Small Resolutions


It’s that time of year when turning to a new calendar and starting fresh brings new year’s resolutions to mind. I used to get very grandiose this time of year and promise bold changes in my life style—promises I’d never keep. I don’t know if being older has made me wiser or being the mother of four busy teenagers has made me more humble, but I’ve been thinking in terms of smaller resolutions in recent years.

I used to promise myself I’d finish a novel in a year, It is possible to write a book in a year, lots of working novelists do, but I’ve learned that setting such a lofty goal can be defeating when, come June, I’m not even close to half way done.

I find it more realistic to set a work goal in a shorter time frame. For example, I’m in the middle of revising my third novel. It’s about 50,000 words so I’ll give myself 10 weeks. Revising 5,000 words a week is doable but ambitious enough to inspire me to work hard on a day when I’d rather curl up with a cup of cocoa and read all those wonderful novels I got over the holidays.

The most productive member of my critique group has a daily goal of 1 page—that’s about 350 words. He does this every day, including weekends, holidays, vacations, days when his kids are sick, and even days when he has company visiting from overseas. The trick is–it’s just a page. It doesn’t take more than an hour or two.

Here are some work resolutions you might consider.

A page a day

2000 words a week

A chapter every month

Modest goals, but if you stick with the first goal, you’ll have 127,750 words in a year. The second goal will give you 104,000 words in a year. The third goal is less specific but most middle grade novels are 10 to 15 chapters, so even though the goals don’t seem especially lofty, any of them will get you to a novel in a year.

Here are some other writing resolutions I’ve chosen over the years.

Enter 3 writing contests a year

Apply for 3 fellowships a year

Write a character sketch every day for a month

Read a novel in my genre every month

Bring something to my critique group every two weeks even if it’s a partial chapter

Read poetry out loud after Sunday dinner

Write a note to an author whose work I admire

Volunteer in my school library

Learn the names of my local independent booksellers

When people ask me what my job is, say I’m a writer! And then don’t make any excuses for where I am in my process.


How about you? Have you got a resolution to share? Let’s hear it! Sometimes claiming a goal publicly can be the most motivating of all.

Happy New Year!


The Girls of Summer, Spring, Fall, and Winter—Sports Stories Featuring Girls

Sports stories have long been a mainstay of middle-grade fiction for boys. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s my husband’s favorite book was Matt Christopher’s Catcher with a Glass Arm. His tattered copy still has a place of honor on our family bookshelf.

In contrast, I can’t think of a single title from that time that featured an aspiring girl athlete. Sure, there were plenty of “tomboy” stories about girls like Katie John and Ramona, but nothing about organized sports that I can recall. Anita Silvey, in her Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators, confirms that it wasn’t until the early 1980s that readers could find realistic portrayals of girls in sports in books like Rosemary Wells’ When No One Was Looking.

Thankfully, the times have changed, and so have the books. As more girls take to the soccer pitch, basketball court, and baseball diamond, their experiences are being reflected in contemporary fiction. Wendy Shang, a fellow Mixed-up Files member whose debut novel featured a girl with hoop dreams, notes that “sports can be such a huge source of drama and interest for kids. It’s not just about winning and losing, but about personal performance, team dynamics, and appreciating the art of the game.”

Following are some of my favorite books that feature strong female characters, compelling stories, and sports—great reads for athletes and non-athletes alike. In some, like Andrea Montalbano’s Breakaway, the sport is front and center, while in others, like Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, it’s one thread in a greater coming-of-age story. All book descriptions come from Indiebound.

Have a favorite book you’d like to add? Leave your suggestions/thoughts in the comments.


The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane

For an eighth grader, Molly Williams has more than her fair share of problems. Her father has just died in a car accident, and her mother has become a withdrawn, quiet version of herself.

 Molly doesn’t want to be seen as “Miss Difficulty Overcome”; she wants to make herself known to the kids at school for something other than her father’s death. So she decides to join the baseball team. The boys’ baseball team. Her father taught her how to throw a knuckleball, and Molly hopes it’s enough to impress her coaches as well as her new teammates.

