Monday, November 14, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Treasure Island

I hunger for adventure, maybe that's why I love middle grade fiction so much. For middle graders anything is possible. One of my favorite adventures as a child was Treasure Island and I just handed it to my daughter this week. She's an adventure girl as well. She's excited to start and that makes me smile. My once reluctant reader is reading Treasure Island.

Treasure Island by Robert L Stevenson
First published in 1881

The Hook: Jim Hawkins, a young teenager, finds himself on a ship overrun by mutinous pirates who go in search of treasure.

Why I love it: Characters and Adventure. This is the classic pirate story and who doesn't love Jim or Long John Silver? This peg-legged man haunted my dreams as a kid. While this story is great for boys it is not for reluctant readers. It takes a while before the ship sets sea and mutiny ensues.

What classic story did you love as a kid?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Books I'm Drooling Over

Right now I'm salivating to get
my hands on a bunch of middle grade new releases. So today I thought I would do something a bit different for MMGM, instead of doing a review, I thought I would fuel the hype around the 3 books on my wish list right now:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #6: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
Why I geek out over Wimpy Kid: Voice and Humor. Kinney is one of the best examples of middle grade voice (to me). If I need help channelling my 11 yr old boy, I read Wimpy Kid. Plus the books are always hilarious and seem to capture all the magic and awkwardness of being in middle school. My husband loves them for the sibling rivalry. He was the oldest of 4 boys. He completely relates to Roderick. This series is perfect for boys and reluctant readers, but I also recommend them to parents. They crack me up and I can't get enough of them.

Heroes of Olympus #2: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Why this is the best series Riordan has put out: Style and twisting what wasn't broken. Percy Jackson was a great series but the story ended. The Red Pyramid did not fill my Riordan-read-lust...while it was entertaining, I just couldn't get into the Egyptian confusion and I hated Sadie. I only read the first 80 pages of the ...second book in the series (I can't remember the name and don't care to look it up) because I have no love for it. But then he redeemed himself with the Heroes of Olympus series by merging it with the Percy Jackson cast. Love the twist, love the characters, and finally love the style. (Riordan's writing style bothered me in Percy but I forgave him because he writes tight action and plot.) Heroes has great style and action. And I love that Percy is back in the story. I need this book.

An Accidental Adventure #2: We Dine With Cannibals by C. Alexander London
Why my daughter is freaking out about this book: Adventure and age-appropriate. The Accidental Adventure has great characters and tons of non-stop action. Lauren ripped through the first book and has asked me every week since when the second would be coming out. Hurray, it is finally coming out. Now do I get it now or put it in her stocking?

Exciting times we live in. What middle grade book(s) are on your want list right now?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Fave Middle Grade Historical Fiction: Sounder

When Micheal asked what is my favorite middle grade historical fiction, it was an easy answer: Sounder by William H. Armstrong. The first book to make me cry (actual tears) as a kid. It won the Newberry Medal in 1970. I read the book in 5th grade and the story still affects me.

The Hook: The story follows a poor African American boy growing up in the South. His father is a sharecropper and struggling to provide for his family. The father and his dog, Sounder, go hunting every night but come home empty-handed until one morning the family wakes to the smell of ham. Unfortunately the father is arrested, convicted, and taken away from his family. The boy and a wounded Sounder try to find the father.

Why I loved it as a child: Growing up in California, I didn't really comprehend racism or the struggles of African Americans in the South. This book really opened my eyes to their hardships, inequalities, and illiteracy. Also I loved a bit with a dog. I cried when Sounder was shot, I cried when the dad and dog died.

Love this book. Not so much for reluctant readers but a book I think middle graders should all read.

Do you have a favorite MG historical fiction from your childhood?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where have I been?

on vacation (Mt Rushmore--it's a right of passage for people who live in Colorado)...fall break. The kids are starting to wear on my last nerve and Denver just got snow. I guess it's a sled day tomorrow.

Plus, all kinds of exciting is happening in the blog world and I'm having trouble catching up.

On the upside, I'm 25 K into my first draft of my new story and I had a stroke of brilliance on a new story idea. I'm gathering my characters for that story now.

So the question is: do I write my draft that's zooming, start a new story, polish an old or just read the blogs and go to bed?

How's your week?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

She's Crafty: First Lines

I do not hinge my interest in a story based on the first line, but I do notice when it is done well. A great book should hook the reader from the first line, first paragraph, and first page (and really till the end of chapter one) pulling the reader deeper into the characters and the plot.

