For Teachers

A new page for ravenous readers

Has this ever happened to you? Your favorite middle-grade reader has finished reading the latest stack of books from the library.

“More!” your reader says to you. “I want more! Give me more books!”

“Fine,” you say. You’ve already gone through all the book lists and book list blog posts on our site, so you browse aimlessly through your library’s online catalog. “What kind of book do you want?”

“I like sports and I like science. I want girl power. I want it to be funny, but not too hard to read. And it can’t have any of that icky stuff we learned about in Human Growth and Development.”

 

Where do you start?

 You can start here, at our new page, What should I read next?

Although we here at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors think we have a pretty good site, there are lots more out there and we all have one goal in common–getting great books into the hands of readers. To help bring the resources of the online middle-grade community together, we’ve collected links to sites that review and categorize middle-grade books. Some are searchable, some are specialized, some are by kids, some are by librarians. Try out the sites and find the sites that are right for you. And if you have a favorite, please let us know so we can add it.

 

Jacqueline Houtman is a very slow reader, and her to-be-read pile is taking over her house. 

Ten Things Writers Can Learn from a Quick Trip on the Titanic

 

Why is it 100 years later, the Titanic still captures our attention? Could it be because it was one of the worst maritime disasters in history? Or maybe it’s because the Titanic, which was considered “unsinkable”, did the un-thinkable — it sank on its maiden voyage.  Whatever the reason, the story of  Titanic has enthralled authors, screenwriters, and readers of all ages. Hundreds of books – both fiction and nonfiction — have been written on the Titanic. Of course, the most famous version of its “story” is the block-buster movie directed by James Cameron that was released in 1997.  It is the second highest-grossing movies of all time. Just this year, Mr. Cameron re- released the movie in 3-D and people still flocked to the theatres.

                         

What is it about this story? For me, it’s been an up close and personal view of it. In July of this year I was able to attend a travelling exhibition of original artifacts from the Titanic and in September, I visited the actual drydock in Belfast, N. Ireland where the Titanic was built. Both exhibitions were amazing — and very humbling. As I walked among the tattered clothes, broken dishware and even a few waterlogged journals, I could feel the history and emotions of the people around me. And even though I don’t really have any plans to write about the Titanic, the writer in me promptly took out my notebook and began writing down my impressions. It was fascinating to see all of the objects recovered from the wreck of the Titanic almost 2 miles deep in the ocean.

The tale of the Titanic has everything: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There are lessons to be learned from this great tragedy – even for us writers. So, I invite you to take your ticket and join me on a short “trip” on the Titanic. I hope you will enjoy the ride. (This one promises to be dry and warm).

 

 

 

Imagine yourself as a passenger on the Titanic. It is a bright sunny day as you prepare to board an unforgettable trip on the world’s largest ship.  As a passenger you might do these things– and as a writer approaching your novel, these are some tips you should consider:

1.  Pack all of the essentials  in your trunk

As a writer, when you begin a new manuscript, you should arm yourself with the essentials of your craft.  That might be a pen and paper or just a laptop and keyboard. Whatever you use, make sure you have everything you need. Some extra things to consider would be additional help in the form of books for reference.

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Award-winning author Donna Gephart recently posted a list of the reference books she has on hand when she sits down to write a new novel

 

 

They include:
                       

To see the full list, check out Donna’s website at:  http://www.donnagephart.blogspot.com/

*** Titanic notes – Not only did passengers bring their luggage aboard with them, they also brought 9 dogs, 2 French roosters and 2 hens.   ***

 

2.  Walk firmly up the gangplank

When you are ready to write, confidently sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Don’t hesistate. Don’t second guess. And don’t revise as you write. That can get you frustrated and confused. Just get the first draft down on paper. If it’s bad, no problem. You can always erase it later. (That is why your pencil has an eraser and your keyboard has a delete function).  Starting your novel with confidence helps you to see that it has direction and will help you to keep focus.

