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Mad For Middle Grade: Office Space

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!

You know what they say about April, right? April showers bring… perfect opportunities to curl up with a great middle grade book! Like, for example, our wonderful April releases:

THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
by Jen Swann Downey
Release date: April 15
Goodreads

THERE WILL BE BEARS
by Ryan Gebhart
Release date: April 22
Goodreads

THE LUCK UGLIES
by Paul Durham
Release date: April 29
Goodreads

Hooray for Jen, Ryan, and Paul–and their spectacular books!

This month, inspired by cute writing-nook pictures that many other authors have posted of their own writing spaces, we decided to show and/or describe our favorites place to write!

Question: Describe or show your office space!

Paul Durham
THE LUCK UGLIES
HarperCollins

Paul Durham 2Paul Durham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Durham 3

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Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

Edith Cohn

I write anywhere. Have lap desk, will travel.

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

photo-5

The view from my favorite writing spot… my bed!

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Kate Hannigan
CUPCAKE COUSINS
Disney-Hyperion

Kate Hannigan

Kate Hannigan’s writing space is protected not only by her Australian shepherd, Bella, but by the double-sworded ninja her son made in first grade. Elliptical workouts optional.

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Laura Marx Fitzgerlad
UNDER THE EGG
Dial/Penguin

Laura Marx Fitzgerald

We’re in a small apartment, so my commute consists of moving my laptop from a cluttered side table to the cluttered kitchen table. The writer’s life is not glamorous (at least this one isn’t).

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Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan

Rachel Searles

I usually work either plugged into a monitor at my desk (works best for revisions) or on a couch with my feet up (allows for greater free flow of thoughts, so better for drafting), but as you can see, there is generally one constant besides my laptop: my writing buddy cats, Simon and Jack.

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Louise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Louise Galveston

I have my “office” in a corner of our living room. This old roll-top belonged to my grandmother and I love all the little cubbies because I am unfortunately more of a crammer than a filer. It’s deceptively tidy right now because of spring cleaning urges. I love my “sunshine” lamp (I usually write when it’s dark out).

 

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Tracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

Tracy Holczer

I write from a chair in my living room, flanked by my small, fluffy dogs, Buster and Molly. Sometimes, I wear a fancy crown as a warning to my husband and kids that I am not to be disturbed. It doesn’t always work, though, so I’ll often leave my “office” for glamorous destinations like the public library or nearest coffee shop.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

Robin Herrera

I finally moved into an apartment big enough for an office and a real desk! Before I was using a coffee table and had no room for various things pictured here: pens, pencils, photos, and actual books. Now my office has bookcases and I can shut the door if I want… Sigh. Sadly, it also has the litter box for my cat.

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Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Skila Brown

This is the view from the window over my desk. (Hence the screen. Sorry!) A giant backyard, lots of snow all winter, and always deer. There are always deer in my yard (and birds, and owls, and often coyotes.) It’s terrible for gardening but wonderful for distractions. Writers need to look out the window and let our minds wander. I feel lucky to have a great place to do that.

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

Dana Alison Levy

I work in the finished attic of our house, which is a great spot as long as you are 5’6” or shorter (not a problem for me). I like it because it is MY space, and any mess I make stays just how I left it.This labeled photo shows several of my requirements for a good work day; other vitals would include lip balm, headphones, and, of course, internet-blocking software, because I have no willpower.

 

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

Gayle Rosengren

I love my writing desk. It’s a roll top style, so if company arrives unexpectedly and my desktop’s a mess–as it’s apt to be when deadlines loom–I can just pull down the top and hide it all away! I also love my desk because it has so many nooks and crannies and drawers. There’s a just-right place foreverything from paper clips to file folders, from manuscripts to memory sticks And although it has a window, from my desk I can only see trees and sky and the occasional bird flying by, which is pleasant without being distracting.  I love my writing desk. Everything about it is perfect.

