Monday, October 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Sorta Sisters

I don't have anything with creep or scare for you today, but since it's Halloween, you may be on the prowl for that, so I'll refer you to my review of The Owl Keeper which you can find here. What I do have for you today is a book about finding where you belong, something at the heart of middle graders (as well as the rest of us).

The Sorta Sisters, written by Adrian Fogelin and published in 2007, is the story of two girls, neither of whom has a steady place to call home. Mica lives on a boat with her father and travels from place to place. Anna has hopped from foster home to foster home. In the course of this story, the girls become friends (and sorta sisters) through letters, and though their lives are different, they are also sorta the same.

The premise: Mica leads an exciting life, at least she's always thought so. Following her father on his ocean adventures and homeschooling have kept her happy. Anna's life, on the other hand, has kept her in limbo--until she met Miss J, who actually wants Anna to live with her, for good. When Mica's father gets a research grant, Mica has to go to school, the first of many changes for her. For Anna, life with Miss J is better than she ever dreamed, except Anna fears that good things don't last. And then Miss J starts spending time with a guy, and Anna knows she'll be the one left out.

What keeps readers reading: The friendship that develops between Mica and Anna. Led to one another by brothers, who both girls know, the boys suggest that the girls write to one another. Through pitch perfect voicing, alternating points of view, and letters between the girls, Adrian Fogelin shows how Mica and Anna grow, share their fears, make mistakes, and learn just what a friend is. The Sorta Sisters covers issues that both boys and girls are intrigued by (finding your place in the world, friendship struggles, problems with parents--to name a few), but it's girls who will truly identify with this story.

Other MMGMers and their recommendations:
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Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: A is for Adventure

A middle grade book without adventure. Well, that's just..... boring, wouldn't you say? More importantly, that's what I believe middle grade readers would say. Characters and point of view and all those other five thousand writerly things are important, but that feeling of "Ohhhhh, I'm on an ADVENTURE!" is the hook of a great middle grade book.

Adventure can mean countless things to a middle grade reader. A faraway place, a time in the past or the future, creeping into the creepy neighbor's house, a leaf with a message on it, almost getting caught at something, or crawling in a tunnel in the backyard (or five thousand other things). Whatever the adventure is, when you write middle grade, you must (MUST!) take your readers on an adventure.

I heard Lois Lowry (!!) speak last March (she knows a thing or two about writing for kids), and she said when she begins a story, she introduces characters and immediately places those characters into conflict.

That, more than any other thing I've heard or read about middle grade writing, has echoed around and around my brain. As I'm readying my manuscript for querying *quivers in boots* (querying is an adventure all its own, huh?), I'm starting with adventure. Does my story have it? Does my story have enough of it?

Let's discuss: In what ways do you keep the adventure flowing in your story? And how do you balance adventure with the other parts of writing?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Penderwicks

I know, I know. The Penderwicks has been out for years. Since 2005 to be exact. And the second one, The Penderwicks on Gardham Street, since 2008. But.....the most recent, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, just released in May 2011. And I heard a rumor that Jeanne Birdsall has two more books planned for the Penderwick sisters, so really, I'm chiming in mid-action (at least that's what I'm going with).

For years I saw The Penderwicks on my local library shelf but never read it. Or the second one when it came out. But my son did--and loved them both. In fact, he finished the third one before me too. It wasn't until I noticed an unblemished, hardcover copy of The Penderwicks at Half-Price Books for $4.98 that I took the plunge. And I'm in love. With all of them. When I finished the first, I immediately drove to the library and checked out the second and third. And smacked my palm to my forehead at what I'd been missing.

The premise: The four Penderwick sisters live with their botanist father (their mother died four years prior to the opening story) and their silly dog Hound. The sisters are ages 12, 11, 10, and 4 when we first meet them, and they're spending two weeks at a cottage on the huge Arundel estate. Here they meet Jeffrey, who becomes an honorary Penderwick and best friend. The girls embark upon an adventure to save him from his mother and her plans for Jeffrey's life. In the second book, the sisters plan to save their father from dating, and in the third, Jeffrey rejoins the Penderwicks on another summer vacation where all kinds of changes encounter the sisters and Jeffrey.

