Monday, November 28, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Brigitta of the White Forest (and a giveaway!)

Today's MMGM features author (and fellow MMGMer!!), Danika Dinsmore! Her novel, Brigitta of the White Forest, is an entrancing journey into a land of faeries, forests, friends, and foes and is the first in a series of Faerie Tales in the White Forest. In this book, readers are reminded that magic lives in our ordinary selves because sometimes we are called upon to do extraordinary things.

The premise: Brigitta is a faerie on the verge of receiving her wing markings which will determine her Life Task. It is also the season celebrating the resetting of the Hourglass of Protection. Brigitta is waiting, waiting for everything new to begin for her. At times during her waiting, she has ordinary things to do, like watching over her little sister Himalette. On a day Brigitta is doing just that, Himalette follows a sprite inside a log, and Brigitta goes in after her. Outside the log a bright light flashes, causing all living creatures in the White Forest to turn to stone. Brigitta must travel to the only faerie left, the exiled Hrathgar, for help. But will an exiled faerie even help--if Brigitta can get to her?

What keeps readers reading: The adventure! Brigitta and Himalette travel outside the protection of their beloved White Forest in order to save it and those they love. Brigitta must be brave, decide who (and what) to trust, and reach deep within herself for magic she didn't even know she had in order to make sure the Hourglass of Protection is reset. Brigitta of the White Forest encounters floating eyes, talking plants, a creature who hugs with his ears, evil, good, and Hrathgar--all because Brigitta is the only one who can do what must be done.

I was privileged to receive Danika Dinsmore's novel from her publisher and am giving it away (!!) as my second gift in Akoss's Winter Giveaway Hop. Comment on this post by Friday, December 2, 2011 at 10pm CST to enter. U.S. mailing addresses only, please. And stop in at Danika's blog to learn more about her and her writing.

Other MMGMers and their recommendations:
Find their links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~>
Happy middle grade reading! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winner of Mockingbird

My daughter thinks it's a hoot to draw names for my giveaway winners from a brown paper lunch sack. So that's how we do it around here, no fancy random-winner-generators. After she draws the name, she wants to know all about the person behind the name on the paper, and I tell her what I know. It's a fun little thing we share.

The name she drew today and
the winner of Mockingbird is:

Blair Loder!
*Confetti falls*
Blair is a co-founder of the  National Homeschool Book Award. 
Email me your snail mail address so I can get this impacting story to you.
My email address is under the 
contact tab at the top of my blog.
Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: D is for Danger

Since Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, I'm taking a blogging holiday but I wanted my middle grade alphabet march to march on despite that, so here it is--on Wednesday. And on Thursday you can think of me wishing I were eating pizza (but thankful I'm surrounded by family). And now, on we go to the letter D.
D is for DANGER! Middle grade characters must be placed in it. *cue strange, eerie music* No matter how much we love our characters, danger needs to find them. Peril is necessary. They must meet a threat, encounter risk, or hazard their way through crisis. *strange, eerie music concludes* And it can come in many forms and follow various avenues.
  • Danger can be internal, coming from inside our character
  • Danger can come from what other characters think, say, or do
  • Danger can mean being found out
  • Danger can come from a character's fears
  • Danger can result from a physical setting
The list can go on and on. My point is simple, we cannot protect our characters. But my question is this: what sort of danger is your character(s) encountering in your current work? I would love to hear.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Mockingbird (and a Giveaway)

 Mockingbird helped my kids and me live inside an Asperger's brain, and for that I am so grateful to Kathryn Erskine. This is one of those books where you sink into the character; you put on her skin and walk around in it. And because you do, you have an understanding of something new. I love those kind of books.

The premise: Ten-year-old Caitlin struggles understanding the world. Her older brother Devon used to fill in the voids for her, but now Devon is dead--although Caitlin doesn't really Get It. But she wants to Get It. When she reads the definition of Closure in the dictionary, she knows Closure is what she needs (and what her dad needs too) in order to Get It. So Caitlin bravely searches for Closure.   