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Adriana Schanen
QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-Hyperion

“Did you get locked out?” asked a neighbor, who spotted me hanging out in the yard in mid-30 degree weather.
Nope. Actually, I was working. Sitting in an adirondack chair with my coat on, scribbling away on a manuscript.
Earlier that week, I’d written in the car, in my daughter’s bed, in the bleachers at the rink, at the town library, and while walking the dog (on my smartphone).
I do have a proper desk up in the attic. But I find that I often need to get away from it, in order to do my best work.  A change of scenery and perspective can shake loose all sorts of wonderful things from a stuck and deadline-addled mind.

 

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

Jen Malone

This is the handmade vintage writing desk I bought at a flea market ten years ago, which promptly went into my attic until last year (note: don’t shop like I do!) when I finally found the perfect spot for it. I love to think about the letters (maybe even books?) that may have been written on it before it was mine and also that the slanted top means I can’t even be tempted to have messy piles of stuff on it (though the inside compartment is scary). However, I confess, it’s far better suited for writing by hand, which I never do. That’s why, if you peer closely at the type on the computer screen, you’ll learn my dirty secret!

 

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

Rebecca Behrens

I have many writing spots in my apartment, from my desk to the couch to the kitchen table, and writing spots in other places scattered around the city. But one of those writing places doubles as an inspiration spot, goodfor daydreaming and brainstorming and problem-solving–both for writing problems and sometimes IRL problems. Anyway, my inspiration spot is a makeshift window seat. From it I get a nice, sunny view of the sidewalk below my apartment. It makes for good people-watching. While I sit there, I can watch kids playing on the sidewalk and even catch the sunset. It wasn’t until I started cultivating my inspiration spot that I realized how important a place–or mental space–that is for writers, too. As important as an ergonomic desk chair!

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What do you think is a must-have in a writer’s space? Is there a topic you’d like us to discuss next month? Let us know in the comments!

Hope you enjoy those April showers! My tip: wear rainboots and splosh in lots of puddles! See you again when there’s May flowers… Monday May 5th, to be exact.

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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Kate Hannigan: CUPCAKE COUSINS

As we’re starting to emerge from the grips of winter, it’s a relief to think about warmer weather. Today we’ll get an introduction to OneFour Kidlit author Kate Hannigan, whose middle-grade cooking caper CUPCAKE COUSINS comes out with Disney-Hyperion on May 13th.

Cupcake Cousins Cover small file

What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?

CUPCAKE COUSINS is a celebration of a whole bunch of things. Mostly it’s the joys of summertime. It’s about two cousins, almost-10-year-olds Delia and Willow, who get together every summer with their extended family at an old Victorian beach house on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Only this summer it’s different because their aunt is getting married. And she’s asked Delia and Willow to be her flower girls. It’s a task the girls feel is far beneath them; they’d much rather be “flour girls” and bake delicious desserts for the wedding. So they spend the whole week doing everything they can to get out of having to wear pink dresses and get into white aprons.

I wanted to create a pair of strong girls who are on equal footing. One is not sidekick to the other. They are both the stars of the show. And I wanted to present them “making and doing,” really pursuing their interests and making things happen for themselves and the people they love. The story is filled with cooking disasters along the way, but failing (sometimes miserably!) is all part of the learning.

The Great Outdoors features prominently too. I wanted these girls engaging with bugs and critters and dirt and sand during their summer vacation. Sometimes in the rigorously scheduled worlds we build for our kids, we forget to let them play outside and experience nature up close. So these cousins get to meet hummingbirds and pick blueberries, watch sunsets and boogie-board in the lake.

What are you most excited about in the debut process?

Other people! I’ve been able to connect with some wonderful writers, readers, and book lovers because of this story. The coolest connection might be with the owners of a cupcake food truck, Cupcake Gangsters, which will be a big part of my book launch here in Chicago in May. They are from the South Side as well, and they’re so great to take an interest!