I've even read somewhere that a debut author should treat each chapter like a chapter one.

This makes sense for middle grade, when readers can be reluctant and will easily put the book down if it doesn't hold their interest.

So I decided to do an experiment. I took the top five middle grade books in my To-Read pile and picked my next book based only on the first line.

Here are the first lines, which would you pick?
  • "Take good care of this girl," Miss Beatty told the coachman. --The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall
  • Ms. McMartin was definitely dead. --The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows
  • The house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl. --Juniper Berry.
  • I was fairly sure I would not leave the meeting alive. --The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets #1
  • The hat in question was owned by Mrs. Constance Lovestock. --The Emerald Atlas

It actually took me awhile to decide. The Ghost of C Hall didn't cut it, neither did The Emerald Atlas which is funny because I've heard amazing things about both books and The Emerald Atlas was at the top of my pile. (The only reason I haven't read it is because Lauren and her friends have been passing it around--swearing that it is their new favorite book.)

So that leaves the other three, and all three first-lines are good for different reasons. The Shadows tells me it is a spooky mystery (plot reveal), Juniper Berry is a rich and quirky girl (character reveal), and The 39 Clues is a dangerous adventure (plot reveal).

In the end, I chose The Shadows because it's October and I wanted a spooky mystery but normally I would lean adventure. Juniper Berry (which is actually a spooky story) got cut.

Which leads to my next question: in middle grade, should your first line be a character reveal or plot reveal?

I know, it depends on the story.

My current MG story that I'm querying is a fantasy adventure which means I should lead with a plot reveal because the first 18 pages are character building till I get to the inciting incident. I realize now, my readers need to know where the story is going before they invest the time in my characters.

Of course I queried with a character reveal, only to wait months to hear it wasn't a strong enough hook. In my revision, I've decided to change my first page and lead with a plot reveal. I hope it's stronger. (We'll find out next week when I send out more queries.)

Need help crafting your first line?

It's a Start: The First Line @ The Other Side of the Story.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Tale Dark and Grimm

I found my MMGM pick A Tale Dark and Grimm from the 2010 Cybil's Middle Grade Fantasy list. I love The Grimm Fairytales so I was intrigued by the story. I also loved the first line of the story: Once upon a time, fairytales were awesome. I couldn't agree more.

A Tale Dark an Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
Published 2010

The Hook: When Hansel and Gretzel's father cuts off their heads, they are healed by magic but decide to run away to find parents who won't hurt them. The children weave through several Grimm fairytales and find under-standing.

Why I loved it: A new story woven through classic fairytales and an incredible moral. Seriously, I can't say enough about how much I loved this story and the woven Grimm. And the moral of under-standing isn't preachy but essential to the fairytale. The writing is also amazing, the balance between the story and the narrator insight (to diffuse scary parts) is well done. This is a great story for tweens who love scary stories BUT let me emphasize that this story is very scary. There is tons of blood, guts, and a staggering body count. This is NOT for younger middle graders and I wouldn't recommend it to children under the age of 12.

Parent Heads Up: A particular chapter in the story where Gretel meets a warlock is particularly disturbing. The warlock is a charming young man who happens to be a serial killer and Gretel watches him rip the soul out of a young girl and then he chops the dead girl to eat her. See Exhibit C to read the most disturbing passage from the book.

I'm just say'n, the book is great but you've been warned.

Want More? Go to Adam Gidwitz's website.

Have you read a middle grade book you felt was too mature for its audience?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time to Nominate for your Fave 2011 Middle Grade Book

The Cybils are asking for nominations. You have till Oct 15 to nominate your favorite children's books from 2011.

I'm excited. I love the books they pick. So I'll have to put in my 2 cents.

What 2011 middle grade books would you nominate?

Friday, September 30, 2011

eBooks for middle graders: are they really reading them?

I know, three posts in a week, what's up? Apparently I have an opinion this week.

I was just reading a funny cartoon over at Smack Dab in the Middle about the differences and similarities between ebooks and regular books, and then...

I was over at Anita Miller's blog where her book is in the top 100 for kid mystery eBooks (congrats by the way), and then ...

I just blogged about ebooks over at The Writing Bug because Kindles can now check out ebooks from the library (super sweet) and the near future may include a Netflix-type system for getting ebooks (which means will anyone ever buy a new ebook?), and then ...

My neighbor, who just recently got a reader, tells me about all the pirated ebooks she's downloaded and I believe she will never buy a book again, so then...

