Monday, April 30, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Glory Be (and a giveaway!)

I love an awful lot of middle grade books, and Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood, is now on my 'books I love' list. When a book can transport me to another time and I feel like I'm there, that book is something special.

Please stick around, this post is longer than my usual, but it's full of cool stuff like an author interview and hardcover giveaway. And now, a peek at Glory Be . . .

The premise: It's summer in hot, humid Hanging Moss, Mississippi, and there's nothing Glory Hemphill wants more than to spend her days in the swimming pool, especially her July 4th birthday. But it's 1964, and Freedom Workers have rolled into town, and they change things for Glory--and for the rest of Hanging Moss, Mississippi, too.

What keeps readers reading: Watching Glory grow and learn and decide who she wants to be. In this tumultuous summer, Glory's eyes are opened to things she never really thought about, and she learns you have to make choices, sometimes really tough ones.

What I loved: The way Augusta Scattergood aids middle grade readers in understanding an issue and time in U.S. history through eyes they understand.

I had the chance to ask Augusta some questions about Glory Be and her writing! Here are the three questions I chose (in blue) and her responses.

Glory Be is historical fiction, set in 1964 Mississippi. If it were a contemporary story, what would its plot line look like?

I recently did a school visit in Mississippi. I told them I went to school there when I was their age and we had two separate schools, one for white students and one for African-American students. Sitting on the library floor in front of me, two 4th grade girls hugged each other with a look of utter shock. "You mean I wouldn't be in school with my best friend?" one asked.

So if it were a contemporary story, Glory might have a black best friend, something that probably wouldn't have happened realistically in 1964.

Truly, the book would be completely different. Two sisters pulling away from each other as one grows up and moves on? As much as I love the family connections in GLORY BE, I can't imagine the novel without the story of the community pool's closing.

If I had lived in 1964 Mississippi, I hope I would have been as brave as Laura, her mom, Robbie, the librarian Miss Bloom, and as brave as Glory grows to be. Since you grew up in the South, did you know people like these characters you created?

That's one of the reasons I wrote the novel! I really didn't know anybody like Glory. I wanted to be like her, and I think some of my friends did, too. What we did in 1964 was teach in a summer Head Start program, work in an integrated summer camp and in a public library that stayed open when some thought it should close. In the early 60s in the Deep South, we were learning our way. My friends and I mostly stayed out of the limelight and kept our mouths shut, publicly at least.

I did know one amazing little girl when we lived in Baltimore in the late 70s. I often had her in mind when I heard Glory's strong voice. Sarah spoke up for what she believed and didn't let grownups stand in her way! (She's still like that, even though she's now the grownup.)

Even though Glory Be has a historical setting, it feels and reads like a timeless classic to me because of the timeless message of the story. Since you were a librarian, what middle grade books are on your list of classic favorites and how do they influence your writing?

I like to think of classics as books that stick around, waiting on a library shelf for the next crop of readers to move up and be ready for them. Instead of some of the older titles which appear on every single "Best" list, my list might include books I read aloud, repeatedly: Because of Winn-Dixie, Bridge to Terabithia, Sounder, William Steig's picture books, Getting Near to Baby.

I really could go on and on!

When I started writing, the sound of my words was very important to me. I've always heard characters' voices in my head. I think that comes not only from all those years of reading to kids but from being told stories to for most of my life.

I do a lot of reading aloud, especially while revising. That's why, while writing, I usually steer clear of my local Starbucks!

Augusta, thank you so much for your time and your insightful answers! 

I'm giving away an autographed hardcover of Glory Be. To enter the drawing, comment on this post by 8pm CDT on Sunday, May 6th, 2012. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 7th. United States mailing addresses only for this one, please.

For more middle grade recommendations, follow the links in my Middle Grade Monday tab or the ones on Shannon Messenger's blog.
Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: U is for Unusual

Some say that as far as plot lines go, every type that can be written has been written, and there's truth in that, I think, but that doesn't mean our writing can't be unusual or new or different. And in order to stand out and be noticed, our writing needs to be unusual.

But unusual doesn't have to mean weird or standing out because it's so totally strange. For today's purposes unusual means something rare or out of the ordinary.

When a kid hides out under his bed covers with a flashlight just to finish a book, I would say there's something unusual about that book. My son did this once a long time ago, and I pretended not to notice the flashlight because I thought it was completely awesome that he thought he should be sleeping but that he had to stay up reading!

