Friday, July 23, 2021

5 Middle Grade Summer Reads You Don't Want to Miss!

Summer is in full swing, with afternoons spent in backyard hammocks or whiled away on road trips. Whatever the choice of your summer time, be sure to tuck a few of these great middle grade reads into your kid's backpack - or even your own!


Protagonist Kiki Kallira is sure to thrill fans of adventure, art, and mythology in this action-packed novel. Readers will be drawn into this entertaining story within moments...and may even find themselves reaching for their own sketchbooks. This book is a great springboard for imagination! Buy Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna here!





Tae Keller weaves an enchanting story in When You Trap a Tiger, incorporating the wonder of Korean folk tales. When a tiger from one of the tales comes to life, her main character, Lily must unravel a secret family history and discover if she has the courage to face the tiger. Winner of the 2021 Newbery Medal. Available here!





Looking for a complex, riveting tale? The Kate in Between by Claire Swinarski may just fit the bill. Kate finds herself torn between her best friend, Haddie, and her newfound acceptance in the popular group. This book tackles issues of friendship, bullying, honesty, and guilt. Available here!





In this heartwarming novel, an unlikely friendship is forged when Ro and Benji become science partners in school. They unite to seek his missing comic-book-writing Dad and to finish the rocket her Dad was building when he died. Together, they deal with grief and tackle some of the deepest questions of the cosmos. Find Clues to the Universe by Christina Li at amazon!





Barclay the mushroom apprentice accidentally bonds with a magical beast, setting off a rollicking adventure sure to keep readers turning pages. Buy Wilderlore: The Accidental Apprentice by Amanda Foody here!





Happy Reading!





Monday, July 5, 2021

An Interview with Author Alyson Gerber

I'm a HUGE Alyson Gerber fan, so I knew that when TAKING UP SPACE was recently released, I definitely wanted to talk to her about this stunning novel that is going to speak to so many kids!

 










About the Book:

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. Crushing it on the court makes her feel like she matters. And it's the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her.

But lately Sarah can't even play basketball right. She's slower now and missing shots she should be able to make. Her body doesn't feel like it's her own anymore. She's worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what's happening.

When Sarah's crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She'll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn't need to change to feel good about herself.


The Interview:


Hi Aly!

Thanks so much for answering some questions!

Thank you so much for having me! 

Q1: You're so open in your books about issues you've had in your life. Do you find it cathartic or is it still uncomfortable at times?

It’s definitely uncomfortable to confront what I’ve been through in my writing, but I’ve found that digging into my experience and facing my feelings is the only way I know how to heal and move forward. In the process of publishing BRACED, FOCUSED, and TAKING UP SPACE, I've also had the chance to help a lot of kids and adults, and I'm really grateful for that opportunity. It's changed me for the better.

Q2: One of the things I love so much about this book is that it deals with the onset of puberty head on and how hard that can be for girls, not just psychologically, but physically, and yet we so rarely see it discussed in books. Can you talk about your conscious decision to talk about the feeling young girls have that their body is somehow betraying them specifically, and not solely related to disordered eating?

Absolutely. I wanted TAKING UP SPACE to address puberty in an honest way. Puberty is the first time kids experience their body changing. The way they look and feel and appear to other people is new and completely out of their control. It's confusing and weird and also really lonely, because this monumental thing is happening (or not happening), and yet no one is talking about it. Everyone is just pretending that things are the same, when everything is different. I really hope TAKING UP SPACE helps readers to feel less alone in this experience.

Q3: Sarah and her mother have a very strained relationship, one that in many ways isn’t helped at all by her father. There is so much shame ricocheting in that house, in addition to love. Was it difficult to find the balance between these characters?

When I started writing TAKING UP SPACE, I knew that to some readers Sarah's family would feel unfamiliar. This type of dynamic where the culture of dieting has trickled down through generations is actually very common, but it's rarely shown or discussed, because there is so much shame. I stayed focused on making sure that Sarah's parents felt like real people. I wanted readers to feel how much Sarah's parents love her, even as they struggle to provide her with a sense of security and enough food. The balance was definitely tricky, but I'm really proud of how these characters turned out in the story. And I'm so excited by the reviews from readers who can relate to what Sarah is going through and also encouraged by the incredible response from readers who have never been inside this type of dynamic.

Q4: Sarah’s best friend, Ryan, is steadfast, but she doesn’t sugarcoat things for Sarah, which makes me really love her! How important is it to you to accurately portray young girls’ friendships?

