Tag Archives: Middle Grade

A Middle-Grade Reading List by Brenda Bensch

Writers are wonderful people. They are compassionate, helpful, sharing kinds of people. And I have the proof:

I was actually looking through my online files for old copies of The Writer’s Digest or The Writer for ideas for a new writers’ blog, when I happened across a years’ old message where someone calling herself the “Provo granny” had asked for mystery series suggestions for a grandson who read at a 4th to 5th grade level. The suggested readings intrigued me too. I’d kept all the suggestions so I could make a reading list of MG books “some day” for myself. These were all posted five or so years ago, so I know this “list” needs to be expanded, but these suggestions still have their merits.

Isn’t it great how so many kids books can live on, and on, and on? Think of some of your old “favorites” ‑‑‑ how many of them are still on the shelves at your local library? Or, better still, on your shelves at home?

KIDS SERIES’ BOOKS TO READ

  • Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians ‑ Brandon Sanderson
  • Box Car Children
  • Chasing Vermeer ‑ Blue Balliett (& The Wright House, The Calder Game
  • The Edge Chronicles
  • Freddie the Pig ‑ Walter Brooks
  • The Gravity Keeper ‑ Micael Reisman
  • The Great Brain ‑ John D. Fitzgerald
  • Hardy Boys
  • The Lucky Series ‑ Dean Hughes
  • Mysteries in our National Parks ‑ Gloria Skurzinski & Alane Ferguson (Wolf Stalker & others)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society ‑ Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Pendragon series ‑ D. J. MacHale
  • Secret Series ‑ Pseudonymous Bosch (The Name of This Book is Secret, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, This Book is Not Good for You)
  • The Seems ‑ John Hulme & Michael Wexler
  • Shadow Children series ‑ Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School ‑ Loouis Sachar
  • Skullduggery Pleasant ‑ Derek Landry AKA: The Scepter of the Ancients
  • The 39 Clues (starting with The Maze of Bones)
  • The Three Investigators ‑ Robert Arther
  • The Time Warp Trio ‑ (John Scalzi ‑ U.S. Ambassador of Children’s Lit 2009 ?)
  • The Warriors
  • Whales on Stilts ‑ M. T. Anderson
  • Wolves of Willoughby Chase ‑ Joan Aikin

Thanks to all who sent these to “Provo granny,” and to each other, way back when. In case you lost track of the list, here it is again. This is an interesting, though not necessarily definitive, list. What books would you add to it now? Since I’m not the particular “granny” mentioned, I won’t even restrict you to mysteries. Or to series. How about some of your cherished single-title MG books? What were/are some of your favorites of any MG genre? Which ones have you read over again as an adult. How did they stand up now. PLEASE answer in the comments: we’ll ALL benefit from your suggestions.

Happy Reading ! ! !

Thinkin’ Like a Tween

Following up here on some ideas which came up during the Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers (WIFYR) Conference I attended last month.

During a session on writing NON‑FICTON for young readers, I thought again of going that route for some of my writing. I keep hearing that it’s “easier” to get published quickly; that there are many, many publications/publishers looking for non‑fiction from science, math, robotics and many other fields; that poetry is being sought by many children‑oriented magazines, and so on.

All that made me think of the different age groups represented in both fiction and non‑fiction that may lie relatively untapped, so here’s a simplified break‑down of the ages. Remember to take this with a grain of salt, as many children and teens read above or below their average peers. The “ages” represented here have great stretch‑ability:

MG                  10 and under

Tween             Middle School (11‑14) 5th thru 9th grade

YA                   Young Adult: high school, teens and JUST beyond (15‑19)

NA                   New Adult: out of HS (or about to be) into early “career” choices &/or the working world (19‑22)

After looking at all these wonderful ages and choices, I decided to look a little farther into one of the ages, and chose the Middle School bunch. During my 50+ year career in teaching (Junior HS, HS, Colleges, Universities, Adult Education, Community Ed.), I probably spent least time with the Middle School group, so I rounded up a fascinating article on Tweens I’d read years ago on a group blog, The ABC Writers Guild, made up of my husband, myself, and another couple in our small critique group. The original can still be seen on the ABC Writers Guild for July 10, 2013, featuring “What Characterizes Tween Literature?” by Michelle Isenhoff.

