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Mad For Middle Grade: Coming Up Next

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!

This is our VERY LAST POST! Thank you, readers, for taking this middle grade debut journey with us–we’ve been so extraordinarily grateful for all of your support. Since this is our last post, we wanted talk about what’s happening on the horizon for us, so you’ll be able to find us in the future!

Question: Talk about what’s coming next for you!

StolenMoon-1Rachel Searles
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan

Rachel Searles is prepping for the January 27th release of her sequel, THE STOLEN MOON (which has already received a starred review from Kirkus, hooray!). She’s excited to add that THE LOST PLANET (available in paperback Jan. 27th) has been chosen for the 2015-2016 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List. Rachel will be spending the next year working on new projects and seeking the elusive balance between making time for writing and caring for a new baby. Keep up with Rachel at www.rachelsearles.com or @RachelSearles

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Matt LondonUnknown
THE 8TH CONTINENT
Razorbill/Penguin

Matt London is hard at work to bring you the continuing adventures of the Lane family. Book 2 in the series, THE 8TH CONTINENT: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, comes out February 24th, 2015. Book 3, BORN TO BE WILD, will be released later that year, in August. Beyond that, well, let’s just say there’s a continent’s worth of stories to tell. In the meantime, you can find Matt at www.themattlondon.com or on Twitter @themattlondon.

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Paul Durham
THE LUCK UGLIES
HarperCollins51wHT34zbrL

This fall and winter Paul Durham is visiting schools and bookstores throughout New England to talk about THE LUCK UGLIES. The second book in the trilogy, THE LUCK UGLIES: FORK TONGUE CHARMERS, arrives on March 17, 2015, and he will be packing his bags for national tour stops in far-flung places such as Houston, Austin, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. In the meantime, Paul is writing the third book in the series, which will be released in Spring 2016. You can check in on Paul’s Luck Uglies news and occasional ramblings at www.pauldurhambooks.com, on facebook at www.facebook.com/pauldurhambooks, or on twitter @pauldurhambooks. 

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Louise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Louise Galveston is excited to announce that By the Grace of Todd is a 2015-2016 Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee and will be available in paperback next month (Jan. 2015). The little Toddlians set off to find a more responsible god in the sequel, In Todd We Trust, which releases on St. Patrick’s Day. Louise and her family will be welcoming a new little person into their lives early this summer, but the title of that masterpiece is yet to be determined. You can keep up with Louise’s news and schedule of appearances at www.bythegraceoftodd.com and www.louisegalveston.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter @LouiseGalveston

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Kate HanniganCC2 Summer Showers Cover short medium
CUPCAKE COUSINS
Disney-Hyperion

Kate Hannigan will be coming out with a sequel to her early middle-grade novel CUPCAKE COUSINS (Disney-Hyperion) in June 2015. Titled CUPCAKE COUSINS: SUMMER SHOWERS, it follows more adventures with Willow and Delia on their lakeside vacation. The cousins are ready to help with Aunt Rosie’s baby shower, but with Willow’s hand injured, no one seems to think they can do anything in the kitchen. They face meddling big sisters, a County Fair cooking contest, lost family heirlooms, and more. Book 3 in the series publishes in September 2016.

Detectives Assistant cover websiteKate’s historical fiction for middle-grade readers, THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT, publishes in April 2015 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers–marking the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Set just before the Civil War and inspired by America’s first real-life female detective, Kate Warne, it tells the story of 11-year-old Nell who untangles her own family’s mysteries while helping out her aunt with her detective work. It features ciphers and puzzles, as well as hair-raising thrills, as Nell and Kate Warne take part in cases that have nation-changing consequences.

Visit Kate online at http://KateHannigan.com.

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Tara DairmanStars of Summer__FINAL CVR
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

For Tara Dairman, next year is looking to be just as delicious as this one was! Gladys Gatsby’s restaurant-reviewing adventures will continue in THE STARS OF SUMMER (sequel to ALL FOUR STARS), which comes out on May 5, 2015. You can find out more about it, add it on GoodReads, or preorder it here: http://taradairman.com/2014/10/14/sequel-title-cover-reveal-the-stars-of-summer/

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

With her debut year in the rearview window, Jen is happy to kick back and enjoy the role of “established author” (hahahahahahaha).  Jen’s new series You’re Invited  (co-written with Gail Nall)YOU'RE INVITED launches with book one on May 19th and follows four tween girls who form a party-planning business out of their abandoned sailboat clubhouse.  Needless to say, the parties do NOT go as planned. It’s been described as “hitting that sweet spot between Babysitter’s Club and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

Also publishing next summer is Jen’s YA with HarperImpulse entitled Map to the Stars. It tells the story of a down-to-earth girl stuck accompanying a teen star on the European promotional tour of his new movie. A “momager”, an annoying assistant, a security team, and rabid fans are plenty to navigate as the two explore a romance, but when the paparazzi hits the scene, things get really sticky.

Both are available for preorder here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=jen+malone

You can follow more adventures at www.jenmalonewrites.com or @jenmalonewrites

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

This has been an incredible year with so many “firsts” that it’s hard to imagine another time that will Unknown-2equal it for excitement, unless…*drum roll*… it’s the release of my second book! My middle grade novel, COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET will be published (again by Putnam/Penguin/Random House) in early August.  It’s about 12 year-old Joanna’s experiences during the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and it speaks to growing up in a world full of uncertainty.

In addition, I’ll be kicking off the New Year with a very special event in Batavia, Illinois at Grace McWayne Elementary School, as the featured author at their first ever Family Reading Night.  On February 5th I’ll be signing books at the annual WSRA  (Wisconsin State Reading Association) conference in Milwaukee. And other events are in the works, so it’s already plain to see that 2015 is going to be yet another amazing year.  I couldn’t be happier!

Gayle would love for you to visit her website at www.gaylerosengren.com and follow her on Twitter @GayleRosengren

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HookCover_frontonly_72Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

Heidi Schulz will not be hanging up her cutlass anytime soon. Her sequel to Hook’s Revenge, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code, will be out next fall followed by her picture book debut, Giraffes Ruin Everything, in Spring 2016. Other future plans include finally getting around to painting the no-longer-new trim around her windows and eating pie. Catch up with her on twitter (@HeidiSchulz) or on HeidiSchulzBooks.com

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks
51qfkCHJ1QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Jen Swann Downey is looking forward to the rapid regeneration of her fingertips which sadly wore away to bloody stumps during the drafting for THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: A SWORD IN THE STACKS. The sequel will release in late 2015, a few months after the paperback release of the first book in the series, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND. She is also hoping to remember to frolic more along dark moonlit streets, and solve all of her family’s single sock riddles. Thanks to the readers of the OneFourKidLit posts for paying attention to all of us as we rode out on our book steeds. Hope we gave something back. Come on over and visit at www.jenswanndowney.com or https://www.facebook.com/JenSwannDowney

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Unknown-3Jennifer Torres
THE BRINY DEEP MISTERIES
Speeding Star

These days Jennifer Torres arrives at her desk promptly at  5 a.m. each morning (before the kids get up) to work on her next project, a middle-grade fantasy/mystery called SPELL’S CANOE. She continues to visit schools, libraries and bookstores promoting her debut series, THE BRINY DEEP MYSTERIES.  Jennifer is also working on a new series of biographies for Rosen Publishers to be released in 2015. Keep up with Jennifer at www.authorjennifertorres.com and on Twitter @Jenn__Torres.