I feel very obligated to show my readers honest versions of what friendship really looks like, not what I wish it looked like. The truth is that friendships are special and also complicated. There isn’t a right or wrong way to be a friend. There is only what's right and wrong for you. This is particularly hard when you're young, because most people are trying to figure out who they are and what they need. And just when they have some sense of that, everything about their body and brain changes, so what they need from friends changes too. 

Q5: The most moving part of the book, and most important in my opinion, is when Sarah tells her truth and asks for help. So many kids are afraid to do this and the way it goes down is SO well done. How hard was that to write?

Thank you. That means a lot to me. Writing the build up to that moment when Sarah is finally able to see what's really happening and ask for help was the hardest part of writing this book. It had to ring true and feel earned. And it didn't work, until it did.

Q6: Finally, for all the Alyson Gerber fans out there, what’s next?

I love this question so much! And I hate to be mysterious, but I can't say what's coming next just yet. I promise it will be worth the wait. It's going to be amazing!


And how do you like this adorable picture of Alyson on her first day of middle school? SO cute!








Want to know about Alyson and find out more about her other amazing novels? 


Visit her website!






Monday, June 28, 2021

Review Lola Benko Treasure Hunter by Beth McMullen

 


Lola Benko travels the world with her archeologist dad. She's used to hopping around the globe with no place to call home. But when her dad mysteriously sends her to live with her great-aunt Irma and is thought to have died trying to recover his next artifact, Lola swears he's still alive. She will stop at nothing to find her father even if it means getting caught stealing expensive art from a rich mansion. But if she's to uncover the truth she'll have to trust kids her own age and she's used to doing things on her own.


Lola is a fantastic character, she's into STEM and likes to invent things and dives in head first often without a plan which makes her lovable even in her mistakes. Unfortunately Lola Benko didn't have the world travels and Indiana Jones style treasure hunts I expected but it did have a lot of heart and some fun and sometimes unexpected middle of the night adventures that often went sideways before the characters were able to get themselves out of the mess created. Lola's friends Hannah and Jin are believable and help level and challenge Lola as a character. And the ending had a nice wrap up while also opening the door for the sequel.


I recommend to all middle grade readers looking for a little adventure with a side of mischief and fun that doesn't always go according to plan.


ARC generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jacking Up the Excitement in your Middle Grade Novel

I'm writing from Puerto Vallarta today. Taking out a little time to blog during my family vacation. Don't worry, I won't bore you with candid shots of my kids learning to surf or grisly descriptions of what happens when you jump off a board onto spiny sea urchins. It's not pretty. We'll leave it at that.

Instead, let's take a bite out of jackfruit. 

What does jackfruit have to do with writing riveting novels? Well, let me explain. 

Jackfruit is a huge warty green fruit. It's kind of melon looking, if your melons were aliens or perhaps were exposed to some sort of virus. It's not melon-y at all inside. I've never seen one before yesterday. Honestly, I was super excited to try it. I'm a bit of a foodie and I love adventure, so why not try eating something that looks like a science experiment gone wrong? The guides loved it. What did I have to lose?

A few bucks, apparently. But I gained oh, so much in experience, right?

Not only does the jackfruit look strange but the rubbery pit-filled flesh (promised to be a tantalizing blend of banana, cantaloupe, and pineapple) turned out to be........bland. I could only manage a bite. 

Back at the hotel, I tried blending it into a smoothie. I was greeted with a less-than-enthusiastic shrug from the family and something that sounded a little like "Mmph." Mmmmm was more what I was hoping for.

This brings me back to the point of this post - jacking up the excitement.

Anything you write needs to have a unique, intriguing presentation. No doubt the jackfruit did. I haven't seen that many warts since Halloween. And the chartreuse hue definitely grabbed my attention. 

But as with the fruit, presentation isn't enough. Even if some locals (family and friends) love your novel, you probably want to extend your appeal a little farther than that. And let's face it, no one really wants something bland. 

So here's some tips for writing a compelling novel that lives up to its hype.

Craft a Tight Plot


Include the basic elements of plot in your story. Free write all you want to get the juices going. But it's useful to have some idea of where you are in terms of plot. Some writers do this through structured planning such as outlining. Others prefer to "pants it," writing by the seat of the their pants, or on the fly, with little or no planning at all. Whatever your process, be sure to include these vital elements of plot.
  1. Exposition - this is the basic setup, where you develop enough character and world building to grab the readers attention and introduce them to the world of your novel. This is the period prior to the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting incident - this is the event that sets the novel in motion, the life-changing thing that happens that propels your character on their journey. 
  3. Rising Action - this is when your main character attempts to solve problems and overcome obstacles. This is where twists and turns should happen.
  4. Climax/Turning Point - This is the darkest moment, often referred to as the all-is-lost moment. Your character must confront the dragon and face their own weaknesses at the same time. This is when the most intense character transformation occurs.
  5. Resolution - The problem resolves and the character and their world return to normal, but it is a new normal, incorporating changes to the main character and their world. This often includes personal growth and new understanding of life and the world around them.

