For Teachers

Interview with Bone, Main Character of Lingering Echoes by Author Angie Smibert & a Giveaway!

I am a huge history buff. I also love all things spooky, otherworldly, and magical. Oh, and book series. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about this book, LINGERING ECHOES by Angie Smibert. It’s the second book in her middle grade Ghost of Ordinary Objects series, set in the 1940’s that centers around a girl who can see stories in objects. How interesting!

Wouldn’t it be neat to chat with this girl?

Well, we’re in luck. Bone, Lingering Echoes’ main character, is here to visit with you!

Hi Bone! It’s wonderful to have you here. Before we begin, let’s share the book with our readers.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTwelve-year-old Bone uses her Gift, which allows her to see the stories in everyday objects, to try to figure out why her best friend, Will Kincaid, suddenly lost his voice at age five. This supernatural historical mystery is the second title in the acclaimed and emotionally resonant Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series.

In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in October 1942, Bone Phillips is learning to control her Gift: Bone can see the history of a significant object when she touches it. When her best friend, Will Kincaid, asks Bone to “read” the history of his daddy’s jelly jar–the jelly jar that was buried alongside his father during the mine cave-in that killed him–Bone is afraid. Even before Bone touches it, she can feel that the jar has its own strange power. With her mother dead, her father gone to war, and Aunt Mattie’s assault looming over Bone, she can’t bear the idea of losing Will too. As Will’s obsession with the jelly jar becomes dangerous, Bone struggles to understand the truth behind the jar and save him Featuring a beautiful, compelling voice, this novel weaves a story of mystery, family, and ultimately, love.

Okay, Bone. You’re up! Tell us about yourself and what an average day is like for you.

I’m 12 years old. Daddy and me live in the boardinghouse in Big Vein; only Daddy is off to war.

Oh, Wow.

Uncle Junior is living there now—for the duration, he likes to say. Mrs. Price and Miss Johnson live there, too. She’s my teacher. She slips me the National Geographic to read when she’s done with it.

My day is none too exciting. I walk to school up the mine road, sometimes stopping at the parsonage to pick up my cousin, Ruby. At school, I sit at the back with the rest of the seventh grade. Not too many of us left. All sorts of folks have left on account of the war. Or like my best friend Will, they’ve gone down the mines to work. At lunch, I usually get asked to tell a story, like Stingy Jack or Ashpet. I know just about all of the stories from hereabouts.

After supper, Will usually stops by—unless he obsessing about that dad blame jelly jar again. (Don’t worry. I help him figure out the mystery.)

I can’t wait to hear more about that. What was it like when you first discovered you had this Gift?

Well, it about knocked the breath plumb out of me. I touched this arrow head Ruby and me found down by the river. And, wham, all of a sudden, I’m seeing that arrow strike a deer.

Oh my goodness! #yucky

That poor deer stumbled into the river and… Let’s just say I saw and felt it die.

?

Of course, this is your second journey seeing stories within items, so you’ve already gotten your feet wet. But could you ever have imagined that your friend Will’s jelly jar was more than a simple story? Were you more frightened or curious about it?

I could feel right away that jar was different, like it had its own gift or power. It pulled at me. And it was so powerful I could see things without even touching it. So yes, it scared me—but I was curious, too. I didn’t touch it, though, until I felt like I had to—to help Will.

Will is lucky to have such a wonderful friend in you. And I want to say how sorry I am about your mother and that your father is off to war.

Daddy got himself drafted a couple months ago. He couldn’t say in his last letter where they were shipping him to. Uncle Junior thinks it’ll be North Africa or Italy. I keep having this nightmare about him wandering around lost in the woods—just like Stingy Jack. You know, the fellow the Jack O’Lanterns are named after.

Hmm . . . no, I don’t think I’ve heard this. Please, share.

Folks say he wanders the woods around Halloween with an ember from the coal fires of hell in his carved pumpkin.

Well, that explains a lot. Thank you. How would you describe friendship?

A friend is there for you through thick and thin. And you’re there for him or her, too. Even if he’s acting like an obsessed fool.

Can you share a story about you and Will?

He’s kind like one of those big rocks out in the middle of the river that I like to sun myself on. He’s always there, steady and strong, no matter how high the water is. He also listens to my stories—and is a lot smarter than folks give him credit for.

