Thursday, March 29, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: Q is for Questions

Good books bring about questions, and kid readers are especially good at asking questions about the books they read. What will happen next? Why don't bullies just act nice? How did she not know that? Who does that character think he is anyway?

Kids often (okay, maybe all the time) read books to escape--to be someone they aren't, to live in a time they don't, to solve a problem they can't. But I also think that when a reader is escaping, they learn things too--through their questions. Ones they ask aloud or ones that churn internally while they're reading.

And I understand that while kids are reading, they don't want a HUGE LIFE MESSAGE to bombard them. I get that, even though the English teacher in me wants to discuss symbols, themes, and other fascinating literary devices. Most kids read for the joy of reading, the entertainment, the plain fun of it.

But I think books can be read for fun AND bring about tough questions of life at the same time--because books grab emotions. Books help us look at life through someone else's eyes; they bring us face to face with ourselves; they challenge us to change based upon what we've read.

Yes, kids read for escape or entertainment, but in doing so, I think their questions get answered too or even bring about new questions, whether kids think so or not. What do you think?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Seeing Cinderella (and ARC giveaway)

This fabulous debut novel, Seeing Cinderella by Jenny Lundquist, just released LAST WEEK! Yay! *throws a party for Jenny who I've come to know through Twitter*

And you simply must read it.

The premise: Calliope Anderson is about to start middle school, which is hard enough, but right before she starts she also finds out she needs glasses. When the prescription Callie needs is on back-order, the eye doctor sends her away with a pair of very large and very ugly glasses instructing her to, "Use them wisely." Callie finds this advice very odd, until the next day in school when she puts on the glasses for the first time and discovers they are magical. When she has them on, she can read people's thoughts.

What keeps readers reading: A crazy, poignant, and fun journey--punctuated with the question, "What if you had glasses like Callie's?" Readers walk into Callie's world, a world changing in every aspect. Best friends are no longer best friends. Boys and girls are interested in one another but don't really know what that means. Parents aren't getting along. Someone who could be a new friend enters the scene, but she's not Callie's old best friend. The lead in the school play (Cinderella) is offered to Callie, but Callie never gets the good things--her old best friend Ellen does. And these wacky glasses...should Callie really spy on people's thoughts?

What I loved: Callie's voice. It's spot on and fresh and brings the reader right inside Callie's head--right when Callie herself is trying to make sense of being inside other people's heads. Jenny Lundquist has crafted a marvelous story, so perfect and timely for a middle grade audience.

And because Jenny Lundquist is brave enough to show her very large and very ugly glasses from 7th grade on her website's homepage, I will too. Yes, that's 7th grade me over there on the right. *tries to hide* Let's just say, Calliope Anderson, at least your glasses are magical!!! Mine are just. super. ugly. Along with short hair and braces? Egads.

To enter the giveaway for my ARC of Seeing Cinderella, comment on this post by Saturday, March 31, by 8pm CDT. Winner will be announced on Sunday, April 1st. International entries are welcome.


For more middle grade recommendations, visit my Middle Grade Monday tab or . . . Shannon Messenger's links.

Happy middle grade reading!  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: P is for Parents

Parents produce a problem for middle grade writers. Strange as that sounds, it's true. Middle grade kids want to read about kids, not parents, but kids need parents (or other supervising adults) in their lives. And while it's true kids want the kids to be the hero in their stories (and the kids should be), adults do need to enter the picture. But it's tricky. So how do middle grade writers solve the parent problem?

Many middle grade books eliminate parents altogether--main characters are simply orphans. Many, many, many middle grade main characters are orphans. And in many of these orphan cases, the supervising adult of the orphan is a horrible or selfish or stand-offish or uninvolved type.

A large number of middle grade books have a single parent (either through divorce or death) for their main character, but usually that remaining parent is busy, busy, busy and fairly uninvolved in the story.