 

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Rebecca BehrensWhen Audrey Met Alice final cover
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

Rebecca Behrens is looking forward to Audrey meeting Alice again, when the paperback edition of When Audrey Met Alice is released in May 2015. Her next book, Summer of Lost and Found, will be published by Egmont USA in early 2016. She has a short story, “Thatagirl!” running in Scholastic Scope next spring–and another one inCricket, too! In the meantime, she’s visiting schools and libraries, teaching workshops, and (slowly) writing something new. Follow her on twitter (@rebeccabehrens) or visit her online at www.rebeccabehrens.com.

 

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin
TheOnlyThingWorseTh#FEB1942

Here’s what’s coming up next for Witchling Lauren:

1. Paperback release of The Only Thing Worse Than Witches in August 2015.
2. Book #2 scheduled to release in early 2016. While there is no definitive title (yet), Lauren can tell you that it’s about a whimsically weird school for thieves, muggers, robbers, burglars, crooks, and otherwise intolerable criminals. She’s hoping that Pilfer Academy will steal your heart. *ba-dum-tss*
3. Practicing her evil laughter
Muahahahahahaha*hacking coughs*

Follow her misadventures at http://laurenmagaziner.com/ or on twitter @laurenmagaziner.

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caminarSkila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Press

Skila Brown is hard at work on her next middle grade story. In the mean time, she’ll have two new books out in the spring of 2016 with Candlewick Press: a picture book collection of shark poems, Slickety Quick, and a verse novel for teens about the ill-fated Donner Party, With the End in Sight.

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Dana Alison Levy18769364
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
Delacorte/Random House

Dana Alison Levy is delighted to continue romping with the Fletchers! The sequel, A FLETCHER FAMILY SUMMER, is due out spring 2016. When not trying to keep Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog out of trouble, Dana will be working on more books for kids and teens, and might occasionally remember to do laundry. You can find her at www.danaalisonlevy.com, where she rarely talks about herself in the third person.

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SecretHumofaDaisy paperbackTracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

Tracy Holczer’s novel, THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY, releases in paperback on May 1, 2015, and she is fiercely working on novel number two. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SMALL THINGS is about eleven-year-old Samantha Rossi who writes down small observations about life in order to face all the big things she can’t quite handle. Like her surgeon father coming home from Vietnam a different person, and her best friend choosing to start a Stewardess Club instead of joining the Odyssey Project the way they’d planned. It’s a story about heroes, the big and the small. It’s due out in May, 2016.

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UnderTheEggLaura Marx Fitzgerald
UNDER THE EGG
Dial/Penguin

Laura Marx Fitzgerald is hard at work at her second novel, due out in 2016 from Dial/Penguin. Tentatively titled THE GALLERY, this middle-grade mystery takes us to New York in the Roaring Twenties where a young maid discovers an heiress’s secrets through her mysterious art collection. Laura is also busy with school visits and field trips, where she is delighted to share the many real-life mysteries of the art world with elementary and middle school kids. Visit Laura at her website LauraMarxFitzgerald.com for more about writing, art, and history.

Laura looks forward to the paperback release and audiobook releases of UNDER THE EGG in spring 2015.

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Q&H cover from onlineAdriana Brad Schanen
QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-Hyperion

Adriana Brad Schanen has been visiting schools and book clubs with her debut early middle grade novel, Quinny & Hopper, which was selected as a TLA Bluebonnet Award Reading List book and picked up by Scholastic for 2015 book fairs and newsletters. She has several MG and YA projects in progress.

Check out her website in early 2015 for official news of the publication of her second book — she’s bursting to share it! adrianabradschanen.com

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HopeIsRobin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

Robin Herrera is currently finishing up what will hopefully be her second book, a humorous young adult novel set in 1990. In the meantime, she’ll continue to edit comics and graphic novels. You might catch her at the annual ALA conference in San Francisco, but for the most part she’ll be staying home in Oregon. 2015 will probably be the year Robin goes to the dentist. She is not looking forward to it.

Visit her online at robinherrera.com or on Twitter @herreracus.

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Well, that’s it from us, folks! Thanks so much for tuning in this past year and a half, and be sure to check out our archives for more of our splendiferous posts.

And now we shall ceremoniously pass the baton to our 2015 middle grade debut friends in the Fearless Fifteeners group! May your journeys be full of wonder and MAGIC!

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 available now from Dial/Penguin.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Mad For Middle Grade: Villainous Tricks and Treats

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!

What’s not to love about the Halloween time? There are pumpkin spiced lattes, candy, costumes, hayrides, and most importantly… SCARY, EVIL BEINGS! There’s a real art to creating a convincing villain, so we’re here today to shed some advice on how to approach the task.

Question: How do you create good antagonists or roadblocks for characters? Share your villainous tricks and treats! 

Rebecca Petruck
STEERING TOWARD NORMAL
Abrams/Amulet

2014-09-29 16.37.53

The scariest villains are the ones we carry inside us. Being the person we want to be in the face of serious challenges can feel impossible, and in some moments is impossible. But those bad moments only define us if we let them. It seems like it should be easy to let go of the memories of things we’re not proud of and move forward as a better person. But feelings like envy, jealousy, anger, fear, doubt, and insecurity are clingy little dingleberries. Defeating our inner villain who wants everything his way right now without having to fight for it or compromise can be our greatest battle. Yet winning has the kind of long-term effects that can create a life we’re proud of—even if sometimes we just have to through some cow poop to get it out of our systems.

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

Personally, I find it far more difficult to write good villains than good heroes. After all, a good villain should be bad, sure, but also interesting, complicated, and have a story of his or her own. In THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER I didn’t really have a villain, (though some might have thought of Mr. Nelson that way at first). But I have worked on other stories with a more traditional bad guy (or bad gal!) and I think the only “trick” to writing a good one is to make her (or him) as full a character as possible. Does she love her dog? Does she laugh at puns? Does he only pursue his evil goal because of a desire to help someone else? If an author works to understand the villain readers are “treated” to a far better story!