I have all these thoughts and it's a swirl of ebook info and what I really wonder is:

Are middle graders even reading ebooks? (Because if they aren't, then I don't care about ebooks.)

The children's Kindle list is dominated by YA and bestselling MG by Riordan. So that just seems like adults who don't want to be caught reading YA or MG or just want it cheap on a reader and not actually for their kids.

What do you think? Are kids reading ebooks?

My husband has an iPad and my kids just play games...they're pretty good at Angry Birds. No one reads on it. But if I downloaded a book and gave it to Lore, she would probably read it.

So does that mean Early Adopter Parents are actually buying ebooks for their kids? And when they upgrade their readers, will they give their old readers to their MGers?

Does that mean in five years (according growth trends), it will be harder to sell your book because your ebook will be competing with loads of self-published? Or do you even need a publisher and jump in the self-published fray?

I know, too many thoughts. If you have an opinion on the matter, I would love to hear it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let's Talk Writing MG: When is it too dark?

There's been a bunch of media coverage on whether YA has become too dark for its audience. Is Middle Grade following this trend? I don't think so, but after a couple of middle grade books I've read recently, I find my inner-11-year-old at odds with the-mother-of-four-girls.

So what is too dark for middle grade? Is there a line? Should there be a line?

We live in a time where old Sesame Street episodes are considered bad for our children because they show children riding a bike without a helmet. This cracks me up but it is a commentary on how we raise our kids now.

Still, it surprises me that the middle grade genre, that doesn't want you to use the word butt nugget, is okay with large body counts, murder (did you say murder?), dark magic, and the likes.

Exhibit A
For example, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, which won the Newberry Medal, opens with the murder of Nobody's family and Nobody only escapes the mass killing by waddling into a graveyard.

The inner 11 yr old: thinks sweet.

The mother of 4: thinks WHAT? I don't want my 9-year-old reading this yet. Even though the story isn't really scary, the themes are really mature.

Exhibit B
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Voldemort is brought back to life, that's some dark voodoo. (Not to mention the dead bodies that stack up in this and the following books.)

The inner 11 year old: thinks hells yes that's scary but sweet. Must read more.

The mother of 4: thinks hells no my daughters aren't reading this book till they are at least 12.

Yet scores of 7, 8, 9 year-olds have read this book. Lauren read the first 2 Harry Potter books when she was eight but stopped because the second was too scary for her. I figure she'll pick up the others when she's ready, and I'm glad because I'd prefer her to be older when she gets to book 4 and beyond.

Exhibit C
My last example comes from the book A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. For the record, I first have to say that I LOVE this book. LOVE. It's my MMGM for next week. Seriously, LOVE. But I feel it needs to come with a warning to parents because I feel parents should know what's in the book before they hand it to their kids.

The book has lots of blood, guts, gore, and a staggering body count--it's a fabulous retelling/reimagining of the Grimm fairytales. I have the complete works of Grimm in my library: good and dark. So I expected this from the book. And for the most part, actually the whole part but one chapter is done well for all middle grade kids (8-12). But it's that one chapter, or really just one page that inspired this whole blog post.

So here it is, read and then respond. Is this too dark for middle grade?

"He threw the girl on the oaken table, and from a nearby cupboard produced a filthy iron cage. Then he reached his hand into the girl's mouth until his arm was buried deep in her throat. Slowly, painfully, and with great struggle from the girl, he pulled forth a beautiful white dove. The dove fought the young man as he shoved it in the filthy cage and slammed the door shut.

The girl's body was still.

Now you might want to close your eyes.

He lifted an ax that hung on the wall, and Gretel, peering through a gap between a filthy pot and a filthier pan, watched her handsome, wonderful, funny friend hack the girl's body into bits and toss each piece into the boiling cauldron. His blunt butcher's knife rose and fell, rose and fell. He licked the blood from his hands and sent piece after piece sailing into the pot." (A Tale Dark and Grimm, page 102.)

What the butt nugget? This is middle grade? I can't let my girls read this. The dove was the girl's soul and when Gretel defeats the warlock, hundreds of doves (girls that he killed) become girls again. Horray, see no one was really chopped and eaten...Oh but wait they were.

The inner 11 year old: thinks um that's messed up but what happen's next? Still I'm sleeping with my light on.

The mother of 4: thinks we're done, my girls aren't reading this for a while.

Of course, I finished the book because I'm an adult and the book is well done. So then I struggle, because like the author points out in the beginning of the book, this is a big kid book about Grimm fairytales that are bloody and disturbing BUT AWESOME.

