Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Secrets of Kidlit: What is Middle Grade?

If you're a middle grade author, you're familiar with the awkward pause that ensues after someone asks: What do you write?

The term "middle grade" doesn't mean much to the average bear. In the publishing world, we know that middle grade means books aimed at readers aged 8 to 12 years old. No, that doesn't mean chapter books. Or YA. Middle grade speaks to a specific slice of literature that's accessible to young readers who are seeking to learn about the world around them, or alternately, to escape from it.

These days, when someone asks me what I write, I tell them that I write modern day stories for young readers, aged 8-12 (or middle schoolers, if I'm talking to a parent). I find that it helps people understand what you are writing if you tell them WHO you are writing for, rather than where your book will be shelved at the bookstore.

But beyond age group, what defines middle grade? Why does a particular book fit on that Young Reader shelf at Barnes & Noble?

What are middle grade books about?

Because young readers are discovering the world around them, middle grade books can be about ANYTHING.

You'll find contemporary titles like ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff, which deal with realistic issues in modern settings, in this case, Albie's struggles to read and find his place in school. You'll also find books set in fantasy worlds, like A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd, where twelve-year-old Felicity collects words and searches for a way to restore magic to her town, Midnight Gulch.

There are plenty of series to choose from, too, which is perfect for the middle school age, when kids often become collectors of the things they love most. The BIG NATE books are popular on the younger end of the spectrum, whereas the FABLEHAVEN series appeals to readers looking for bigger adventures in a mystical world.

What kind of stories do middle grade readers want?

For those of us who write, this is a very important question! And for those of us who are buying books for middle grade readers, the question stands: what do kids want to read these days?

No matter what genre the book, middle grade readers want a MEMORABLE story. This applies to both young and old readers of middle grade. Many middle grade novels cross over to older readers, who read not only to be entertained, but to remember the special magic of that age.

A story can be memorable in any genre, whether it be a realistic contemporary story or a science fiction adventure. Readers want real, relatable stakes in the story, as well as a central story question that begs to be answered. Sometimes the smallest moments can have a lasting impact on readers, and even the most average of characters can make us care through their honest voices and heartfelt struggles.

One of the titles I'm most looking forward to in 2015 is MONSTROUS by MarcyKate Connolly, the story of Kymera, a girl unlike any other, a new, classic tale reminiscent of Frankenstein and The Brothers Grimm. While this story is wrapped in magic and mystery, I'm equally excited for Linda Mullaly's Hunt's FISH IN A TREE, the story of Ally, who has been smart enough to fool lots of people, until she lands in a new school and her secrets are revealed.

What makes for a GREAT middle grade read?

Both writers and readers alike are on the lookout for great reads, and in middle grade, that boils down to this: a great middle grade story creates a special moment that has a lasting effect on the reader and the literary landscape. It is a character who lodges in your heart. A place that crowds your mind. A voice that speaks to you long after the book is closed.

No matter what the subject of a book is, a great story will ring true in the reader's heart. That truth comes from characters that show us their complexities and let us in on their secrets. These characters show us their vulnerabilities, and we in turn offer them our hope. There are universal truths in books. You'll find the same struggle to define self in a new setting in the PERCY JACKSON series as in INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, the story of Ha, a Vietnamese immigrant who must adjust to life in 1975 Alabama. Readers relate to both stories in a similar way, combining universal truths with personal taste in subject matter.

In my humble opinion, a great middle grade read offers a point of view that is easily relatable and yet utterly honest. Your narrator cannot pull punches. Middle grade readers young and old alike will sniff out a middle grade character who is holding back, so your story must put all of its cards on the table. My oldest son just finished reading THE ONE & ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate, and his summary feedback was this: "I'm not a gorilla, but I like Ivan. Sometimes I feel all caged up, too."

Isn't that the point of it all? To read a story, and know that somewhere, somehow, someone else has felt those same things that you are feeling, and that if their hopes are answered, maybe yours will be, too.

That, to me, is the heart of middle grade.

What does middle grade mean to you? Tell me below in the comments!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cover Reveal: RUBY REINVENTED by Ronni Arno

One of the most FAQ’s I get from school visits is, “Do you get to design your own cover?”

To which I answer, “You wouldn’t want me to design my own cover!”

I can barely draw stick figures. 

I always lose in Pictionary. 

