Monday, August 12, 2019

Six Scary Back-to-School Reads

Heading back to school is an amazing time of year when students reunite with old friends, meet new teachers and dive into the joys of learning. Right? Of course, but it can also be scary! From those first day jitters to aliens posing as educators. That's why I decided to put together this list of back-to-school reads that might just scare your pants off. You'll find a little bit of everything: haunted castles, fairytale villains, teachers who turn students into apples. Anyone who says that school is boring clearly hasn't walked the halls of Splendid Academy or faced the wrath of the terrifying Miss Trunchbull.

About the Author:

is the author of the middle grade novels HELLO, FUTURE ME (2020), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE, all with Scholastic Press. She is also a contributor to the upcoming NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Find out more at or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Join the MG Minded Team

Middle Grade Minded is coming up on our 6th year of blogging and we've had a blast. We've had many folks join the team over the years and we are once again opening up our doors looking for new voices to share on the blog.

So ask yourself...

Do you write Middle Grade literature?

Do you like to share writing knowledge and experiences?
Do you like interviewing others?
Do you like reviewing Middle Grade books?
Do you like blogging?
Would you be willing to write one blog post a month?

If you answered yes to most if not all of those questions then you might be the perfect addition to the Middle Grade Minded team!

We are currently looking for additional bloggers to write posts on writing craft and experiences, review middle grade literature, and/or perform interviews with agents, authors, editors, teachers, and even middle grade readers. If you are interested in joining the team please answer the questions below and send them to with the subject line "I want to blog for Middle Grade Minded"


1.) Tell us about you! What do you write? How long have you been writing? Have you had anything published? What do you like about MG literature? etc. Just a short bio of relevant information.

2.) Why do you want to blog for Middle Grade Minded? 

3.) What kinds of things would you most like to blog about?

4.) Do you currently have a personal blog? If so, please link us to it.

5.) What social media platforms are you on? Please include handles or links.

6.) Do you have any interest in taking on additional tasks for the blog? (Examples: scheduling, social media etc.) If so, let us know what you would be interested in helping with. (Note: the answer to this question will not affect whether or not you are chosen, it is merely for informational purposes)

Please submit your application by Friday, August 23, 2019 to be considered
We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Why it's okay to ease up now and then...

Remember that old saying: the teacher shows up when the student is ready?

Well my teacher showed up via a recent post here at Middle Grade Minded.

Wonderfully written by Rob Polk, it encourages writers and readers to be easy on ourselves in pursuit of our goals and to prioritize our physical and mental health.

I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since I read it.

I don't know about you, but I'm a goal setter.

This summer's goals:

1) finish revising my work in progress
2) read twenty-five books
3) write every day

These goals are a sub-set of my overall 2019 goals, which include revising another novel, researching a novel, finally writing that picture book I've been thinking about, and reading 125 books.

But then something happened after I read Rob's post.

I realized I was rushing my life, instead of savouring it.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial to creativity.

I'd forgotten that downtime is crucial for wellbeing.

Meeting my self-imposed deadlines was robbing me of the joy of DOING and BEING.

I was seeing other writers publishing and doing more and feeling like I needed to match their pace if I was to succeed.

I'd become a hamster on a wheel. And just like the little guy below, was in imminent danger of falling off...


Something had to change.

Last Monday, I decided that my work in progress needed a more substantial rewrite. It will take how long it takes.

I decided that trying to meet an arbitrary number of books was not how I wanted to read.

I decided that tracking everything and writing to-do lists was NOT helping me any more.

I must meet my commitments, but I don't have to be a perpetual motion machine to get them done.

Mostly, I reminded myself that summer is fleeting.

I need to stare more at my garden.

I need to take more walks.

I need to nap in my Adirondack chair.

I don't have to be at my desk by 7 a.m. every day.

I hope that you'll reread Rob's post and think of what you can do for yourself that will fill up your creative and happiness reservoir.

The truth is, my books will get done. So will yours.

I'll read lots of books. So will you.