What keeps readers reading: Delightfully real and rounded characters who live a believable life. The sisters--Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty--are unique and each is given a voice in the stories. Jeanne Birdsall uses their varying points of view, even Hound at times, to share the adventures of this charming family. The sisters get in all sorts of scrapes, trouble, and hard places as they deal with growing up. And even though the family has four sisters, there are many boy characters involved which rounds out the all-girl family. A soft humor is wielded throughout The Penderwick series which provides laughs along with the bumps of life.

If, like me, you're a late-comer to The Penderwicks, never fear, these tales are truly timeless--and so quintessentially middle grade. I eagerly await Jeanne Birdsall's next installment!

Other MMGMers choices for the week:
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Happy middle grade reading!    

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade Writing

As I spend the next weeks, errrrrrr, make that months, whipping my manuscript into querying shape, I thought dialoguing about the essentials of awesome middle grade writing would help my whip crack a little better. Or stronger. Or louder. Whatever. Anyway, what I'm doing for the next 26 Thursdays......well, maybe a few more--a smart planner always allows extra time. Okay, for the next lots and lots of Thursdays, I'll assign a middle grade topic to each letter of the alphabet with hopes it will energize my whip cracking (and yours too).

I have to admit, I'm totally stealing this alphabet idea from Andrea Mack (who writes a cool middle grade blog at That's Another Story). She has a superb alphabet list in her sidebar. What I didn't do, however, is peek back at her list while I was making mine. Seriously. No peeking. No kidding. Some of our letters may match but by coincidence only. I spent forever (not really, but I did spend a really, really long time) putting my alphabet topics together.

So, come along for my middle grade alphabet ride. Each Thursday. Right here. To lure you back next Thursday ------> A is for Adventure (and that is my ONLY sneak peek at ANY letter). Make sure your whip is in hand because this is intended to be a dialogue, where our ideas inspire each other and spur one another to write better, stronger, and louder.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Zora and Me

Over the summer I participated in a reading diverse challenge, and one of the books I read was Zora and Me, published in 2010. As a lover of middle grade books, especially those with a historical twist, this book drew me in simply because it is those two things. But Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon not only weave a fictionalized story arising from Zora Neale Hurston's childhood, but they place readers into the time and place of Zora's childhood. That place is Eatonville, Florida, the United States' first incorporated black township. A place where black inferiority had no place. This story is told through the eyes of Zora's friend Carrie, and we see how turn-of-the-century views affect growing up and living at this time and how they are part of the fabric of who we are today.

The premise: A young black man named Ivory, who is not from Eatonville, is murdered near Eatonville. Zora thinks she knows what happened and tells her story to anyone willing to listen. Her story is tied to a man she says is half-gator and prowls the near-by marshes, searching for prey. When Zora, Carrie, and their friend Teddy walk into the truth of the murder, however, they discover that truth is more brutal and ugly than the story Zora imagined.

What keeps readers reading: A web of lies that unravels. As Zora, Carrie, and Teddy investigate this murder and try to find the gator man, they encounter life outside their beautiful, safe little town. And what they find is racial divide. A coming-of-age story, Zora and Me melds all things great in middle grade fiction - a solid plot, characters who certainly are characters, and a setting you sit in - all while giving readers a look into who we are and from where we have come.

Other MMGMers and their choices this week:
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Happy middle grade reading!   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Doubt Monster of Writing

It's been one of those writing weeks when writing doubts pop into my (usually) happy writing brain. A big monster taking over where my writing should be. The writing doubt is this: I have no idea what I'm doing. Which leads to this: Therefore, my writing stinks.

The "I have no idea what I'm doing" is pretty true. I don't have an MFA. I took exactly one creative writing class in college (required for my major in English Ed). I haven't been to any writing conferences (money is an issue). And -- here's the biggie -- I don't read books on the writing craft.

WHAT? Is that even allowed? Someone who writes but doesn't read books about writing? I know I should read them. I want to want to read them. I'm sure I'll get there one day. . . .

What I'm interested in reading is books. To my credit (if I have any left) I do read blogs on the craft of writing. Just not books on it. What I do read is middle grade books. All the time. I read them aloud to my kids. I read different ones to myself. I read and I read and I read. Paying some attention to writing style or technique of the authors whose books I'm reading. But mostly I read for the story. Because I love -- I LOVE -- a story.

And then, motivated by the stories I have read, I write.

Because I also love sharing a story.