My parents never saved my art projects.

Luckily, there are incredible artists out there, and one of them plucked the image of Ruby out of my brain and artfully placed her on the cover of RUBY REINVENTED. This brilliant artist’s name is Lucy Truman, and I’m so grateful that she captured RUBY REINVENTED so perfectly!

Are you ready to see the cover for RUBY REINVENTED?

Because I can’t wait to show you!


Isn’t it adorable?

Here are just a few things that I love about this cover:

1)  Ruby looks like Ruby! Just how I pictured her in my mind.

2)  Midcoast Maine looks like Midcoast Maine! Cute little storefronts, old fashioned lamp posts, and a harbor in the background. Perfect.

3)  The stars. There are quite a few stars in RUBY REINVENTED… both the celebrity kind and the kind in the sky. The stars on RUBY’s cover are there for good reason. And you’ll find out why when you read the book!

I hope you love this as much as I do. Please read on to learn more about Ruby, and enter to win our most scrumptious giveaway!


When 12-year-old Ruby Miller learns that her BFF’s are only friends with her because of her famous parents, she finds a place far from celebrity-crazy Hollywood--a Maine boarding school.

In her panic to distance herself from her star-studded folks, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful lying to her weird but wonderful roommate Summer (the first real friend Ruby has ever had), but not awful enough. In fact, now that nobody’s comparing her to her remarkable parents, Ruby can finally let her unique talents as a dress designer take center stage.

But when Ruby finds herself connecting with a boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parent’s Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret... without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her own fashion show.


Ruby leaves Hollywood for a boarding school in Midcoast Maine. One of Ruby’s favorite things about Maine are the mouth-watering blueberry pancakes. Now you can enjoy your own Maine-inspired breakfast, no matter where you are! Be sure to enter the rafflecopter below to win the scrumptious Maine Morning Breakfast Gift Basket from Stonewall Kitchen:

Note: CA residents will receive a similar basket, but not this exact one.

a Rafflecopter giveaway Giveaway ends November 25th at 11:59 PM EST. Open to Residents of the US only. Prizes cannot be shipped to PO Boxes. Winner will be selected by and be notified by email. Winner have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Please note that Kidliterati is not responsible for sponsors that do not fulfill their prizes. I have represented each sponsor with the expectation they will fulfill their prize and in a timely manner. I will contact the sponsor regarding your prize(s). The sponsors, in most cases, are shipping their items to you directly. I will make every effort to assist you obtaining your prize. The product provided for the review was free of charge from the company. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are in no way associated with this giveaway. By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone. I do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner.

Thanks for sharing in Ruby's cover reveal!  Please add RUBY REINVENTED to your Goodreads list, and visit my website for more fun stuff on RUBY REINVENTED, writing kid lit, and how to schedule a school visit. Stay in touch, because there will be more giveaways as we get closer to Ruby’s release date!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman

All Four StarsAll Four Stars by Tara Dairman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old, Gladys Gatsby has kept her cooking a secret for years. Until the day her parents come home early from work and discover she’s torched the kitchen curtains.
Gladys simply wanted to caramelize the crème brûlée she’d made. If she had the proper tools it would never have happened. Now she’s banned from cooking altogether, banned from the Planet Food channel, even from cook books for the next sixth months.

Her parents want Gladys to do “normal” kid things, like play more computer games, or go to the mall, and make more friends in general, instead of this cooking thing, which they don’t understand. Her parents’ idea of cooking is to not follow the directions, and throw everything into a microwave. Everything! Even chocolate chip cookies. Though most nights her parents would rather just stop at Pathetti’s Pizza, Fred’s Fried Fowl, or Sticky burgers. Gladys fears she’ll starve over the next sixth months.

Her Aunt Lydia, who lives in Paris, has been the beacon of good food in Glady’s life. “On any given day she might offer her niece a dried persimmon dipped in chocolate, a lavender-flavored sandwich cookie, or a pretzel coated with a green powder called wasabi . . .” When Glady was seven, she secretly brought Gladys into New York City to taste what a real restaurant was like. Gladys’s life changed.

It’s a new year. Glady’s enters the sixth grade, and dreams of pho bo—the Vietnamese beef and noodle-filled breakfast soup she cooked in fourth grade. She keeps notes in the food journal her aunt Lydia sent. But Gladys would never tell the kids at school about her gourmet tastes or talents—they’d only think she was even more of a freak.