But I vow to enjoy the journey more.

My name is Wendy, and I am trying to learn to relax about this whole writing thing!


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Summer Stories Giveaway - Featuring Dana Alison Levy



I admit it, in the summer my books take a beating. Expect to see them warped and wonky after being left outside in the rain, or filled with sand that spills out when pulled from the bottom of a beach bag. Reading in the summer is a bit of a contact sport, for me. Bug spray, sunscreen, water, sand…even some ice cream has been known to find its way onto the pages of my favorite summer books.

Sorry not sorry.

Reading — and rereading — wonderful books in the summer is one of my great pleasures. Even though I’ve been out of school for a looooooong time, something about summer still feels…different. Freer. Like my regular life is suspended, and somehow the rules are different. I reread old favorites. Put down a book that isn’t grabbing me and start a new one. Read three books at once. Why not? It’s summer!

Maybe it’s because I live in New England, where the winters are long and cold. Maybe it’s because school wasn’t always easy for me as a student, or as a parent, and summer promised a break. Whatever the reason, I always feel summer is a time of freedom.

Below are a couple of summer stories that I’ve loved, that maybe you’ll love too. And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win one of my summertimes books! Simply comment here or on the Instagram post (linked here) and you’re entered to win of of these two books!*

This Would  Make a Good Story Someday: What if you planned on the perfect summer with your friends, getting new and improved for middle school? And what if your moms suddenly informed you that, instead, your entire family — including your loud younger sister, your political activist older sister, and her oh-so-annoying boyfriend — were traveling cross-country by train? For Sara, writing it all down in her journal is the only escape. But as they criss-cross the country she makes unexpected friends, sees the world outside the train windows with new eyes, and might just come home new and improved after all.

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island: The Fletchers love returning every year to Rock island, where nothing ever changes. Except this year, when Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog Fletcher and their dads arrive, things are different. New neighbors, a Keep Out fence around the beloved lighthouse, and still more surprises await them. Maybe time can’t stand still, even on Rock Island, but the Fletcher boys learn that some changes can be downright amazing.

A Very Incomplete List of A Few of My Favorite Summer Stories
by Dana Alison Levy

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall:
This book is a modern classic, and does an amazing job of bringing us into the heart of this hilarious and loving family of four sisters. The adventures they have in Arundel, in the gardens, the pond, the meadows, and beyond, make me want to join the fun. P.S. The whole series is fantastic, and another one, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, is another magical summer story.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams:
Wow I love this book! Three sisters travel across the country to spend the summer of 1968 with their mother in Oakland California, where they wind up attending a summer program hosted by the revolutionary Black Panthers. Full of important history that doesn’t get talked about enough, and funny and poignant enough to keep everyone reading. P.S. Once again, the rest of the series is amazing too!

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson:
Pretty much the world’s most perfect middle grade novel. A mystery, a family story, a friendship story, historical fiction, social justice, puzzles, questions about race, secrets, LGBTQIA identity…this book pretty does it all, and does it beautifully. Candace Miller and her mother are spending the summer in Lambert South Carolina, and when she and her neighbor Brandon find a letter waiting for her, it’s the beginning of a puzzle about her family and the town that may reveal secrets some folks aren’t ready to give up. Also, it made me go back and reread Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (the ultimate puzzle book), and that’s just another bonus.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya:
Like I said, I’m a New Englander, and I love our summers. But this book takes place in Miami, and offers such an incredible sense of place and how the rhythms of summer play out there. It’s about community and food and family and poetry and, for me at least, Arturo is not even remotely an epic fail; he’s totally awesome.