*** Titanic notes – Each class of passengers boarded via their own gangplanks, so they didn’t have to mingle with each other.  ***

 

3.  Get settled into your stateroom

Once you start writing, keep at it. Try to get a rhythm for writing. If you can, set aside the same amount of time every day to work. Minimize distractions. Don’t text or email while writing. Even turn off the phone if possible.  You want to feel comfortable when you write, not hurried or rushed.

*** Titanic notes —  First and second class passengers had to share bathrooms with only a few people. But the third class passengers shared with 10 or more.  The worst part? All 710 third-class passengers had to share only 2 bathtubs.    ***

 

4.  Take a walk around the deck

Be sure to offer your readers a look around your story. Introduce different characters – some will be important (like the first class passengers) and others may be more minor, like the 2nd or 3rd class passengers of Titanic. Offer all your characters their due and any attention that you have . Give your reader a well-rounded view of them all.

*** Titanic Notes — The first class  and second class passengers had their own decks with many activities, but the third class passengers were kept to the “poop” deck.  Which, thankfully, does not mean what the name implies, merely that it’s the highest outdoor deck on the stern (back end) of the ship. ***

 

5.  Enjoy a nice dinner in the formal dining room

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a writing tip, but when you are in the middle of a novel, be sure to stop to eat.  For me, my family is not always happy when I’m knee-deep in a novel because that means they are on their own for dinner. It’s not so bad, they are teenagers and they will eat pretty much everything. But when I know I’m going to be writing, I stock up on frozen pizza, tacos, and anything that can be made in a snap.  For extra nutrition, I use bags of salad and fresh veggies. Whatever I have to do to get back to the computer. The characters talking in my head are not to be ignored!

 *** Titanic Notes: The best part for everyone on the ship was the dining. The Titanic carried over 75,000 pound of meat, 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 40,000 eggs and 1,750 quarts of ice cream. Plus, they had enough cooks to prepare all this food. Wish they could come to your house? I do! ***

 

6.  Avoid  the iceberg

(Come on, you knew this one was coming)  For writers, this means to make sure your plot is complete. Sometimes when I write, I really don’t have any idea where the story is going. Because of this,  I have occasionally written myself into an iceberg, so to speak.  The plot needs to go from A to B to C, but somehow I ended up at point C before I got to B. Or maybe I’ve gotten completely off-track and ended up at point F. It happens.  While it is important to listen to what your characters say, it also helps to write up a story arc or some plotting points.

For some really good information on plotting, try these websites:

Write 4 Kids Magazine    http://www.write4kids.com/blog/tag/plot/

Author Darcy Pattinson    http://www.darcypattison.com/plot/outline-level-of-plot/

Our very own Mixed Up Files ‘For Writers’ Page

 *** Titanic Notes:  The Titanic actually ignored more than five warnings that icebergs were in the area they were sailing. That includes one that came at 1:42pm on April 12th from another ship that said an iceberg was on the path 250 miles in front of the Titanic. Not a good decision!  ***

 

7.  Run — don’t walk — for the lifeboats

So if you can’t avoid the iceberg because you don’t see it coming, then you need to do some quick changes. Go back to the books you started out with if you get stuck. Or try brainstorming.  Here are some suggestions for your writing “lifeboat”. Can’t find the right word, take a look a this book:



 

Take a look at this book if you need ideas or are not sure where your story is heading.

 


I just got this book to the right to  help with dialogue.  It’s so my characters do something besides “sigh” and “roll their eyes” all the time. 

 

These books are your lifeboats. Thankfully for you, they don’t have to be able to float.

*** Titanic Note:  Orginally, the plan was to have 64 lifeboats on the Titanic – enough to carry the 2500 passengers and crew. But head of the White Star Line didn’t want the decks cluttered with the big boats, so the number was reduced to 32 and then 16 plus 4 collapsible boats. A very bad decision indeed. ***

 

8.  Plunge into the icy waters

For the times when you are really stuck on a scene and the books aren’t any help, my suggestion is to plunge right in. Don’t think, just write it how you see it. If it doesn’t work, try re-writing the scene from a different point of view. Or maybe with more action – or less.  Turn the idea upside-down.  Instead of a typical scene where the geeky boy is really smart and loves science, have him be really good at art instead. Or maybe the jock is really smart and loves to tutor kids in math. Mix things up! You might be surprised where this leads you.

*** Titanic Notes: The water temperature that night was 28 degrees Farenheit. Most people would have succumbed to hypothermia in twenty minutes or less.  ***

 

9.  Cut dead weight to avoid being pulled down

This is primarily for when you are revising.  Sometimes a scene just doesn’t work. It slows down the action or is an unnecessary side-track to the main plot. Ask yourself some questions:

Does this scene make the story flow?

Does it increase the action?

Does it help me get to the next scene or tell me something important about the charcter or story?

If the answers are no, then cut it. I know it’s hard. Some of my favorite scenes end up in my trash bin. I’ve had it happen before and I’m sure it will happen again. But if you want your manuscript to stay afloat and be viable, you need to cut the dead weight.

Check out this link for some great ideas on revising from Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books

http://www.cherylklein.com/id21.html

*** Titanic Notes:  The Titanic itself actually cracked in half because the water entered the bow of the ship. The weight of the water in the front half of the ship caused the stern to rise out of the water until the ship broke. The two halves descended to the bottom separately. ***

 

10.  Be the captain of your ship

This is probably the most important one.  Take ownership of your manuscript. Yes, you need to have other people critique your work – people  you trust. But if you believe that a part of it should stay when they say it should be cut, don’t do it. Stand up for yourself.  Be willing to take a stand for your manuscript. I let one agent I submitted my manuscript to convince me that my beginning was horrible. So, I changed it. I spent the next year trying to figure out just the right beginning. Finally, I went back to the original. I took the manuscript to a conference and to my stunned surprise an editor loved it. See, you never know…

 *** Titanic Notes:  Captain Smith was due to retire at the end of this maiden voyage, instead he went down with the ship. ***

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little history lesson on the Titanic and have found the tips useful.  The Titanic notes came from this very cool book I found:

(And finally, HUGE thank yous to author Donna Gephart for letting me showcase some of her resources.)

One final tip, if you ever get the chance to visit Belfast, I highly recommend stopping at the Titanic Museum. If nothing else, they have the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted. And who isn’t inspired by chocolate?

If there are any fellow history buffs out there,  please comment below on a museum or event you’ve visited that inspired you or touched you deeply.

 

 

Jennifer Swanson is a closet history freak and makes her family visit tons of museums on vacation. To the dismay of her teenagers, she believes every trip is an opportunity to learn.  You can find Jennifer at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

Community-Building at KidLitCon 2012

KidLitosphere Conference

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to tell you about a beautiful fall day last week when kidlit bloggers came from all around the country to talk about their favorite subject: children’s and teen books. Along with librarians, authors, school teachers, agents, and publishers, three Mixed-Up Files members were there, too. Us, three that is.

Michelle Schusterman, Sayantani DasGupta, and Sheela Chari talk about community-building and the Mixed-Up Files at KidLitCon 2012

At this year’s KidLitCon held at the New York Public Library, Michelle, Sayantani, and I shared our experiences in community-building on the blog and off the blog, using our collective Mixed-Up Files experiences. Not only that, there was KidLit Jeopardy, live tweeting, and prizes we handed out to our Jeopardy winners and 3 tweeters in the audience chosen at random!

Books by Mixed_Up Files authors that we gave away at our presentation. All right!

We split our presentation into three parts – building, sustaining, and expanding your blogging community. Michelle started us off, using her previous experience as a founder of the group blog, YA Highway, to talk about how to build a blog, find friends instead of just followers, seek IRL or in-real-life interactions, and learn how to balance it all by finding the right methods of communication for yourself and taking time to unplug and recharge.

Over twitter, audience members in the room responded to our question:

What’s the best place for a meet-up? #mglitchat

 ‏@ohmiagarcia: cafe! Coffee is always a must.

 ‏@celialarsen: virtually: twitter; in person: a place that serves alcohol!

‏@SleepingAnna: depends on your group: living room to coffee shop to Skype!

‏@RobertFWalsh: Bill Gate’s basement. Failing that, his garage. (Note: I’m no longer welcome there.)

Next, I talked about sustaining a community – finding ways to keep your readers coming back. I focused on giveaways, something we’ve done frequently at the Mixed-Up Files, and shared two major ones: The Great Library Giveaway and Skype Author Visits. I talked about how giveaways, while fun, don’t always generate enough traffic on their own. But with some planning and innovation, and by looking at the big-picture, you can still have successful giveaways that benefit more than just the winner but the community, too. It was especially to nice to share the successes of the 2010 Library Giveaway, where we gave away 70 brand-new library books to a library in need.

Psst… we have a new goal this year of 100 – so if you are interested in donating a book or nominating a deserving library, details are at those afore highlighted links.

I also shared some of the joys and challenges of Skype visits – and even tried to enact a real-live Skype conversation with Elissa Cruz in front of everyone – but the technological gods were not on my side and the call didn’t go through. But never fear! We continued on gallantly!

During this part of the presentation we asked over twitter:

how do you get readers excited about a giveaway?#mglitchat

‏@celialarsen: post link to contest in various places, offer swag/book of choice.

@SleepingAnna: Get the readers excited about giveaway! Thru info and fun contest!

@LeeandLow: Re giveaways: “Don’t have to give things away. Good content has more reach than giveaways.”

‏@RobertFWalsh: Giveaways should involve George Clooney. Or tickets to a Notre Dame football game. (Hint: my wife suggested 1 of these)

Sayantani ended the last part of presentation with a look at diversity in blogging. She suggested that expanding a blog’s readership with an eye to diversity means paying attention to who writes for the blog, and what they write for the blog – including a diverse blend of interviews, booklists, and general posts focusing on issues such as gender or multiculturalism. This also means diversifying who is on your blogging team. She gave the example of the Mixed-Up Files application process, our methods for scheduling posts through a message forum and calendar, and stressed the need for a robust membership committee that doesn’t always agree on everything.

She also talked about diverse content and shared several booklists from our blog that cover a broad range of interests, from books for boys, books for girls, books about disability, strong girl characters, and books by debut authors.

During Sayantani’s section, we asked tweeters:

What does diversity in blogging mean to you?#mglitchat

@SleepingAnna: Variety of ages, professions, opinions, interests. Ex: food story time entry read by a cook!

Yin (Perrine Wynkel), via paper and pencil: Diversity engenders a collision of different perspectives and ideas, which increases the possibility of something new and exciting and fascinating being created – new avenues of thought.

All in all, we had a fantastic time at KidLitCon, meeting so many wonderful bloggers and children’s lit enthusiasts. We feel especially lucky to have the chance to share some of our blog’s successes and challenges. Thanks so much to everyone who came out to hear our presentation! And thank you to all the wonderful Mixed Up Files authors who donated their books for our giveaway! And for those of you who weren’t able to attend, here’s three of the Jeopardy questions we asked attendees — test your knowledge of all things Mixed Up Files and leave your thoughts below in the comments section! (answers in form of a question, please):

Jeopardy “Answer” 1: The name of the statue at the center of the mystery in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Jeopardy “Answer” 2: The names of the two children in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”

Jeopardy “Answer” 3: The day and time #MGLITCHAT convenes to talk about all things middle grade

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED (Disney Hyperion). You can watch her this morning on the TODAY Show with Al Roker.

Sayantani DasGupta is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995), the author of a memoir on race and gender in medical education, and co-editor of an award winning collection of women’s illness narratives.  She likes to tweet, blog, and otherwise blather.

Michelle Schusterman  is the author of the I HEART BAND series (Penguin, 2014). She’s currently living in Queens, and she blogstweets, and Tumblrs.