I don't know if my writing will ever be good enough to be published, but I write anyway. And maybe my writing really does stink. But that's not my point. My point is: How do you deal with your writing doubts? When the doubt monster creeps in, how do you creep him out? Or at the very least --  how do you get him to stop eating your cookies?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Wonderstruck

I have never (ever) had such trouble writing about a book as I did with this review of Wonderstruck, which released last month and is written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. And you certainly don't want me to illustrate my thoughts, as Selznick is so superb at doing. And this book received so much publicity already that it absolutely does not need me to spread word about it, but after reading it - no - experiencing it, I had to review it. But each time I drafted a review, I sounded like a bad echo of the book jacket. What I decided was this book is so unlike any other, even unlike Selznick's Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, that my words got tumbled in a jumbled mess. Humbling. But I'll do my best....

The premise: 1977, Gunflint Lake, Minnesota. When Ben's mother dies, he finds a clue in her room about the father he has never known. 1927, Hoboken, New Jersey. Rose discovers a headline in the newspaper concerning an actress she accounts in her scrapbook. Ben's clue and Rose's headline lead them on a journey for answers, a journey which they embark upon alone, fifty years apart.

What keeps readers reading: Selznick's revolutionary blend of words and pictures, used separately, but which weave one tale. Ben's story (told in words) and Rose's story (told through pictures) flow back and forth but unite in a surprising and beautiful way. As Ben and Rose's story intertwine and become the same story, Brian Selznick's use of words and pictures blends also. No longer do the words tell one story and the pictures another, the words and pictures fuse into one tale. Wonderstruck makes readers ponder the connections people hold with one another and fills readers with the wonder of time, love, friendship, and family. Read - no - experience this story for yourself and be struck with wonder at it.

Other MMGMers recommendations:
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Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Revising Post 3

This past spring my daughter entered a local basketball challenge. The challenge: make 100,000 baskets by the deadline. Directions: count only made shots (not shots taken). Monetary prizes involved.

This past spring I began a manuscript. The challenge: finish that manuscript. Directions: write a fabulous story for middle graders. Monetary prizes involved??? I'm still figuring that out.

My daughter set a goal for herself: 1,000 made-baskets per day until she reached the 100,000 goal. No weekends off. No breaks because "it's too hot today." One thousand per day until she reached ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND.

As my daughter's basketball pounded the driveway outside, I pounded words into my manuscript inside. Her 100,000 made-baskets became my "finish this manuscript." And when I finished that manuscript, my goal became "revise this manuscript."

Basket by basket my daughter made it to 100,000. Word by word I wrote a manuscript. And word by word I am revising that manuscript. I have four (of the 189 original) pages left in this first revision. Four!! FOUR!!!! That's less than the number of toes I have on one foot!

Should I throw a party when I'm done? Nah. Revision is a many-layered thing. But my story is closer to where it needs to be than it was. Are you in the game? If you're revising, how's your journey? If you're drafting, how goes the story?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street

Another beautiful cover. It sucks you right in, doesn't it? Makes you want to take this book, sit in this tree's shade, and read the afternoon away. One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, written by Joanne Rocklin and released earlier this year, is the tale of a tree -- although the story is told through kids, kids who live on Orange Street near the towering, old Valencia orange tree. And in telling the tale, readers meet generations of people who knew and loved the tree. It's a story that makes you wonder, what if the tree could speak? And in one chapter, the tree does.

The premise: One morning an orange traffic cone appears in front of the Valencia orange tree on Orange Street. Bunny, Leandra, Ali, and Robert - all neighborhood kids - wonder WHAT the cone means. They fear something awful is going to happen to their beloved tree. And who is the mysterious stranger in the green car?

What keeps readers reading: Finding out the fate of the tree! But, more importantly, through the course of one day and the following morning, readers discover family relationships, fears, friendships, and a forgetful old woman who's lived on Orange Street longer than anyone else. Readers learn about past families and current residents of Orange Street, all guided by an orange tree and an orange traffic cone. This softly woven story by Joanne Rocklin delves into the everyday life of people, but One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street shares how everyday things are anything but ordinary.

Remember the other regular MMGMers and their reviews!
Follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~>

Happy middle grade reading! 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Winner of my Breadcrumbs ARC!

Thank you for celebrating the release of Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu!
The winner of my to-be-signed-tomorrow ARC is.....

Email your snail mail address to my email address (listed in the right sidebar)
so I can get this treasure to you.
 Happy reading!