The first line of the book is: "Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome."

Which is true. Everything now seems to be bubble gum and safety helmets.

I'm actually okay with my 9-year-old reading all of the book but that page. Which frustrates me because I love the book... but I still want her to be at least 12 before she reads it. Serial killers is not something I need my daughter to think about right now in her life. BUT THE BOOK IS AMAZING. Love the story, love the Grimm woven in, love the moral.

Do you feel the conflict within me? I'm like Luke Skywalker trying to pick a side.

My compromise: I'll be doing a heads up to parents about said page in my MMGM on Monday and only recommending it to older MGers.

What do you think?

[Random sidebar: I'm making those bookmarks with my kids this weekend. Love.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown + Interview

As you know, I've been slurping down books. And my latest find that I can't stop talking about is The Familiars. Seriously, if you lament the end of Harry Potter, you need to check out this series. I hooked my daughter Lauren on them and we continue to debate which is our favorite familiar. I, of course, am Team Aldwyn, but Lauren is Team Gilbert. I also contacted the authors Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson and they were gracious to do an interview.

The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Published 2011

Other books in the series:
The Familiars
The Familiars: Circle of Heroes (releases Sept 2012)

The Hook: When the ruthless Paksahara curses Vastia and all human magic disappears, Aldwyn, the telekinetic cat, Skylar, the illusionist blue jay, and Gilbert the divining tree frog must find the Crown of the Snow Leopard before Paksahara raises an army of zombie animals to destroy Vastia.

Why I love this book and the series: Action and humor. Both books are a roller coaster of excitement and danger. The familiars weave in and out of trouble from the first to last page. These books are a great pick for reluctant readers because of their creativity and non-stop action. Plus, the animals are funny and I found myself laughing out loud in both books. Epstein and Jacobson use humor in tense scenes which relieves the tension and makes them fabulous for middle graders of all ages. The series is great for boys but girls will love it too. Seriously, if you need a great series after your child finishes Harry Potter, this is it.

Secrets of the Crown stands alone but I would recommend reading the first book just because you'll have a better understanding of the familiars, their origins, and their loyals. Secrets of the Crown takes off from the first page and doesn't stop, I whipped through it in a day and it only took Lauren three (apparently, she has to go to school).

Lauren's opinion: I really like the familiars. I love the adventures they go on and I think it would be really cool to have a familiar. [Mom, can I be a witch for halloween and can we get a tree frog familiar for me?] Gilbert is my favorite because he's really funny. I like Skylar because she's a girl and really smart but I just like Gilbert better. I can't wait for the third book.

My Interview with Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

Writing the wizarding world from the Familiars perspective is a fresh twist, which came to you first: the plot or the characters?

We initially came up with the
idea of telling a fantasy story from the perspective of the animals. We had never seen a story with the wizards' animal companions as the heroes. Then we came up with the characters. First was Aldwyn, who was inspired by a stray alley cat with a bite taken out of his ear who wandered Adam's backyard. The actual plotting came last.

[Lore's question] Of all the familiar animals you created, why did you choose a telekinetic cat, an illusionist blue jay, and a divining tree frog as your main characters? And why those specific powers?

We picked a cat because it was such an iconic familiar, and telekinesis seemed like a fun talent for him to pretend he possessed. That way Skylar and Gilbert could be fooled into thinking he was magical. We chose a blue jay because owls have been such an important familiar in fantasy (Hedwig, Archimedes) but didn't want to have an actual owl. We gave her the ability to cast illusions because we wanted a power that was interesting but not too powerful. If she could have breathed fire, every obstacle they faced could have been solved too easily. And we chose a tree frog because we wanted a character as comedic relief and no animal looked as funny to us as a tree frog. We gave him the talent of seeing the future because of certain plot points.

You weave humor throughout the book, whose idea was it to cast the cute fluffy bunny as the cut-throat villain? (So monty python, I loved it.) Do you think it is easy or hard to write humor? And as co-authors, how do you decide which jokes/humor stay in the story?

We wanted the reveal of the villain to be a surprise and hoped that no one would predict that the queen's bunny would turn out to be evil. Another big part of it was the "gray hair/gray hare" mix-up for Gilbert's puddle viewing. As far as the humor, we know as writing partners that if a joke makes both of us laugh, then there's a good chance it's funny enough to stay in. We started writing comedic movies and sketches for MTV, so humor has always been a part of our writing.

Both books are non-stop action and peril, what's your best tip for creating tension and action in a middle grade story?