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Lauren Magaziner
Lauren Witch HatTHE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

Writing a villain for middle grade can be especially difficult. Without enough villainous “oomph,” an antagonist would be boring and give no stakes to your story–but at the same time, a villain can easily become too scary or menacing. I think the key is to balance a little bit of humor with the more threatening parts. For example, in one moment in The Only Thing Worse Than Witches the dreadful Mrs. Frabbleknacker makes children stand on their heads until their words come out backwards. It’s a funny kind of threat–something that is actually rather horrible when you really think about it, but so entrenched in humor that it feels almost safe. Almost. (Muahahaha.)

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Robin Herrera
2014-10-01 04_19_43HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

I hope that people are surprised to learn that Mr. Savage, one of the “villains” of HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, is based on myself. Creating a good villain starts with understanding your villain. The villain is the hero of their own story! In Mr. Savage’s world, he is the heroic teacher hired to shape and mold the minds of young 4th and 5th graders. Star Mackie is the villain of his world, and she’s about to start a rebellion in his own classroom! The only way to stop it is to assert himself in front of his students, belittling Star in the process. When you think about it that way, Star is kind of a huge jerk. (Just kidding! Mr. Savage still wins the jerk award.)

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Louise Galvestonmongeepoo
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Bad guys aren’t born, they become. Understanding what warped a villain’s personality is key, even if it takes a while to be revealed. In By the Grace of Todd, Max is evil incarnate to Todd and his tiny Toddlians. But in the sequel, In Todd We Trust, we see that Max is terrified of his big brother, and get a glimpse of the treatment he’s faced that causes him to torment others. I also believe bad guys can be redeemed, as in Ernie, Todd’s elementary school nemesis who does an about face in middle school and becomes Todd and Duddy’s buddy. (I’m dressed as Mongee Poo, a hero from Todd’s favorite anime series Dragon Sensei. Hoo hoo hi-yah!)

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Matt London
10362515_927717525241_7320697419049827655_n THE 8TH CONTINENT
Razorbill/Penguin

I’ve always believed that what makes readers LOATHE a villain is when the baddie gets away with something terrible. So I try to make sure my villains get away with everything! The villain of THE 8TH CONTINENT is Vesuvia Piffle, the ten year old super secret CEO of the Condo Real Estate Corporation. She is rotten! But she is also convinced she’s doing the right thing. And that makes her all the scarier.

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Ryan Gehart
THERE WILL BE BEARSbearrcoat
Candlewick Press

It would appear that Sandy, the vicious grizzly bear prowling the Bridger-Teton National Park who killed two hunters from Ohio would be the villain in BEARS, but she’s anything but. Tyson wants nothing more than to see her. It’s everything that’s getting in the way of the trip that’s antagonizing him. It’s the realities of adulthood, of his beloved grandfather who was supposed to take him to the Tetons get put into a nursing home instead. And as Tyson puts it: being an adult sucks.

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Two more posts left in our Mad For Middle Grade series! Are there any middle grade topics you want to hear about? Let us know!

See you on Monday November 3rd! And remember: the best way to stop an evil villain in his or her tracks is a pie in the face (……or maybe just a fantastic protagonist).

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 available now from Dial/Penguin.
 
 
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Mad For Middle Grade: Getting Schooled

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!

Back to school reads are HERE! Curl up with one of our September releases:

Torres_BrinyDeep

THE DISAPPEARING: The Briny Deep Mysteries #1
by Jennifer Torres
Release date: September 1
Goodreads

SPIRIT’S KEY
by Edith Cohn
Release date: September 9
Goodreads

I HEART BAND: CRUSHES, CODAS, AND CORSAGES
by Michelle Schusterman
Release date: September 11
Goodreads

HOOK’S REVENGE
by Heidi Schulz
Release date: September 16
Goodreads

THE 8TH CONTINENT
by Matt London
Release date: September 16
Goodreads

Three cheers for awesome books from Jennifer, Edith, Michelle, Heidi, and Matt! Give these great reads to the elementary schooler in your life to make him/her very happy… or tuck into a corner and rip through these adventuresome tales yourself while the kids are at school (muahahaha)!

Speaking of back to school…. today our characters are getting schooled! We’re here to talk about how characters learn, grow, and change throughout our novels, both in school and outside it!

Question: How do your characters learn and grow, either inside or outside the classroom? 

Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan20518878

In SPIRIT’S KEY, Spirit lives on Bald Island and attends school in a one-room classroom with all the island’s kids. Their teacher Mrs. Dialfield tries to keep them all on the same topic but at different levels. Lately Spirit is having trouble learning because she is grieving the loss of her beloved dog Sky. Mrs. Dialfield is kind and understanding and always smiles at Spirit even when she comes in late and doesn’t turn in her assignments. Mrs. Dialfield is also the only one who believes her when Spirit says she sees the ghost of her dog. “Lots of impossible things happen on this island,” Mrs. Dialfield says. Indeed, Spirit and Sky have a book full of adventures to come!

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AllFourStarsTara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/Penguin

School is not exactly Gladys Gatsby’s favorite place–she doesn’t have many friends, and the lunches her parents pack for her are anything but inspiring. That all changes, though, when new teacher Ms. Quincy takes over Gladys’s sixth-grade class. Ms. Quincy convinces Gladys to embrace her passion for cooking and write about it for the statewide sixth-grade essay contest…but even she has no idea how much that one assignment is about to revolutionize Gladys’s life.

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Heidi Schulz
HookCover_frontonly_72 HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

Jocelyn, the only daughter of Captain Hook, hates finishing school. What good will lessons in embroidery, dance, French, and manners be to the fierce pirate she intends to become? She wants to be out having adventures now, not decorating pincushions!

When Jocelyn is charged with avenging her father on the Neverland crocodile, she happily says goodbye to a school and all its useless information. It’s not like knowing which fork to use will save her life one day. Or will it?

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

I don’t have any scenes set in school in At Your Service (well, except for one on the steps outside, where she gets picked up by the hotel limo amid immense jealousy from her classmates!) but I can say that my main character Chloe gets taken to school in a big way by a trio of visiting royals. Chloe is all about following proper protocol (no matter how weird it feels to say “Excuse me, Your Royal Highness Princess Ingrid of Somerstein” to anineyear-old, every time she needs to ask a basic question) but she won’t get the respect or approval of these kids until she figures out how to see past her official role as junior concierge and to recognize the ordinary kids inside the royal trappings. Sometimes a VIP would rather the emphasis on the “P” than the ”VI” and Chloe will take some hard knocks before learning that!

