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Our Nine-Book Giveaway Winner (and our Second Summer Giveaway)!

And the winner of our nine-book giveaway is…

Megan Oliphant!

Congrats, Megan!  We hope you’ll enjoy each book.  Please send an email to msfishby@fromthemixedupfiles.com with your mailing address, and we’ll send the books to you.

For those who didn’t win, don’t worry.  Our summer giveaways are just getting started!  In fact, our second giveaway starts today!

We have the following three titles to give away to one lucky reader:

To enter, simply leave  a comment below.  Earn extra entries by blogging, tweeting, or facebooking this giveaway (don’t forget to share a link to your blog or tweet).  This giveaway is for US/CAN residents only (sorry, we can’t ship these internationally).  The winner will be chosen on Tuesday, July 6, 2010.

We also want to thank the authors who have donated books to our summer giveaways.  We appreciate your willingness to help spread the word about great middle-grade books!

The Future of ebooks… and the Middle-Grade Reader

Photo credit: verbeeldingskr8 via Flickr

With Apple’s new iPad sales already exceeding two million and the launch of iBooks, the blogosphere and publishing world is abuzz. What does this portend for the future of books? Is this the end of the publishing world as we know it? What is this so-called agency model? And where did I put my keys, anyway?

The answer to these burning questions (besides the obvious, in your pocket, stupid!), run the gamut from… Cool! Ebooks! So shiny! Paper books are going the way of the Dodo bird and the eight-track! Bwahahahahaha!!!

All the way to … Help, no! Say it isn’t so! Lock the doors and hide the kids – the ebooks are coming!

While I do find this debate endlessly fascinating (and think the truth hopefully lies somewhere in the middle), I have been most intrigued to learn what the evolution of ebooks means to readers – particularly of the middle-grade variety. And what I’ve discovered is that ebooks provide some really exciting opportunities for kids – especially those who may not have the access or inclination to read in the first place.

Reaching The Reluctant Reader
Plenty of hand-wringing goes on about this hard-to-please subspecies of reader. Pegged (rightly or wrongly) as primarily boys, the conventional wisdom says the reluctant reader rapidly loses interest in books as more “exciting” pursuits compete for his time. Want to get a ten-year-old boy to read? Well, you may just have to pry the baseball bat or the Nintendo DS from his hands first.

Or, maybe not.

The popular handheld gaming system is now available in a larger dual-screen format that is also being touted as an ereader. Limited content is available in game cartridge form and consists mainly of classics and fairy tales – probably not the biggest draw for the reluctant reader.

But a new line called FLIPS – which is available via download on DSiWare – most likely will. For example, take the More Bloody Horowitz titles by bestselling author Anthony Horowitz (the man behind the popular Alex Rider series). This ebook’s format could be best described as an interactive graphic novel – featuring text, graphics and the opportunity to make decisions for the main character.

And also in development for the FLIPS line-up – Percy Jackson.

I would think these would be a huge hit among reluctant readers. And, sure – they aren’t “traditional” books. But if they engage kids in the written word, does it really matter?

You also don’t have to look far to find a number of ereader applications and interactive ebooks available for the iPod Touch. And one of the iPhone’s most popular applications is Cathy’s Story, an interactive ebook geared at kids aged 12-14.

And even without all the bells and whistles, there’s this fascinating Kansas State University study that shows reluctant middle-grade readers may became more motivated to read when given a Kindle.

Reaching The Remote Reader
Certainly, not everyone can afford an iPhone, an iPad or a Kindle. And heck, not everyone wants to entrust their expensive electronics to a sticky-fingered kid who might leave it sitting on a playground bench. But what if there was a low-cost, difficult to break tablet computer that was designed with kids in mind?

It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but that’s just what the folks at One Laptop Per Child aim to do. Already successful distributing their XO laptops around the world, the non-profit organization has now teamed up with Marvell Technologies to create an inexpensive, kid-friendly tablet computer.

The projected price point: $75.