Here are the items I gleaned from that article, as well as a few of my own ideas:

Tweens (kids 11 to 14, give or take):

  1. begin to lose the child’s ego‑centric view
  2. experience real life, but still need some shelter from harsh realities
  3. look for fairness, justice
  4. resonate with plots where justice is served
  5. are aware of their bodies, including more awareness of sexuality
  6. experience their emotions in flux
  7. may like romance in their stories, but usually very minimal and non‑specific
  8. empathize more readily
  9. develop their minds at a more rapid pace
  10. are moving from concrete to abstract thinking
  11. are ready to take on metaphor, hidden meanings, deep thinking
  12. become more independent
  13. look forward to high school and the changes it will bring
  14. develop problem‑solving skills
  15. show interest in real world problems/issues
  16. still have an idealistic, positive world view
  17. understand moral grays, not just black & white
  18. want violence, substance abuse, etc. portrayed, but usually in negative light
  19. can learn mild lessons about life & death
  20. are ready for high humor and a sense of the absurd
  21. still need adult guidance
  22. need mentors, who bring positive adults into the picture
  23. feel peer acceptance is more important than parental approval

Wrap all that up in your riveting tales ‑‑‑ whether fiction or non‑fiction ‑‑‑ and you may have a winning tale indeed!

 

When Are You Too Old for MG?

HP 1A scene comprised of seventeen adults, ranging in ages from 21-70, all dressed in wizard robes and playing a game of Quidditch in a field behind a retirement community is probably something you’d only see in a movie. For me, it was just another Harry Potter Party. Who hasn’t heard of the story about an orphan boy who discovers he is belongs to a secret society of wizards? Who hasn’t noticed the earnings made in the movie rights alone—or the theme park called Wizard World? If you haven’t, chances are you’ve been hiding under a rock. The Harry Potter books have surpassed the expectations of any MG reader.

MG—or middle-grade books, may seem like they are written solely for kids the age of 9-12 but reality tells a different story. The party I described started out with adults–only adults, that were reading the Harry Potter books. We read them because there was something in there that grabbed at our heart strings and made us feel younger. More and more I see adults favoring MG books over the books geared toward them as adults. Why you might ask? There are several reasons why readers choose MG.

The first reason is because the books are geared toward children, they are clean books. They are removed from sexual content, vulgar language, and graphic violence. In a world that is at the brink of everything rated R, MG offers content that is worry free. It allows us to escape in a book and not have to worry about what we might find. ss-front-710px

Another reason is that these books help us to relate with our younger selves. Who says your inner teen isn’t still around? The reason I write MG is because these are the books I would have read when I was a kid. I also refer to MG books as “tween” books. Tween books are bridges to help teens cross over to adult. To help them find their way out of the in-be-tween. These books help tweens embrace themselves and help them find their identity in a world full of loud voices. I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful genre a books.

To answer the question above, you are never too old to read MG. Like those happy, Quidditch playing adults, they fell in love with a MG book and embraced the magic found within its pages.

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Favorite Genre: The In-BeTWEEN

My favorite genre has to be upper-middle-grade or what I like to call “tween” books.

Tween: a word we are hearing more and more. But what exactly is a Tween? ss-front-710pxA tween is a boy or girl between the ages of 9-13. Kids during these years are in the in-between—they are no longer little kids but not quite adolescent.  If we were referring to girl who is a tween we might say, “She is too big for toys but too little for boys.”

Just as we have a book market for adults, young adults, and children, we also have a book market for tweens. The genre is also called middle-grade. Tweens are in the “in-between”, looking for books that are introducing adult concepts but in a friendly way.

ManiacMagee5According to Barnes & Noble the top of the bestsellers list in Tween’s fiction are: Harry Potter, Maniac Magee, and Percy Jackson. Each of these books contains a lead character that is within the same age group, normally about twelve, who tweens can relate with. Harry Potter is in the in-between. He is a wizard boy, raised in a non-magical world. One of his greatest challenges is fitting into both. As he grows in age, he grows to embrace one world over the other—much like tweens as they grow into adulthood. Jeffrey Lionel, “Maniac” Magee, is a tween who has to overcome the difficult challenge of losing his parents, running away, and encountering  racism—all adult concepts but taught in a friendly way. Percy Jackson, like Harry Potter has to find his place in-between two different worlds. Percy percyjacksonalso introduces the concept of love to tweens. As he gets older, Percy gains a fondness for his friend Annabeth, who becomes his girlfriend. Love is a huge concept in tween books.