It's important to have high stakes, a sense of urgency, and an emotional investment for your main characters in the outcome of the peril. You have to find new and inventive ways to put your characters in and get them out of trouble. Obstacles that can add emotional conflict for your characters bring extra tension (ie the Bridge of Betrayal).

The Secrets of the Crown ends on a cliffhanger, when is the next book coming out and how many books will be in the series?

The Familiars: Circle of Heroes has just been completed but will not be available in bookstores until September of 2012. We are set for book number four, and will likely be writing a fifth and sixth in the series, as well.

What's the best part of writing a series? What's the hardest?

The best part is getting to stay with the characters you love year after year. And maybe the worst part is having to wait year after year for the next adventure to come out.

Lore's eyes almost popped out of her head in excitement when I told her they were making the first book into a movie. According to IMDB, you're writing the screenplay for the animated film of The Familiars. Is writing the screenplay easier or more difficult than writing the novel? When will it come out?

It isn't so much a matter of easier or more difficult. Both have different challenges. Writing a screenplay takes less time -- it's only 90 pages for an animated movie -- but you rewrite it over and over again. A book is long. You have to write a lot of words. But unlike the collaborative process of a movie, where you work with producers, a director, studio executives, and more, for a book it's really just you, the authors, and your editor. The movie, because of the extemely lengthy process of 3D animation, will not be out until 2014.

Thank you for doing this, Lauren and I are excited for the next book and good luck with the series.

Want More? A Giveaway for The Familiars: Secrets to the Crown. Or go to their cool website: The Familiars.

If you could be a familiar, what would you be and what would you want as your power?

I think I'd be a hamster and my power would be the ability to stuff anything into my mouth...kinda like Mary Poppins' bag. I need a bag like that in my life. Plus hamsters sleep a lot, and I need more sleep.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I binged again...on books

So this week, I had to go to Barnes & Noble...mostly for the smell and I needed to get a book for my daughter. Seven books later, I walked out of the store.

And I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with my local B&N because they eliminated their new release section for middle grade. I loved that section and I feel disconnected now that it's gone.

My purchases:
(Middle Grade)
  • It's Raining Cupcakes
  • The Familiars
  • The Book of Elsewhere: The Shadows (I love this title)
(Young Adult)
  • Enclave
  • Wildfire
  • The Maze Runner (I know I'm late to this party.)

  • Scaredy-cat Splat!

I'm half way through The Familiars and loving it. Seriously, the cat is funny. So of course I was delighted to find out about this: A Giveaway for Book 2 of The Familiars.

What have you picked up lately that you're loving?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Plain Kate

And I'm back. The summer is over, school is in session (I've got three in school this year), and I'm ready write, blog and tweet. Although I did take a break, I was reading and writing. At one point I was reading 3 different books at the same time. Today, I picked Plain Kate by Erin Bow. I won Plain Kate this summer and started reading it the first day I got it (I had to put down The Graveyard Book till I finished). This is a great story and, can I just say, I love this cover.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Published in September 2010

Other books by this author:
Sorrow's Knot (coming in Fall 2012)

The Hook: When young Kate loses her woodcarving father to a disease that spreads through her village, she must survive on her own. To surive, she trades her shadow to a stranger for supplies to escape her town but soon discovers not having a shadow could be more dangerous.

Why I liked this book: Great adventure and characters. The story moves fairly quickly and you find yourself caring about Kate and what happens to her. The talking cat, Taggle, is also quite a character. There are some dark moments in the story that might be too scary for younger middle graders and the death of Kate's dad may be troubling to younger middle graders. This is a girl book but boys who enjoy a bit of magic and adventure may like it (although the beginning may be a bit slow for them).

Want More? Erin Bow has an excellent website.

Other Fabulous MMGMers:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Summer of George

I know. I've been inconsistent my sweet little blog but I seem to be enjoying The Summer of George and I can't lay off the cheese. It is stinky and delicious. So all of you who maintain a consistent blog update: well done. We've got 3 weeks till school starts, I'll try to be better but I need to be writing more than blogging and this sucks at my time.

Those of you who keep it consistent, how do you manage blog posting/reading so that it doesn't suck away your writing time?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

My amazing mother-in-law gave my girls some of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for their birthdays. These were books she used to read to her kids. I had never heard of them. The series of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books came out in 40's and 50's by Betty MacDonald. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is written by Betty MacDonald's daughter. My girls dove in and loved them and then I felt jipped as a child because I missed out on such fabulous books. So my pick today is:

Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, Anne MacDonald Canham
Published in 2007

Other Books in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Series:
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic
Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm

The Hook: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is back with a brand-new bundle of wonderfully magical cures for any bad habit--from watching too much TV to picky eating to fear of trying new things.