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com

I’ve also loved getting to connect with other writers. A handful of Chicago-area middle-grade authors has sort of bonded together – I’ve been calling it a middle-grade jam session – to do some bookstore events and festivals, talking about the magic of middle-grade. I am thrilled to be going out into the world with my book alongside some warm, wonderful people. We’ve called ourselves Middle-Grade in the Midwest, and it feels like a party. I can’t wait for the first events with this group.

Do you have any writing quirks, places you need to write or things you need to have with you?

My characters are really superstitious, and that’s because I am too. I find lucky talismans all over the place, and I never ever pass up a penny on the sidewalk. At any given moment you can find me carrying a lucky charm in my pocket, whether it’s a Petoskey stone shaped like a heart, a plastic monkey my daughter (now 14) used to play with when she was 2, Santa Yoda, a decorative key I found on the street, a shark tooth (needs no explanation, right?), and best of all, a 1946 wheat penny, which is just like the wheat penny that brings the girls extra good luck in CUPCAKE COUSINS.

Talisman

What’s missing from this talisman collection is the little soldier I found on the grass right around the time Disney-Hyperion was considering my manuscript for publication. I knew this little guy was going to bring me luck, so I carried him with me in my coat pocket for weeks. While his disappearance has me distressed, I am imagining he was picked up by another hopeful writer and is right now bringing her the good luck she needs to see her manuscript turned into a book.

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Mad For Middle Grade: Watch Your Language!

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!

Hey–guess what. It’s MIDDLE GRADE MARCH MADNESS! Which works out perfectly because we have three amazing March releases:

HopeIs

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
by Robin Herrera
Release date: March 11
Goodreads

UnderTheEgg

UNDER THE EGG
by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Release date: March 18
Goodreads

caminar

CAMINAR
by Skila Brown
Release date: March 25
Goodreads

Congratulations Robin, Laura, and Skila on your fantastic releases! May your books nestle into the hearts of young readers everywhere!

HOLY RAVIOLI!

This month we are discussing language in middle grade–from colorful swears to slang to made up words to integrating foreign language to how to use particular words to construct a voice. Read on as we spill our secrets about how word choice can affect the setting and characters.

Question: How do you handle language in middle grade, and what tips do you have about using word choice effectively? How does your use of language create a particular voice?

Louise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Characters define themselves by the words theBytheGraceofTodd_slsconf copyy use, and if those words don’t ring true, you’ve lost your reader. To put it in a proverb: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” When I compose a first draft, it’s nearly all dialogue with no description, because that’s how I discover who my characters want to be.
By the Grace of Todd has four viewpoint characters, and several other main characters, all with distinctly different voices. I relied on using catch phrases and varied sentence structure to keep the voices unique from each other: Duddy says “Dude!” a lot, Lucy “mmm hmms” and “yannos,” Todd likes “holy frijoles,” Lewis the Toddlian speaks very formally, like C3PO, and Persephone, the cowgirl Toddlian talks like a character in a Louis L’Amour novel, using such phrases as, “yer jest a sorry sack o’ taters.” To keep consistency of voice, I wrote the different POV chapters out of order. It was important to me that the kid characters sounded authentic, because that makes the fantasy elements more believable and fun.

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Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan

In writing THE LOST PLANET, I didn’t make aTHE LOST PLANETny changes to the complexity of the sentence structure or vocabulary just because it was middle grade–I wrote the way I would write for any age. Because it’s science fiction, there are a few made-up terms like “annirad” blasters and colorful exclamations like “What on Hesta’s seven suns?”, but their meaning is apparent in the context, and I tried to never overexplain anything. Because I personally find that science fiction with a boatload of made-up words and slang gets a bit inaccessible to the average reader, I intentionally kept those expressions to a minimum. Even my main character names are straightforward, 21st century names–sure, those probably won’t be average names in the future, but I find it makes the characters more easily relatable. Besides, if I waste good weird names like Zap and Xaphlod on my Earthan boys, how will I distinguish my aliens?