What keeps readers reading: Being in Caitlin's mind. Readers experience what the world looks like through Asperger's eyes, and Kathryn Erskine so masterfully places you in this hard place. Devon died in a school shooting, something Caitlin's community is still reeling from. So in Caitlin's search for Closure, she not only helps herself and her dad, but she reaches an entire community. Mockingbird delves into harsh places and sad places but Caitlin's determination--at times heart-breaking--is beautiful. This 2010 National Book Award Winner challenges readers to understand what they think they cannot and then live out that new understanding.

Because this book is so impacting, it is my first of three giveaways for Akoss's Winter 2011 Giveaway Hop. Comment on this post by Friday, November 25, at 10pm to enter a drawing for this marvelous book (U.S. mailing addresses only, please). Even if you own your own copy, enter anyway and pass the gift of Mockingbird on to someone else.

Other MMGMers and their recommendations:
Find their links in my right sidebar
Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: V is for Voice

I'm an orderly, list-follower type; I swear I am. So isn't it the letter D's day? I mean, skipping from last week's 'C is for Characters' to this week's 'V is for Voice'??!!? Holy smokes, what's with that?

Here's what's with that. When I planned the alphabet series, I immediately knew C was characters and V was voice. But what I didn't realize at that moment was how characters and voice are like pancakes and syrup. They just go together. So no matter how many letters separate C and V in the real alphabet, in my middle grade alphabet, V follows C. It just does.

If you write middle grade, you must nail your voice. Middle grade voice is, perhaps, the most difficult voice to nail. We've all heard that, right? And.....IT'S DAUNTING! It just is.

But what I'm discovering is that voice can be built. The manuscript I'm revising didn't have a strong voice at first (or even at second or third). It had plot and characters, but it's taken time to build its voice. And it's not nailed yet, but the more I revise, the stronger its voice grows.

Look for a moment at this photo I took of Tinker toys making the Letter V. I created a simple one, to remind myself--and you!--that voice can be built. Through layers of revision, our story's voice can get stronger.

So, what tips do you have for building a story's voice?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Wednesday Wars

I've had The Wednesday Wars on my mind for awhile, and even though Jennifer Rumberger highlighted this book a few weeks ago, I am compelled to share about it too. Because when a book causes my son to ask, "Mom, where's your book of all Shakespeare's plays?" followed by "I want to read some of them," (and when I find it, he reads some of them), I know I need to read that book too. And that book is, of course, Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars.

The premise: In the fall of 1967, Holling Hoodhood (what an awesome name for a character, right?) starts 7th grade, and things are a bit rocky. Holling's teacher has it in for him (she makes him--and only him--read Shakespeare), and his dad says the future of Hoodhood and Associates depends on Holling's good behavior (and it's hard to be good with rats, cream puffs, and a sister around). Not to mention the Vietnam War is infiltrating even Holling's life.

What keeps readers reading: The humor mixed with the super-serious. Gary D. Schmidt leads readers through Holling Hoodhood's school year. Each chapter in The Wednesday Wars represents a month of his 7th grade year. And during that school year, Holling learns more than he ever thought he could learn and becomes more than he ever thought he could be. Readers are challenged to do the same--all while being challenged to brush up on their Shakespeare.

One part humor and one part history, The Wednesday Wars is one whole awesome.

Other MMGMers and their recommendations:
Follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~>
Happy middle grade reading!   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: C is for Characters

Middle grade writing demands characters who are colorful, crazy, and a bit quirky. Middle grade characters need to stand out from the crowd. They need spunk. They need a little something that's all their own. But yet they can't be too much of all this. And perhaps above all, they need to be believable--to a middle grader. Which means middle grade writers have a lot of leeway.

Colorful, crazy, quirky. We can all comprehend those qualities, but what I mean by believable is this: middle graders need connection to their characters--an understanding, a knowing about them. Because when middle grade readers are connected to the characters in a story, they are connected to the story.