The objective is to get computers into the hands of as many kids worldwide as possible. While the organization has been criticized and questioned at times about their lofty goals, I think what they hope to achieve is quite admirable. After all, information is power – and access to information is a great equalizer.

Not to mention, for kids without easy access to a bookstore or library, an ereader opens a whole new world of possibilities. Just ask agent Nathan Bransford (and the dirt clods that fell victim to his childhood boredom).

As for the rest of us…
The truth is, I don’t see the appeal of ebooks limited just to the readers listed above. While at a Little League game last month, I watched two kindergarten-aged girls happily reading a Dr. Seuss book on an iPad. They were totally engaged – laughing and pointing out their favorite parts – just like they would with a “traditional” book.

Because when it all comes down to it, it’s all about the story, right? I know when I was a kid, I read just about anything I could get my hands on – even cereal boxes and shampoo bottles (hmmm, maybe that’s why my characters always want lustrous locks and a breakfast fortified with 14 vitamins and minerals…).

But all kidding aside, it was always about the words – the way they worked together like pieces of a puzzle, the way I found a kindred spirit in Margaret or went on an adventure with Nancy Drew. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if those words were printed on paper, a box of tissues, post-it notes – or an ereader. And face it, today’s kids are used to technology. Those girls reading Dr. Seuss on an iPad won’t suddenly dislike ereaders when they are eight… or nine… or ten. In fact, they’ll probably seek them out.

Because once again: it’s all about the story.

And hopefully, it always will be.

So what do you think? What does the future hold for ebooks and the middle-grade reader? Have any creative ideas of your own?

Tell me in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our nine-book giveaway here. Today’s the last day to enter, since tomorrow we’ll be picking a winner.

Jan Gangsei writes this post while surrounded by stacks of boxes in preparation for a rather daunting overseas move. Sadly, most of her cherished book collection has to go into storage. But she’s happy to report her extensive ebook library will be coming with her. You can follow Jan’s tweets at twitter.com/JanGangsei.

No Dead Dogs: contemporary dog classics for middle-grade readers

When I tell people my next book is a dog story for grades four and up, the question I invariably get asked is, “Does the dog die?” And they ask me this with such a pained, apprehensive look on their faces! Trust me, as a passionate dog lover and dog literature reader, I understand the question and the expression on the face. As much as I love the classics like Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows,and Sounder, as a librarian, I’m reluctant to recommend them to young readers.

Fortunately, there have been some wonderful dog stories written for middle grade readers that are destined to become classics and the dog is alive and healthy at the end of the book! Here are some contemporary dog classics I find myself recommending to my young library patrons over and over:

Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary

Forbidden to ride in the Huggins’ clean new car, Henry’s dog, Ribsy, runs after it until he is exhausted, forcing the family to stop and let him in. From then on he experiences one disaster after another. While shut up in the car at the mall, he accidentally hits the automatic window control, wiggles out and unsuccessfully searches for his owners. Confused, he jumps into another new-smelling car by mistake and goes home with the Dingleys, who give him a violet-scented bubble bath. Deeply insulted, Ribsy escapes and tries to find his way home. He meets many new people along the way, including a kindly old lady who dresses him in a hat and pipe, a bunch of school children who share their lunches, and a lonely boy harassed by the mean manager of his apartment building. After a dramatic rescue from a fire escape, Ribsy is reunited joyfully with his family. Written in an easy, conversational style and filled with funny situations and sly satire, the fast moving story, although set at least forty years ago, I find kids love this story and this dog as much as ever. Maybe that’s because Ribsy is the sweet, spirited embodiment of hundreds of beloved, scruffy children’s pets, back in the days before leash laws and animal control officers cramped their style.

Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo

Just last night, I had a lengthy conversation with a 5th grader at the library about how wonderful Kate DiCamillo is and, more specifically, her wonderful Because of Winn Dixie. In Because of Winn Dixie,  Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket — and comes out with a dog. With the help of her new pal, whom she names Winn-Dixie, Opal makes a variety of new, interesting friends and spends the summer collecting stories about them and thinking about her absent mother. But because of Winn-Dixie, or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship — and forgiveness — can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm. Recalling the fiction of Harper Lee and Carson McCullers, here is a funny, poignant, and unforgettable coming-of-age novel. My young friend and I agreed the book is a million zillion times better than the movie!

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech

Given that my young patron loved Kate DiCamillo’s books, I recommended to her one of my other favorite authors, Sharon Creech. I added to her growing stack of books Love that Dog. Written in free verse, Love that Dog is told from the view point of Jack. Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments—and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say, especially when it comes to a certain dog.

With a fresh and deceptively simple style, acclaimed author Sharon Creech tells a story with enormous heart. Love That Dog shows how one boy finds his own voice with the help of a teacher, a writer, a pencil, some yellow paper, and of course, a dog.

Trouble with Tuck, by Theodore Taylor

Taylor is probably best known for his award-winning The Cay. But Trouble with Tuck is a classic dog story that has every bit as much heart and action. Helen’s best friend is Tuck, a loving, playful golden Labrador. They go everywhere together. He brings her out of her shell and is the catalyst for her increasing self-confidence. Twice, he saves her life. When Tuck is three years old, Helen discovers he is having trouble with his sight. The vet confirms that Tuck is going blind. Two options offered by the vet; putting Tuck down or giving him to medical researchers; are rejected by the whole family. Desperate, Helen contacts a guide dog school, but is turned down. After Tuck is hit by a car, his days of freedom and wandering the neighborhood must be replaced with confinement to the yard. Chaining Tuck could break his spirit–and Helen’s. Enter Lady Daisy, a retired Seeing Eye dog. With the help of Lady Daisy and a book about elephants, Helen is able to train Tuck to depend on this canine friend to be his new eyes. Every animal lover can appreciate this tale of shared devotion and love, but I also love tell my patrons that it’s based on a true story!

A Dog’s Life: the autobiography of a stray, by Ann M. Martin

Okay, so you know this name as the author of the ubiquitous Babysitter’s Club series, right? But she’s also the author of some amazing, beautifully written novels for middle graders and teens, including A Dog’s Life. Normally, I don’t like “talking dog” stories: I find them too precious. But Martin tells this dog’s story in a voice that is both dignified and true. Squirrel is not like most dogs. Born a stray, she must make her own way in the world, facing busy highways, changing seasons, and humans both gentle and brutal. Her life story, in her own words, is marked by loss, but also by an inspiring instinct to survive. And when it seems she will roam the woods and country roads alone forever, Squirrel makes two friends who, in very different ways, define her fate. This is not a bouncy, easy story. I tend to recommend it to older middle graders or dog-loving teens and adults. It is a haunting and hopeful story.

Martin has since written a sequel to A Dog’s Life titled Everything for a Dog.

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Eleven-year-old Marty Preston loves to spend time up in the hills behind his home near Friendly, West Virginia. Sometimes he takes his .22 rifle to see what he can shoot, like some cans lined up on a rail fence. Other times he goes up early in the morning just to sit and watch the fox and deer. But one summer Sunday, Marty comes across something different on the road just past the old Shiloh schoolhouses—a young beagle—and the trouble begins. What do you do when a dog you suspect is being mistreated runs away and comes to you? When it is someone else’s dog? When the man who owns him has a gun? This is Marty’s problem, and he finds it is one he has to face alone. When his solution gets too big for him to handle, things become more frightening still. Marty puts his courage on the line, and discovers in the process that it is not always easy to separate right from wrong. Sometimes, however, you do almost anything to save a dog. In the tradition of Sounder and Where the Red Fern Grows comes this boy-and-his-dog story set in rural West Virginia. And the dog lives!

Bobbie Pyron is the author of the teen novel The Ring (WestSide Books). Her own middle grade dog story, A Dog’s Way Home, will be published in winter of 2011 by HarperCollins. Her own three dogs are waiting for her to finish this blog post so they can all go for a hike. Visit her at her website www.bobbiepyron.com