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The Sound of Violets

Welcome to the Violets Are Blue Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee on October 12th, blogs across the web will be featuring exclusive guest posts from Barbara as well as 5 chances to win a signed copy all week long!


The Sounds of Their Voices 
by Barbara Dee

I’m an auditory writer, not a visual writer. By that I mean I rarely write descriptions of landscapes, or even the way characters look. I’m much more interested in the way characters sound, especially as they interact with each other in conversation. And as I write dialogue, I keep in mind that adults need to sound like adults, kids need to sound like kids—and that they all need to have distinct voices.

So I ask myself certain questions about the characters’ speaking styles. For example: Do they speak in long sentences, or short ones? Do they ask a lot of questions? Do they interrupt? Do they pause or hesitate or trail off? Do they use slang or formal speech? Do they have favorite expressions, especially those they use in moments of anger, frustration, excitement? What’s their tone—sarcastic, sympathetic, tense, calm? Is their voice hoarse, sharp, quiet, shrill, musical?

To get a grip on my characters, I don’t need to see their faces; I need to hear them speak. Sometimes as I’m writing I’ll read a manuscript aloud to hear how my characters are sounding. What I’m listening for most of all is natural, authentic speech—no elevated diction (unless it’s in character). This is essential, because middle grade readers have sharp ears exquisitely attuned to authenticity.

I remember how, when my daughter was about eight or nine, she abruptly abandoned a popular series, so I asked her why. “Because the characters never use contractions,” she told me. “They say ‘I cannot,” and ‘I do not,’ and that’s not how kids talk.”

If you’re writing middle grade fiction, nothing is more important than sounding like a kid. The challenge is not to overuse kidspeak. You need to keep in mind that certain expressions will sound fresh as you’re drafting your manuscript, but may become passé by the time the book is published. As I learned from my daughter,  if you get the voice even slightly wrong—if you sound dated, or, even worse, if you sound like an adult– you’ll turn off your readers.

And here’s the funny part: Although I know my characters are working when I can hear how they sound, I know my plot is working when I can see where they live. For every book I write, I develop an almost architectural blueprint of the main character’s house. In Violets Are Blue, I have a strong sense of the layout of the townhouse: the door leading into the kitchen, the living room next to it, the staircase, and the two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. All of this detail is significant to the plot, so it’s important to get straight how characters travel from one room to the next.

And of course how you can hear, or overhear, their voices throughout the house.


 

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

“Barbara Dee has done it AGAIN! She tackles tough topics with such great care. She is to middle schoolers today what Judy Blume was to me in the 80’s. I give Violets Are Blue ALL the stars and thumbs up.”
– Amanda Jones, 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year

“[F]requently poignant… With flawed, realistic characters and dynamics, this reconciliatory novel is a believable balm for young people at the mercy of adult choices and scenarios.”
Publishers Weekly

From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

Learn how to create the mermaid makeup effect from the cover!:

 

 

Follow Barbara: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels published by Simon & Schuster, including Violets Are Blue, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews, have been shortlisted for many state book awards, and have been named to best-of lists including the The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

  • One (1) winner will receive a hardcover of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee with a SIGNED bookplate
  • US/Can only
  • Ends 11:59pm ET on 10/24
  • Enter using the Rafflecopter above
  • Check out the other stops along the tour for more chances to win!

 

Blog Tour Schedule:

October 11th – Pragmatic Mom
October 12thImagination Soup
October 13thFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors
October 14th – YA Books Central
October 15thGood Choice Reading

 

WNDMG Wednesday – Tracey Baptiste on AFRICAN ICONS

We Need Diverse MG Logo
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

AFRICAN ICONS on WNDMG Wednesday

Welcome to WNDMG Wednesday–we have quite a treat for you.  New York Times bestselling author Tracey Baptiste is here to talk about her newest book, AFRICAN ICONS, (Algonquin Books, October 2021) which has already garnered a Kirkus Reviews star: “empowering, necessary, required reading for all” and “game-changing.”   AFRICAN ICONS expands how Black History is presented by spotlighting the incredible achievements of ten awe-inspiring African innovators who have been too often ignored by history books.

“In African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History, Baptiste engages in the hard work of unveiling the myths about the African continent to young readers. She pieces together the stories of ten people in a continent that fueled the world. This is a great beginner’s guide to pre-colonial Africa.”

–Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

(Kendi quote sourced from author’s websiteCover for African Icons book by Tracey Baptiste

AFRICAN ICONS Origin Story

MUF: We’re so excited about your new book …. Can you tell us a little bit about the origin story for AFRICAN ICONS?

TB: This started as a blog post called “Africans Before Slavery” which I wrote in February 2017 Africans before slavery – Tracey Baptiste (wordpress.com). It was a response to the then president of the United States saying some embarrassingly ignorant things at a Black History Month breakfast. A few kidlit writers responded with a series of posts directing educators to better resources about Black people in history. All of their posts though, highlighted Abolition, Freed Slaves, or the Civil Rights movement. This has long been a source of aggravation for me from when my kids would come home with their Black History Month projects and nothing pre-slavery was ever mentioned. So I did some quick research and posted it. My editor, Elise Howard, saw the post and asked if I would like to write an entire book about pre-slavery Black history. Of course, I said yes.

The Research Journey

MUF: Where did you do your research?

TB: I did most of my research in libraries and museums and using online searches for articles. Academia.edu was particularly helpful, but most helpful were professors in African studies, museum curators, librarians at African library collections. Most of my physical searches were in New York City, Boston, and Cambridge, MA.

Illustration from Tracey Baptiste Website

Illustration Sourced from Tracey Baptiste Website: traceybaptiste.com

MUF: Following up on the research question: one of the most exciting/challenging parts of research is following threads of information to unearth new details and source material. Do you have any fun stories that illustrate this part of the journey? Were there any surprises?

TB: One of my favorite research trips was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I met with one of the curators, Yaëlle Biro. She walked me through several pieces of art in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas exhibits which is where I got my first introduction to Queen Mother Idia of Benin. She brought many of the pieces alive for me, and I started to see the real people behind the artworks. The big surprise came with one of the pieces which was covered in Venetian glass beads. It was the first time I saw the real connection in trade between Africa and Europe. I had been looking to find the long-established relationships between the two continents, and it was right there in front of me. I was really excited about that. Then when I left the museum, there was a west African woman selling beaded wire sculptures on the street on the sidewalk. It was exactly in the tradition of the artwork I had just seen behind glass at the Met. So revered inside, but outside, this was street art. A total discard. There weren’t even reproductions of any of the African art pieces at the gift shop. It laid bare for me that despite the displays, African art isn’t valued.

Illustration from AFRICAN ICONS

Illustration sourced from Tracey Baptiste Website: traceybaptiste.com

((Enjoying this interview? Read this archived MUF interview with Tracey about her book THE JUMBIES))

Favorite Icon

MUF: Do you have a favorite icon or part of the book?

TB: My favorite section is probably “Across the Golden Sand.” It was also one of the earliest pieces I wrote for the book. I can see the Berbers lined up and the caravans secured as they cross the dunes. It’s an exciting visual and was a lot of fun to write.

My favorite icon is probably Amanirenas. Imagine going toe to toe with a Caesar and winning! I had never thought of an African Queen being so formidable as to defeat Rome, because it was never in any of my history books. As far as I knew from what I’d read growing up, when Rome was in its heyday, Africans didn’t have anything at all, let alone kingdoms with warriors who would defend their borders against Rome, and diplomats who would negotiate with Caesar himself.

MUF: How did you narrow your list of icons to write about?

TB: The book started with a set of kingdoms and circumstances. When Elise read the first draft, she saw that there were ten icons, and asked me to focus on them. (Actually, there were eleven. We left off one, Prince Alemayehu of Ethiopia, because it was after the period we wanted to cover, and because he didn’t have a lot of agency in his life.)

Biased and Incomplete Records

MUF: Is there anything else I haven’t asked that you want to share with us?

TB: The research was incredibly difficult in large part because of the bias and racism in the written records, and the bias and racism that kept things out of the written records. Often, I would go down rabbit holes of research and find dead ends because no one bothered to follow up on threads. There was one story about a European king who tried to marry his daughter off to an African king because of the wealth coming out of the country, but I could never find anything to verify that story, who the players might have been, or what eventually happened. It was one offhand remark. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. It’s frustrating not to know for sure.

MUF: We’re grateful that AFRICAN ICONS will now be available to other researchers to fill in the blanks you found. Thank you for your time and many congratulations!

 

Tracey Baptiste Author Photo

Photo Credit: Latifah Abdur Photography

About Tracey Baptiste:

I am the New York Times bestselling author of Minecraft: The Crash, as well as the creepy Caribbean series The  Jumbies, which includes The Jumbies (2015), Rise of the Jumbies (2017), and The Jumbie God’s Revenge (scheduled for 2019). I’ve also written the contemporary YA novel Angel’s Grace and 9  non-fiction books for kids in elementary through high school.

I’m a former elementary school teacher, I do lots of author visits, and I’m on the faculty at Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

My name is pronounced buhTEEST.

How to stay in touch:

Twitter: @TraceyBaptiste

Instagram: @TraceyBaptisteWrites

Instagram Kids

Breeding Followers

Facebook took a page out of marketing genius and book packager Edward Stratemeyer’s book and tried to use it. Back at the turn of the century and up until his untimely death in 1930, Edward was the inventive creator of many series for middle-grade readers, including the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, and The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. Edward realized that if he released several volumes at once, called a ‘breeder set’, that he would “hook” readers from the beginning of the series. Once a reader was caught up in the stories, they couldn’t wait for the next volumes to be released.

Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram, was attempting to do the same with preteens. Instagram Kids would introduce children under the age of 13 to the social media platform. Although Instagram Kids would be ad-free and require parental permission to sign up, the reality is Facebook, through its Instagram outlet, is trying to “breed” followers and future marketing opportunities.

Facebook announced plans for the app in May of this year. No sooner did word get out than the fight against the effort to capitalize on young children began. Attorney Generals from 44 states and territories urged the company to reconsider.

Instagram/Buzzfeed

Headlines

The headlines screamed probably as much as parents, educators, and anyone involved in childhood welfare did since the announcement of the attempt to reach out to this new “market.” Kids.

This week the headlines reflected the pushback to this initiative.

Facebook hits pause on Instagram app amid growing scrutiny“- The Washington Post

Facebook’s Effort to Attract Preteens Goes Beyond Instagram Kids, Documents Show“-Wall Street Journal

Facebook is Delaying ‘Instagram Kids’ Amid Criticism“-The New York Times

According to the Wall Street Journal, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri offered this during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show; “I still firmly believe that it’s a good thing to build a version of Instagram that’s safe for tweens, but we want to take the time to talk to parents and researchers and safety experts and get to more consensus about how to move forward.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has been presenting an investigative series, The Facebook Files, with an in-depth exploration of the impact of Facebook and Instagram on users. On September 14, the series presented an article with the title, “Facebook knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show.”

Facebook Internal Research

To the credit of Facebook Inc., the company has conducted studies for the last three years on the impact of their platforms on the millions of teens who frequent the sites. The Facebook team’s research revealed that Instagram is harmful to a huge portion of teenage users. The investigative reporters unveiled a slide presentation, obtained from a whistleblower, from March 2020 which was posted on Facebook’s internal message board. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

Another slide the WSJ investigative journalists discovered from 2019 stated, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Another slide offered, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.”

But, despite the fact that Facebook Inc.’s own research was identifying these concerns, the company was continuing to move forward toward creating Instagram Kids for tweens.

“Instagram is well-positioned to resonate and win with young people,” stated one of the slides posted internally at Facebook Inc. Another presentation slide said: “There is a path to growth if Instagram can continue their trajectory.”

“Shake with fear”

Marcia Rutherford, Central Regional Coordinator for the Ohio Department of Education, shared, “While I love technology and teaching with technology, I can tell you that kids using Instagram should make everyone shake with fear. While serving as a principal of middle schoolers, who were kind and loving and thoughtful and smart, I suspended and expelled more children- 6th, 7th, and 8th because of content posted on Instagram than for any other reason. Fistfights were a far second. The anonymity allows children to forget their rules and ways they were raised and bully, malign and shame others as well as remove inhibitions allowing them to send and forward photos that should never be shared. So much good can come from online formats, but the dark underbelly is sickening.”

Senate Committee Hearing

On September 30, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security convened a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms.” Representing Facebook Inc was Antigone Davis, Director, Global Head of Safety.

Senator Blumenthal opened the hearing off by stating, “We are here today because Facebook, once again, is incapable of holding themselves accountable. We now have deep insight into Facebook’s efforts to recruit and exploit teens. Facebook researchers have been ringing the alarm for years. The question that haunts me is, how can we, or any parent,  trust Facebook.”

Senator Blumenthal went on to offer a quote from Facebook regarding teens’ usage of Instagram and Facebook “They have an addict’s narrative about their use-it can make them feel good, feel bad. They wish they could spend less time caring about it, but they can’t stop themselves.”

Ms. Davis, of Facebook, faced tough questions from the Senate committee. All in all, the hearing did not go well for Facebook, and Ms. Davis didn’t directly address many of the questions. As an example,  in response to Mr. Blumenthal’s comments about the findings of the investigative report, Ms. Davis replied, “What’s lost in this report, is that more teen girls find Instagram helpful than not.”

The outcomes from the hearing included a commitment from lawmakers that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 would be updated. The committee is also hoping that Facebook will self-govern in taking measures to address the problems with teenagers using their social media platforms.

Unfortunately, based on Ms. Davis’ toeing the line that the company’s internal research was misinterpreted, the committees’ hope may be just that. Hope.

If Facebook Inc would only take a page from Edward Stratemeyer’s book and figure out a way to breed young readers versus young followers…