In the time since, we've discussed that if a book is that good, you may read as long as you like--but by no means may you be crabby the following day.

So what kinds of things make today's books unusual? There are so many choices, so many great books out there, what is unusual enough to keep a kid reading long after they should have turned out the light?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Power of Books

I had an hour with twenty fourth grade girls. Talking about books. And the wonder they contain. And the worlds you can visit in them. Making and drinking 'Dump Punch' and crafting yard candles from paper lunch sacks, sand, and votive candles.

Twenty girls, whose eyes lit like Fourth of July sparklers when I handed out specially printed World Book Night 2012 copies of Because of Winn-Dixie.

One hug. Given to me. By one of the girls. It made the entire experience simply perfect.

My Giver Box is now empty, and my heart is full. And twenty fourth grade girls learned about the power of books. Thank you to all who made World Book Night possible.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Notorious Benedict Arnold

Today my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post is brought to you by my son, an avid reader who loves history and facts and is more drawn to action in upper MG/YA books than relationship exploring. Here is his choice for the week, The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin, and the words are my son's although it follows my usual format (but like last week, I acted as an editor; it is my blog after all). Here goes . . .

The premise: Benedict Arnold, the traitorous general in the American Revolution, is a fire-y, hothead who likes doing things his way. This and his smart mouth always get him in trouble. But he is more than the sum of his infamous decision, and this book gives insight into the man Benedict Arnold was and how and why he made the decision he did.

What keeps readers reading: It's a non-fiction book always on the verge of something exciting, new, or dangerous. Through the story of one man's life and how it affected the history of a nation, the author makes you want to keep reading to see what happens next. It's a major contribution to American history in a way that most people want to read history--through a story.

What I enjoyed: I love a lot of things about this book. Even though I love non-fiction, I really liked how Steve Sheinkin took all his research on Benedict Arnold and wrote it in story form but kept it non-fiction. I also love how The Notorious Benedict Arnold took a stereotyped American hero-turned-traitor and unveiled the full story behind him.

That's my son's opinion! Although some find the non-fiction section scary, this book reads like an action thriller. For more middle grade recommendations, follow the links in my Middle Grade Monday tab or the ones found on Shannon Messenger's blog.

Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: T is for Title

Just like a sign catches our eye along a road and points us to a certain place, a book's title catches a reader's eye and points to the wonder that book could contain.

So . . . there's just a wee bit of pressure on a book's title.

And because the title has such a big and important job, the title can change--sometimes even in later stages of a book's publishing route. As a writer, I consider all my titles as working titles, subject to change by me at any moment (or WHOA!) someone along the publishing road if I get that far someday. A book's title is that important. Making a title that hard to decide upon.

Titles in middle grade must be flashy and attention drawing, I think. I also think they need to be short--if they're too long, they're too easily forgotten. Book titles need to give readers something intriguing to care about--a character's name, a place name in the story, or a key concept in the book. And they need to relate the feel of the story.

Wow. That's some tall business for a short little thing. What other jobs do book titles have? Did I leave anything out? And just how important do you think a book's title is?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

World Book Night

Yesterday I picked up these!!!

And on Monday I get to chat with a group of fourth graders at a local elementary school who don't like to read. I'll be asking lots of questions (my opening one being: If you could take a trip anywhere, where would you go? --To make them realize books take you EVERYWHERE!). We're also making 'Dump Punch' (page 144 of Because of Winn-Dixie) and drinking it together. I'm super excited to be part of this (first!!)
U.S. World Book Night! I'll share all about it next week.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Shifter

First things first, the winner of my ARC of Three Times Lucky is . . .
Yay! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's feature is The Shifter by Janice Hardy, but my daughter -- a middle grade reader! -- wrote this Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post and chose the book. The format follows my usual but the words are hers! (Okay, I did act as an editor.) So here we go . . .

The premise: Nya is an orphan and a Taker, with her touch, she can heal injuries by pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike Tali, Nya's sister, and other Takers who become Healer's League apprentices, Nya can't push the pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. Nya can only shift the pain into another person, a dangerous skill she must keep hidden from the occupying forces of her city. If discovered, she could be used as a human weapon. But then Tali and other apprentices begin to disappear.