And still other middle grade stories present main characters whose parents are somehow mysteriously just . . . missing. Insert a variety of methods here, some of which could be: kidnapped, magically transformed, lost.

While any and all of these scenarios can be--and are--real in the real world (well, probably not magically transformed), the number of middle grade books containing missing, uninvolved, or dead parents seems much higher than in the real world. Is it just me, or do you think so too? And it leads me to wonder--why?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Break and Seven Random Things

Because I'm holding TWO super exciting book birthday parties in a row, I'm taking a break from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday today. Make sure you hop over to Shannon Messenger's blog because she lists and links those participating in the middle grade Monday fun.

Next Monday, March 26, I'll be book birthday partying for Seeing Cinderella by Jenny Lundquist and giving away my ARC. This is Jenny's debut novel, and it goes on sale TOMORROW, March 20th!!

On Monday, April 2nd, I join the blog tour and book birthday party for Adrian Fogelin's newest book, Summer on the Moon. I'm giving away an awesome hardcover, and I host my FIRST-EVER author interview!

Also, I've been tagged twice (by Akoss Ketoglo and Linda Jackson) and figured this was a perfect time to respond, but all I remember about the tags is they both had something to do with the number seven, so I'll just go ahead and make up my own thing here . . .

Seven Random Things About Me

Staying home is my favorite kind of day.
I don't like coffee but wish I did.
I adore chocolate but wish I didn't.
In a group of people, I'm the quiet one and I learn a lot.
If it's just you and me, that's when I'm chatty.
Long hair is gorgeous, but I've given up growing mine.
When I turned forty (two years ago), I realized I should be writing stuff so I am.

There you have it. And happy middle grade reading to you!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: O is for Odyssey

Every book needs an odyssey. A journey. A quest. A road readers travel as they make their way through the story. A driving purpose behind the story. A winding path (but not so winding the readers get lost) that leads to the outcome.

And I'm inclined to believe that middle grade readers read mostly for the odyssey. They read for the journey, to find out what happens in the end. No scientific study (or study of any kind) do I have to back up my belief, but the odyssey seems to keep readers reading in middle grade. They want to live the journey with the characters. They want to be on the quest with them.

When I read middle grade (I read this way when I was a kid too), I become the characters and actually live the odyssey with them. Do you read this way? Did you read this way as a kid? Do kids today read like that? My own two kids do. I hear them talking about books as if they personally joined the journey, as if they were right there on the quest with the characters. I think this personal joining in the odyssey is what causes us to like or not like characters, like or not like a plot, and even like or not like ending of a book. What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Selling Hope (and giveaway winners!)

The winners of my two hardcover copies of The Underneath are:
Yay! Please email me your mailing addresses so I can get your copy to you! barbarawatson94[at]gmail[dot]com

And now for today's feature: Selling Hope

Gorgeous cover, isn't it? She's dreaming. Pondering. Leaning on a window sill, staring at the sky, and hoping. And that's what Selling Hope by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is all about--dreaming, pondering, and hoping. Along with a few other fabulous things.

The premise: In May 1910 the tail of Halley's Comet will pass through the earth's atmosphere. This is the same month thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels, her father, and their traveling vaudeville act pass through Hope's hometown of Chicago, the place Hope dreams of calling home once again. In order to do that, she needs money, so she invents anti-comet pills to sell to those who fear the comet. A young Buster Keaton joins her endeavor, and soon Hope is making piles of money selling . . .  hope.

What keeps readers reading: Hope's adventures as she discovers where home is and who exactly counts as family. This a beautiful journey, but Selling Hope is also full of fun! Awesome vaudeville punch lines punctuate the story as you walk inside the little-known era of vaudeville and take the stage with various acts. And you also come to understand the scare Halley's Comet gave the world in 1910.

What I loved: The precision of the historical details. Kristin O'Donnell Tubb introduces readers to Sen-Sen mints (which are still around and taste absolutely HORRIBLE!), the vaudeville customers (Hope calls her customers Coins--isn't that perfect?), newspaper headlines from May 1910, and much, much more. This is simply a wonderful story.

