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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.
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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.
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.
4

Mad For Middle Grade: Why?

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 month, we’re digging deep into our writerly souls to find our purpose. Our place in the universe, the meaning behind our existences. Okay… we didn’t dig quite that deep, she says as she strokes her imaginary philosopher’s beard (à la Professor Dumbledore, of course).

Question: Why middle grade?

Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEELphoto-1
Amulet Books
When I first started writing fiction in college, I was strictly YA. I’d read a lot of MG, but all my ideas for books seemed to be about teenagers. That all changed when I got a job tutoring kids at an elementary school. I ended up working in schools for the next six years, and the more I talked and played and interacted with my students, the more I wanted to write books for them! While I no longer work with kids, my love for middle grade hasn’t faded.
Skila reading
Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press
I have always been a big reader, but the period of my life when I read the most was probably between the ages of seven and twelve. Looking back, I’m not sure I did anything but read. I’m not surprised that even now I’m still thinking about stories for readers of that age. It’s a magical time for readers – that moment when you first become absorbed in books all by yourself.

Ryan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press
In the middle grade years, one minute it’s all, yay funtimes CRAYONS AND SANDBOXES AND GOGURTS!” and then your voice changes and your best friend is all… GIRLS. And you’re all, you’d rather talk about girls than Gogurt? Do I even KNOW you anymore? And then it’s, ermahgerd, I think I kinda like girls too. Maybe they’ll make me wear a suit and tie next and maybe not eat so many Gogurts. I’m thirTEEN not thirty.

It’s asking a lot of kids to be grown ups, when all they’ve ever known is how to be a kid. It’s a thing that still resonates in me, even now that I AM thirty. Wait, you’re asking me to pay my bills ON TIME?

So in conclusion, that’s why I wrote a middle grade book.

BTW: I’ve never had a Gogurt. They look disgusting.

Kate Kelly
RED ROCK
Curious Fox/Capstone Young Readers
For me it’s because I never fully grew up. I still view the world with that thrill of excitement. I play in the sea and build dens in the woods (I build the best dens –you just watch me) and I wish to fill the world with excitement and adventure.

Patrick Samphire
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMBpatrick-samphire-large
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan
So here’s what happened. Back when I was about eight or nine, I picked up a book*, and by the time I put it down again, I was eighteen, and everyone thought I should be grown-up. Except I didn’t want to be. I was having way too much fun in that book. I’d fallen through magical doors, fled from goblins, flown into space, and been a pirate. So I decided to stay. Middle-grade is funny, magical, exciting, and full of wonder. The real question should be, why wouldn’t I want to write it?

* There may have been more than one book…

Rachel SearlesRachelSearlesEars
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
I write middle grade because I’m still that bored little girl sitting in an ice rink with a stack of library books, waiting for her brother’s hockey game to finish and daydreaming about suddenly having the ability to fly up into the rafters and amaze the crowd with feats of supernatural acrobatics.

Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/PenguinIMG_7238
Middle graders understand funny. If I wrote a scene in which a character has to eat a raw moose, an adult would cringe, but a kid would find it hilarious. Okay, maybe kids would cringe too, but then they’d find it hilarious. (Maybe.) Hmm… perhaps Matilda of MATILDA fame can phrase it better: “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.” Yes, they love laughter and raw mooses. Meese? Moosen? Mooseronis? Also, don’t ask me why said character has to eat a raw moose. It’s not like I’m the writer… oh, wait…

Michelle Schusterman
I HEART BANDMichelle-Author-2
Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin
I’ll say it: kids are smarter than adults. Their view of the world is untainted, so much less convoluted, simpler in the best possible way. Kids are honest, which is what makes them the best readers (and the best critics). That’s part of why I write middle grade – that’s the audience I want to reach. But the other reason is that I want to get my head back in that place again, when you can see things the way they really are, yet still find magic in everything.

Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARSTara Dairman face
Putnam/Penguin
Confession: I dislike the phrase “middle grade”—there’s nothing middling about it! I didn’t even know that term existed until I started querying agents and had to categorize my book. All I knew while I was writing it was that it fit in with my favorite reads from childhood (Roald Dahl, Judy Blume) and adulthood (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket), and that it wasn’t quite young adult (no angst/kissing!). Turns out that that magical category full of laughs and self-discovery is called middle grade…but I think that “awesome grade” would be a better fit. 🙂

Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/PenguinGayle Rosengren 100x100
I don’t remember the books I read as a teen, but I do remember–vividly–the books I read when I was ten. They whisked me away to places I’d never been and introduced me to friends like Jo March, Anne Shirley, Trixie Belden, Tom Sawyer and countless other characters and stories that made lasting impressions on my heart as well as my mind. They are what inspire me to write middle grade–to try to make the same magical and forever difference in readers’ lives.

Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
SourcebooksIMG_2999
Fact: I am the world’s oldest living tween. And the older I get, the more I realize that they way I observed the world as a middle-grader—with wonder, optimism, and curiosity—is the way I should try to look at it now. The middle-grade years are the age of discovery, and they are magic—even though it’s the time when we start to realize magic isn’t real. (Except it totally is. See, I really am not a grown-up.)

Thanks for tuning in! And here comes the PSA: Have a MG question/topic you’d like us to talk about? Let us hear it in our comments—we’re open to discussing (almost) anything.  Or you could just say hello! We always love hearing from you!

We’ll be back on Monday, July 1st!  See you later, alligator!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches 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 secretly becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous witches who love Toecorn—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.
10

Patrick Samphire: SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB

OneFour KidLit is absolutely plump with brilliant and amazing new writers. Today we’re going to introduce you to another: Patrick Samphire, author of the middle grade adventure, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, to be published by Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt / Macmillan).

Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen? (aka, what was your path to publication)

“Path” is a little bit too generous a word for my trip to publication. Path implies some kind of direction.

For me, it was more like waking up in the middle of a bleak and windswept moor, and then wandering about dazed until I finally stumbled to a shelter. Or something like that.

Ah, here’s a pie-chart to explain it all:

Pie chart pretending to show path to publication.

The blackberry-and-apple-pie chart of publication.

Wasting time – 40%
For almost ten years, from when I went to University, I didn’t actually achieve anything. I wanted to be a writer. I read how-to-write books. I occassionally wrote the odd sentence or paragraph. But most of the time I did other stuff.

In fact, if the Fates hadn’t got fed up with me noodling around, I might still be doing that. Instead, they dropped me into the most insanely boring job I’ve ever done. Every day, I sat behind a computer with nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. So, I started to think about writing again. I joined the online critique group Critters and started writing and critiquing short stories.

Short stories – 19%
Some writers — particularly science fiction writers — will tell you that if you want to learn how to write, you should start with short stories.

I’m not sure I agree; there are too many differences between the forms, and most of the skills you need for a novel aren’t the same as you need for short stories. This is why many great short story writers can’t write novels, and why many great novelists can’t write short stories.

Anyway, I took the advice and started with short stories, mostly for adults. I think I ended up getting seventeen or eighteen stories published in some pretty good magazines, and I’m still really proud of those stories.

But the truth is, I’m not a massive fan of short stories. Some are brilliant, no doubt. They can be beautiful and heartbreaking and terrifying and hilarious. (If you haven’t read Light of Other Days, or Flowers for Algernon, or Slow Birds, or Gauging Moonlight, or The Last of the Winnebagos you’re missing out.) But when I have to choose something to settle down with, it’s always going to be a novel, and normally a big, fat fantasy novel.

Eventually, I figured that if I was ever going to write the stuff I loved reading, I was going to have to just get on and do it. So I stopped writing short stories.

The adult diversion – 12%
I actually wrote a couple of pretty hefty adult fantasy novels, but they didn’t really spark. The less said about them the better. Suffice to say that the trees of the world do not regret that I never tried to get them published.

Almost but not quite – 11%
I started writing middle grade novel almost by accident. I certainly hadn’t been intending to. But one day I had an idea that really could only be only told as a older middle grade or younger YA. It was a contemporary, magical realism called Touching Ice. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be to David Almond’s books. It got me an agent and nearly sold at a couple of publishers, but it never quite made it.