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Adriana Brad Schannen
QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-HyperionQ&H cover from online

New neighbors Quinny and Hopper overcome a disastrous introduction to begin a magical summer friendship. The kind you never forget. It’s a summer full of juggling lessons, accordion playing, the biggest mud puddle ever — and the screwball adventure of reuniting an eccentric homeless chicken with her far-away family.

But then summer ends, and fall brings new haircuts, new schedules — and new anxieties. Quinny is excited to start 3rd grade, but grows unsettled by gossip about all the changes reportedly ahead, especially new “rules” regarding boy-girl friendships. Hopper, too, worries that once they get to school, everything will change. Especially when Quinny finds out the awful secret he’s been hiding all summer. Let’s just say neither of them gets much sleep the night before that first day of school!

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Matt London
THE 8TH CONTINENT
Razorbill/Penguin8thcontinentcover

One of the most important elements of drama is Change, and learning is one of the primary ways storytellers like us have our characters change. Each main character in THE 8TH CONTINENT gets schooled in a different way. Rick may be a super-genius, and Evie may be street smart (but hate school), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have much to learn from each other, and from the world around them. Teachers are key here. Their father teaches them. So does their father’s old research partner, Doctor Grant. For Rick and Evie, these teachers are even more important than their instructors at the International School for Exceptional Students. Sure, at school Rick and Evie may skydive into social studies, eat sushi in the cafeteria, and enjoy video game design classes, but that doesn’t mean school can’t be a drag, too.

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

The main character must learn and change in the course of any successful story. In What the Moon Said, Esther learns academics in the two-room schoolhouse but also, by virtue of the much smaller class and school size, she learns much more about her fellow students’ families and personal circumstances than she ever did at her large Chicago school. At home, Ma is constantly “schooling” Esther in superstitions and signs. And throughout the story Esther is learning from her experiences and observations, so that her desperate need early in the book to hear “I love you” from Ma is far less urgent by the story’s end, because Esther has learned that it is actions, not words, that matter most.

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Louise GalvestonBytheGraceofTodd_slsconf copy
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

Todd and his even dorkier best friend, Duddy, are dreading the first day of middle school where the bullies are sure to only get bigger and meaner than the ones they’ve left behind. But when man-child and mega bully, Max, befriends Todd, it looks like his loser days are behind him…and so is his friendship with Duddy. Todd learns the hard way that life is a lot rougher on the other side of puberty, and in the end, the coolest person you can be is yourself.

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Robin Herrera
HopeIs HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

Pepperwood Elementary is not for the light-hearted.

In her first three months at school, Star Mackie learns that blue mullets make you stand out, that sometimes the way you hear a name isn’t how it’s spelled, and that teachers can be just as mean as students. But Star also learns about the Mayflower, something like 70 new words, and everything about Emily Dickinson. She also learns that Emily Dickinson is not the only poet worth reading, and that The Trailer Park Club is a terrible name for a club.
Pepperwood Elementary is a pretty tough school, as it turns out, but Star’s getting the hang of it.

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When Audrey Met Alice final coverRebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

First Daughter Audrey is rather lonely at Friends School—the fancy private academy she attends in Washington, DC. (You might be lonely, too, if Secret Service agents followed you around the campus!) She finds friendship and understanding from an unexpected source: Alice Roosevelt’s long-hidden diary. It’s through reading about Alice’s hijinks, struggles, and heartbreak that Audrey learns how to be herself—no matter what House she’s living in.

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Lauren Magaziner
TheOnlyThingWorseTh#FEB1942 THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

What Rupert learns in the classroom:
1. Never make eye contact with Mrs. Frabbleknacker, or she will most certainly call on you. And if she calls on you, she will make you stand upside down for an hour . . . or something equally awful.
2. He is very, very unlucky to be placed in Class B with dreadful Mrs. Frabbleknacker.

What Rupert learns outside the classroom:
1. With a great friend, he can get through anything, even Mrs. Frabbleknacker’s class.
2. Being a witchling’s apprentice was not at ALL what he expected. (Like brewing egg salad potion? Really??)

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Dana Alison Levy
THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER18769364
Delacorte/Random House

THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER starts in September, and follows the four Fletcher boys through the school year. While each boy learns a lot in school, the real lessons they learn are about themselves. Sam learns that it’s okay to have more than one passion; Eli learns that being smart doesn’t always mean being right; Jax learns that people are not always what they seem, or what you hope or fear; and Frog…? Well, Frog learns that real and imaginary worlds can sometimes overlap, causing utter mayhem! Hopefully, the lesson all the Fletchers learn is that they can count on their family to make them laugh, even when there’s cat barf to clean up.

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With only three segments left, are there any middle grade topics you want to hear about? Let us know in the comments!

We’ll be back on Monday October 6th. In a while, crocodile!

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 available now from Dial/Penguin.
2

Mad For Middle Grade: Behind the Scenes

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!

Looking for a summer beach read? Then look no further than our adorable, delicious, delightful July releases:

ALL FOUR STARS
by Tara Dairman
Release date: July 10
Goodreads

THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
by Dana Alison Levy
Release date: July 22
Goodreads

Hooray for Tara and Dana’s spectacular debuts! If you haven’t read them yet, then RUN–don’t walk–to your nearest bookstore or library! Trust me.

Ever wonder why authors choose particular names, include certain scenes, or write about specific topics? Want to learn some little-known facts about the writing of our books? Allow us to give you a sneak peek into some behind the scenes moments!

Question: Tell a behind the scenes story about your book!

Skila Brown
CAMINAR
Candlewick Presscaminar

Caminar is based on actual events, but since the story is fiction, I decided not to use real place names. Instead, I made up names, offering a nod to significant words and places. The name of the camp that the rebels are travelling towards, for example, is Ixchandé, which is inspired by Iximché, a place that was once the capital base of the Kaqchikel Maya around the time that the Spaniards invaded. And during the time of Carlos’s story, Iximché held an important meeting where many Guatemalans declared that they would organize and rise up against the militant government. 

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet BooksHopeIs

I don’t usually name my characters after people I know. USUALLY. But when I was writing the book that would become HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, I was also working at an elementary school. One of my favorite students was a kindergartner named Gloria. I worked one-on-one with her a lot and loved how silly and sweet she was. So when I needed a name for Star’s bubbly, sugar-obsessed pseudo-godmother (who is actually based on ME), I borrowed Gloria’s name. I don’t know if Gloria will ever read the book or make the connection, but it’s there because she always brightened my day.