Why My 9-year-old loved it (by Lauren): I think these are my new favorite books. [More than Roald Dahl?] Yes, I like the fun magic cures and how she has all these fun magical things like invisible paint and powder that makes you finish one thing before you can start something else. She has these great pets...let me go get my book: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, Lightfoot the cat, Penelope the parrot and Spotty the pony. They are all trained to do things like have good table manners or brush their teeth. It's fun because she'll send the pets over to help the kids learn how to be better. These books are great for both boys and girls and I would recommend them for younger middle graders.

Other Great MMGMers:
What middle grade books you are just discovering now that are considered classics?

Monday, June 27, 2011


I'm ausfahrting. I won't be blogging this week or next. Instead I will climbing the hills of Austria with my husband while my fabulous mother-in-law wrangles my kids at home. I'm taking my laptop (12 hr flight) and I will be writing but I don't know our Internet situation over there, so I'm going dark.

Ja ich spreche Deutsche. But it's been awhile. Hopefully I can get us around.

I'll eat a schnitzel for you, see you in two weeks.

[yeah, I'm going there --> Hallstatt.]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Best of the Middle Grade Blogs: June 24

Woo hoo. Friday. We made it. This week has been craziness. No time for thoughts, too much going on. We'll talk soon. (Don't hold me to it.)

My Fave Middle Grade Blog Post this Week

Industry and Agents




Other Round Ups

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Goddess Girls Series + Interview with Suzanne Williams & Joan Holub

I picked up this series for my daughters from a Scholastic Book Order. I thought my oldest would take a couple of weeks to get through them. Nope. She flew through them in less than a week and she is constantly asking when the next books will be coming out. So of course she freaked out when she learned I interviewed the lovely Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams for MMGM today. Seriously, freaked out. I'm #1 mom right now.

Series Hook: Join the class at Mount Olympus Academy with Goddess Girls, a series that puts a modern spin on classic Greek myths!

Goddess Girls: Athena the Brain by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Published in October 2010

Other Books in the Series:
Persephone the Phony
Aphrodite the Beauty
Artemis the Brave
Athena the Wise
Aphrodite the Diva (Aug. 2011)
Artemis the Loyal (Dec. 2011)
Medusa the Mean (Apr. 2012)

Aladdin paperbacks
Ages 8-12

“…a clever take on Greek deities…” ~ Booklist

“…an enchanting mythological world with middle-school woes compounded by life as a
deity…” ~ School Library Journal

The Hook: Twelve-year-old Athena finds out she is a goddess and daughter of Zeus. She is summoned to Mount Olympus Academy, and as the new kid must learn to catch up, fit in and avoid Medusa.

Why I loved it: Fresh spin on Greek mythology and it's clever. Athena the Brain is the first in the Goddess Girls series. I loved that the main character was a goddess instead of a hero (like Percy Jackson). When Athena gets to the Academy she has to learn what it means to be a goddess by taking classes like Hero-ology, Spell-ology, and Revenge-ology. The story weaves the classic Greek myths and history into a relatable modern setting. I loved when the kids are in Hero-ology and they have to take a hero, create a quest and help them succeed. By the end of the chapter, the Trojan War is being played like checkers. Unique perspective--very clever, very fun. These books are great for girls (not much of a boy book) who aren't quite ready for Percy Jackson and definitely great for reluctant readers. Lauren ripped through the series in less than a week. She toted them every where we went.

My 9 yr old, Lauren's thoughts: I love Goddess Girls because they are fun adventure and I liked learning about the Greek gods and goddesses. I really liked all the books but Artemis the Brave was my favorite. I learned about the books from my teacher, she has all the books in our classroom. All the girls in my class really like these books but they're not really for boys...well, one boy in my class likes reading them. (She laughs.)

Want More? Here's my interview with Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams.

You and Joan write the series together and this fascinates me as a writer. Do you collaborate on each book or do you pick which books you'll write individually?

Joan: We had no idea how we were going to make our collaboration work when we started out, but this is the process that has evolved and is working great for us: We divide up the books so that we’re each responsible for every other first draft. We discuss the myths and main ideas we’ll use, then one of us writes a long synopsis which the other critiques. After the first draft is done, we trade a manuscript both back and forth and rewrite each other’s lines mercilessly using Word Tracking. We trust each other’s writing enough to accept most revisions and build on them. If there are major sticking points, we talk them out by phone.