For more middle grade recommendations, follow the links under my Middle Grade Monday tab.
Or visit Shannon Messenger's list for today's participators.
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: N is for Nutmeg

Nutmeg. It's the forgotten cousin spice of the much more popular cinnamon. It's the spice that often sits in the spice rack watching other spices get shaken into all sorts of recipes. It's the spice with a subtle and interesting flavor. And when it comes to writing, everyone needs a little nutmeg.

Words like voice, pacing, characters, plot, and conflict get thrown around a lot in writing, much like cinnamon is a common go-to spice. Keeping readers engaged in our story through action is a way of shaking spice into our writing. But what adds subtle and interesting flavors to it? What techniques do we employ to ensure our writing has a little bit of nutmeg?

To me, nutmeg means a delicious way of writing that makes a story stand out from others, little quirks that make a reader giggle even in a serious scene, or twisting a storyline in an unforeseen manner. These name only a few sprinklings of nutmeg; there are endless other ways to nutmeg our writing. And something just as important as adding nutmeg is making sure we don't overuse the nutmeg. That, like too much of any spice, ruins the entire recipe.

So tell me, how do you sprinkle nutmeg into your stories while at the same time making sure not to add too much?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Underneath (and a giveaway!)

The Underneath is a story that means so much to me that I let my daughter purchase a stuffed animal at a garage sale--something I strictly forbid. I mean, some other kid's stuffed animal!!??! SO GROSS!!!!!! I allowed it this ONE time because with tears brimming in her eyes my daughter said, "Mommy, we can't leave Ranger here all alone."

Ranger, the blood hound Kathi Appelt created and who inhabits The Underneath, has a beautiful and big but broken heart, and no, he could not be left at that garage sale alone. And he was not.

The Underneath is a book in prose that reads like a magical poem. It's a story that stayed on my mind long after I finished it. It's a novel I'll read again and again--and have already read twice. It's a story of love, betrayal, and redemption. It's a book I might call my favorite, even though I don't have a favorite. And I could tell you so much more, but all I'm going to tell you is this: The Underneath blends a mistreated dog, a cat left on the side of the road, a horrible man, several magical creatures, trees who tell stories, a magical family, and an unforgettable story.

To celebrate this beautiful book (and my blog reaching 100 followers!!), I'm giving away TWO HARDCOVER copies of  The Underneath. To enter the drawing simply leave a comment on this post by Sunday, March 11th, 2012 by 8pm CT and be a blog follower. International entries welcome. The winners will be announced on Monday, March 12th.

Here's a photo of our beloved Ranger with the books I'm giving away.
Could you have left him at that garage sale?

I'm certain you could not.

For more middle grade recommendations, follow the links
located in my Middle Grade Monday tab.
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: M is for Middle

Ah, we've all heard about the saggy middle and how we for sure don't want one. I don't mean the saggy middle that develops when we eat too many cookies and candy bars (although that isn't good either); I'm talking about the saggy middle of a book. That part of the story where action drags or readers become bogged with too many details. Middles must be shiny, new, and exciting--just like beginnings. They also must be as interesting and anticipated as the ending.

Some great posts exist on middles, but this post from Lisa Gail Green was written just a few weeks ago. You should read it. It's short (her posts usually are--I like that!), but it has great depth. She lists three simple questions to ask ourselves about our middles. Those three questions focus on: moving the plot forward, building character arc, and creating tension. If our middle does those things, it will not sag!

But I've read books, and you have too, where the middle does sag. The problem I find in my own writing is that a saggy middle is SO HARD to recognize. I know the characters, I know the outcome, and there's this super cool path the characters must tread in order to reach the outcome. And I can't possibly cut anything because, for sure, none of it sags, right?

Yeah, probably not true. So, how do you recognize sagging portions of your own writing?