What keeps readers reading: The action and the search for Nya's sister Tali. This book is filled with excitement and challenge because Nya is desperate to find her sister and makes some choices she probably wouldn't have if her sister were not missing.

What I loved: I loved the action and excitement! I also loved that The Shifter shows what a person will do when they love someone.

There you have it, a middle grade book in the words of a middle grader! This is Janice Hardy's first in her Healing Wars Trilogy, so more action and excitement can be found in Blue Fire and Darkfall. Next week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday will feature my son and his choice!

For more middle grade recommendations, visit my Middle Grade Monday tab or  
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: S is for Setting

Creating a sense of place, a setting, is a tricky thing, and generally it's not a good writing plan to spend pages upon pages describing where the characters are and what it looks like there. That bores readers. Really, really a lot. So much so that readers will clap the book shut and never open it again. Nor will they want to read anything else that writer writes in the future.

But setting is key and fundamental to most stories. Most stories are tied to the one certain place where the writer places it--whether it's a fantastical place or a real one. So how do you go about weaving this important thing--setting--into your story without boring the reader?

A few months ago I heard Gary D. Schmidt speak (here's the entire story), and he was asked about setting in his writing. The woman asking the question indicated that in Gary's stories, setting is more like a character than a place. I sat there--inhaling what that meant. Yes! This is what great writing does! In great writing setting isn't a thing or a place. Setting becomes someone.

Whew. Such a revelation. And it changed my writing. I have to love a place (adore it actually), I have to feel the place living inside me, and I have to be certain my story can only be told in this one place. If I have those things, setting breathes rather than sits, lives rather than bores, is someone rather than something.

How do you make setting a someone rather than a something?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Three Times Lucky (and ARC giveaway)

The winner of my hardcover of Summer on the Moon is:
Gina Carey!
Yay! Email your mailing address to: barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com

 Now, for today's feature . . .

This sweet gem of a novel, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, is a murder mystery and beautiful story woven into one (how is that even possible?), and I don't think I've read anything quite like it. Honestly. And with a main character named Mo LoBeau who has a best friend named Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, you can tell it's loaded with personality. It doesn't release until May 10, 2012, but I'm giving away my ARC to one of you!

The premise: Eleven-year-old Mo, salvaged from a hurricane by the Colonel when she was just a baby and raised by the loving Miss Lana, has spent her entire life in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. When a detective shows up asking questions about a murder, Mo knows she has to do everything she can to save those she loves.

What keeps readers reading: The marvelous mystery. It keeps you on your toes--beginning, middle and end. Add in the quirks of small town living and a small girl who stands biggest when she's cornered, and this book is purely magical.

What I loved: Mo's pluck and the way Sheila Turnage took everything middle graders care most about--family, friends, and home--and blended those with murder and mystery. Three Times Lucky stays on your mind and in your heart long after you read the last page.

To enter a drawing for my ARC (which I won from Myrna Foster!), please comment on this post by Sunday, April 15th, by 8pm CDT. International entries welcome. Winner announced on Monday, April 16th. Check my Middle Grade Monday tab or Shannon Messenger's links for more middle grade recommendations.

Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: R is for Rascal

Rascal is my synonym for villain. I'm admitting it, straight up. When I was preparing my alphabet list, letter 'V' shouted Voice! to me (and also insisted it came after 'C'), but villain echoed in the background, so I decided on rascal in order to still tackle the topic of villains in this alphabet march. Genius, I know.

Rascally villains take all shapes and forms in middle grade books. They can be conniving bullies, evil sorcerers, or mean old neighbor ladies. Those are obvious rascal/villains, easy to pick out in the story, the good vs. bad type of rascals. But there are plenty of rascals that aren't so obvious--the villain can be the conflict itself, the story's setting, or a main character's internal struggle.

Rascals in middle grade books come alive in millions of ways. But do middle grade readers care what kind of rascal a story has as long as the story has one? I have my views but would love to hear yours. What's your take?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blog Tour for Summer on the Moon (and a giveaway!)

Thrilled doesn't really describe how excited I am to be part of Adrian Fogelin's blog tour for her newly released Summer on the Moon! I will try really, really hard not to overuse exclamation points in this post, but there are no guarantees I will succeed. For instance, I have a BEAUTIFUL HARDCOVER (!!!!!) of this awesome book to giveaway to one of you!!! So stay tuned, PLEASE!! This post will be longer than usual because so much awesome is happening here today!! Such as my FIRST EVER author interview!!!! And now, introducing Summer on the Moon!

