Monday, July 28, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Hundred Horses

When I visited the library as a child, I always looked for stories about horses, books like The Black Stallion or Misty of Chincoteague. I signed them out many times and read them over and over. So I'm always thrilled when I find a new horse story to read.

Today’s Pick: A Hundred Horses

by Sarah Lean

Katherine Tegen Books, 2014

From Amazon:

From the author of A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, comes another gentle novel with a touch of magic about the power of friendship and the truth of belonging.

Nell isn't happy about spending her vacation on a farm, but when she meets a half-wild and mysterious girl named Angel, the two girls are tied in an adventure that may help Nell discover something special about herself—and the most special of a hundred horses.

Girls and horses are a classic pairing, and fans of favorites such as My Friend Flicka and Misty of Chincoteague are sure to love the heartwarming friendship story and adorable—magical—animals in A Hundred Horses.

My Take:

This was an interesting book about two very different girls developing  a friendship and rescuing a horse and its foal. A touch of mystery kept me reading. It was interesting to me to see the farm setting through the eyes of Nell, who’d grown up in a city and was experiencing a different lifestyle.  There were many layers to this story, such as Nell sorting out her relationships and feelings with her father and her mother.

As a writer, I especially enjoyed the language and phrasing in this story. Some of the dialogue seems so true, you feel like you are inside the main character’s head, e.g., “It always feels like this when you’re away from your mom and you don’t know anybody and you’re not sure what to expect.”  

I also admired some of the descriptions like “I hear the shuffle of the quilt on the bottom bunk” because they are small details that are so in the moment of what is happening.

Opening Line:

“Mom was late picking me up from drama club again.”

Quotes:

“I’d found something unexpected, something that made me feel brilliant inside. Now it was gone, and it left my stomach churning.”

“She stayed frozen, breathing loudly through her nose, her eyes blazing, my question hanging in the air like ice.”

“They are just bits and pieces until they all come together. Then they make something extraordinary, something alive.”

Other Info:

Sarah Lean lives in Dorset, England with her family and dog. She used to teach school before obtaining a Master’s degree in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester.

This book, A Hundred Horses is also published under the title A Horse for Angel (possibly the UK version).

On her website, she gives this advice to aspiring writers: “Expect to get it wrong, again and again. Practice is paramount, expect to learn, love learning.”

Other Books:

A Dog Called Homeless
The Forever Whale
Jack Pepper
Hero

For more, visit Sarah Lean’s website or follow her on Twitter: @SarahLean1


Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cool Blog Quote: Helping Your Writing Grow

Recently, agent Laura Biagi gave this bit of writing wisdom to Middle Grade Ninja in 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi:

"...don't keep reworking the same piece for too long. Your writing can only grow if you give yourself new things to write---much like a plant can't grow bigger if you keep it in the same pot."

Laura Biagi, 7 Questions For: Literary Agent Laura Biagi, Middle Grade Ninja, July 14, 2014

This really hit home for me, because I have one novel that I keep revising and still can't get to work. I'm a terribly persistent person and hate to give up on something. 

But when I read the new project I'm working on, I can practically see what I've learned, because it feels so much more natural and alive. I often wonder if revisions can be overdone, drumming all the best parts from a piece of writing. I think they can.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The City of Ember

I’ve been busy writing my own novel, so I haven’t been visiting the library as often as I usually do. But every once and a while, I like to pull a favourite book from my own bookshelf. The City of Ember is definitely one of my favourites!

Today’s Pick: The City of Ember


by Jeanne DuPrau

Random House, 2003

From the Author’s Website:

Lights shine in the city of Ember—but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over. Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions. Ember—so its people believe—is the only light in the dark world.

And now the lights are going out.

Is there a way to save the people of Ember? No one knows. But Lina Mayfleet has found a puzzling document, and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks. With these clues, they start their search.

My Take:

I enjoyed this book when I first read it a few years ago and I still enjoy reading it now, even though many great dystopian books have come along after it. One of the reasons why I like this book is because I connected with the idea that resources have their limits and the “what ifs” that follow. It’s so interesting to think about the different perspective people might have if they grew up in an underground world.  I also liked the characters – Lina, who likes to see new places and draw, and Doon, who is interested in insects and figuring things out.

To me, this is a great example of book that is very definitely middle grade, with middle grade dialogue and concerns. As a writer, I especially enjoyed thinking about the details the author used to bring out the setting and this very different world.

Opening Line:

“When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief builder and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.”

Quotes:

“Running made her feel strong and big-hearted, it made her love the places she ran through and the people whose messages she delivered.”

“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”

“There were plants, they discovered, taller than they were, with stems as hard and thick as the walls of houses, and leaves that spread out over their heads.”

Other Info:

Jeanne DuPrau is a writer living in California. She has a dog named Jockey and enjoys gardening and reading.

The City of Ember is American Library Association Notable Book.

On her website, Jeanne DuPrau says this about the idea for the story: “…once I'd written The City of Ember, I hoped it would make people think about our world—about the sun and the moon, the forests and the ocean, the wind and the rain—and how precious it all is.”

There is a movie of this book, which to me had a very different tone and feel from the book, as well as different events, so I found it disappointing. But it would be interesting to read the book and then watch the movie to compare them and think about the differences and the effective elements in each.

Other Middle Grade Books:

The People of Sparks
The Prophet of Yonwood
The Diamond of Darkhold


For more, visit Jeanne DuPrau’s website.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Writing for Kids

Middle grade author Alexandra Amor recently started the Writing for Kids Podcast to "inspire, encourage and inform" children's writers. This podcast follows a conversation format and covers topics such as creativity, writing practices, self-publishing, and book marketing.

I listened to Episode #5: Writing a Series with Becky Citra. Along with some insights from Becky about writing a series, I was interested in their discussion of the writing and drafting process. They also talked about the challenges of getting into a kid's perspective in the 21st Century, technological world.

I've featured Becky Citra on my blog a couple of times for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, so it was very interesting to hear her take on writing middle grade. And I really enjoyed listening to a podcast that was specific to the age level I write for, even though the topics and issues are relevant to writers of other age categories too.

I'll definitely listen to more of these. When I visited, they weren't listed on iTunes yet, but Alexandra's website says they will be soon. Until then, you can play them directly from the Writing for Kids Podcast site.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K

Since one of my daughters and husband both love math and frequently have math-related conversations over dinner, I could really relate to the main character in this book who loves writing!

Today’s Pick: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.


by Greg Pincus

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013

From Amazon:

Gregory K is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.

My Take:

I loved this book! It’s always fun to read about how a character’s attempts to get out of trouble just make things worse. And it’s even better when the book is written with lots of humor and an engaging main character.  The story moved along quickly and I finished this book in a day (probably because I was enjoying it so much). The chapter titles were great (e.g., Writing About Math Won’t Be as Easy As Pi) and each of the 14 chapters started with one of his “Fibs”, poems based on the Fibonacci sequence. Did I mention that I love books where kids explore some kind of unique passion or hobby? Gregory even learns something— to follow his heart, even when other people (like his parents) might not agree with his choices.

From a writing perspective, this book would be worth re-reading to study the dialogue, which seemed quite realistic; the humor, which was so right for the target age group; and the voice, which was distinctive and engaging.

Opening Line:

“Some days you just need pie.”

Quotes:

"The next day at school, the test met all of Gregory's expectations. Unfortunately, that was the only positive about it."

“But as he grew up, he realized that the attic was basically like a foreign country: Mathland, the spot where his father retreated when he wanted to think and work and play with math.”

“The world always needs poetry.”

“Like, I subtract all the time, trying to figure out how many minutes are left in Mr. Mason’s history class, so I understand why math matters there. But Fibonacci numbers? Didn’t seem like they’d come up.”

Other Info:

Greg Pincus is a screenwriter, a children’s poet and a novelist. He lives in Los Angeles with his family and a dog. The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is his first novel.

For more, visit Greg Pincus at his website or follow him on Twitter: @GregPincus


Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Author Interview with Pam Torres


I'm so excited to share with you an interview with Pam Torres, author of the recently released middle grade novel, It's NOT Just a Dog, part of the Project Madison series. In case you missed my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, here's a brief summary of the book, which is published by Legacy Media Press:


School's out for the summer and straight-talking Madison and her friend Cooper have big plans for the summer: working at the kennel, training service dogs and creating a dog-walking business—besides writing her dog-blog. Her stepdad has agreed to make Lilly, Madison's foster puppy, a permanent member of the Morgan family, and Madison wants to make the adoption special.

When an injured dog is abandoned, Madison's determined to discover the truth about the orphaned dog. To crack this crime she'll have to sneak around some shady characters. It'll be tricky since her dad isn't happy about her animal detective activities. Her promise not to get into trouble won't be easy. Madison convinces Cooper to strike out on their own, but Lilly is dognapped and Madison finds herself locked in a shed with no way out. She regrets her crime-fighting obsession and realizes her snooping has endangered everyone she cares about. Cooper rallies an unlikely group of rescuers to bust her out.

In the end Madison learns she can depend on her friends and her stepfather. And when it comes to people and dogs, relationships are never simple, and a dog is never—JUST a dog!

And now, on with the interview!

Pam, did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I've always been a writer. As a small child I loved to tell stories and would create my own books using pictures from greeting cards and magazines. I think I started doing it because at that time, reading was taught with "readers" that were very boring to me. Jane said run and Dick said go, didn't keep my interest. 

Unfortunately, my active imagination didn't help my reading skills and I soon fell behind. The negative feedback I received left a horrible taste in my mouth and reading became a chore and it would be many years later before I learned to read for enjoyment. During all that time I filled notebooks and journals with my words, stories and poems.

Writing has always been how I figure my world out and I'm still doing that. 

I'm like that too. Writing is how I think through things. How did the idea for your story emerge?

It started with my granddaughter, Kayla, who's loved dogs since she was a baby. Her first love was White Puppy, a fluffy stuffed dog who still holds an important place on her shelf. Then came Tasha, our Samoyed, a dear gentle lady who brought us love and loyalty, she's been gone for several years, but she'll never be forgotten. Kayla has grown into a compassionate animal lover and tween.

So I asked myself: Could I write a book that would appeal to middle grade children that involved dogs?  I didn't want to write the I-want-a-dog story. I wanted to write something that would entertain and bring awareness to the plight of dogs all over the world. The more research I did the more I realized how much I didn't know. I learned that I could have given Tasha and the other dogs in my life a more fulfilling life. I also became aware of all the dogs and animals in the world that need our help. So, Project Madison was born. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

Getting the bones of the story down is the hardest part of creating a story. I usually start with a character or idea and ruminate on it for a while. Scenes will come to me, but they are usually out of order and I’ve learned to sit down and write them immediately. 

Once I have several scenes, then I start piecing together a plot. I’m very visual so these end up on my wall as 3x5 cards that I move around until I start to see the right pattern. Then comes the task of writing my first draft. 

The hard part is pushing through, jotting down notes as I go, leaving blanks so I don’t get lost research until I have the bones down. Once I have the bones of a story then I can start revision. For me this is where the fun begins, adding the meat, the connecting joints and tendons, and finally the seasonings and dressing. 


So interesting! I find it really hard to write my scenes out of order. Each book I write teaches me something. What did you learn through writing your book?

I always do a huge amount of research when I write and this book wasn’t any different. I have notebooks, file folders and filed with notes from books, articles and websites where I gleaned information. This time, besides adding to my already large stack of canine research, I also did a fair amount of Native American research. I came to appreciate their connection to the land and their traditions. 

Do you read other books to inspire or mentor your own writing?