Tween books are bridges to help tween cross over. To help them find their way out of the in-between. These books help tweens embrace themselves and help them find their identity in a world full of loud voices. What’s your favorite genre?

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

How to Scare Kids in Your Writing

BOE4_FrCvr.inddOne of the most thrilling things that came from writing my Dream Keeper Series was being able to delve into the nightmares of children. It was fun to explorer the realms that scare kids. One thing that I’ve been asked is how do you know when the ‘scary stuff’ is too much?

I believe kids can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. Look at the Harry Potter books; there is some scary stuff in there that kids didn’t pick up on because they think differently than adults. They don’t worry, like a parent, about losing a child to a dark wizard. Adults fear tangle things that may or may not happen, like death, an attacker, a break in, a terrorist act, and natural disasters. All these things have happened and we as adults fear they could happen to us. That is what is scary for adults. Sure kids have similar fears too, but it is the unknown that is scary for kids. Not knowing is worse than knowing.

Kids fear the dark untangle things.200px-Coraline

When I write to scare kids I try to emphasize the dark hidden things. I try to look at what kids are afraid of and set that as my goal. I did a lot of research into what kids are afraid of. What I found interesting is the number one thing kids are afraid of is the dark. Kids are afraid of the unknown. They fear what might be there hiding. I built off that fear in creating the nightmares for my book. I did find myself pulling back on some of the scenes in the book, but only when I found myself questioning if that was just too freaky or not. Mostly I ignored it, knowing I’m a wimp compared to most kids.

Need some research books? There are tons of short story collections all about ghosts that promise to scare your socks off. Here are a few to start with. Each has a unique way the author implements terror into their writing:

CaseFile13HALF-MINUTE HORRORS, anything ghost related, THE SCARY SCHOOL SERIES (written by ghosts), FEAR by RL Stien, NOCTURNE by L.D. Harkrader, THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE SERIES by Jacqueline West, A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and CORALLINE by Neil Gaiman, CASE FILE 13 SERIES by J Scott Savage, THE GILDA JOYCE SERIES by Jennifer Allison, and THE DREAM KEEPER by Mikey Brooks. (Yes I had to include my book.)

I believe kids love to read scary books because it pushes boundaries and makes reading fun. If you are interested in writing for kids and want to scare them, first think about what scared you as a child, then ask kids—they love to share experiences, and read the books I’ve listed above. There are many many more I could give but this is a good start. Happy Writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

How to Write an Opening Chapter Worthy of a Bidding War

I posted this on my own blog and it got some great feedback. I thought I’d share it here too. A while back I had the opportunity to hear Jennifer A. Nielsen teach a class on writing middle-grade books. During her instruction she shared a little about her book The False Prince and how it made every author’s dream: it got into a bidding war with publishers. Nielsen said what made the publishers so interested in this book was the opening chapter. Like any smart writer I immediately went out and got hejen-nielsenr book. I read it in about two days (which for me is amazingly fast). It was that good! The story was fresh and kept me turning page after page. However, the whole book is NOT what got Nielsen into a bidding war—it was the first chapter. So I went back and started pin pointing the things that made this chapter so compelling. Without spoiling this book for anyone who hasn’t read it I am going to try to give an analysis on some of the things Nielsen does to make a book worthy of a bidding war.