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Kate Hannigan
CUPCAKE COUSINS
Disney-Hyperion

51nY5kdGT2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I knew I wanted my book to be very Midwestern, so set my story in Saugatuck, Michigan, which is this wonderful beach town along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Western Michigan. For Chicagoans who want to make a quick escape in the summertime, it’s an easy trip – no hassles of air travel, lots of fruit picking along the way. It’s a wonderful place to shed the big-city woes and just run around barefoot and enjoy the sand and the sun. I feel like with today’s plugged-in generation, kids don’t experience summertime the same way as generations before them. For too many kids, it’s a time to sit around in air-conditioning playing video games. I wanted to create a place where the characters shed all that and key into the beauty of the area – catching the sunsets, discovering hummingbirds, looking up at the stars as they light up a night sky. Old school joys of being out of school.

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

For most of my childhood, my dad INSISTED he was the missing crown prince of Lithuania. The reason for the fake royal blood? My table manners. Every time he spotted my elbows on the table, I’d hear, “When I return to my birthright, you’re not going to be able to attend royal events at the castle with manners like that.” At a certain point, I learned to place my napkin in my lap (confession: I still sometimes sneak a book under it during dinner!) and I realized my father was, well, full of it. But I also knew exactly who to name the King of Somerstein after when it came time to write my book. You’re welcome for the promotion, Dad!

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Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan20518878

The “key” in SPIRIT’S KEY was inspired by a handmade ring I’d made from some Alice in Wonderland fabric. The fabric had all these cute little images on it: a key, a mirror, a rabbit, a cake. I’d isolated the key and made a ring with it that was sitting on my dresser when I was contemplating Spirit’s story. I knew already that Spirit’s Dad was a psychic—one who specifically had the ability to see the future. But I didn’t know how. I saw the key ring, and thought: Yes! People’s house keys! That’s how Dad will know their future. And Spirit’s Key was born.

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Rebecca Petruck
STEERING TOWARD NORMAL
Abrams/Amulet

Researching Steering Toward Normal was so much fun because I visited farms, state fairs, interviewed amazing 4-H’ers, and witnessed a ton of moments that I basically reported verbatim. Like the toddler at the Minnesota State Fair who moo’ed his guts out at a steer’s butt for five minutes, just pleased as heck he knew what sound a cow makes and very determined to get this particular animal to make it back to him. The little guy was hoarse by the time his mom led him away. The scene almost didn’t make the cut, but how could I not shoehorn in such cuteness?

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

18769364

THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER is filled with true happenings (both good and bad) and inside jokes. But one fun secret: their name didn’t start out as Fletcher. They were the family Furnival, until I got some editorial feedback that “some people” thought “Furnival sounded like “funeral.” I know, I don’t really hear it either. Anyway, off I went on a wild search for a new name! Then my editor said, “well, wasn’t the dog in your aunt’s (author Elizabeth Levy) books named Fletcher? What if you named the family after that dog?” So the family Fletcher was born, and only a few people knew that they were named for a basset hound in my aunt’s books! (If you want to see the original Fletcher dog, check here: http://elizabethlevy.com/booksall/ !)

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Tara Dairman
ALL FOUR STARS
Putnam/PenguinAllFourStars

As you may have noticed, Gladys Gatsby shares a last name with a certain other character from literature. Some people assume that this is a reference to “The Great Gatsby,” and it is–but not in the way they think. I’ve never been a fan of that book, so it’s always rankled me that Jay Gatsby is probably the most famous fictional literary character to live on Long Island (where I grew up, and where Gladys lives). So I guess I paid a tiny bit of homage by borrowing the name…but mostly, I just wanted to reclaim and reimagine it. My apologies to Fitzgerald!

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Louise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/PenguinBytheGraceofTodd_slsconf copy

In By the Grace of Todd, Persephone, the spunky Toddlian, is sold as a slave to one of evil Max’s bully buddies. At his house she watches an hombre named John Wayne on TV and so admires his toughness that she becomes a self-styled cowgirl.
Her character is a tribute to my cowboy father, who is my hero and a huge fan of the Duke. I also love the work of Louis L’Amour, and his lingo definitely influenced my writing. Persephone gets a lot more page time in the upcoming In Todd We Trust, as do the rest of the Toddlians. “GERONIMOOOO!!!”

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-HyperionHookCover_frontonly_72

Jocelyn’s pirate crew in HOOK’S REVENGE are so desperate to look experienced that they pretend to have battle wounds. There is One-Armed Jack (who keeps an arm tucked inside his shirt), Jim McCraig with a Wooden Leg (who only has a giant sliver in his toe), Blind Bart (who could see fine if he would remove at least one of his eye patches), and Nubbins. Nubbins lost a thumb in a cooking mishap, but claimed a giant squid bit it off. Since he is the only one with the glory of a real injury, I let him keep his given name. He would have felt less need to embellish. 

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Lauren Magaziner
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
Dial/Penguin

Here’s a quick glance at how I found some of my characters’ names:

Fairfoul WitchFairfoul was a name I stole off a gravestone in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Rupert: When trying to think of a perfect name for the protagonist, Rupert and Rufus were the first things that popped into my head. I went with Rupert because “Rufus” always makes me think of the (awesome) naked mole rat on Kim Possible.

Allison: One of my best friends once complained to me that there were never any nice, decent book characters named Allison. Challenge accepted!

Bruno: My nod to Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES.

Rupert’s mom: Her name–Joanne–is only mentioned once in the whole book, but I named her after my favorite author, J.K. Rowling.

Mrs. Frabbleknacker: OK, this one just came from my brain. Fully formed. And weird.

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks

51qfkCHJ1QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_THE NINJA LIBRARIANS is rife with real people, speeches, books, songs, and gadgets, summoned from history to help tell would-be sword-fighter Dorrie Barnes’ story. In it, the time-traveling warrior lybrarians call their headquarters “Petrarch’s Library”. I had never heard the phrase when I came across it scrawled cross-ways, loose, and all by itself on a piece of paper in a spiral notebook during a rare deepish house cleaning. I hadn’t written it, nor had anyone else in the family. The suggestive phrase wouldn’t leave me alone, and conjured the first images for me of a sprawling library connecting ancient and modern times. Petrarch the 14th c. humanist, it tickled me to learn, was a book fiend and restless traveler who often hit the roads leading a short train of donkeys laden with his personal library.

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Rebecca Behrens
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
Sourcebooks

When Audrey Met Alice final coverI wanted to write about a fictional First Daughter, and I also wanted to write about the very real and awesome Alice Roosevelt. But I didn’t know which story idea to pick, or how to put those two together—at least without time travel.

I was waiting to cross the street at 62nd and Madison when suddenly the concept for not AUDREY or ALICE but WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE popped into my head. A presidential tween could find Alice’s diary and get ideas for running riot in the 21st century! I went home and outlined the whole book.

Later, while researching, I found out that the very intersection where inspiration struck was where young Alice lived with her Auntie Bye. Coincidence?

