Posts Tagged ‘Middle Grade Novel’

This will not be a long post – just a share of the fabulous finds I collected at the county library’s huge annual book sale.

For a half hour’s drive and $24.00, I picked up the amazing selections you see here, hardbound and paperback. I do go with a list, and am happy to find anything on it, but don’t expect my top picks, especially from 2018. But I did bring home some selections from favorite authors – Lisa See, Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, E. Annie Proulx, and more. I also picked up a number of middle grade/YA novels including Jacqueline Woodson, Jerry Spinelli – and amazingly, the exact book by Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water, that will help me in a drawing project for a client!

There are also authors I am not yet familiar with but had been hoping to find, and some I don’t know at all. There are a couple psychological thrillers, some historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries – enough to keep me happily reading for quite some time.

In addition, I found something special for one of my doctors who is a huge reader; a hardbound replacement for a paperback version of a wonderful novel whose type is so small, it hurts my eyes —   a book I will read again; and a small volume in brand new condition that might be a little surprise for someone.

As I drove down the lovely backroads to the book sale, I couldn’t help but think that a good book and a warm and fuzzy friend to curl up with can get us through a lot of stuff in life – both good times and bad. And $24.00 isn’t much to pay to have one of those pleasures at my fingertips.

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Summer’s a great time to read – it doesn’t matter if you’re on the front porch or in the A/C, if it’s in the cool morning or squeezing it in for a half-hour before you turn out the light – it just seems that time must be made to read. So what are you reading? And how do you decide what to read?

OneCrazySummer-RWGarcia2I find that friends often have great suggestions, especially if they’re involved in children’s books, too. One friend, getting her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, comes up with great suggestions because she’s reading like a fiend while getting her degree, as does another who does constant research for her own writing in picture books. Of course, I always come across fabulous finds at our huge annual county book sale, but let’s not forget one other source …

Our humble librarians. The local librarian in my little town is a wealth of information, and by now, she also knows me well enough to make some wonderful suggestions as well, especially in KidLit. Awhile back, she had mentioned how much she enjoyed the first middle-grade book of a trilogy by Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer. It’s about 3 girls who live in Brooklyn traveling out to Oakland, CA to meet their mother who left them 7 years earlier. I hadn’t realized initially that this is historical fiction, and the story takes place when the p.s.BeEleven-RGWilliams2Black Panthers were active in CA, as was their mother. It’s a fascinating tale that takes place when I was well aware of all the goings-on at that time, the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam war, etc. But what really brought the story to life is Garcia’s three main characters, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern. They are so real; it’s no wonder Ms. Garcia-Williams won so many awards, including a Newbery Honor Award.

So endearing and engrossing are these sisters, that I brought back the first book, and walked right out with the second, p.s. Be Eleven, advice given to Delphine by her mother at the end of each letter she sends her, (Delphine being the oldest.) The author doesn’t shy away from big topics and now the girls, back in Brooklyn, are trying to understand what’s happened to Uncle Darnell who’s returned from Vietnam, not the Uncle D. they knew just 15 months ago. Family plays a big part in these stories and Big Ma, raised in the South, has her own ideas about raising the girls, as does Pa, but then the girls must also deal with him introducing a new lady friend and getting married. It’s real life, and all shared through the eyes of these three wonderfully drawn young  girls.

I’ve just put in a request to get the third book in the trilogy, Gone Crazy in Alabama, through inter-library loan, but meanwhile, have jumped into an adult novel, recommended by yet another friend and avid reader, Defending Jacob.

It’s summer – are you reading?




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Wonder-RJPalacio2I am always a big fan of these, which, to me, are more or less the same thing. I tend to think of them as quotes, but in the book I just finished, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, these are referred to as precepts by Mr. Browne, a character in the book and a middle grade English teacher at Beecher Prep. (I will write more on Wonder soon – this is what lit my spark today.)

Mr. Browne found that his students were more inspired by a quote he had once discovered than by how it had greatly influenced his life, so at the beginning of each month, he wrote a precept on the board. The class discussed it during the month, and at the end of the month, the students wrote an essay about it. Over the summer, his students were encouraged to write their own, or some other inspiring precept and send it to Mr. Browne. What a great teaching idea for real life, eh?

The copy of Wonder lent to me by a friend was part of a boxed set which also included a second volume called 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Browne’s published selection of a year’s worth of quotes on the issues written about in Wonder, which, in a nutshell, is about kindness as well as overcoming adversity and bullying.

Midsummer Eve painted by Robert Hughes, 1908

Midsummer Eve by Robert Hughes, 1908

He also includes some precepts submitted by his fictional students. This is a really great accompaniment to a book that addresses these issues so well and would hopefully be an inspiration to Wonder‘s middle grade readers, (not to mention a brilliant marketing idea.)

So I started to read the precepts/quotes.

I was entranced by the quote on January 2nd written by Roald Dahl, (of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach fame, if you’re not familiar).

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

It just brought a rush of imagery and creativity to me – “glittering eyes”, indeed, and sparkling thoughts. I am always amazed how such seemingly small tidbits drop right into our laps when we least expect and need them most. Or I am just paraphrasing Roald Dahl?

Have an inspiring day!

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As I’m sure you might agree, books that have been made into movies can have a rather spotty success rate. In my experience, rarely has a movie based on a book been as fulfilling as the book itself though there certainly have been some, and a few surprisingly good at that. There also have been some disastrous movies that had I not read the book first would have dissuaded me from ever reading it. But what about children’s books?