  • (Write the story in the correct POV.) Every story is different and not every book should be written in the save point of view. Nielsen chose to write The False Prince in 1st person. I thought this was a bold move considering the secrets Sage keeps from the readers throughout the book—or does he? Reading back through its amazing how many clues Sage give the reader about what is to come in the first few chapters of the book.
  • (Start with questions.) The first two sentences immediately start the book by posing questions in the readers mind. “If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again, I’m not sure I ever had a choice.”  Who is this? What life are they leading? What life did he leave behind? Did he have a choice? Who forced him into this situation? These are questions that readers take on. Instantly we want to read more because we want answers.
  • (Don’t start slow—start with action or suspense.) Next the reader finds themselves in a chase scene. Sage has stolen a roast and is being pursued by a meat cleaver wielding butcher. We learn that 1. Sage is hungry, 2. He is an orphan, and 3. He is a thief. The chase scene lasts a whopping four paragraphs before Sage is caught. It’s fast.The False Prince
  • (Show more character and pose more questions.) When Sage is caught, a nobleman gets him off the hook by paying for the roast. Sage is forced to follow the nobleman to the orphanage where we have a brief conversation with the caretaker, Mrs. Turbeldy. We learn that the nobleman is named Bevin Connor. We also learn that Sage wasn’t stealing this roast just for himself—he is trying to feed the other boys at the orphanage, so he is willing to risk his neck for others. Then the questions start in the readers mind. Who is Bevin Connor? What does he want with an orphan boy?  Who is Sage?
  • (Give more information about the main character.) Nielsen chooses to do this by Connor giving an interrogation of Sage (which also poses the question in the readers mind: who is Connor looking for?). Sage is identified as being illiterate, no good with a sword, a thief, and a liar. We also learn that Sage is snarky and has authority issues. A  s readers we like this kid!
  • (Create more questions and end the chapter on a cliff hanger.) Next Connor tells Sage to get his things. Mrs. Turbeldy says he’s been bought and paid for. You get another hint at Sages character as he alludes to the fact he can’t be owned by anyone. Good, so Sage is a freedom fighter too—all the more reason to like him. When Sage doesn’t come willingly, Connor’s men knock him out. Nielsen ends the chapter with Sage being taken away into the unknown by a complete strange not opposed to violence.

Add this chapter to the fantastic hook Nielsen has and you have a book worthy of an agent or publishers interest. “An orphan is forced into a twisted game with deadly stakes. Choose to lie…or choose to die.” And that’s how you write a killer fist chapter. the-runaway-king

Let’s review just the bullets here:

  • Have the right POV.
  • Start with questions about your main character.
  • Speed it up—don’t start slow.
  • Create a character easily related to that shows us good characteristics.
  • Pose more questions.
  • End on a page turner or cliff hanger.

If you haven’t read The False Prince I invite you to go out and get the book. It is well worth your time and you will NOT be disappointed. I can’t tell you enough about how much I love this book. It will keep you turning pages and surprise you with the way it ends. Try to craft an opening chapter using the key elements I have found in the first chapter of this book. Not every story is going to be the same and not every story should start the same, but they should all start RIGHT. Happy Writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Conflict and the Middle-grade Genre

51MU5VilKpL Conflict is a key element in every book. It is what moves the story forward. Without conflict the story wouldn’t happen and there would be no change in the characters. Not only does it help add depth to story it helps readers relate to the human condition—how we change and grow throughout life. I have found with writing middle-grade that the conflict needs to start right away. This can be an internal or external conflict, but the readers need it at the beginning to hook them in.

tumblr_mathr5TgZR1qa1iiqo1_1280Think about Harry Potter. In the very first chapter of The Sorcerer’s Stone, you have the conflict of this boy-wizard going to live with the worst family of muggles. This conflict is what grabs the readers and they stay with the story because they want to know what is going to happen to Harry as he grows up with non-magical-people. Of course that is not the conflict of the whole story but it is what gets us started.

There are many ways in which to add conflict to story. Some of the basic types of conflict are:

  • Man against manDaniel-Radcliffe-as-Harry-Potter-in-Warner-Brothers-Harry-Potter-and-The-Sorcerers-Stone-2001-2-650x1026
  • Man against nature
  • Man against society
  • Man against self.

Or, if we are speaking of Harry Potter, they would look like this:

  • Harry against Voldemort
  • Harry against the magic world (or the non magic world)
  • Harry against society (or the negative views of half-bloods)
  • Harry against Harry (his internal conflict with himself)

All of these conflicts are seen in the Harry Potter books and that is what makes the story so compelling. Once you think one conflict has been resolved we have another conflict to deal with. This helps to keep the book moving along and your readers interested.

You will find that successful middle-grade and young adult books have various levels of conflict in their story. They also have both internal (shows change in the character), like Harry’s struggles with himself abouhpss_040DanielRadcliffet the potential for being a dark wizard (we see this in the first book with the sorting hat), and external (the BIG conflict that moves the plot), like Harry’s quest to beat Professor Snap to getting the sorcerer’s stone.

When you think about conflict in creating your story think about two things: What is the BIG external conflict that moves the story, and what is the internal conflict that helps your character change over the course of the book? These are what will give your book a fantastic depth that readers will love. I hope you found this helpful. Happy Writing

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.