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Ryan Gebhart
THERE WILL BE BEARS
Candlewick Press

There’s a scene in THERE WILL BE BEARS where Tyson threatens his friend Brighton that if he doesn’t confess to liking Taylor Swift, he’ll hack up a wad of snot and spit it into his mouth. Most people would like to believe something this disgusting is entirely fictitious, however, yeah… no. I have five older brothers. I’ve been pinned down by my brother Jacob, a wad of snot dangling from his lips. It fell into my screaming mouth that pleaded for mercy.

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What other behind the scenes info do you want to know about any of our books? Have any questions for particular authors? We’ll answer questions in the comments section!

After that cold winter, please enjoy that hot summer sun! And be sure to return for another segment of Mad For Middle Grade on Monday August 4th.

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

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!

We have one wonderful June release that you definitely don’t want to miss:

51XMyuS393L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

QUINNY & HOPPER
by Adriana Brad Schanen
Release date: June 10
Goodreads

HOORAY, ADRIANA! Congratulations on your lovely, endearing debut!

This month we are getting personal. Stick with us as we share some of our most vivid middle grade memories–ones that shaped us as authors.

Question: How have your middle grade memories affected your writing?

Edith Cohn
SPIRIT’S KEY
FSG/Macmillan

In sixth grade I marched uEdith Cohnp to the most popular girl in school and asked, “Hey can I be popular with you guys?” because I figured being popular was as simple as asking for what you want. She responded with a pitying look, “I’m sorry, but some people don’t like you because you have chicken legs.” Wow. Really? I had no idea skinny legs and knobby knees were what was holding me back in life. In high school I told my friends this story, and chicken legs became a fond nickname. I owned it. Hindsight made it funny. But when it happened, I was mortified, rejected and I came to think of myself as an outsider. For years, I snapped at a lot of people who tried to talk to me—assuming I was the butt of some joke. Maybe sometimes I was, but I think a lot of time I was an outsider of my own making. In SPIRIT’S KEY, Spirit is also in some ways an outsider of her own making. 

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Gayle Rosengren
WHAT THE MOON SAID
Putnam/Penguin

My parents were lGayle Rosengrenong-divorced by the time  I was ten.  Mom worked full time and we lived on a very tight budget with little money left for the extras I yearned for–piano lessons (not that we had a piano), ballet lessons, ice skates, art supplies.  Library books were my salvation. They were free and promised unlimited adventure.  I opened their covers and became tomboy and future writer, Jo March; Cherry Ames, RN; Susie the ballerina; Tom Sawyer on his island; Trixie Belden, with her best friends (and horses!) and mysteries always at hand to solve. All of their lives were so much more interesting than my own. Readingwas like leaving a black & white world to enter a techni-color one, like when Dorothy lands in Oz.  I decided then that what I wanted more than anything was to be a children’s author because I wanted to make that kind of amazing difference in kids’ lives too. 

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Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGE
Disney-Hyperion

Heidi SchulzWhen I was in sixth grade I went to Skate Palace and couple skated with the wrong boy. He was nice and cute and seemed to like me, but he was wrong because another girl said so. Thus began the Get All the Girls to Hate Heidi Campaign.

It worked. For the rest of the year, the girls in my grade only spoke to me if they had something mean to say. Sometimes weapons were fired in the coatroom, via “anonymous” notes shoved in my pockets.

I still remember one: Dear heidi, Notice I didn’t capitalize your name. Only important words are capitalized.

In Hook’s Revenge, Jocelyn also gets pocket hate mail, though hers does not insult her with a grammar lesson.

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Robin Herrera
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
Amulet Books

In fourth grade, my class Robin Herrerawas assigned to write a “sequel” to the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. My favorite cartoon had just aired a hilarious episode about that very topic, which included Jack being sued by the Giant for breaking and entering. So I wrote that and turned it in.
A few weeks later I had my parent-teacher conference. My teacher, usually critical of me, told my parents about the story I’d written. So creative and funny!
I squirmed in my seat, ashamed. My teacher finally had something nice to say about me, and it was for something I hadn’t even come up with on my own. I left with slumped shoulders that day, but I vowed never to pass someone else’s work off as my own.
So far, so good!

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Tracy Holczer
THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY
Putnam/Penguin

When I was six, myTracy Holczer parents divorced. My mom grabbed me and Pooh, our teacup Chihuahua, and headed for Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It was summer, and they had a pool, so the shock of what was going on was dulled by sunshiny days, the pain of my peeling nose, and the excitement of watching my poor little dog get chased around by my aunt’s orange tom cat. While there, I happened upon a statue in the donation box that I snatched, and kept under my pillow. It didn’t take long for my six-year-old mind to decide the statue was my guardian angel.

Eventually, I found out the hard way the statue was, in fact, just a statue. She shattered into a million pieces at the feet of one of the meanest girls in my third grade class.

But it was moments like those, shardlike and brilliantly lit, that made me a writer. 

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Jen Malone
AT YOUR SERVICE
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

In eighth grade, assigned teams in gym class gave me unprecedented access to the rantings of the two queen bees at my middle school. I was well aware that we traveled in different social circles, but I never suspected we were living in different universes, until I heard oneJen Malone complaining to the other about how her boyfriend liked her to do a certain something that I literally did not know existed as a thing. In the span of two minutes of overheard conversation, my whole world tilted on its axel and I was left dumbfounded. What was most shocking to me was my complete and total ignorance before that moment. Was I the only one who didn’t know about this stuff? What other stuff was I oblivious to that everyone else not only knew about but, even worse, was already DOING? Would be expected to do these things? The answer was “not anytime soon”, but in that moment, it sure knocked me on my butt. It would be logical to assume this made me want to write edgier middle grade so no other poor soul is caught unawares, but it has actually had the opposite effect. I write sweet and light MG because adult me wants to give young, naive me hugs and tell her to stay that way as long as possible. The rest of that stuff is out there waiting when she’s ready for it.  

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Adriana Schanen
QUINNY & HOPPER
Disney-Hyperion

Some of my best childhood meAdriana Schanenmories were of spending time at my friend Kirsten’s summer cottage, in rural Southern Wisconsin. Our families were neighbors in a near-downtown part of Chicago, and we all grew close. She and I were busy with school and sports/activities most of the year, but at the lakeside cottage we did nothing much except read moldy old Nancy Drew books, perform shows on the rickety pier and wander the shoreline. These were the memories I went back to when writing my early MG novel, QUINNY & HOPPER: the contrast between city bustle and rural quiet, the breathlessness of a packed schedule versus the balm of a leisurely day all to yourself.

I changed schools a lot when I was young, and the anxieties and uncertainties of that informed my writing of this book, too — but it’s those simple, sweet cottage-day memories that made me want to write about a great summer friendship in the first place.