Create Relatable Characters


In order to be relatable each main character needs backstory, hobbies, interests, even conflicting opinions. I'm not talking about conflict between characters here, but conflict within a single character, much like we experience ourselves. 

Of course, conflict between characters is vital as well, even between allies. No one gets along perfectly all the time, not even the best of friends. Check your novel to make sure there's enough conflict and tension or your readers will find the relationships unrealistic and, dare I say it, bland.

Characters also need to have weaknesses. There's nothing more relatable than weakness and vulnerability, because we all experiences that, too.

Layer in Imagery and Metaphor


Once you finish your first draft, take a blazing fast read through of your novel. Look for imagery and themes you have included, whether on purpose or by accident. Then intensify these themes. Look for opportunities to add meaning through imagery and metaphor. This will add interest and depth to your novel.

Edit Out Fluff


It's tempting to include flowery adverbs or adjectives. But these actually detract from compelling writing. So does too much information. Consider the following sentences:

Jack clumsily walked too close to a really huge rocky ledge then fell off, screaming and hollering all the way down.

OR

Jack stumbled off a cliff.

Which one makes your heart jump? Which one makes you want to turn the page to find out what happened next?

DISCLAIMER: This post is not anti-Jack or anti-jackfruit. The author acknowledges that while jackfruit may not be to her taste, there are likely people around the world who find it delicious, and quite possibly even riveting. Just like with books....taste varies :)

Happy Reading and Happy Writing!


Friday, May 14, 2021

12 Great Resources for Writing (and Selling!) Middle Grade Fiction

Today's post features a blogroll of fabulous resources for middle grade writers. I've included a few notes, but be sure to click on those you links you want to dig into a little deeper!


Basics of Middle Grade

Middle Grade Novel Structure - Identifying the middle grade target audience and more!
Developing a compelling Middle Grade Fiction Premise - Remember what it was like to be 12 :)
3 Key Components of Middle Grade Novels - Characters on a mission, facing challenges, and growing!

Middle Grade Character Development

21 Characteristics of a Perfect Middle Grade Protagonist - Evokes sympathy, has a strong motivation, is complex....the list goes on!
Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers: Great resource for ideas and for avoiding cliches.

Marketing Middle Grade Books

How to Learn the Market for Middle Grade Fiction - Read relevant middle grade literature, engage in complexity, make room for diversity, and remember what kids are reading for.

Darn Good Writing Advice

Dramatic Arc Archives from Kidlit - This website is chock-full of information, useful for any writer, but specifically targeting middle grade authors.

Happy Writing!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Author Interview: Riel Nason

One of my favourite authors is Riel Nason, who is also from New Brunswick, Canada.

 


 



 

 

2020 was a big year for Riel: she had both a picture book - THE LITTLE GHOST WHO WAS A QUILT and a middle grade novel  - WAITING UNDER WATER - published!

 


 






 



 

The Interview!

First of all, you had two books come out last year — a picture book called The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt and a middle grade novel called Waiting Under Water — so congratulations! What was it like having two books come out in 2020?

Well, had I known what 2020 had in store for us all … but, trying to stay on the positive side of things, reading is something that you can do at home alone, so although it was less than an ideal time to release books as far as having events, the stories did reach readers.  

 

Although this blog is about middle grade fiction, I can’t help but ask a couple of questions about your wonderful picture book. What inspired your delightful ghost, Scrappy?

I love Halloween and I love quilting.  I had wanted to write a children’s picture book for quite a while – I just had to come up with what I thought was a really good idea.  The idea of a quilt ghost struck me as something really fun and more importantly, so different, to work with, so then it was a matter of what his story would be.

 

As someone who is just dipping their toes into writing a picture book herself, what is the drafting process like compared with writing YA or MG?

I am not someone who makes formal drafts, but I absolutely jot down many, many snippets of ideas and major plot points.  For a novel, I think about the main plot, what may be subplots, different scenes, etc.  But for a picture book, there is one story, one plot.  It has to be clear and short while still being fun and clever – AND still leaving little bits of the story for the illustrator to tell.  When writing and editing any piece obviously every word counts, but with a picture book every word REALLY counts.