Suzanne: We think the books benefit from our two sets of eyes, and we often laugh aloud while reading a funny line the other has added. And because we both work hard on each book, the series sounds like one author wrote it.

My daughter wants to know how (or what) you research for each story? She wants to know how you learned all about Greek mythology.

Suzanne: Hi Lauren. We’re so glad you like Goddess Girls! Joan has always been a mythology fanatic, but though I learned about Greek mythology in school, I had to refresh my memory and learn new myths while writing this series. We have books about Greek mythology (a favorite is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology) that we use as source material. We also do internet research to learn details about myths, beasts, gods, and mortals.

Joan: For each book, we choose a well-known myth (or two) associated with the main character(s), then weave our plots around those myths, modifying them as needed to create a satisfying story with an updated twist. Lauren (*waving*) If you’re interested in learning more about Greek mythology you might try reading D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. It’s a classic!

You've both written many stories, where do you get your inspiration? And what inspired The Goddess Girls series?

Joan: I often start a book or series with only a catchy title, and think …what could that be about? What if this happened or that happened? That’s how Goddess Girls was born.

Suzanne: Since our goddesses and readers are ‘tweens, we mix some age-appropriate friendship drama into the myths, and ground them in a school setting—Mount Olympus Academy. We imagine the personalities and predicaments of our young goddessgirls and godboys based on their mythical adult counterparts.

Each book in the series is written about a different goddess, which goddess do you
enjoy writing the most and why is she your favorite? (and yes I know there are 2 books about Athena.)

Suzanne: Actually, there will soon be two books each about Aphrodite and Artemis too. Book 6: Aphrodite the Diva pubs Aug. 9, and Book 7: Artemis the Loyal will be out Dec. 6. I honestly can’t pick a favorite among our four main goddessgirls when it comes to writing a book. Each character is a fun challenge to write.

Joan: That’s so true. In fact, we “traded” on the first drafts so that if I did a first draft for the first book narrated by a particular character, Suzanne got to do the first draft of the second book about that character, and vice versa.

What is the best part of publishing a successful series?

Joan: The opportunity to write more books about them! We’ve branched out from our original four main goddessgirls—Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Artemis--to include other girl characters as narrators, including one well-known mean, green mortal. Book 8: Medusa the Mean pubs in April 2012. It was great fun to write our version of how Medusa got to be so mean. Sometimes, as with Aphrodite the Diva, we also bring in characters—like the Egyptian goddess Isis—from other pantheons.

Suzanne: We love it when teachers tell us that our series has gotten young readers interested in Greek mythology or when moms say it has gotten their kids interested in reading period. And we enjoy the letters and email we get from fans, and the comments they leave on our Goddess Girls Facebook page. We try to respond to those comments and questions daily, btw!

Your books have a great middle grade voice, do you have any tips on how to write for middle graders?

Suzanne: Thank you! Part of what makes middle grade fun to write is that you can develop more complex plots than you can for picture books and shorter chapter books. And because book lengths are longer there’s also more room for exploring characters and the situations you put them in.

Joan: I like books with fast-paced plots, action, and unstilted dialogue, and I think 8-12 age readers do too. Write about emotions and situations kids experience, but give things an interesting hook or twist. Humor is a huge plus. MG readers “get” more sophisticated humor while still appreciating puns and slapstick. And adding girl-boy friendship or light romance won’t make them gag (well, not the girls, anyway!)

If you could be a Greek goddess, which one would you be and why?

Joan: Part of me wants to be Athena and part of me wants to be Aphrodite—brains and beauty!

Suzanne: Brains and beauty sound good to me, too! But in practice, I’ m more like an Athena/Persephone combo—studious and a big-time reader, with mostly light, but occasional dark moods. Growing up, I was never into sports like Artemis. But now I go to the gym most mornings to do step classes or yoga. It’ s important since I sit so much each day to write!

Thanks for having us here today, Brooke. And good luck with your own writing!

-- Joan and Suzanne

You can read more about Joan and Suzanne over at Smack Dab in the Middle. I loved seeing where they write.


Other MMGMers (go, they always have great picks):
I loved reading Greek mythology as a kid. I wanted to be Aphrodite. Now, I'd rather hunt with Artemis. How about you? Do you love Greek Mythology? What god or goddess did you want to be as a kid or wish you could be now?