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Louise Galveston
BY THE GRACE OF TODD
Razorbill/Penguin

I was feeling veLouise Galvetsonry pleased with myself as I sashayed into the Jr High Halloween dance. I was all dolled up in a vintage black 60s dress, stilettos, pillbox hat with a net (my favorite part), and a diamond-studded cigarette holder (minus the cig, of course). I’d done my make-up a la Marilyn and felt my power as boy after boy wanted to slow dance with me. A big, good-looking farm boy (who’d never given me the time of day before) leaned in close to my hair and pulled back. “Yup,” he said with a lopsided grin. “Your hair does smell like BLEEP!” I was utterly humiliated. Curse you, Aquanet!

There is an extremely awkward Halloween dance in the sequel to BY THE GRACE OF TODD-IN TODD WE TRUST. Only Todd’s partner’s hair smells exotically of coconuts. 🙂

This picture is taken in the very cafeteria of the dance of shame. I think the hand-hold was a dare.

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Jennifer Downey
THE NINJA LIBRARIANS
Sourcebooks

It’s in those middle years that one’s native cheery sense of the possible, and the obviously self-evident suffers its most sJen Downeycraping of challenges! The summer after 5th grade, I went off to camp. One with wooden mouse-
chewed cabins, a beautifully unsupervised archery range, a lake, and a supply of boys, a species newly of interest. I had gone with a friend. We had decided ahead of time to ditch our real names and enjoy two weeks of summer paradise as “Katie” in my friend’s case, and as “Sandy” in mine. Quickly, we fell in love with a pair of twins from Long Island who wore matching stars and stripes bathing suits. Meaningful glances were exchanged. Clearly a note needed to be written. Arrangements codified. Cross-legged, on the eau-de-urine mattress, I licked my pencil tip.  “Dear Ricky and Larry,” I composed, following with a business-like laying out of facts about the attraction “Katie” and “Sandy”  felt in equal, though non-discriminatory parts. I closed with a question: “Which one of you, likes which one of us.” At that evening’s lakeside 4th of July gathering, the note was passed up to the blanket on which our beloveds sat. In the expectant hush that presaged the release of the first round of fireworks, the twins’ answer came back in slow deafening unison: “We both like Katie!” No malice. Just the facts. And a vast audience for my stunned burning-faced recognition of logic’s betrayal.

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Do you have any significant middle grade memories? Come share your highs and lows with us in the comments!

We’ll be back on Monday July 7th for some more middle grade fun! Stay tuned!

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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Poems in Books

April is National Poetry Month! This month we’re highlighting 2014 debut novels with a strong tie to poetry and asking those authors for a taste of what to expect in their books. Here’s what they offered up:

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Tracy Holczer Secret Hum of a Daisy

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY

Putnam/Penguin

a middle grade novel – available May 1st

 

With Mama,

the closest I’d ever been

to falling snow

was the farm trucks going by on the interstate

leaving behind a flurry

of snow white onion skins.

As we’d lie in the fields

they’d drift over,

making it easy to pretend

we were somewhere else.

This was the first poem I’d written for the story. It was a snapshot of the life my main character, Grace, had lived with her mama before she died. It told a lot, I thought. But as revision took over, another sort of poem had to take the place of this one, one that showed less of the yearning in Grace’s life and more of how normal things were Back Then. And even though this poem was edited out, I always kept it close in case I lost sight of Grace, which can happen when revision is focusing on things like plot and tension. This poem goes to the heart of the story and I’m glad I got to share it.

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Robin HerreraHopeIs

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL     

Amulet Books

a middle grade novel – available now

 

I read a lot of Emily Dickinson poems while writing HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL that I thought it’d be fun for my main character, Star, to write one of her own. Inspired, of course, by her favorite poet.

The poem has been through four drafts! And it’s now in the finished book, so clearly I did something right:

In the Winter!

We get Snow –

But – in the Trailer!

We Don’t Know –

Where Autumn Ends!

And Winter Starts –

‘Cause Winter’s There!

Inside Our Hearts!

(Winter here is the name of Star’s older sister.)

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Skila Brown  caminar

CAMINAR        

Candlewick Press

a novel in verse – available now

He Had a Gun

A rifle rattled
on his shoulder,

his thumb tucked
under the strap,

a shadow where
a mustache planned to grow, above his lip.

He tapped his fingers
on the bullets around his waist

as he winked
at some girls.

Roberto dropped his Pepsi,
ducked inside.

My feet stuck
right to the ground.

I did not move.
Except my eyes.

 
The main character of Caminar is at that difficult point in childhood where he’s caught between boy and man. In this scene, he’s meeting a boy his own age, a boy who happens to be a soldier. I had a lot of fun playing with the juxtaposition of images in this poem. Rattle and thumb bring baby images to mind, making the bullets and winking all the more jarring.

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Linda Phillips  Crazy

CRAZY

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 

a novel in verse – available in October 2014

ART EXHIBITION

First thing inside the door
I smell turpentine.
I nearly trip over a wet canvas
propped against the door frame.
I follow a trail of smudgy rags
and scattered paint tubes
into the living room
where I find Mama,
her back to me,
kneeling
muttering
crossing herself
before a dripping canvas.
She’s been painting again!

“Hail Mary, Mother of God. . . ”

A sickening sense of panic begins
crawling up my spine.
“What’s going on, Mama?” I ask.

“Hail Mary, Mother of God. . .”

I’m not sure she heard me
so I move toward her,
bending down to look into her face
and I say it slower
louder
trying to connect with her eyes.
“Mama, what’s going on?”

“Hail Mary, Mother of God. . .

I reach out to shake her,
maybe even slap her,
do something to snap her out of it
and get her attention
when she stops
abruptly,
faces me,
looking past me
somewhere,
signaling me
to be silent.
“Mary’s my sister,
see.
She’s coming,
coming for a visit. . . and I,
I must finish getting the house
ready for her visit.
Be a good girl now,
won’t you?
Go clean your room
so you will be ready
when she comes,
see
ready when she comes,
when Mary comes to our house
see, when Mary—
Oh, I can’t find my alizarin
and I need it—
I have to have it NOW,
have to paint, now, NOW!
Do you see it here
somewhere?
So I can paint Mary
before she comes,
see. . .”

 

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Madeleine Kuderick   Kiss of Broken Glass
KISS OF BROKEN GLASS
Harper Teen

a YA novel – coming September 2014

 

In the last post, I mentioned how I didn’t consciously choose to write a novel in verse. Instead, that voice chose me. From the very first sentence Kenna’s words were raw, choked off and close to the bone. Today I’d like to share a sample of that voice from my book jacket.