 

Will we ever see Scrappy again?

I would be thrilled if The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt could have more adventures …

 

Waiting Under Water is one of my favourite middle grade books of 2020! What inspired the story?

I am terrible at remembering what things all align in my head to come up with a story, but I am committed to writing stories set in New Brunswick and writing about small town-life.  

 

And quilts appear in this book, too! I love that Hope quilts and that quilting is presented as something wonderfully creative, not something reserved for little old ladies in church halls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Did you quilt when you were Hope’s age?

I didn’t quilt when I was Hope’s age, but I did crochet and make many kinds of crafts.  I only started quilting about 10 or 12 years ago.

 

Hope is about to be snatched out of the magical village of St. David’s and moved to a big city far away. Did you experience anything similar as a kid? 

Kind of.  I did live in Toronto for a year when I was Hope’s age.  My Dad was on sabbatical for a year and went to U of T.  So our family went from Hawkshaw, NB (Population 25ish) to Toronto for a year and then back to Hawkshaw, NB again.

 

As the reader, I thought that you dealt with Hope’s anxieties and tics perfectly; they’re an issue, but they aren’t the heart of the story. How difficult was it to find that balance?

I’m not sure that it was something I thought about.  I think for me, once I know what a character is like, what personality traits I have decided for them to have, what challenges, etc. are established then I work with those as the character goes through each scene and situation in the book.  It’s never a matter of like, oh yeah, time to mention the tics again, but more, wow this thing happening in the book would really stress Hope out, she likely will have anxiety here.

 

Friendship is a huge theme in the novel, not just for the kids, but we see the adults grappling with leaving friends, too. Hope and her best friend, Willa, have their own friendship challenge, as well as with the ‘mean girls’ who tease them, and all of the relationships evolve. How do you work on your characters to make them so vivid?

Hmm, not sure other than every time someone does something in the book I think about whether it is reasonable for that character to do. If I realise that something has to happen to advance the plot or get some information out to the reader, I think through how it make it happen naturally.  I also try to imagine myself in different scenes, thinking about what I may do or say.

 

I’m pretty sure I know the village that inspired St. David’s is — I spent a lot of time there as a kid — and you captured it perfectly! What do you think living in a small place gives a kid?

I likely know where you are referring to.  Because only one small village in NB has “sea caves” that are popular for visiting, some people have assumed that St. David’s is inspired by this single place.  But that’s not the case.  It’s a fictional version inspired by many, many tiny villages I’ve visited often in New Brunswick and Maine. I think spending a summer in a small seaside village as a kid is a wonderful thing.

 

I’m not going to give the ending away, but it is so SATISFYING. Did you plan the ending that way from the very beginning or is there an alternate Hope universe out in the ether?

So glad you like the ending.  It was always that way right from the first draft.

 

What are you working on next?

I am writing a new middle grade novel.  I am just starting.  I also have a couple of picture books in the works.  My next picture book comes out in July. It’s called Disaster at the Highland Games.

 

And finally, do you really make a wish when someone gives you a quilt? Because I’ve got a couple that I’m pretty sure no one has ever made a wish on and I’m wondering if I’m too late…

Hmm, it’s supposed to be wished on the first night by the first person who sleeps under it, but it’s not an exact science, so maybe ?  Thanks Wendy!

Thanks Riel!

 

Want to learn more about Riel? 

 

Visit www.rielnason.com



Monday, March 15, 2021

Review: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls Double Cross

 

Abby and her friends have entered into a prestigious Challenge to compete against other teams at Briar Academy. The winning team brings glory to their school and stakes claim as the best and the brightest. While there, they discover some mysterious activities that lead them on another spy filled adventure. In order to uncover the nefarious plans that lead back to their nemesis the Ghost, Abby and her friends will have to decide if they want to sacrifice the competition and all its glory to stop the notorious Ghost once and for all.

Reading this final installment of the Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls was like visiting with old friends. Toby, Izumi, Charolette, and Abby are at it again, and they reluctantly join forces with Poppy and Owen Elliot the other team from Smith to solve the mystery. Much like the previous two, Double Cross is a lot of fun filled with sarcasm, adventure, gadgets, and mischief. It's a blast to watch these characters get into trouble and figure out how they are going to get out of it. Even when the odds are stacked against them, they manage to work together and power through. I will miss this world and hanging with these characters and their fully formed personalities. Overall a great final wrap up to the series.