Dana Alison Levy was raised by pirates but escaped at a young age and went on to earn a degree in aeronautics and puppetry. Actually, that’s not true—she just likes to make things up. That’s why she always wanted to write books. Her novels for kids, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, This Would Make a Good Story Someday, and It Wasn’t Me have garnered multiple starred reviews, been named to Best Of lists, and were Junior Library Guild Selections. Also her kids like them. Find out more at or follow her online at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

*Giveaway is US only! (Apologies to the international crowd). Winners will be picked at random and contacted via email or DM.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Plotting vs Pantsing / My Learning Curve

When I first began to write I had a basic personal story I wanted to tell. I pantsed 28K words in twenty-five days, then worked on that story for three more years. I was fortunate that it went on to a small press for publication. Imagine that! My first ever novel published! Shoot, this stuff is easy! HAHAHA NO!

It was my first novel. I was lucky, not good. It was not particularly good either. But it was an earnest and heartfelt attempt, and a reflection of my writing skills at the time, and I'm proud of it for many reasons even if it is difficult for me to read now.

Though I'd written numerous picture book manuscripts by the time I started my first MG novel, I hadn't ever researched how to write a novel. I'd skimmed and dipped into a few craft books like Stephen King's On Writing, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, but rather than settling into the books and waiting to begin my second novel, I charged ahead with an idea. I figured my next story would organically and coherently play out on the page as I wrote. Strangely, that didn't happen.

I'm querying my second novel now, and it was only after getting involved in #Pitchwars where I began to see the value of studying craft. I mean really breaking down your novel and understanding it. My #Pitchwars mentor Yamile Mendez (you need to check out her bazillion books) guided me to websites by K.M. Weiland and Jami Gold

I use these sites regularly now, as well as the craft books The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I'm sure many of the other craft books on the market are helpful, but these resources work for me.

If you can imagine a scribbled line, you can imagine how my first two books came about. It's like I was learning to draw but didn't quite know how. I've spent considerable time rewriting the second book, and if it gets me an agent, it's going to need more revisions, I'm sure of that. I'm okay with that too. I expect it.

On this third book, I don't want to erase so many scribbles and rewrite them, so I'm carefully pre-planning the novel (with much more detail and structure than a general idea). I'm keeping a growing character sheet complete with backstory for each character. This is helping tremendously. It's also helping me see further into the future. I think this book can be a series. We'll see.

For me, writing now is a mix of framing first (to structure and space the plot and pinch points) and pantsing between these points. I feel it is working well. I think I'll have a readable manuscript to critique partners in about a month, and I'm so thankful to Yamile Mendez and all the generous writers sharing their time and talents with others.

If it weren't for generous writers giving advice and support so willingly, I'd be lost. If you're struggling a bit, keep at it! You're in a great group of people! But you probably already know that.

Take care,
Rob Polk

Monday, July 22, 2019

Scary Stories: How Far is Too Far?

One of my current works in progress (oh, how wonderful it would be if there were only one) is a scary middle grade book. I’ve written a couple manuscripts over the years that were at least meant to be scary. Some were. Some…eh….

Every time I approach a new scary idea, whether it would be categorized as spooky or creepy or horror or whatever other label could be assigned, there’s always one big question that I try to keep in mind: Exactly how far can I take things while writing for a middle grade audience? There are a few things I’ve learned to consider:

*What part of the middle grade audience, specifically, does the book aim for? Middle grade can be a tricky age level to write for. Some books are more directed toward the nine-year-olds, some target the older end of thirteen or maybe even fourteen, and some look to split the difference. Is the story itself something that would interest the younger readers or the older readers? Assuming the older readers are able to handle stories with a scarier edge to them, books meant for that chunk of middle grade could offer some more challenging scares. A younger reader might only need more innocent campfire tales for a scary thrill, so they don’t go to sleep at night wondering what sorts of nightmares might be found beneath their bed.

*How balanced is the pacing of the scares? Are there quieter moments to even things out, or maybe even jokes to lighten the tone?

*What part, if any, will violence play? Where is the line between a story being something scary, and becoming full-on horror? Is it the degree of the scare? Are the characters facing physical jeopardy? Is either blood or death involved with what’s happening in the story, and how necessary is it?

*Do the scares serve the story, or are they being included simply for shock value? Anything included in a manuscript should be necessary to advancing the story. Are monsters or jumpy scenes written in just to make things scarier, or do they have actual purpose?