 Over the course of one baseball season, Molly must figure out how to redefine her relationships to things she loves, loved, and might love: her mother; her brilliant best friend, Celia; her father; her enigmatic and artistic teammate, Lonnie; and of course, baseball. (Note: This beautifully written tribute to fathers and daughters and to baseball is one of my favorite middle-grade books of all time—with or without sports.)

No Cream Puffs by Karen Day

Madison is not your average 12-year-old girl from Michigan in 1980. She doesn’t use lipgloss, but she loves to play sports, and joins baseball for the summer—the first girl in Southern Michigan to play on a boys’ team. The press calls her a star and a trailblazer, but Madison just wants to play ball. Who knew it would be so much pressure? Crowds flock to the games. Her team will win the championship—if she can keep up her pitching streak. Meanwhile, she’s got a crush on a fellow player, her best friend abandons her for the popular girls, the “O” on her Hinton’s uniform forms a bulls-eye over her left breast, and the boy she punched on the last day of school plans to bean her in the championship game.


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Shang

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She’s ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother’s sister, is coming to visit for several months—and is staying in Lucy’s room. Lucy’s vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang. (Note: Both my daughter and I loved this touching family story. Keep a tissue box handy!)


After All, You’re Callie Boone by Winnie Mack

“Oh, fishsticks, tartar, and a side of fries!” Runaway ferrets, former BFF drama-trauma, and one GIGANTIC (and very, very public) belly flop. No doubt about it, Callie Boone’s summer is CRUMMY. The only things keeping her afloat are dive practice with her dad and a top-secret Olympic dream. Then a boy named Hoot—who is NOT her boyfriend!—moves in next door and turns her world upside down and right-side up. Just when things start looking up, real disaster strikes and Callie feels like she’s stuck at the top of the high diving board with no way down.

Horse Racing

Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

Lidie lives in Brazil, where she rides, a wild girl dreaming of going to live with her father, Pai, and older brother, Rafael, in New York City. Pai runs a stable at a famous race track. Since her mother died long ago, Lidie has lived with relatives. Now she’s 12—ready to leave Brazil for New York. 
Meanwhile, a filly is born and begins her journey to a new home. As Lidie’s story unfolds, so does the filly’s. 
In New York, Lidie finds that moving to another country is a big challenge. And Pai and Rafael still think of her as the little girl they left behind. But she’s determined to befriend, and ride, the spirited filly her father has just bought: Wild Girl. (Note: Patricia Reilly Giff is one of my favorite middle-grade authors and this graceful, economical story doesn’t disappoint. You don’t have to love horses to love this story.)


The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

Gianna Z has less than one week to collect, identify, and creatively display 25 leaves for her science project—or else she won’t be able to compete in the upcoming cross-country race. As the deadline for her leaf project draws near, life keeps getting in the way. Some things are within Gee’s control, like her own procrastination, but others aren’t, like Bianca Rinaldi’s attempts at sabotage and Nonna’s declining health. If it weren’t for her best friend Zig, Gee wouldn’t have a chance at finishing. His knowledge of trees and leaves in their rural Vermont town comes in very handy, as does his loyalty to Gee. But when Nonna disappears one afternoon, things like leaves and cross-country meets suddenly seem less important.

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

Run run run. That’s what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she’s barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. It’s a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything’s shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie’s been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them. (Note: A Sharon Creech mini-masterpiece, written in verse.)

Figure Skating

Undercover by Beth Kephart

Like a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, Elisa ghostwrites love notes for the boys in her school. But when Elisa falls for Theo Moses, things change fast. Theo asks for verses to court the lovely Lila—a girl known for her beauty, her popularity, and a cutting ability to remind Elisa that she has none of these. At home, Elisa’s father, the one person she feels understands her, has left on an extended business trip. As the days grow shorter, Elisa worries that the increasingly urgent letters she sends her father won’t bring him home. Like the undercover agent she feels she has become, Elisa retreats to a pond in the woods, where her talent for ice-skating gives her the confidence to come out from under cover and take center stage. But when Lila becomes jealous of Theo’s friendship with Elisa, her revenge nearly destroys Elisa’s ice-skating dreams and her plan to reunite her family. (Note: Beth Kephart, with her lyrical prose, is one of my favorite young-adult authors, and this book combines two of my loves: ice skating and poetry. Suitable for older tweens.)