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

18769364I love words. I love long words, slippery words, and — a writer’s favorite — words that I can use perfectly but have no idea how to pronounce. I also love swears! But when writing Middle Grade I had to rein in both tendencies and make sure that the language worked for four Fletcher brothers. With four narrators is that word choices really changed depending on whose head we’re in. Eli, who has a real fascination for science, explains things precisely. Jax is more prone to hyperbole, while Sam, the eldest, uses the most slang. And of course Frog, who is only six, speaks largely in exclamation points. When you’re the youngest, I guess you need to be loud to be heard!

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

Talking about language in MG? Yes!

One thing I love is when authors use sophisticated lHookCover_frontonly_72anguage and advanced vocabulary. I’m not talking about overwriting or purple prose, but rather, not shying away from complex sentence structure and/or less familiar words. (Lemony Snicket does this well.)

I think most MG readers are able to pick up on contextual clues to figure out what something means. If not, there’s always the dictionary—which I must admit to using myself for the word “perfidy” in Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux.

I think the key to making more difficult language accessible is to write with a strong, engaging voice that will carry the reader through the unfamiliar parts.

But that’s easy, right? RIGHT?

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks

Language! Playground. Arsenal. Paintbox. 51qfkCHJ1QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Box of Shrimp Chocolates. First-Aid Kit. Third Rail. Last Resort of Humans Separated by Skin Sacks. Growing up I fell in love with the serpentine, multi-claused language of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, L. M. Montgomery and E. Nesbit. I liked and like my narration packed with asides, double-backs and unexpected passage-ways — pockets to hold the comic perspective in the tragic sentence, and the tragic perspective in the comic one.  I assume there are kids alive today who also delight in such rich mazes.

Because The Ninja Librarians is an adventure fantasy which had to, if not hurtle forward, at least move smartly in that general direction, I (and my suffering editor!) had to pick and choose when the story could afford my natural er…excesses. Despite our best efforts, I think my incorrigible impulse to force readers to cuddle/ lick the kitten/crowbar shapes/tastes of words, remains detectable. Forgive me, Hemingway Youth Guild members!

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Adriana Schanen
QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-Hyperion

I love a good, juicy, breathless,51XMyuS393L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ careening run-on sentence. I also love when people get to the point. Writing QUINNY & HOPPER in two first-person POVs let me indulge both linguistic loves.

Quinny is a Tae Kwon Do green belt, expert tap dancer, beginner accordion player — and the life of any party.  Relentlessly sociable and often hot-tempered, she has trouble using her “indoor voice” and her engine’s got one speed: very, very, extra-very fast.

Hopper is a gifted artist and budding scientist who’s deeply curious about people – but from a distance.  He’s happiest holed up in his room, sketching, reading or juggling. He thinks Quinny talks too much, but he’s mesmerized by all the words in her mouth.

Dual first-person narratives are tough to pull off, especially in characters this young (rising 3rd graders – yikes!). But, being a Gemini, I went for it.

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Kate Hannigan
CUPCAKE COUSINS
Disney-Hyperion51nY5kdGT2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

When I was writing CUPCAKE COUSINS, I wanted to capture the spirit of books that I think have a certain timelessness. Elizabeth Enright’s GONE AWAY LAKE, Jeanne Birdsall’s THE PENDERWICKS. Both features kids running around in the summertime enjoying the simple pleasures of being a kid. So while my book is clearly contemporary – one of them goes to zoo camp each summer! – I was deliberate in my references and language in not going for up-to-the-minute trendiness.

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Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

For me, language in middle grade is the 20518878same as language in any novel. It’s best when it reflects the character’s personality, background and setting. Setting? Yes, language can enrich your setting. Here are some examples from my novel SPIRIT’S KEY which takes place on an island.

“Nector grins wider than a clam at high tide.”
“Luck of the oyster crab has abandoned me today.”
“Last one there is a rotten jellyfish.”
“Son of a sand fiddler!”