Gladys’s new teacher Ms. Quincy wants the class to write an essay for the New York Standard about what they want to do in the future. One will be chosen to represent the school. Gladys is hesitant because she doesn’t want the kids to know that ever since she read her first dinning section of the New York Standard--the newspaper banned by her town--she’s wanted to write food reviews for them. Gladys struggles to write the essay. She doesn’t want to be singled out by her classmates--and if her parents find out what she really wants to do they’d “totally freak” and probably extend her sentence.

But the new boy next-door, Sandy, pushes Gladys to write about what’s really in her heart. A twist of fate turns the tide, and Gladys finds herself the position she’s only ever dreamed of. She will be challenged, and she’ll have to figure out a way to make her dreams happen on her own. I loved this story. This is an ideal book to give to any young budding chefs, or foodies.

Warning: You will become very, very hungry while reading this book. It inspired me to get back in the kitchen and cook up something exotic and delicious. And was so much fun to read. ALL FOUR STARS gets five stars by me.  We're giving away a signed hard cover copy!

Tell us what your favorite dish is in the comments below to win a signed hard cover copy!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cover Reveal: MOONPENNY ISLAND by Tricia Springstubb

Today we are lucky to host the gorgeous middle grade cover reveal for MOONPENNY ISLAND by Tricia Springstubb, author of What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found! Stay tuned for a signed ARC giveaway below, but first, here's the blurb for this middle grade contemporary which releases February 10, 2015, from Balzer & Bray:

Flor and her best friend Sylvie live on a small island in a great lake. An island so small, it’s barely more than a lump of limestone. So miniscule that when the ferries shut down and the summer people leave, fewer than two hundred people live there. Flor and Sylvie are the only eleven-year-olds for watery miles and miles. How wonderful is that? In Flor’s opinion, very.

Until very bad things begin to happen. Sylvie is mysteriously whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor’s mother leaves the island to care for a sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Flor’s big sister is keeping a secret, and Flor’s afraid it’s a dangerous one. And then there’s the peculiar geologist and his even more peculiar daughter who arrive and begin excavating the abandoned quarry…

A miniscule island in the off season, peculiar people and mysterious disappearances? Count us in! Here's the inside scoop from Tricia on writing a mystery for middle grade readers:

I titled my first file for this book Can Tricia write a mystery? Because I love to read them, because I know kids clamor for them, I ardently hoped the answer was Yes. I kept that hope alive through three or four (maybe possibly five) major revisions, through wakeful nights of scribbling in the dark, through switches in point of view and tense and a main character gender change. It was a long, torturous time before I at last had to admit, No, apparently she can’t.

Throughout, one thing never changed--my setting. Moonpenny is inspired by a small Lake Erie island where I spend some time every autumn. For years I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to be among the tiny, sturdy band of people who live there year round. Once I abandoned the idea of a who-dunnit mystery, I quickly realized I could write another kind, this one a mystery of the heart. Moonpenny Island came tumbling out.

We love the idea of a mystery of the heart! And in our opinion, that's exactly what this cover promises. Without further ado, here's the cover reveal!






What do you think? We LOVE the colors, the weathered wooden sign, and the girl waving to the ship on the horizon. Who IS she? We can't wait to find out! Now, here's the inside scoop from Tricia on the cover design:

I’m thrilled and honored that the genius Gilbert Ford did my cover! It has such depth, drawing the eye from the foreground of fossils (trilobites play a big role in the story) to the girls on the beach, to the ferry and the great wide world beyond. Color saturates every inch. The whole thing just thrums with feeling and possibility and yes, that bit of mystery I hoped for! Though my main character is a girl, I really hope this cover signals to boys that this book is for them too.

By the way, Gilbert also did the map of the island at the front of the book. I have always loved me a book with a map, and his is wonderful!

Tricia is the author of the middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found, as well as the picture book Phoebe and Digger.  The first entry in her new chapter book series, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, will publish in April 2015. Tricia lives happily in the Rust Belt of Cleveland, where she also works as a book critic.

Website | Twitter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A map! We're so excited to hear that! Maps are so much fun, and based on this incredible cover, we can't wait to see what secrets the map reveals. Thanks, Tricia, for sharing MOONPENNY ISLAND with us today!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reaching Readers And Honoring Our Veterans

On November 11th, Veterans Day, we honor the brave men and women who dedicate their lives to protect our freedom.