So, my million dollar question for this post is......What magical ways do you have for creating characters such as these?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Wildwood

Ohhhhh. If it's adventure you seek, Wildwood will take you on one. Written by Colin Meloy and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis, this is the first in the The Wildwood Chronicles and it just released a few months ago. I was privileged to win my copy from Deb Marshall and read it aloud with my kids. This novel holds delectable action and characters, and the plot twists and turns keep readers always on their toes. But Mr. Meloy also employs a poetic quality in his writing, beautiful descriptions which lend an "I'm there" feeling.

The premise: Prue McKeel is at the park with her little brother Mac. She's ridden her bike with Mac tucked safely in a red Radio Flyer wagon. The sky darkens. Crows swoop in. And they steal little Mac away in their beaks. But not just away--they fly him into the Impassable Wilderness, that place on the edge of Portland, Oregon, where people never go. Except now Prue must go there. And Curtis ends up joining her.

What keeps readers reading: I'll quote my daughter here. She said, "Wildwood is a thrilling and fantastic fantasy that leaves you asking, what will happen next?" No kidding. Those are her words (she's twelve; the audience this book seeks). I even had her write down what she said so I would say it exactly as she told me. I will interject, however, and say this book is not for the faint of heart or a reluctant reader. It is 541 pages long and is definitely geared for upper middle grade readers. But as I stated in this review's opening, adventure abounds in Wildwood. The villainess Colin Meloy creates captures and intrigues, and Prue and Curtis (as well as a host of other characters) grab and hold interest. Journey with Prue and Curtis as they search for little Mac.

Other MMGMers and their recommendations:
Follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~~>

Happy middle grade reading!   

Friday, November 4, 2011

MG Historicals = Love

When I was a student, I disliked history classes. They were like eating lima beans (and only lima beans) for supper. Even if you like lima beans (which I don't), that's a depressing meal. History was memorizing names, dates, and battles. Nothing stuck in my brain. Until I discovered historical fiction--which ties history to a story. And suddenly, when history became a story, it was fascinating.

Today, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin at Project Mayhem and several others (the links are located at Project Mayhem) are highlighting middle grade historical fiction, a fabulous way to cast a whole new light on history.

Of my many favorite middle grade historicals, one you need to read, is Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. I read it as an adult (it was published in 2008, and I've been an adult for, well, quite awhile), and even though it's written for middle graders, my perspective of the American Revolution was turned upside down. The Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776, freed Americans, right? And the American Revolution secured that freedom, didn't it?

Wrong. The Declaration of Independence freed certain Americans. And the American Revolution secured that freedom for some Americans. If you were African American, your freedom didn't arrive until 1865.

While this is not news, the backdrop to this story makes you rethink history. Picture living through the American Revolution as a slave. Not only as a slave, but as a slave girl. This is the world you enter when you read Chains. Read it and you too will wonder: why didn't the American Revolution seek freedom for everyone in America? Read Chains and challenge your historical mirror.

Do you have a favorite middle grade historical?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: B is for Beginning

The beginning of any book is key, but if you don't grab middle grade readers by the bull's horns with your book's beginning, they won't stick it out. It's that simple. So--because we don't want B to stand for Boring--the beginning of a middle grade book is the place where you absolutely, positively must hit the bull's eye. Your book's beginning is its building block.

Okay. Now that I've totally overdone the B alliteration, let's get down to business. Sorry. Couldn't resist. But really, what is the recipe for a great beginning? To me, that's sorta like asking, "What makes a best seller?" There isn't one, pat answer, but I'm asking it anyway: What makes a great beginning?

If you've read any of the other posts in my Alphabet Series (follow the label "abc's of mg"), you know my motivation for writing these posts is this: I'm readying a middle grade manuscript for querying. And I'm not in a hurry to do that; querying is still MONTHS away, but I am concerned with making my manuscript the best it can be before I do that. More B alliteration. Oops. Although I've never queried anything yet, I do know you usually send five to ten pages of the BEGINNING of your story along with your query letter. That tells me my beginning Must. Be. Awesome.

Let's discuss: What makes a beginning awesome?