The premise: Thirteen-year-old Socko Starr lives in a run-down apartment in a troubled city neighborhood. He has a through-thick-and-thin best friend, but there's a gang leader who's got it in for the two of them. Through an interesting twist, Socko's great-grandfather buys a house for his mom, and she and Socko move to a (so-called) safer, brand-new, suburban housing development. But for Socko, it's like living on the moon.

What keeps readers reading: The action! Something is always happening in this story, and the stakes are high--but not at the expense of characterization, and I love that about this book. In an awesome way, Adrian Fogelin has melded the story's action with character development, and the reader leaves the story with an understanding of and a connection to each character.

There is so much more I could say about this book, but I had the chance to interview Adrian (!!!!), so I'll let her words tell you more about Summer on the Moon. (My questions are in blue).

When I read a book, I love knowing the story behind the story because it makes the story mean that much more to the reader. With that in mind, what inspired Summer on the Moon?

The story began on a school visit. Trying to demonstrate that a story’s setting usually originates in a place the author knows, I asked for descriptions of places that the students knew well. I usually get a town, or a house, sometimes Disney. That day I heard about a cardboard box, the kind an appliance comes in. The kid said that he climbed into that box when he needed to be alone. It made me think about how important having a place of your own can be.
In "Summer on the Moon" I begin with a couple of kids in a dangerous inner-city neighborhood. They have no place to call their own, except the roof of their apartment building, which hasn't yet come to the attention of the local gang—but quickly does.
When the main character, Socko, moves to a partially built housing development, the roof is replaced by acres and acres of empty and incomplete houses. He quickly turns the subdivision’s empty swimming pool into his own personal skate park and considers all of the subdivision his “territory.” I know Socko’s territory well because I grew up in such a place. Although grassless and treeless it was a place a kid could roam without fear—and it was much bigger than a cardboard box.
As I wrote the book the current recession was always on my mind and every character you meet is in some way affected by these hard times. It seemed important to put the the courage, and the coping skills, especially those shown by kids, in a book.
My daughter (age 12) would like to know why you decided to write books for kids.
I started out by writing books for grown-ups. My mother was a writer, and that was the kind of book she wrote. A conversation with the girl next door changed everything. She told me that her family was going to have to move soon because they're getting to be too many black people in the neighborhood, and I realized that prejudice is a lesson many kids learn at home. So I wrote a story, "Crossing Jordan" about a 12-year-old girl who is getting that message but chooses to become best friends with the black girl next door anyway. I realized that stories could entertain adults but that they could maybe do more than that if I wrote for young readers.
My son (who just turned 14) is at a crossroads in his reading life. Some middle grade is too young for him and a lot of YA doesn't fit his interests. What might boy readers like my son find most intriguing about Summer on the Moon?
Unlike many of my books, this one has lots of action. Plus a gang. Plus a car plunging into a swimming pool requiring the emergency rescue of the gang leader. I also think, and hope, that I really got inside the head of the book's male narrator, Socko Starr.
The skateboarding dude on the cover might help too. I sure hope so.

Thank you so much, Adrian! And the skateboarding dude on the cover is AWESOME--as is the title font in my (albeit girl) opinion! And just so you all know, my son read Summer on the Moon already, LOVED the action and movement in the story, and also appreciated how the teenagers talk like teenagers!

To enter the giveaway for Summer on the Moon, simply comment on this post by Sunday, April 8th, by 8 pm CDT. International entries welcome. The winner will be announced on Monday, April 9th. Visit other blogs on the tour (and more chances to win the book!) by clicking here: Peachtree Publishers blog.

Happy middle grade reading!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Winner of Seeing Cinderella ARC

Hooray for Carrie Monroe!

My ARC of Seeing Cinderella is now yours! Please email your mailing address to: barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com so I can get this fabulous book to you.

And -- shameless announcement -- please return tomorrow as I join Peachtree Publishers and Adrian Fogelin for the blog tour and release of Summer on the Moon! I have an interview with Adrian and a hardcover giveaway!

Also, if you haven't investigated my Authors tab, it details (with photos) all the awesome authors I've met. Most recently--Brandon Mull!

Just so there's no confusion, this is all real. No Aprils Fool's here, I promise.