Things always come back in the end to what’s necessary for the story and appropriate for the audience. I think as long as the content of the story matches that criteria, readers should have a good idea about what to expect. Sometimes the scares might catch people off guard, though. I think most of us have had that happen before, while reading some book or watching a movie. Getting through an unexpected scare in a storyline and seeing how the characters handle it can be empowering for a middle grade reader. Maybe kids who take on the challenge of diving into something that might give them some spooks and chills will open them up to new directions in their reading.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How to Use Travel to Enrich Your Writing

Summer is prime travel time, which is awesome, no question. But every writer knows travel can cause interrupted schedules and missed writing time. What's more, the interruptions can affect you before, during, and after the trip! Fortunately, travel can greatly enrich your writing. So arm yourself with these tips, pack your bags, and get ready for some fab fun and inspiration all rolled together!

Spark ideas and ask questions

Learn all you reasonably can about your intended destination ahead of time. Not only will this make your travel experience richer, but it will trigger writing ideas for you. Brainstorm what types of stories or novels you could set in the place your are visiting. What sort of characters might be interesting within this culture? How would characters from a different culture integrate with the one you are planning to visit?

Currently I am preparing for a medical mission to India with my husband. In my preliminary research, I've discovered conflicting opinions about what women tourists should wear. This conflict could easily be woven into a story with humorous or frightening results, depending on what I'm writing.

Organize your research

My favorite method for organizing research for future novels is Scrivener. You can easily import web pages and your own photos (keep them small so you don't bog down). 

The program is set up so you create your own multi-tier research files, which are quickly and easily accessible while you are writing in a separate pane. You can even drag the research files from one scrivener document to another so you can find it quickly for another story set in the same location.

Evernote is another great resource for organizing research and has the added bonus of being accessible by phone or laptop.

Use resources related to your destination

Read novels, memoirs, or travel guides related to your travel destination. The novels could be set in the place you are visiting or written by people from that region. An added bonus - reading these books will help you be aware of what stories are out there so you do not plan to write something that is already saturating the market.

Listen to podcasts. Watch movies. Download apps. I recently downloaded the Google Arts & Culture app so I could learn about Indian architecture, art, museums, and culture ahead of our trip. Whatever resources you explore will open your eyes to details you might otherwise overlook. As you immerse yourself in these resources, the culture you are preparing to write about becomes more like second nature to you.

Keep a travel journal

Ok, I know this is tough. Believe me. You've been out seeing sights. You've walked about a thousand miles and you're exhausted. I used to try to journal about each day every night when I returned to my room. Usually that worked about two days before my exhaustion (or desire to go have more fun!) won out. So here's a couple better strategies that have worked well for me.

Journal on the go

Now I keep a small notebook to jot down ideas or do a quick sketch when inspiration strikes. I'm sure I miss some things. But I try to capture the essence of whatever is fascinating me at the moment. What I can't write at the time, I try to do it later, even if it's on the flight home. I alternate between using a note app on my phone and using paper, depending on a variety of factors. 

Note apps I like: Notes on iPhone is great for quickly recording ideas and information. If you have a mac you can easily send the notes to your laptop then incorporate them into Scrivener. I also love Evernote and save a lot of info there. Just beware of tour guides getting impatient with your notetaking. I once had a guide in Alaska lose his patience and ask who I was texting! He was quite flattered to learn I was taking notes for a possible novel.


Yes, I'm using that as a verb. Photojournal your trip. This is a fantastic way to jog your memory later on. A few years ago, when I was Mexico, I snapped pics of different types of buildings, homes, and wildlife. Later, looking through the photos, I noticed that a family kept a deer penned in their back yard. It brought a lot of questions to mind. Was this deer a pet? Or food? How did they catch it? 

As you curate your photos, keep in mind that those you post on Facebook or instagram will not be the same as those you will want for research or to stir your imagination for writing.

What are some of your favorite ways to use travel to enrich your writing?