Sunday, June 19, 2011


So I had a round up that never posted. I was away this weekend and now I know. I guess knowing is half the battle. I loved G I Joe as a kid. I wanted to be Scarlett. She is the ultimate tough girl...I like to think she and Han Solo would make a great couple.

Look for a supercharged roundup next Friday.

Were you into GI Joe as a kid? Didn't you love the cartoon...that and Thundercats. I wanted my own Battlecat. Snarf.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Zombiekins

I picked this book up from a Scholastic book order and had no idea how popular it would be with my kids. Even my younger daughters were drawn to the cover, the great illustrations, and the mysterious Zombiekins. When I started reading this, my 5 and 3 yr olds cuddled up close and asked me to read it out loud. Within a couple of pages I had all my daughters around me and I read till my mouth went dry. My MMGM pick:

Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger
published in June 2010

Other books by the author:
Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger
Zombiekins 2 (coming out sometime this year)

The Hook: When 4th grader Stanley buys an odd stuffed animal from the widow Imavitch's yard sale, he has no idea it will come alive and turn the kids at school into zombies.

Why I love this book: humor and age-appropriate zombies. Any zombie stuffy who rips Winnie the Pooh, Elmo and Barney to shreds on his first night is my kind of zombie. When Zombiekins (half bunny/half rabid teddy bear) starts biting kids at school and turning them into ridiculous zombies, my kids and I were laughing on every page. Zombies are crazy slow and stupid and Bolger plays this up. It reminds me of the zombie satire movie Sean of the Dead: clever and hilarious. This book is for younger middle graders and it's definitely a boy book but girls will love it too. (I have four zombiekins super fans as proof.) Seriously, I heart Zombiekins, I'm excited for book 2.

Want More? Go to his fabulous Zombiekins website for book trailers, excerpts, news...seriously, kids will love it. Great example of an author site for younger MG. Not convinced? The Book Aunt has another great review.

Other MMGMers (go, they always have great picks):
I'm not a big zombie reader, I prefer zombie satire. I don't get the scary element of brain-dead, snail-paced, dull-teethed monsters. How about you? Do you read Zombies?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Best of the Middle Grade Blogs: June 10

School is almost out for my chicklets and we have been dashing around all week for their dance recital. I'm a little over-glittered right now. But I've been loving everyone else's blogs this week, even if I have been a stalker. cheers.

My Fave Middle Grade Blog Post This Week




Other Round Ups
Still want more writing blog posts, check out my other round up over at The Writing Bug.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Book Thief

Happy Monday. My MMGM pick:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published in 2006

Other books by Zusak:
I Am the Messenger (currently in my wanna get pile)
Getting the Girl
The Bridge of Clay (releasing this year)

The Hook: Death surrounds Liesel, a young girl living in Nazi Germany, but she escapes Death's grasp by stealing books and helping others.

Why I love this book: Style and a fresh perspective on Nazi Germany. This book is beautifully written and I loved Death's narration. Clever from the first page to the last. I thought this was a refreshing perspective of Nazi Germany because it is about a German girl's struggle to adapt to her new situation as a foster child. It is not about the war or the extermination of the Jews. The war is just the background of the story and you get to see and understand what it meant to be a German child living during World War 2. Liesel is actually very naive about the extermination camp near her village. She believes it is a work camp. So when her foster family hides a Jewish man in their basement, she doesn't fully understand why.

This could be one of my favorite middle grade books but it is more literary and less adventurous. The subject matter would probably go over the heads of younger middle graders.
This book is great for both boys and girls but I wouldn't recommend it to reluctant readers. The style is very unique and might be difficult or annoying to some middle graders.

Want More? Go to his website or his wikipedia page.

Other MMGMers (go, they always have great picks):
I remember reading Anne Frank in the 5th grade. It was my first exposer to learning about World War 2 and what really happened. I think The Book Thief would be a great companion to Anne Frank. I also love The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (although not MG).

What books about World War 2 left an impression on you as a MGer or as an adult?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Best of the Middle Grade Blogs: June 3

It has been three weeks and still no word on my queries from the fantastic agents. I have no idea how to read this other than I passed the intern test...maybe. At this point I feel like it's time to send out a new batch of queries. And KT Literary just opened for submissions. I've been blog stalking them for over a year and waiting patiently. What agencies are on your hot list?

On more important news for me and not for you: I'm picking my laptop up from the shop tomorrow. I've missed my 5th baby.

My Fave Middle Grade Bloggers This Week: