Thursday, May 29, 2014

Silver Birch Award Winner: Record Breaker

This year, I read all of the nominees for the Silver Birch fiction award. They are all middle grade novels. Kids vote on their favourite and there's a big celebration in May. Here's a list of the nominees for this year:

 Ultra by David Carroll

Record Breaker by Robin Stevenson

Eldritch Manor by Kim Thompson

The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney

Nobody's Dog by Ria Voros

Neil Flambe and the Tokyo Treasure by Kevin Sylvester

Curse of the Dream Witch by Allan Stratton

The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Yesterday's Dead by Pat Bourke

The Awesome, Almost 100% True Adventures of Matt & Craz by Alan Silberberg

My top two favourites were:

 And by popular vote, here's the winner:

The 2014 Silver Birch Fiction Award® Winner
Record Breaker
Robin Stevenson

Wow! How exciting! I really enjoyed this one too. It was short and a touching and emotional story. If you'd like to read my thoughts on this book, check out my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post on Record Breaker.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Half a Chance

I loved all the insights into photography in this book! It made me want to get outside with my camera.
Today’s Pick: Half a Chance

by Cynthia Lord

Scholastic, 2014

From Random House:

When Lucy's family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera's lens, as her father has taught her -- he's a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he's judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special -- or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn't want to see: his grandmother's memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

My Take:

This is a quieter story but if you like books about family, nature and friendship, you will enjoy this book. There are many elements in the story to relate to: wanting to win a contest, worrying about whether a new friend really wants to be your friend, and confusion over just what is happening to an elderly person you care about. Lucy’s parents were clearly part of her life and a source of support and conflict.

As a writer, I thought this was a great example of a middle grade novel. The voice was most definitely middle grade, as was the perspective of first person narrator. I loved all the details from nature in this book, especially the loons. It made me think about the words I use to describe interactions with nature.

Opening Line:

“Lucy, we’re going to love this place!” Dad called to me from the porch of the faded, red-shingled cottage with white trim.


“When I’m thinking about how to frame a shot and when to click, there’s nothing else. It fills me up in a good way.”

“Putting the camera down, I took a deep, cold breath, pulling it all inside me—the trees, the mountains, the sky—and held it in for as long as I could.”

“But now that I was wading into the lake, cringing at the gooey bottom and imagining what else might be in the dark water under the dock, it felt cold and gross.”

Other Info:

Cynthia Lord has been writing ever since she was a child. She has her own writing “shed”, as well as two bunnies, a guinea pig and a dog.

One of her previous books, Rules, was named a Newbery Honor book.

Other books by this author:

Touch Blue
The Hod Rod Hamster series
Shelter Pet Squad Series

For more, visit Cynthia Lord’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, May 22, 2014

Pacing in Picture Books: Insights from a Twitter Chat with Jodell Sadler

Did you catch the recent Twitter chat with agent Jodell Sadler on picture book pacing? [#PBPacing] Thanks to KidLit411 and Jodell, I got a chance to think more about pacing and found some great resources where I can learn even more. Here are some of the insights from Jodell's chat:

“PB Pacing is about the interplay of art and words, the slowing and speeding of the text to enhance story emotionally.

“It is about paying attention to what I call "The XPs of Picture Books: prosody, poetry, play, plot and performance.

“Pacing enhances the story arc, increase tension. Many tools serve as pacing markers, i.e., the repetitive line.”

Jodell suggested creating a two column table in Word with 16-18 rows to help check the pacing and page turns. Her comments made me think a lot about how the page turns move the story along and create tension: 

“Page turns are integral. They offer surprise, new scenes, and interactivity to your book--a performance.”

“It's about exploring the negative space of writing: how much can we pull back and lure our reader in.”

“Most important part of page turns is the play... make those leaps and jumps in MS to surprise readers.

I was also very interested in Jodell's responses to questions about keeping down word counts, since agents and editors often ask for manuscripts of 500 words or less. It's so challenging sometimes! She referred back to the 20 tools she has studied and discussed in length on her website, Pacing Picture Books. Jodell's website is a preview of her upcoming book on pacing (I can hardly wait!)  

“Pacing helps writers make sound decisions in dropping word count.”

“When you explore tools and see how they layer and enhance story, less words are needed, the pace quickens.”

This was probably my favourite quote of the chat: 

“The magic of picture book pacing starts with the writer. When you pour all your passion onto the page.”

This chat was so inspiring! I’m revising one of my picture books today, based on some of this great advice.  For further information you can check out Jodell Sadler’s work on pacing at: or follow her on twitter @PacingStory2WOW

For some examples of well-paced stories:
If you also write middle grade like I do, you'll find examples that discuss middle grade and YA books.

There is also an interesting agent spotlight with Jodell Sadler on KidLit411.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Victoria Day Reading

Today is a holiday up here in Canada -- Victoria Day! I don't have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, but maybe having a day off will give me a chance to catch up on some reading. You can find a list of reviews of some great middle grade reads over at Shannon Messenger's site.

 Along with reading, I plan to enjoy some outdoor time, now that the weather is finally nice enough!

 Wishing you a wonderful day, whether you're writing, working or just hanging out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Paperboy

I saw this book mentioned in various places and decided it was finally time for me to read it. I found a copy online through my public library.

Today’s Pick: Paperboy

by Vince Vawter

Delacorte Press, 2013

From Random House:

An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend's paper route for the month of July, he knows he'll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything. 

The paper route poses challenges, but it's a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble--and puts the boy's life, as well as that of his family's devoted housekeeper, in danger.

My Take:

I’m not surprised that this book was a Newbery Honor book, because it really stood out from other middle grade novels I’ve read. The writing style and voice were unique and the characters came to life with all the realistic details of the late 1950’s.

From a writer’s perspective, the opening line really drew me in. It’s a great one to think about if you are working on getting yours right. This story also has a very distinctive voice for the first person narrator. It’s worth studying to see how word choice and phrasing help to create his voice. The narrator tells us in chapter 1 that he hates commas and leaves them out of his typing whenever he can, so that contributes to the distinctive writing style.

Opening Line:

“I’m typing about the stabbing for a good reason. I can’t talk.”


“For some reason saying my name was the hardest thing of all for me to do.”

“Streets are like friends that I don’t have to talk to.”

“All the grown-ups around me were making things hard for me all at once like they had gotten together and planned it.”

Other Info:

Vince Vawter is a retired newspaper editor who lives on a farm in Louisville, Tenn.

This is his first published children’s book.

I was so interested to read the author’s note in the back of the book that explains how Vince has a stutter and how he learned to overcome it. No wonder the book and main character seemed so realistic!

In an interview with Vince Vawter at RandomActsofReading, he gives this advice to writers: “Don’t worry about inspiration. You will write when you just can’t stand it anymore.”

For more, visit Vince Vawter’s website.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! 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, May 8, 2014

Podcasts for Writers: Booksellers Picks for Great Children's Books

I've recently been listening to the Great Kids, Great Reads podcast, hosted by Kevin Sylvester (author of the much-loved Neil Flambe series of middle grade books).

Great Kids, Great Reads features booksellers talking about some of their must-read children's books, including picture books, middle grade and YA. I found the booksellers' perspectives really interesting. They give some insights as to why some books might appeal to readers and who the target readers are for specific books.

Only a few books are featured on each podcast, so it's a great length for listening to on a short walk or drive (or while washing your kitchen floor). The podcasts are organized by themes. A recent episode I listened to was all about books touching on mental health issues.

You can find out more about this podcast at their Facebook page. They also list the books they've featured.

The archived podcasts are available on the Great Kids, Great Reads website.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Whiteout

Sometimes I visit my public library’s online bookshelf and browse for an e-book, and that’s how I found Whiteout by Becky Citra. I’m always drawn to stories where kids are put in dangerous situations and need to survive.

Today’s Pick: Whiteout

by Becky Citra

Orca, 2009


Robin can hardly wait for her cousin April and her Aunty Liz to come to the ranch for Christmas. When a devastating car accident sends Aunty Liz to the hospital for several months, Robin can't help but be overjoyed to learn that April will live with Robin and her family while her mother is recuperating. But April has changed, and Robin must deal with April's growing anger and resentment at being forced to leave her injured mother and her life in the city. Then Robin's little sister, Molly, disappears during a blizzard, and Robin and April's friendship faces the ultimate test.

My Take:

The complicated relationship between Robin and her cousin April hooked me and kept me reading through to the end of the story. This is another story where the parents are involved, though not so much that the main character, Robin, doesn’t try to solve her own problems.  I liked the details of everyday life in this story, including school and caring for horses. It's a good read for 8 to 11 year olds.

This story follows a fairly typical plot structure, so it would be a useful read for a writer who is working on learning how to plot a novel. The emotions of the characters and their reactions seemed so appropriate for the age group.

Opening Line:

“…Heavy snowfall warning for Vancouver with thirty more centimeters expected tonight…”


“The thunder in Robin’s head drowned out Dad’s words.”

“Moonlight shone through the window and turned the welcome poster into a long, pale ghost.”

“An icy wind had started to blow, and small hard snowflakes stung her cheeks.”

Other Info:

Becky Citra is a full-time writer who lives on a ranch in a small place called Bridge Lake in British Columbia.

On her website she says, “I try to write every day, in between a busy family life and traveling to talk to children about my books.”

Becky Citra's blog is full of great tips and advice for writers and book recommendations. 

I've featured one of her books, Missing, for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday last year when I read the books nominated for the 2013 Silver Birch Fiction Award.

Other books by this author include:

The Way Home 
After the Fire 
Sam's Ride 
School Campout 
Dog Days 
Never To Be Told 

The Enchanted Theater series:
Jeremy and the Enchanted Theater 
Jeremy in the Underworld 
Jeremy and the Golden Fleece 
Jeremy and the Fantastic Flying Machine
The Ellie and Max series:

Ellie’s New Home 
The Freezing Moon 
Danger at the Landings 
Strawberry Moon

For more, visit Becky Citra’s website. 

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! 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, May 1, 2014

Writers: Let Your Words Dance and Sing

I haven't done one of these inspirational quotes for writers for a while (I've been feeling a little uninspired), but I was recently doing some research about writing picture books and came across this gem: 

"Create characters, carve great ideas, and cast words well—for it is by allowing our words to dance in our minds and out onto the page, brush stroke by brush stroke, dip by dab, that the manuscript we paint will sing.” 

Jodell Sadler, Saint Training: Truly a Novel That Sings, Rockford Childrens Books Examiner, January 6, 2012

I love the idea behind this! It reminds me that it's important to have fun while I'm writing.

I know that once I get an idea, I sometimes rush into following one path, rather than taking some time to daydream and see what other directions or possibilities the words or characters can lead me to discover.  By giving the words, characters or ideas more time to dance freely, who knows what will happen?