 I have several writing books that I look to for inspiration and mentoring. Recently I read The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass, an inspiring book that breaks down the important elements of a good novel. I have two books that I often refer to during the writing process, Blake Snyder's Save The Cat! and Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover. I always try and read at least one new writing book each year. I see myself as a coachable writer who strives to always improve my writing by learning new ways to express myself and my ideas more clearly.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your book or an upcoming project?

I tend to be quite tight-lipped about my projects until they come into the revision stage. I will say that I'm working on the last book in the Project Madison trilogy and this time I'm looking to my readers for where they'd like to see Madison go in this one. So I'm encouraging them to send me their ideas. 

I've also begun a new adventure fantasy with some great characters who explore new worlds. But, that's about all I'm prepared to say. LOL


I'm sure your readers will be looking forward to that. It's such a cool idea to get input from your readers! Thanks for stopping by my blog!


During the month of June the Project Madison Facebook Fan Page will be conducting contests and giveaways, so be sure to check there frequently for a chance to win some great prizes. 

And if you want to learn more about Pam or get in touch with her: 


You can find It’s NOT Just A Dog! at the online stores below:








  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: It's NOT Just a Dog

I enjoy reading dog books, so when I heard about this one, I wanted to read it! Luckily, author Pam Torres sent me a copy to review and invited me to be part of her blog tour.

Today’s Pick:  It’s NOT Just a Dog

by Pam Torres

Legacy Media Press, 2014

From Amazon:

In the second book of the Project Madison series, things get complicated as Madison and Cooper try to navigate their new relationship. School has ended and they're spending more time together, blogging, working at the kennel, training dogs—including Lilly. When Jonah, the new neighbor who has moved into Paige's old house, begins to spend more time with Madison, Cooper isn't at all happy.

Jonah's uncle, a Native American, shares his knowledge about Madison's power to see and feel canine memories and emotions. The mysterious white wolf returns and fills her mind with dreams and more questions. Madison starts a dog-walking business and discovers Ben, a crotchety old man whose dog is skin and bones. When the kennel receives a dog that has been brutally injured, Madison is determined to find out what happened. She and Cooper realize they're going to need Jonah and Donald to bust this investigation wide open and save the dogs. But getting to the bottom of the mystery will threaten not only Madison, but everyone she loves.

My Take:

I liked the concept of a girl being able to read the emotions and memories of dogs, and how it connected to the Native American culture. This was a unique idea which I haven’t come across before in any middle grade books. There’s lots of info about dog behaviour and dog training in this story, too, which I enjoyed.

Madison expresses some of her reactions as #hashtags, and I wondered whether readers of middle grade fiction would relate (that may just be based on my personal experiences, since my own kids scorn Twitter). But Madison’s adventures and the problems she has to solve opened my eyes to some of the things that happen to animals. This book makes you think about animals and how they are treated.

Opening Line:

“On a sticky-hot Saturday, Henry, my stepdad, was driving me to the Second Chance Dog Shelter to help with a new litter of pups—this was out of the ordinary since the whole litter had been left in a bag on Netta’s doorstep.”

Quotes:

“I remembered what Jonah had said about the land and the animals all having spirits. He’d said animals were here to teach us, and I wanted the answers.”

[I love the idea of learning from animals! It makes me wonder what my dog has taught me!]

Other Info:

Pam Torres was born in Logan, Utah and spent most of her childhood in Prairie Village, Kansas. Besides playing Dorothy during tornado weather and digging Peter Pan-like underground forts she also played piano and ran cross-country.

Ten percent of the author’s proceeds from sales of this book go to the ASPCA®, animal shelters and other programs to benefit homeless or abused animals.

Anyone who emails (torres dot pam3 at gmail dot com) a JPG of a tween holding her book, will receive a personalized letter from Madison and signed by Lilly dog.


Check back on Thursday for an interview with author Pam Torres about her writing process!

Other books by this author:

Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog

For more, visit Project Madison on Facebook. 


Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books? Visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for a list of bloggers reviewing great books today! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).