes become great novels in no time at all. But if you’re like the majority of writers, great ideas need time and revision and assistance to become truly great stories.

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Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Skila BrownI don’t kill my darlings. I just cryogenically freeze them. When I know I need to get rid of something that I happen to be pretty fond of, I simply cut and paste it into a document called “save for later.” Later usually never happens…but mentally this does the trick and lets me hack away without the pain.

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Tracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

NIK_5082CROPFor killing the darlings—I pasted them into a separate document so it didn’t feel so final. But I found myself going back to that document and finding the perfect words for a different part of the story. Sometimes I think our brains work like that, uncovering little tidbits, only we don’t have a place for them yet. I know that isn’t exactly a tip for killing the darlings, but I’m against the death penalty anyway.

As far as revision goes, my process is macro to micro. I make sure there is a clear beginning, middle and end, marking each of those sections. Do they do their job? If not, why? Breaking it down further—does each scene have a purpose in terms of furthering plot, character and conflict? Is there a rise and fall to the scene/section? Do the stakes rise consistently? Do the characters all have enough backstory to make them whole whether or not that story is on the page?

Rinse and repeat a gazillion times.

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Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

Rsearles-squareMy revision process? Slow and painful. I often need a running start to get into the revision groove, so I’ll start reading 2-3 chapters before where I want to revise, and when I (hopefully) get there, I’m in the story well enough that the parts that don’t work will stand out. Same with structural revisions: I write out a short description of each chapter (longhand, legal pad) and read through them from the start, over and over, with an eye for where any holes in the story might be, where a theme or question might have gotten dropped, and most importantly if I’m getting the pacing right. (Most enlightening critique I ever got: “I found myself waiting for something to happen for much of the first 50 pages.” Um, oops.)

As for killing your darlings, don’t sweat it. You will write new darlings—don’t let them stop you from cutting out a chunk of story that’s not working.

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

Gayle Rosengren 100x100My revision process may have been a little different than most, because I don’t have an agent. I met my editor at a writers conference and she fell in love with my main character. The story itself was a bit too “quiet,” though, so she made a suggestion and said if I decided to follow up on it she’d love to have another look at the manuscript. Needless to say, I followed her advice and immediately saw how the tension was heightened. The editor agreed, and the result was a contract!

But this is not to say that I hadn’t already done a lot of revising to this manuscript before my editor first saw it. I had acted on feedback from the members of my writing group. And before I showed it to my writing group—one chapter at a time—I had done a lot of self-editing and—you guessed it—revising.

Revising should be viewed as a natural part of the writing process, no matter if it takes place early on or at the end. It’s the polishing of scenes and sentences that ultimately will make your gem of a story glow its brightest.

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Patrick Samphire
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan

patrick-samphire-largeI feel about my ‘writing darlings’ much the same as I feel about my old leather jacket from when I was eighteen: scruffy, doesn’t fit, probably should be gone, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be me without it.

You see, I think ‘kill your darlings’ is simultaneously both the best and worst advice for an author. If a scene or description or bit of plot or dialogue is making your novel manifestly worse, it has to go, no matter how much you love it. But if you take out all those quirky little asides and features, your book will be bland and characterless, and no one will care. So, kill some darlings, cherish others, even if they’re not functional. The trick is working out which.

And two quick tips:

If you’re revising a section and you just can’t make it work, cut it completely. Your book will almost always be better without it.

When you’ve done all the other revising and you think your book is ready, go through it and remove 10% of the words. When you make this a target, you’ll be surprised at how many excess words you’ve stuffed in.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

imageMy revision process is kind of boring. For HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL I made a list of all the chapters and why they were important. For a lot of them, I couldn’t think of why they were important. So I deleted them!

It was very sad. I held a funeral for all the parts I’d cut. (No I didn’t.) Then I took the chapters I had left and stitched them back into something resembling a story. That’s the version that got me my agent!