I don’t think it’s an exageration to say that middle grade liberated me. Writing adult novels, I could never free myself from worrying about what cynical adult readers would think, and it stunted my writing. I think if you’re going to write, you have to throw yourself in headfirst. If you’re looking over your shoulder all the time, you’re going to break your neck. Or, er, something.

Middle grade readers are demanding, but they’re not cynical or self-conscious. If they hate your book, they’ll say it, and if they love it, they’ll say that too. They’re honest and open. I stopped worrying about what readers would think, and just wrote what I loved writing.

My next middle grade book was an alternate-world adventure based on Norse mythology, and that nearly made it at a couple of publishers, too.

Win! – 18%
Finally, I wrote SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. I changed agents to my current, brilliant agent, Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary, who threw herself 100% behind it and sold it to Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt / Macmillan).

Right now, I’m writing the sequel, provisionally entitled THE EMPEROR OF MARS. Well, not right now. Right now I’m writing this blog entry. But I should be writing the sequel.

And that’s how I wandered into being published. Take it as a cautionary tale. There are better ways of doing this…

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

In my head, I think of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB as Indiana Jones meets Bertie Wooster and Doctor Who on Mars. With dragons.

But here’s how I’m describing it on my website:

Mars in 1816 is a world of high Society, deadly danger, and strange clockwork machines. Pterodactyls glide through the sky, automatic servants hand out sandwiches at elegant garden parties, and in the north, the great dragon tombs hide marvels of Ancient Martian technology.

Fourteen-year-old Edward Sullivan has always dreamed of becoming a spy like the ones he reads of in his favorite magazine, Thrilling Martian Tales. Instead, he spends his days keeping his eccentric family from complete disaster … that is, until the villainous archeologist, Sir Titus Dane, kidnaps Edward’s parents as part of a scheme to loot an undiscovered dragon tomb.

Edward sets off in pursuit across the Martian wilderness. With him are his brilliant and outrageous little sister, Putty, his impossibly starchy older sister, Olivia, and his secretive cousin, Freddie. Together they must evade Sir Titus’s minions, battle mechanical nasties, and escape deadly Martian hunting machines. If they can’t, they will never uncover the secrets of the dragon tomb and rescue Edward’s family.

You can find SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB on goodreads.

What are you most excited about in the debut process?

I started dreaming of being a writer when I was fourteen years old. I figured, How hard can it be? I was sure I would have a novel ready and published by the time I was eighteen…

Now, about mumble-mumble years later, it’s finally happening.

And, somehow, I’ve been doing this so long that it doesn’t seem real at all.

But there is one thing that I totally wasn’t expecting, and that’s what I’m really absolutely most excited about. My book is going to have illustrations!

I can’t wait to see a copy, a real copy, with real pictures done by a real artist of my story. It’s going to be awesome! I may do nothing but stroke the book for several years.

What cool facts might readers not know about you?

– I spent a big chunk of my childhood living in a small town in rural Africa, where my dad was teaching. I think I still remember how to make a brick out of mud and straw. To get to school, I had to sneak across an airfield, avoiding the guards.

– I’m married to another writer, Stephanie Burgis, who also writes middle grade novels. Her first book, Kat, Incorrigible, was published in 2011, and her most recent book, Stolen Magic, has just come out. I’m racing to catch up!

– When I’m not writing, I design websites and book covers.

– I live in Wales, U.K., right beneath a mountain that looks just like a volcano. So far it hasn’t erupted, but it can only be a matter of time, right?

– If you want to make me happy, take me out for an Indian meal at Prashad near Bradford, U.K. Seriously, they make the best food in the world. Okay, now I’m drooling in an incredibly undignified way.

Photo of Patrick Samphire.Patrick Samphire’s first book, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, is a cracking MG adventure set on 19th century Mars. Patrick has been a teacher, physicist, editor, web designer, explorer, and dinosaur hunter. He’s lived in Africa, South America, Europe, the U.K., and on several small asteroids part way between Mars and Jupiter. You can often find him on twitter: @patricksamphire. Not everything in this biography is true.