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family’s farm. But all that changes when Russian skating coach Andrei Grosheva offers Claire a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire realizes that her sweet dream come true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want to see her fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow? (This is my 12-year-old daughter’s pick for the best skating book—maybe because it combines two of her loves—ice skating and math!)


Breakaway by Andrea Montalbano

LJ knows her place in the world is on the soccer field. When she’s out there scoring goals, everything’s right. But being a big-shot on the field has started going to her head. She’s been letting her temper get the best of her—both on the field and off, alienating everyone around her. Everyone except Tabitha, the popular girl who cares more about credit cards than yellow cards and spends most of her time on the bench. But when it’s LJ on the bench instead of Tabitha, forced to be a spectator instead of a star, she realizes that sometimes it takes more skill and guts to make others look good instead of yourself. And that by losing a little glory, you can win more than just championships. (Hardcore soccer fans will appreciate Breakaway. Montalbano clearly knows her soccer and the story sticks close to the action.)

Love Puppies and Corner Kicks by Bob Krech

What’s a girl to do when Mom and Dad announce that the whole family is moving to Scotland for a yearlong teacher exchange? Can you spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r? When Andrea gets there, she finds she and her family are living with the principal and she is being pestered by the ultraweird Jasmin. But then she finds an amazing girls’ soccer league and a cute boy named Stewart. Will Andrea’s new tough soccer girls accept that she is crushing on a boy from a rival team and not totally devoted to winning a championship?

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwick sisters are home on Gardam Street and ready for an adventure! But the adventure they get isn’t quite what they had in mind. Mr. Penderwick’s sister has decided it’s time for him to start dating—and the girls know that can only mean one thing: disaster. Enter the Save-Daddy Plan—a plot so brilliant, so bold, so funny, that only the Penderwick girls could have come up with it. (Note: This book includes what has to be the funniest soccer scene ever. Jane Penderwick loses her cool in the middle of a hotly contested match and becomes Mick Hart, a rough British footballer, hurling insults at her “gormless” opponents.)


There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli

Maisie Potter isn’t quite sure why she signed up for the boys’ wrestling team. She’s never been all that interested in boys, so it can’t have anything to do with Eric Delong, in spite of the disturbing effect his smile has on her. And she’s certainly not prepared for the effect her presence on the team has on the people around her. Her brother’s totally disgusted with her, her best friend drops her, her classmates ridicule her, and opposing teams forfeit rather than wrestle her. But Maisie’s not a quitter, and she discovers that she really likes wrestling—and that while Eric might not be worth the flak she puts up with, feeling good about herself is. (Confession: Because of the title and cover I’d always assumed Hammerlock was told from a boy’s perspective. It’s not. True-to-life wrestling action, sharp dialogue, and an equally sharp exploration of a girl’s feelings about competing with and against boys. Go, Maisie!)

I’m Thankful For New Mixed-up Authors

flickr photo by rfduck

This Thursday, those of us in the U.S. will be celebrating Thanksgiving, a holiday where we gather around the table to share our thanks (and turkey) with friends and family. It’s a little early, but I wanted to share how thankful I am for all the past and present Mixed-Up Authors I’ve had the pleasure working with on this blog.

Recently a few of our Mixed-Up Authors have moved on to other projects and are no longer with us. We miss each of them and wish them the best of luck in their new endeavors. The only good thing to come from this has been the opportunity to invite three new members. So, please join me in welcoming our new Mixed-Up Authors:

Sue Cowing

Jacqueline Houtman

Jennifer Swanson

I am so excited to see the talents these three bring to our blog, and I can’t wait for their first posts. I’m thankful they accepted the invitation to join us.

I’m also thankful for all our dedicated readers. You are the real reason behind our success. Thank you!