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Looking for Luck in All the Write Places

Hope you’re feeling lucky this St. Patrick’s Day week. In case you’re looking for good fortune, check out some of these middle-grade books with the work “luck” in the title.

Hard Luck

Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
Book #8 in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series
Greg Heffley’s on a losing streak. His best friend, Rowley Jefferson, has ditched him, and finding new friends in middle school is proving to be a tough task. To change his fortunes, Greg decides to take a leap of faith and turn his decisions over to chance. Will a roll of the dice turn things around, or is Greg’s life destined to be just another hard-luck story?

Mary Anne’s Bad Luck Mystery

Written by Ann M. Martin
Book #17 in the The Baby-Sitters Club Series
Mary Anne should never have thrown away that chain letter she got in the mail. Ever since she did, bad things have been happening-to everybody in the Baby-sitters Club. With Halloween coming up, Mary Anne’s even more worried-what kind of spooky thing will happen next? Then Mary Anne finds a new note in her mailbox: Wear this bad-luck charm, it says. OR ELSE. Mary Anne’s got to do what the note says. But who sent the charm? And why did this person send it to Mary Anne? If the Baby-sitters don’t solve this mystery soon, their bad luck might never stop!

Lucky Strike

Written by Bobbie Pyron
A rich, southern voice tells the unforgettable story of two vulnerable outsiders, the lightning strike that turns their world upside down and the true meaning of lucky. Nate Harlow would love to be lucky, just once! He’d like to win a prize, get picked first, call a coin toss right, even! But his best friend, Genesis Beam (aka Gen), believes in science and logic, and she doesn’t think for one second that there’s such a thing as luck, good or bad. She doesn’t care what names the other kids call them. She cares about being right, about saving the turtles of Paradise Beach, and she cares about Nate. Then, on his birthday, at the Goofy Golf mini-golf course, Nate is struck by lightning – and survives! Suddenly baseballs are drawn to his bat – popular kids want HIM on their side. It seems the whole town of Paradise Beach thinks Nate has the magic touch.But is there room for Gen in Nate’s lucky new world? Lucky Strike tells the unforgettable story of two vulnerable outsiders and what luck is really all about.

The Thing about Luck

Written by Cynthia Kadohata & illustrated by Julia Kuo
The winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, from Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata. There is bad luck, good luck, and making your own luck–which is exactly what Summer must do to save her family. Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan–right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills. Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished–but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself — because it might be the only way to save her family. Cynthia Kadohata’s ode to the breadbasket of America has received six starred reviews and was selected as a National Book Award Finalist.

Lost in Ireland

Written by Cindy Callaghan
Book #2 in the Lost In Series
A superstitious girl must try to turn her horrible luck around during a family trip to Ireland. Meghan McGlinchey is the most superstitious girl in her family–and probably in the entire state of Delaware. When she receives a chain letter from a stranger in Ireland, Meghan immediately passes it on, taking only a tiny shortcut in the directions. But after a disastrous day, made complete by losing the election for class president and embarrassing herself in front of the entire school, Meghan realizes that tiny shortcut was a big mistake. Thankfully, her family was already headed to Ireland on spring break, and Meghan makes it her mission to find the original sender and break her extremely unlucky streak. With the help of an eccentric cast of characters–and one very cute Irish boy–can Meghan figure out a way to stop her bad luck? Or is she cursed forever?

Bookroo.com contributed to these summaries.

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– Writing Tips & Resources

 

Choose Your Own Writing Adventure

Did you ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure® book? As a kid I devoured those. You would read a few paragraphs and then when there’s a plot point—when a normal book would have the main character make the decision (and learn the consequences)—in these books, you, the reader get to choose.

Choose Your Own Adventure stack of books

It might look like this:

  • If you charge down the tunnel, straight into the dragon’s lair, turn to page 23.
  • If you sneak around the mountain, hoping to slip in through a backdoor, turn to page 42.

What if we could see writing like that? What if we could help students see writing like that? What if we could apply this to the challenge of writing to convey information?

One of my greatest struggles is structure. Finding just the right approach to convey information. I know I’m not the only writer (young or old) who suffers from that kind of paralysis. A great way for me to break into writing is to toy with different approaches, but it can be hard to get started, so I’ve started to play the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” sort of game.

Play the Game

Let’s take chapter 2 of Rebecca Hirsch’s Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World.

The first section begins:

Two eyeballs swivel on stalks atop the head of a mantis shrimp. Zip! Zoop! The eyes move up, down, left, and right as the critter scuttles across the coral reef. He is keeping watch for enemies and looking for a place to hide.”

Upon reading the first sentence, I am immediately connecting to this writing. That “Zip! Zoop!” provides a sensory experience that brings me into a scene. The action of the eyes and the verb “scuttles” has me picturing this as a movie playing in my mind. The “He is keeping watch” has me connecting with and feeling for a character. This is narrative writing!