When my brother joined the military, my kids thought he was going off to be Captain America. Their uncle would be carrying a gun, shooting “bad guys”, and saving the world. Most children think a soldier going off to war is glamorous, but in reality we all know war is scary.

With so many military families serving overseas, and headlines of violence all over the world, it is impossible for children today to escape the reality of war. There are many military books available that explore this complex topic. When it comes to war books for children, the topic must be addressed realistically yet in a way that is appropriate for the young reader.

Below is a list of some war books recommended by Kidliterati.

For Young Readers:

YEAR OF THE JUNGLE by Suzanne Collins

The author of the Hunger Games gives us a picture book about a father who goes to Vietnam. It is the story of the daughter left behind. Young Suzy has to deal with Dad being gone. Will he be safe? How will she cope when missing Dad gets hard?

THE WALL by Eve Bunting
About a young boy visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to look for the his grandfather's name among those killed during the war. A sober visit shared between father and son in remembrance to the fallen. The language is simple but poignant.

Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, tells the story of Natalie dealing with the deployment of her father for a year in Iraq. The story chronicles what life is like for a child when a parent is fighting a war away from home.

For Middle Grade Readers:

I SURVIVED SERIES by Lauren Tarshis
This series includes several books that chronicle war from a tween perspective. The fast paced action, realistic yet age appropriate, will keep even the most reluctant reader turning pages. We recommend I SURVIVED THE BOMBING OF PEARL HARBOR, 1941 and I SURVIVED THE NAZI INVASION, 1944.

Adam lives in Hawaii where his father is an officer assigned to the USS Arizona. He befriends Davi, whose parents are Japanese. When Adam and Davi witness the attack on Pearl Harbor they are snapped into action to help rescue survivors.

For Young Adult Readers:

This is an adaptation of the author's adult memoir simplified for a teen audience. The book chronicles how the author overcame a rough childhood and is selected for the elite Seal Team Six. It describes real missions in detail, including the Battle of Mogadishu, without tip toeing around the realistic and graphic details.


The #1 NY Times Bestseller has now adapted the story of Louie Zamperini for a younger audience. The author reports that she spent months working with teachers, librarians, and teens to understand how to effectively adapt the story of this American hero for a younger audience. A gripping story of perseverance.

What other war books would you recommend for children?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived (The Archived, #1)The Archived by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me forever to read this book. And now that I've read it, I'm glad I waited because it allowed my excitement to die a little, which in turn lowered my expectations a bit. Otherwise... yeah.

I loved the world building. The symbiotic relationship between the Archive, the Narrows and the Other was fantastic. Each is its own thing while depending on the other two to exist. The atmosphere is gloomy, cold, dark, sometimes claustrophobic and just PERFECT.

The plot was a slow build. If it wasn't for my love of the author's writing I would have given up on it or maybe taken much longer than a few days to read it. By the end I realized the slow build was intentional and very much a strong part of the plot twist. Yes, that plot twist had me going "holy molly!" because I so didn't see it coming. By then, every fact that was fed to me prior made so much sense and it left me mind blown.

Wesley remained a little enigmatic till the end. If I read The Unbound it will be with the hope of getting to know him further. Mackenzie was ok. What I loved most about her was her stubbornness without which not much would have happened anyways. Talking about the other characters can not be done without spoilers. Ha. I think just saying this is spoiler enough.

This is a very unique book. I admire the author so much for writing it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

K10: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope that you enjoy their answers.

Welcome Ella!

Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Ella, 10, chocolate cookie chip dough

What book did you read and why did you choose it?
The book I read was, Out Of My Mind.

Can you describe this book in one word?

What was your favorite part of this story?
When Melody joined a team that was competing on TV.

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do?
I would just forgive my friends.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book?
It is the best book I have ever read.

What do you think about the book's cover?
I think the cover is a creative idea.

Would you want to read another book about these characters? Why or why not?
Yes, because I would love to see what happened to Melody.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?
It reminds me of a book called, Wonder.

If you could ask the author one question about this book what would it be?
What made you think of writing this book?

Thanks, Ella!

P.S. I loved reading WONDER to your class! :)

About OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon M. Draper:

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school, but no one knows it. Most people, her teachers and doctors included, don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.



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