My name is Kenna.
No one ever told me the truth
about cutting –
How scars multiply like freaking rabbits.
How cutting turns you into a pathological liar.
How getting caught lands you in a psych ward
with no way out
for 72 hours.
But that’s exactly what happens.
To me anyway.
And I bet you wonder
how anyone could ever change –
in just three days,
in a place like this,
where everybody’s broken.

Trust me.
I wonder that myself.

 

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Do you have a favorite poem? Link it up in the comments – we’d love to know what it is. And Happy National Poetry Month from all of the OneFour group!

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.
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Why write with poetry?

April is National Poetry Month! This month we want to highlight debut novels that release in 2014 with a strong tie to poetry. We have two middle grade novels with poetry woven throughout the story. And three novels in verse where the story is told through poetry.

This week we’re asking these authors: Why poetry? Why did you write in verse? Or how did your story come to include so many poems?

 

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Tracy Holczer Secret Hum of a Daisy

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY

Putnam/Penguin

a middle grade novel – available May 1st

 

I have always been a fan of Robert Frost’s “less traveled” poems and had decided that somehow, someway, one of his poems would make an appearance in my story. After writing a couple of drafts, it became apparent that the poem would become one of the “clues” in Grace’s treasure hunt. Happy that I’d found a way to make it work, and after many more revisions, I went off into submissions. It wasn’t until I queried my agent and she asked that I consider giving Grace a way with words—a connection through poetry to the father she never knew—that poetry became a bigger part of the story. Once there, I couldn’t believe I’d ever written the story without it.

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Robin HerreraHopeIs

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL     

Amulet Books

a middle grade novel – available now

 

The main character of HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Star, has weekly vocabulary sentences to turn in. While writing the first draft, I had trouble coming up with all the words she’d use, so started doing themed lists. The first of these lists was “Emily Dickinson words.” They were fun to write, but poor Emily didn’t get to show up again.

So in the second draft, I took Emily a bit further. Star wrote a Dickinson style poem and compared the poet to her sister. In the third draft, someone saw the poem, and by the novel’s end, he’d convinced her to start a poetry club. In the fourth draft, that poetry club became the Emily Dickinson club and a major plot point.

So in my case, the poetry evolved with each draft, eventually becoming a very large part of the book! Now I can hardly remember the book without it.

 

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Skila Brown  caminar

CAMINAR        

Candlewick Press

a novel in verse – available now

Caminar came to me as poems. I assumed I’d be taking those poems and turning them into a prose story, but the poems just kept coming and they seemed to be a good fit. I think because the story, with its sometimes-solitary character, its small amount of dialogue, and its intensity of emotions and loss, really lends itself to verse. I found I could say with white space and metaphors what I was having a hard time describing with words. I also think the poems allow readers to digest at a level that’s appropriate for them. A younger reader will get the gist of what’s happening without extreme detail, while teens and adult readers can read between the lines and really absorb the tragedy that unfolded.

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Linda Phillips  Crazy

CRAZY

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 

a novel in verse – available in October 2014

Keeping a journal and filling it with poetry was a healthy outlet and a steadying force in a somewhat tumultuous childhood.  Crazy began as a series of twenty poems that I wrote as a way of trying to understand my reaction to my mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder during most of my formative years. At the time, I had no intention of ever writing a book.  After a number of the poems were published in various adult literary magazines I got the book-writing bug.  I was considering moving towards a chapbook when my writing buddy critiqued it and suggested it needed to be novel.  Then it took many revisions to effectively disengage emotionally and rework the voice into young adult.

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Madeleine Kuderick   Kiss of Broken Glass
KISS OF BROKEN GLASS
Harper Teen

a YA novel – coming September 2014

 

I wrote KISS OF BROKEN GLASS in verse because it was the most authentic and gripping way to tell this story. When my protagonist Kenna is committed to a psych ward after she’s caught cutting in the school bathroom, I wanted the reader to be inside her head. Intensely close. And to experience her emotional journey in short, sharp bursts. Just like Kenna feels it.

I think writing in verse delivers this effect more powerfully than prose. But to tell you the truth, it’s not something I consciously chose to do. Instead, it chose me. From the very first sentence, Kenna’s voice was a natural fit for verse. Raw. Choked off. An abundance of emotion in a small drop of words. Writing this close to the bone is sometimes hard to sustain according to verse author Caroline Starr Rose. But in this case, it felt right. And luckily Kenna’s voice never waivered.

 

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There you have it! Do you have a favorite novel in verse? Or novel with a poetry element? Tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear!

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.
0

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.

Rachel Searles 2~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.
1

It’s National Poetry Month!

April is National Poetry Month! What better way to celebrate than by reading a OneFour debut book! Here’s a look at some of our books that have a special tie-in to poetry:

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Tracy Holczer Secret Hum of a Daisy

THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY

Putnam/Penguin

a middle grade novel – available May 1st

 

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. She thinks she’s found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter Lacey so when her mother says it’s time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels. She’ll always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

Now faced with making a home with a grandmother she’s never met, and according to her mother, didn’t want her in the first place, Grace is desperate to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey. A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, may must be the key. It all begins with a crane. And Grace is sure it’s her mother showing her the way home.

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Robin HerreraHopeIs

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL     

Amulet Books

a middle grade novel – available now

 

Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

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Skila Brown  caminar

CAMINAR        

Candlewick Press

a novel in verse – available now

Carlos knows when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it’s time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet—he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist.

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

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Linda Phillips  Crazy

CRAZY

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 

a novel in verse – available in October 2014

Fifteen-year-old Laura Walberg can’t imagine life without sketching or painting.  When her artist mother has a nervous breakdown the same week Laura’s teacher pressures her to enter a prestigious contest, Laura must face her fear that art will send her over the edge, too.

Driven by shame and rage, Laura hides her disintegrating home life from everyone, including her best friend. Neither her older sister nor her father recognizes her fear of going insane.  Desperately alone, she considers suicide, faith healing, an unlikely relationship with a super-jock, and a new artistic endeavor.  When Laura’s mother becomes violent, Laura vows to find the demon that is driving her crazy.  An amazing discovery changes Laura forever and opens her heart to the mother she never knew.

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Madeleine Kuderick   Kiss of Broken Glass
KISS OF BROKEN GLASS
Harper Teen

a YA novel – coming September 2014

 

After she’s caught in the school bathroom cutting herself with the blade from a pencil sharpener, fifteen-year-old Kenna is put under mandatory psychiatric watch, where she feels like she’s lost everything – her blade, her friends, her freedom. She has seventy-two hours to face her addiction, deal with rejection, and find an answer to the question – What do you do when nothing stops the hurt but pain? An incandescent novel that pulses with emotion and lingers long after the last page. KISS OF BROKEN GLASS is unforgettable.

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If you’ve read a good novel with poems lately, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy Poetry Month!

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.
3

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.