But, in the next section, entitled “Eye Spy,” the writing shifts.

“Mantis shrimps, or stomatopods (stoh-MA-tah-pawds) are relative of crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. These tiny superheroes have the most advanced eyeballs on the planet.”

Wait. That’s all expository—information intended to explain. It’s still drawing me in. The fact about mantis shrimp relatives connects them to animals I am more familiar with, thus making the subject relatable. Even if the spread had not included intriguing photographs, I’d be developing a crabby kind of image in my mind—a hard shell, beady eyes and lots of legs. The superheroes analogy has my mind imaging all kinds of fun. The “most advanced eyeballs on the planet” has me experiencing a sense of awe for these creatures.

But it is the juxtaposition of these two kinds of writing, so drastically different, that has me re-reading to learn more about writing craft. Why did the author decide to set up the chapter this way? What advantages do each of these approaches have? If I were the writer and playing the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” game, what could my other options for these passages be?

Let’s play that game. What if the book began with the same information but that first section was written as expository text? Could I do that? Could you do that? Pull out a piece of paper (or a fresh file) and try it before you read on.

Adventurous Options

When facing this challenge myself, the first thing that occurs to me is that I’d switch the point of view to third person. But, after pondering a moment, I realize that’s not the only option:

  • If you choose to write in third person, you’ve picked a classic approach. Keep writing!
  • If you choose to write in first person—that can be done in expository, right—you’re doing something fresh and exciting!

But also, because I am now writing it as  expository, I feel the urge to begin that first paragraph by naming the animal, i.e.  “A mantis shrimp…” But there are other options, right?

  • If you start with “A mantis shrimp…” plow forward and see where it takes you.
  • If you start with “The enemies of…” be confident because you started with a hook.
  • If you start with “The eyeballs…” consider how that sets up the content.

Isn’t this fun? After you’ve played with the first section for a while, flip this idea and try going the opposite direction. Take the expository “Eye Spy” section and use that content to craft a narrative. At every junction, make yourself aware of the options you are choosing by listing out one or more other options.

Writing is an adventure! Let’s stop pretending it must be boring. Let’s use other people’s writing as examples, but not as a rule book. Let’s be writing rebels!


Heather L. Montgomery likes to take her chances. Adventurous research has led her to publication of 18 books, including: What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures, Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, and Sick! The Twists and Turns behind Animal Germs. When she is not teaching a library full of students or interviewing a scientist, you might find her writing in an outlandish spot. Where will  you join her:

  • If you’re up for a stream stroll, pull on your water shoes and catch some critters with her.
  • If you’re into tree climbing, whip out your journal and scribble from the canopy.
  • If you’re brave enough for dissection, grab your gloves and goggles.

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomer.com .

Related

256-426-5871
Sick!: The Twists and Turns 
Behind Animal Germs
Order HERE 

Interview With Author Matt Eicheldinger

I’m thrilled to welcome Matt Eicheldinger to the Mixed-Up Files to chat about his new book MATT SPROUTS AND THE CURSE OF THE TEN BROKEN TOES—Available March 19th (Andrews McMeel Kids).

I loved hearing all about his backstory and journey to publication.

I think you will, too. 

Enjoy! 

Lisa: Tell us about MATT SPROUTS!   

Matt: The story follows sixth grader Matt Sprouts at the start of summer vacation, where he accidently trips his neighbor Jenna, breaking her collarbone in the process and ruining her summer plans. In the weeks that follow, Matt finds himself in all sorts of problems, including breaking a few toes. Matt thinks it’s just a coincidence, but every other kid in town suspects he has “The Curse”, a hometown myth which has haunted other middle schoolers before him. As Matt attempts to solve The Curse and stop his ill-fate ahead, he also has to contend with school, the soccer team, a new “fake” girlfriend, and a slew of other problems, including the Purple Grape Lady.

Lisa: What inspired the idea for this book?

Matt: The book is actually autobiographical. Even though it is fiction, almost every single scene is based on something from my life (and yes, I have broken all ten of my toes!). These mini-stories are things I would share with my middle school students, and they liked them so much I wove them together to create Matt Sprouts and The Curse of The Ten Broken Toes. So really when I think of who inspired this idea, it was my students!

Lisa: Did you always want to be an author/illustrator?

Matt: I enjoyed reading comics when I was younger, and I doodled on basically anything that a pencil could leave a mark on, but I never had a desire to be an author or cartoonist. For me, drawing was just for fun.

Lisa: Can you tell us about your publishing journey?

Matt: My journey is a long one! I wrote The Curse of The Ten Broken Toes my first year teaching middle school in 2009-2010, and placed it in my classroom for students to read who were struggling to find something that would hold their attention. I figured if they liked my stories I told in class, they would like my book.