My main character Spirit uses ocean references because she lives on an island and is deeply connected to her home. Her place on the island is one of the book’s biggest themes. Whooping wowzers! Language can convey everything.

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

One thing I’m really conscious about ATYOURSERVICEis using language and phrasing to try to give another level of insight into my characters.  My opening line of AT YOUR SERVICE (which is: Oh! Holy! Yikes!) is a phrasing I made up just for Chloe and hopefully shows her tween voice well. But I also tried hard to show how much a part of her New York City (her hometown) is, by choosing similes that refer to it whenever possible. When she has a crush on the boy she describes his eyes as “the same navy as the Hudson River before it storms” and she blushes “the bright red color of the TKTS booth” in Times Square. It was a very deliberate decision that also was a ton of fun to write. My favorite is when she describes her feeling of “ugh- this is too much to handle at once” as being like “walking to school in February and having to go down a half block from the crosswalk to avoid the puddles of slushy, sooty, melting ice puddles and then stepping off the curb only to land in the dog poop someone didn’t scoop AND getting sprayed by a taxi driving too close to the side of the road.” As much as I love visiting New York myself, there ARE some times the city turns on you. 🙂

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Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

When you’re writing a book with aAllFourStars large cast, one of the biggest challenges can be making sure that your characters don’t all sound the same. One trick that sometimes helps me with this is to give a character a sort of “catch-word,” which they use when they’re feeling strongly about something. For instance, in ALL FOUR STARS, Sandy pronounces things “excellent” a lot, and Charissa (kinda like this author) overuses the word “awesome.” Meanwhile, our heroine Gladys—who tends to face disaster more often than her friends do—relies heavily on the middle-grade-friendly (and cooking-related!) expletive “Fudge!”

One word may not sound like much of a start, but I’ve found that it can serve as a gateway into a character’s entire speech pattern.

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Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

When I was includingcaminar Spanish words and phrases in Caminar, I had to think about how to let a reader know what each phrase meant. Sometimes I included the English translation right after that. Sometimes I relied on context clues. Other times I just allowed that the word was similar enough to an English cognate that even the youngest reader would figure it out. My editor suggested adding a glossary at the end of the book—a great idea. But definitely the hardest part was coming up with a pronunciation guide. It’s hard to explain the sounds of one language using only the sounds of another to do so. I don’t envy the writers of language dictionaries!

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

In WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE, IWhen Audrey Met Alice final cover had two very different voices to work with: a contemporary first daughter, Audrey, and a historical one, Alice. I had so much fun figuring out how Audrey would use language—she mentions a lot of names and acronyms, such as her Secret Service code name, “Tink,” acronyms like POTUS, and other nicknames based on her family’s political roles, like “First Gent” and “Fido.” Alice’s voice was a little trickier—I really wanted to make sure her diary entries were realistic. Hopefully, her voice is believable as that of a seventeen-year-old in the early 1900s. I’m sure I’ve included a few anachronistic words here and there, even though I did rely heavily on an online etymology dictionary and other resources to see when terms came into use! But I also wanted Alice’s words to flow nicely and stay accessible for young readers today.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

I’ve read a lot of craft books that advise HopeIsagainst using any sort of slang. They specifically tell you that slang is a bad way to date your novel. But does anyone read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and think about how dated the slang is? NO!  

Anyway, my one golden piece of advice on slang is to use it consistently. Yes, your book will sound dated if you have a character blurt out hot slang words a couple times. That’s not how kids talk! And a lot of kids don’t even use known slang, they make up their own. (Which is what I like to do!) Stellar example: just started reading Ryan Gebhart’s There Will Be Bears, where the main character, Tyson, uses the word “yamhole.” I love it! The meaning hasn’t even been explained yet, but contextually it’s easy to figure out, and it gives you insight to Tyson’s personality. (It helps that Tyson doesn’t just say it once.) Whatever you do with slang, be consistent! Don’t be slangin’ all over the place or it will ring false.