After that, I did a lot more revising. My main character was too passive, so that had to change. It was hard, because the previous draft had been so dependent on her being passive. BUT NOBODY LIKES TO READ ABOUT PASSIVE CHARACTERS! I have that tattooed on my brain now, for future books.

AND SO SHOULD YOU.

As for killing darlings, just steel yourself. Take a deep breath. Say, “I’m sorry you were dead weight.” Hit the delete button. Repeat a hundred times.

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

Lauren MagazinerMy revising secret? Read your entire book aloud. Seriously. Do it. And thank me later.

I find that when I read aloud, I’m able to hear where sentences are awkward, clunky, or not flowing well with the rest of the paragraph because I’ll get tripped up and tongue-tied on the wordy parts. Reading aloud also really helps me to slow down and take each line one at a time.

This technique also works with big edits too, not just line-edits! Sometimes, I pretend I’m Teacher Lauren reading my book to Fourth-grade Lauren. If Fourth-grade Lauren gets distracted or tries to pull up the Internet or starts thinking about snack time or does anything except be totally and completely absorbed in the scene, that’s Writer Lauren’s cue to tighten the chapter, amp up the tension, or figure out if the scene is misplaced chronologically.

Added perk of reading aloud? You’ll sound like a muttering, raving lunatic. Every writer’s dream come true!

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Do any of these revision tips resonate with you? Do you have any special revision strategies that we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments!

Have a great rest of summer, and stay cool (both figuratively and literally). We’ll see you again on Monday, September 2nd… aka Labor Day!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
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Mad For Middle Grade: The Recommender

Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

Welcome to THE RECOMMENDER, where we take popular middle grade books and suggest similar, lesser known titles that readers would enjoy. We (the recommenders) LOVE sharing books we love, so naturally, we thought we were way overdue for a blog post such as this one.  This is our way of shouting from the rooftops with a megaphone about the books we adore without, you know, actually shouting from the rooftops with a megaphone.  So without further ado…

The Recommender Says:

So You Like: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket
Then Try: GUSTAV GLOOM by Adam-Troy CastroGustav

These two stories are quite different, but Gustav shares many of the elements that made me fall in love with Lemony. Sweet, forlorn characters who are not overly depressing? Check. Larger-than-life creepy villains? Check. A mystery that deepens with each book? Check. Wonderfully strange settings? Oh, that’s a check. Added bonus: the covers of Gustav are stunning. Trust me, this series will look amazing on your bookshelf.

Recommended by Michelle Schusterman, I HEART BAND, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin

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So you like: ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor
Then try: KATERINA’S WISH by Jeannie MobleyKaterina's Wish

As a kid, I adored ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY by Mildred Taylor (Puffin, 1976). Like all great historical fiction, it made me forget that I was learning something about another time period and simply sucked me into the story of Cassie’s life and struggles. KATERINA’S WISH by Jeannie Mobley (McElderry/S&S, 2012) had the same effect on me years later, immersing me in Katerina’s quest to build a better life for her immigrant family despite the challenges of surviving in a turn-of-the-century coal-mining camp.

Recommended by Tara Dairman, ALL FOUR STARS, Putnam/Penguin

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So You Like: WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
Then Try: KING OF SHADOWS by Susan CooperKing of Shadows

For older MG readers, this book offers complexity and challenge in the form of a boy who travels through time to Shakespeare’s age. Like WHEN YOU REACH ME it touches on mature issues — in this case the death of a parent — through the use of the fantastical. Both books pull readers in and through tough times, but both also bring the protagonist and the the reader to a truly satisfying conclusion.

Recommended by Dana Alison Levy, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, Delacorte/Random House

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Prairie EversSo you like: WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech
Then try: PRAIRIE EVERS by Ellen Airgood
Also try: SPARROW ROAD by Sheila O’Connor

Ellen Airgood’s PRAIRIE EVERS, which features a year of change—geographic and otherwise—for its sweet, strong-willed protagonist, Prairie. Her close relationship with her Grammy (a truly wonderful character) reminded me so much of Salamanca’s relationship with her grandparents.

Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road SPARROW ROAD, in which a spunky, creative protagonist, Raine O’Rourke, travels with her mother to a mysterious mansion that serves as an artist’s colony. Throughout the summer, Raine tries to solve the mystery of the mansion—and one about her own family.

Recommended by Rebecca Behrens, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE, Sourcebooks

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So you like: WAYSIDE SCHOOL by Louis Sachar
Then try: SCARY SCHOOL by Derek the GhostScary School

WAYSIDE SCHOOL was the defining moment of my fourth grade literature education, so I don’t take comparisons lightly. But SCARY SCHOOL is a really apt comparative title. In other words, much like what happened when I first read WAYSIDE, SCARY SCHOOL made me laugh so hard I was literally chortling and snorting. (One person sitting near me even asked me what I was reading that was making me laugh so much.) Scary School is the paranormal cousin to Wayside, with similar short-story-esque chapters and the same silly spirit!

Recommended by Lauren Magaziner, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES, Dial/Penguin

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So you like: LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
Then try: THE CASSON FAMILY series by Hilary McKay

If you loved Little Women (and who didn’t?) Saffy's Angel you will adore the contemporary novels of Hilary McKay that feature the Casson sisters–daughters of two distracted artists–who get through good times and challenging ones with a little help and a lot of love from one another. Each book centers on one of the sisters, who are each named after a color. Titles include award-winning SAFFY’S ANGEL, PERMANENT ROSE, CADDY EVER AFTER, FOREVER ROSE, and CADDY’S WORLD. There is also one brother in this family. His name is Indigo, and his story is told in INDIGO’S STAR.

Probably most appropriate for upper middle grade readers, these would also be delightful books to read aloud together as a family.

Recommended by Gayle Rosengren, WHAT THE MOON SAID, Putnam/Penguin

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So you like: AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi
Then try: THE ELSEWHERE CHRONICLES by Nykko and Bannister Elsewhere

Like AMULET, THE ELSEWHERE CHRONICLES stars a girl, Rebecca, who discovers that her (now deceased) grandfather had discovered another world full of magic. Rebecca becomes trapped in this world with three of her friends, and they soon learn how dangerous it truly is. This is one of my favorite graphic novel series for kids. The art is fun and vibrant, and the story, much like the greatest middle grade novels, is a little dark.

Recommended by Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Amulet Books

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So You Like: THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall
Then Try: THE MELENDY QUARTET by Elizabeth EnrightThe Saturdays

Like the PENDERWICK series, these combine siblings, silliness, small-scale mysteries, and a celebration of childhood. The siblings run away to the circus, rescue stray dogs, chop off their hair, and have endless adventures that resonate even decades after the books were written. They’re perfect as read-aloud to younger kids or for MG readers to discover for themselves.

Recommended by Dana Alison Levy, THE FAMILY FURNIVAL, Delacorte/Random House

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So you like: MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
Then try: TIME STOPS FOR NO MOUSE by Michael HoeyeTime Stops for No Mouse

Like Mrs. Frisby, Hermux Tantamoq is just your average mouse… until he’s pulled into a conspiratorial plot by a mysterious (and beautiful!) mouse named Linka Perflinger. Soon Hermux is having far more adventures than he ever has before (and probably more than he’d like!). What impressed me the most in this book was the lavish world-building. And also the names. How can you not love a mouse named Hermux Tantamoq?

Recommended by Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Amulet Books

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Have you read any of our recommendations?  And do you have any recommendations for us?  (Seriously. We love adding to our MG reading lists!) Be sure to drop us a line in the comments!  We’ll be back on August 5th, but until then, we hope these amazing books will fill the Mad For Middle Grade-sized hole in your hearts!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.