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?