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What do you think are the distinguishing factors in language for middle grade readers? Is there a topic you’d like us to discuss next month? Let us know in the comments!

Happy springtime! See you again on Monday April 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 forth-coming from Dial/Penguin on August 14, 2014.
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Mad For Middle Grade: Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue…

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!

Brrrrrrrr, it’s cold outside! And what better way to stay all warm and cozy than with a cute, snuggly middle grade book? Check out our newly minted February releases:

When Audrey Met Alice final cover

WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
by Rebecca Behrens
Release date: February 4
Goodreads

MoonSaid

WHAT THE MOON SAID
by Gayle Rosengren
Release date: February 20
Goodreads

ByTheGrace

BY THE GRACE OF TODD
by Louise Galveston
Release date: February 27
Goodreads

Three cheers for Rebecca, Gayle, and Louise! And be sure to check out these delightful debuts, dear reader!!!

And now, for this week’s topic:

ROSES ARE RED
VIOLETS ARE BLUE
WE LOVE MIDDLE GRADE
WOO WOO WOO

If you haven’t guessed, we’re gearing up for Valentine’s Day! …which mean’s we’re going to discuss LOVE! (Ewwwww cooties.) But not just romantic love–all types of love in our middle grade novels!

Question: What four things does your main character love?

caminarSkila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Carlos loves playing soccer and earning money, especially when he skips school to do so. He also loves his mama. (Because every good boy should.)  But most of all, he loves his village, though he doesn’t realize just how much until he’s on his own.

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Edith Cohn
20518878SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

More than anything in the world Spirit Holden loves her dog Sky. But he mysteriously died and washed ashore on a sand dune. Sky used to be a wild dog, feared by the islanders in her community. Spirit is the only one who loves all the island’s wild dogs. More are dying, and she has to save them. But first she has to save her dad. She loves him too. She’ll hunt down clues in her rubber-peeling purple flip flops—because purple is a color Spirit loves to wear.

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

cover coming soonFour things–four things only–that Jocelyn Hook loves?

1. Books, especially adventures like The Odyssey, or true histories of famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan (the more gruesome, the better.)

2. White dresses, because white makes an excellent canvas for grass stains on her seat, mud on her hem, and raspberry jam dribbled in her lap.

3. Her friend Roger. Wait–no. That’s disgusting. They’re nothing more than friends.

4. Frightening people by the mere mention of her father’s name: Captain James Hook. Yes, that Captain Hook. Shall I fetch the smelling salts?

AND

5. Doing things her own way, especially if it means breaking all the rules.

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AllFourStarsTara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

The great loves of Gladys Gatsby—other than cooking, of course!—include:

1) Rating every meal she eats in her reviewing journal (using a strict
four-star system adapted from the New York Standard’s Dining Section).

2) Alphabetizing the tomato products at Mr. Eng’s Gourmet Grocery
(crushed, diced, paste, pureed, stewed, whole!).

3) Sampling Indian delicacies at her friend Parm’s house (mmmm, samosas).

4) Playing with her neighbor Sandy’s rabbits, Edward and Dennis
Hopper. (Whom she has never considered cooking into a
delicately-flavored stew. Nope, not even once.)

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

Holly loves her French horn, obviously – so much that she even practices on Sundays, which drives her brother up the wall. She also loves color-coded labels and schedules that are organized down to the minute. And thanks to her friend Owen, Holly discovers she loves alien video games and fantasy role-playing card games, too.

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Kate Hannigan
51nY5kdGT2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_CUPCAKE COUSINS
Disney-Hyperion

The main characters in my book are almost-10-year-old cousins Willow and Delia, who are trying to bake their way out of being flower girls in their aunt’s upcoming wedding. Each summer, the girls spend a week vacationing together, along with their whole, extended family in an old Victorian on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Their loves are:
+ Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa
+ Warm waffles on Sunday mornings
+ Big furry, drooly dogs like Willow’s Bernese mountain dog
+ Grandpa – definitely not any boys at school

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Jen Malone
ATYOURSERVICEAT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

Chloe Turner loves positively everything about NEW YORK CITY firstly and forever. She’s also pretty enamored with living in a hotel, between luggage cart races with the bellhops to room service sundae bars at her sleepovers. Third place goes to the color black (being a native New Yorker and all) and, lastly, we have quiet walks on the beach. Pfft. As if. Give her honking taxis and ambulance sirens any day of the week. Unless you happen to be talking Rockaway Beach, since that’s, ya know, part of NEW YORK CITY.

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UnderTheEggLaura Marx Fitzgerald
UNDER THE EGG
Dial/Penguin

Theo Tenpenny loves–or loved–her grandfather, who died suddenly, leaving her a clue to find “a letter . . . and a treasure.” She loves finding a new friend in the jet-setting, up-for-anything Bodhi. She loves an air-conditioned diner with a comped meatloaf plate and New York Post. And more than anything, Theo loves a great street find (as does the author).

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MoonSaidGayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

Esther loves Rin Tin Tin the Wonder Dog. What if there’s no theater in the town near the farm where she can follow his film adventures? She loves to read but she only owns two books. She relies on libraries to satisfy her book-cravings. Will there be a library near the farm?  Esther has a special love for her doll, Margaret.  She tells Margaret all her secrets and she confides her fears about moving.  Ma scolds.  She says Esther is too old for dolls. Esther loves Ma with all her heart–if only she could be sure that Ma loves her.

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ThereWillBeBearsRyan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

Tyson Eugene Driggs isn’t really sure what he loves, but he knows he likes a bunch of stuff. The new girl who just moved from Texas in his Choir class, she’s pretty cute.  He’s also a big fan of Taylor Swift, even though everyone makes fun of him for it. He likes the *idea* of hunting and of seeing a grizzly bear in the wild, even though he’s not exactly sure what he’s getting himself into. And pizza. Yeah, he definitely loves pizza.

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Rebecca Petruck
SteeringTowardNormal_FinalSTEERING TOWARD NORMAL
Abrams/Amulet

Diggy Lawson is a simple man.

He loves to raise steers. He loves D-movies (because B-movies are too classy—give him a yeti tearing off a guy’s leg any day). He loves July Johnston (so what if she’s a senior and he’s still in eighth grade?). And he loves a good prank, especially if it’s on his supposed half-brother Wayne.

Now all Diggy needs is that Grand Champ purple ribbon…

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Adriana Schanen
51XMyuS393L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-Hyperion

Quinny loves playing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on her accordion; kee-yaapping a block of wood in half with her kicky bare foot; talking to anyone; and, without quite realizing it, she loves her quiet neighbor Hopper’s great big looking-looking eyes.

Hopper loves juggling (but only in private) and reading “Atlas of Human Anatomy” by Frank H. Netter, a book so thick and heavy that real doctors actually use it. He loves going to the town pool at night when no one’s there but 200-year-old Mrs. Porridge in her swim cap made of parrot feathers. Plus he secretly loves Quinny’s teeth, because they’re the happiest teeth he’s ever seen.

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ByTheGraceLouise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Todd and his best friend Duddy LOVE to role-play Dragon Sensei, a “wicked awesome” Japanese anime series featuring Koi Boy and his green monkey sidekick, Mongee Poo. Lucy, the brainy neighbor who helps Todd discover and care for the Toddlians (the tiny people who spawned from Todd’s sock) loves all things scientific. Lewis, the Toddlian most loyal to Todd, loves his Creator. And Daisy, Todd’s evil genius baby sister, loves her power source: the Blankie.