And they did!

I didn’t know anything about publishing, so I started researching and began sending query letters. I was pretty naïve and I’m sure my first dozen or so letters were absolutely terrible. Still, I continued sending letters for the next ten years, and received hundreds and hundreds of rejections, but I knew my book was good because kids were reading it every year and loving it. So, in 2021 I decided to self- publish my novel. Over the next two years I sold thousands of copies online and won some indie book awards, which helped me get noticed by a literary agent. Within just a couple weeks of signing with agent Dani Segelbaum, we signed a two book deal to re-release the original book, and follow it up with a sequel.

Lisa: Do you have favorite part of the book making process?

Matt: Creating the title is my favorite part, because as soon as I know it I feel like I can understand what needs to happen in the story. I have two kids (one in elementary, one in middle), and sometimes they will just start giving me ideas by starting the sentence with “Matt Sprouts and the. . .” and we’ve come up with a ton of ideas for sequels. I love that they have been able to be involved in the process!

I’ve also enjoyed illustrating, because it is something I am continually finding ways to improve. When I signed my book deal, I was asked to add about 100 illustrations, which was the most I had ever drawn in my life. It was intimidating at first, but now that I’ve done it multiple times I find a lot of joy in creating visuals for the reader.

Lisa: Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing/artistic life?

Matt: I do use social media, and have accounts under the name @matteicheldinger for both TikTok and Instagram. I have pivoted a few times in my content, but have finally settled in to storytelling which has really resonated with people. I have collected hundreds of stories over my teaching career and other walks of life, so I share these stories and what I learned from the moment with the audience. Since I script out the video first, I find it creates a good routine for me to write every day, and really get at the heart of the story faster.

Lisa: What do you think makes a good story?

Matt: Many things, but right now I am focusing on relatability. I am fortunate enough to have a really, really good memory when it comes to experiences. I can’t remember daily chores unfortunately, but if you were to ask me what it felt like when our soccer team lost in the semifinals when I was 17, or when I sang in front of an audience for the first time, I immediately re-experience those same emotions and sounds. When I write middle grade stories, I try and put myself back in those moments and describe them in a way that makes sense to kids. If I can present them with scenarios (even as silly as breaking toes), but make them resonate with the reader by comparing it to something else they may have experienced, I find that is a great approach.

Lisa: What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

Matt: The Calvin and Hobbes series, without a doubt! It was basically the only thing I would read in late elementary through junior high. There was something so captivating about Calvin’s adventurous spirit, but I also like how reflective he was. Bill Watterson captured adolescence so well, creating a seemingly over-confident kid who at his core wanted the best for everyone, even though he didn’t always show it. I find the humor of that series has spilled into my own writing, along with finding ways to help character find time to reflect.

Lisa: What advice would you give twelve-year-old, Matt?

Matt: Me, or Matt Sprouts!? Since we are basically the same, I would tell younger me to stop lying. I was a frequent liar when I was younger, and it mostly stemmed from wanting to impress people. It caused a lot of problems, but I also really learned the value of honesty, and how much that can build (and destroy) relationships. As a teacher, I try to help kids understand that who they are is enough, and there is no need to exaggerate anything to find a connection with others. I do this with my characters too. I want the reader to see what kind of friendships you can form when you are your genuine self.

Lisa: What’s are you working on now?

Matt: I was fortunate enough to secure three more book deals with Andrew McMeel. The third Matt Sprouts book is called Matt Sprouts and The Search for the Chompy Wompers (Summer, 2025), which I just finished illustrating and is now being reviewd by my editor. I also am in the final stages of review for Sticky Notes: Memorable Lessons from Ordinary Moments, which is a compilation of illustrated, true stories from my teaching career for parents and adults (October, 2024). As these two projects wrap up, I will begin working on Holes in My Underwear, an illustrated collection of poetry for elementary/middle grade readers.

Aside from those, I am also currently working on a stand-alone novel, my first graphic novel, and other sequels for the Matt Sprouts series. These are in the very early stages, but I find a lot of joy in working on things that are so new, even if I am not sure if they will ever become book.

Thank you for spending time with us. It has been great getting to know you and more about MATT SPROUTS AND THE CURSE OF THE TEN BROKEN TOES.  I can’t wait to read about all his adventures!  

About Matt:

Matt Eicheldinger wasn’t always a writer. He spent most of his childhood playing soccer, reading comics, and trying his best to stay out of trouble. Little did he know those moments would ultimately help craft his first novel, Matt Sprouts and the Curse of Ten Broken Toes. 

Matt lives in Minnesota with his wife and two children, and tries to create new adventures with them whenever possible. When he’s not writing, you can find him telling students stories in his classroom, or trail running along the Minnesota River Bottoms.

To learn more about Matt Eicheldinger, please visit his website