Skellig-DavidAlmondI recently took the plunge and watched movies based on two of my very favorite children’s books, both middle grade – Skellig by David Almond and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. That the Skellig movie had to add on a tag after the title – “the Owl Man” – should have been my first tip off, but I was open.  David Almond is a brilliant writer and won the Printz Award for this particular novel. One of the things that sets him apart is the sense of the unexpected, of magic, that he brings to everything he writes. Where this movie failed for me is that in attempting to reach its audience it felt it necessary to define and explain the unexplainable. The beauty of Skellig the novel was that you were left at the end still not knowing who – or what – Skellig was. Was he a man? both man and bird? an angel? The reader never knows. In the movie, he is more or less defined. And then there were several hokey, (to me anyway), visual machinations, such as Skelling taking Michael for a ride on his back while he flies, and in two instances a kind of spinning in the air where he heals Michael’s hand and later the baby sister. Plus the movie barely touches upon the wonderful and unique character of Mina and her relationship with Michael , nor of that with his friends. In sum, there were interesting things about the movie, but as a reflection of the novel, Skellig the movie fell far short for me.

AWrinkleinTime-MLEngleA Wrinkle in Time fared a bit better in my estimation, but again, the movie couldn’t really compare to the book. I think the movie did a pretty good job of showing the characters of Meg and Charles Wallace, and I enjoyed Alfre Woodard as Mrs. Whatsit, Alison Elliott as Mrs. Who and Kate Nelligan as Mrs. Which. The visuals of the children traveling through the tesseract to get to the different planets couldn’t have had too many ways to show it, I suppose, but it was a stretch. The interesting thing about this movie, made in 2003, is that it was a made-for-TV movie. I suspect it could have been more successful if actually made as a true movie. A Wrinkle in Time, like Skellig, raises bigger issues than the surface story,  in this case, an adventure to save the children’s father. It’s a coming of age story for Meg but also asks what’s most important in life and how can evil be overcome. I think the movie did a very good job of making that clear, especially in the scene where Meg is able to pull Charles Wallace back from the tenacious evil of It. What I particularly enjoyed is that in the Bonus Features that were on the DVD there is an interview with the late Madeleine L’Engle. That alone may have been worth getting the DVD.

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A novel? Really? A couple years ago, Sheri, from our children’s writer’s group, said, “You have a novel in you.” I didn’t find that to be something impossible, yet didn’t see it as highly likely at the time, either.

Aside from one story of mine which hasn’t yet found its proper genre – picture book, chapter book or middle grade – I have been focusing on picture books. I read novels all the time, but had not really thought about writing one of my own. The meager story beginning I had written for a First Page Session was a starting point, and even then, I wasn’t all that focused on it. Until I got a critique from two editors on my storyline, and things that did and didn’t work for an MG reader.

Since that time, I’ve had a unique experience. The story is writing itself.

I’ve read online, and seen among my fellow writers, how some novelists just write it all down straightaway, while others make an outline, map it out, etc. This is not what’s happening. The story is telling itself to me … at odd times, when I’m relaxing, working, whenever it pleases. I mentioned this to my friend, Linda, who told me I’m channeling my story. Well, that’s kind of exciting, and makes sense. Although I envisioned a most basic structure for how the pattern of the chapters would go, beyond that, it just keeps coming.

I’m not writing anything down; there’s no way I’ll forget it. I’m allowing it to just come through. I cry, I laugh, I see who’s becoming a character. This is very new to me. Some ideas require some of my attention – for ex., should that character enter my heroine’s life in the same chapter as another? Why IS my character like that? And I let it go. The answers come back in a fairly short time.

I don’t need too many facts at this time – I can fill in the realities of horses, riding, racing, later. But I realize I can also feed my storywriter within, so am reading Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton, and perhaps returning to other horse related books I have here or reading some new ones or checking out some videos. I am fortunate to have friends involved with horses who can help me with facts, as well as one of the sources for this story’s inspiration … the horses of Mylestone Equine Rescue, for whom I volunteer and help in other ways.

Perhaps the best part of all – is I’m not in a rush. It comes as it comes, and I’m quite grateful for that.

At top left is a photograph I took of Calvin, one of Mylestone‘s rescued horses.

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indigo-alicehoffmanAlthough I’ve said this before, I like Alice Hoffman. I like what she writes about – essentially, magic – and how she writes about it.

Indigo, like Green Angel, is ultimately a story about healing. Written for middle grade readers, Indigo is also a story about friendship, devotion, and love of all kinds. As with Green Angel, my only complaint is that the story is over too soon. More like a novella or short story than a novel,  (how it’s promoted), it’s 84 pages in paperback.

Back to the magic – one of the main characters, Martha Glimmer, is more an ordinary girl, but who was touched by a certain magic in her mother. Her mother has recently passed away, leaving Martha feeling unsure, adrift and missing the spark in her life that was her mom. The two other main characters, Trevor and Eli McGill, nicknamed Trout and Eel for fine webbing between their fingers and toes, long to see the ocean. All three, stuck in a dry, dusty town which has all but banished water due to destructive floods in the past, yearn for something beyond what they know.

Fiercely devoted friends in search of dreams, they set out on a journey. Magic is revealed in more ways than one as Martha, Trout and Eel discover their truths, reclaim their pasts and find richer futures. It’s a lot to accomplish in 84 pages, and I love how Alice Hoffman does it. For a fast but rewarding read, Indigo is a great way to go.

p.s. I feel like I’m cheating on Andrew Weil, the book I’m currently reading, but I hit the Hunterdon County Library’s big annual book sale this past Sunday, made out like a bandit, and couldn’t resist this fast read.

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