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WhenAudreyRebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

Both of my main characters, Audrey and Alice, love to dance, although Audrey’s not exactly sure what Alice means when she talks about doing the “hootchy-kootchy.” Through reading Alice’s diary, Audrey comes to love a few new ways to “eat up the world” as a First Daughter: wearing unapproved outfits to State dinners, taking joyrides on the White House lawn, and sneaking in (crushworthy) guests. Of course, neither one particularly loves the repercussions!

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HopeIsRobin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

What does Star Mackie love? More than ANYTHING else? Her sister, Winter, is number one, along with the rest of her family–Mom and Gloria, her pseudo-godmother. And her home, Treasure Trailers, even if it is next to the dump and everyone makes fun of her for it. She also loves macaroni bake, a dish her mom cooks. And finally, she loves Emily Dickinson. Even though no one else in the Emily Dickinson Club does.

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bWF9njFSoPiovwFCJUtNAovKP4AYgX4CNkj5tAhh-S0Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks

Dorrie Barnes, consistent loser of books and accidental time-traveler, loves getting in a little sword-work with Cyrano de Bergerac, avoiding tramplings by wayward overgrown cows, caramels caramels caramels, standing up for the knocked down, and asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Eh-hem. Oh, did I list FIVE loves? What? We were supposed to list four? I AM sorry. Hey what’s that? Over there….

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Patrick Samphire
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB
secrets-of-the-dragon-tomb-temporary-coverChristy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan

What does Edward Sullivan love? 

1. Adventure. At least, when it’s safely in his favorite magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales. Not so much when he’s being chased through a crashing airship by murderous mechanical crabs, or being dropped of a fifty foot cliff.

2. Spies. All Edward ever wanted was to be a spy, but now there are spies everywhere, and they’re spying on his family. That really wasn’t what he had in mind.

3. His little sister, Putty. Yes, she may be interfering, outrageous, and prone to dragging him into madcap schemes and explosive situations, but…she’s family.

4. Living on Mars. There are pterodactyls, clockwork servants, and dragon tombs full of mechanical marvels. What’s not to love?

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HumTracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

Grace has just lost her Mama, so it’s hard for her to love much of anything at the moment. She tries, though, by hanging on to Mrs. Greene and Lacey, friends she had to leave when Mama died. She writes letters so they won’t forget about her, and she loves getting Lacey’s letters in return. She loves her writing journals, and keeps them close, even though she can’t get herself to write in them. Most of all, she loves the junk-art bird Mama left behind. The one that just might lead her home.

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

Rupert loves–TheOnlyThingWorseTh#FEB1942

“HEY!” Witchling Two cackles in my ear. “I’m the mainiest maniac main character that ever was. Plus,” she nods vigorously, “I love lots more things than Rupert.”

She steals the keyboard from my hands and begins to type:

Witchling Two loves loves loves

1. Purple

2. Lollipops

3. PURPLE LOLLIPOPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. OODLES AND OODLES OF PURPLE LOLLIPOPS!!!!!!!!

Sfjklsdfasdfhdslskdjfsldkjfskflsdjfa

At this point I steal the keyboard back from her. She has dreamily put her elbows on the keyboard and drooled over the thought of grape lollipops. Excuse me while I fetch a napkin to clean my keys… BLECH.

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Dana Alison Levy
18769364THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
Delacorte/Random House

What do the Fletcher boys love? Well, it depends who you ask. Sam loves his phone and soccer, but kinda-sorta-secretly loves telling spooky stories to an adoring audience. Eli loves learning, as long as he can do it his own way, without too many rules. Jax loves fourth grade, (except maybe he actually doesn’t). And Frog, well, that’s easy. Frog loves Ladybug Li, his new best friend, even if everyone does think she’s imaginary. Oh, and he loves his pet cheetah too, and he’s not imaginary either. Just invisible. (Duh).

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Is there a topic you’d like us to discuss next month? Let us know in the comments!

Stay warm, friends! We’ll be back on March 3rd!

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.
2

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.
2

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.