Sounds like you and Will have true friendship figured out. Thank you so much for stopping by to share your story with our readers. Looking forward to seeing what comes next for you!

Smibert is the author of the middle grade historical fantasy series, Ghosts of Ordinary Objects, which includes Bone’s Gift (2018), Lingering Echoes (2019), and The Truce (2020). She’s also written three young adult science fiction novels: Memento Nora, The Forgetting Curve, and The Meme Plague. In addition to numerous short stories, she’s published over two dozen science/technology books for kids. Smibert teaches young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program as well as professional writing for Indiana University East. Before doing all this, she was a science writer and web developer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She lives in Roanoke with a goofy dog (named after a telescope) and two bickering cats (named after Tennessee Williams characters), and puts her vast store of useless knowledge to work at the weekly pub quiz. For more on Angie, follow her on social media: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Be sure to check out BONE’S GIFT, book one of Bone’s story.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgIn this supernatural historical mystery, twelve-year-old Bone possesses a Gift that allows her to see the stories in everyday objects. When she receives a note that says her mother’s Gift killed her, Bone seeks to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s death, the schisms in her family, and the Gifts themselves.

In a southern Virginia coal-mining town in 1942, Bone Phillips has just reached the age when most members of her family discover their Gift. Bone has a Gift that disturbs her; she can sense stories when she touches an object that was important to someone. She sees both sad and happy–the death of a deer in an arrowhead, the pain of a beating in a baseball cap, and the sense of joy in a fiddle. There are also stories woven into her dead mama’s butter-yellow sweater–stories Bone yearns for and fears. When Bone receives a note that says her mama’s Gift is what killed her, Bone tries to uncover the truth. Could Bone’s Gift do the same? Here is a beautifully resonant coming-of-age tale about learning to trust the power of your own story.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway winner will be announced on Friday, April 19th via Twitter! Good luck!!!

 

How Language is Your Most Powerful Writing Tool

I’ve been delving deep into one of my favorite writing topics lately—language. I’m putting together the materials for an online class on voice that I’m teaching at The Writing Barn in June, and language is so much part of voice. But what I really love about language with writing is how it also affects just about everything in a story, making it so fun to play with as well as a powerful writing tool.

You’re probably thinking, yeah, yeah, of course writing is about language. It’s words! Well, yes, but too often we think that only poets or picture book writers have to worry about finding the exact right word. But for novels, including middle-grade, language can make the difference between a good book and a great book.

And knowing how to use language, can help us writers up our game.

Let’s face it, when we talk about stories, the focus is often on plot or character development, because we studied words and grammar in school. What’s left to learn?

But what we were told in school were the rules, the science, not how to break those rules, to use them to pull in readers, the art.

So how does paying closer attention to language help us?

Here are a few of the multiple ways:

Voice

Voice always seems like this elusive part of writing. How often have you heard an agent or editor say they want a “fresh, distinct voice”? And how many times have you rolled your eyes because they followed it up with the explanation, “I know it when I see it.” Right.

Well, yes, on the one hand, how “fresh” or “distinctive” a voice is is subjective, but when words are chosen carefully so they pop off the page, beg to be read aloud and sing to the reader, you can bet agents and editors will shut off their phone so they can read.

One of my favorite recent middle-grade reads for voice is Henry Lien’s PEASPROUT CHEN: FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD. Look at this section from chapter one: “Even though the whole city is ribboned with waterfalls and fed with canals, the pearl itself is dry and never melts. As I skate, my blades bite into it, but the pearl smooths itself behind me. The sensation is delicious. We have nothing like this back home. In Shin, we have to skate on rinks made of ice preserved in caves until it’s ridged and yellowed like bad toenails.”

Henry Lien uses phrases like “ribboned with waterfalls” and “fed with canals.” The blades don’t cut or slice, they “bite” into the ice. And with “The sensation is delicious,” we get a visceral sense of it that we almost taste, even though we haven’t been talking about food. The words draw us into the world. Then that last simile of “bad toenails” quickly changes the taste in our mouth.

Unique. Intriguing. Brilliant!

Character

When you’re writing in first person, the book’s voice is also the voice of your character (or chapter in dual or multiple POV), and the language must be what they’d use. We often hear that first person is more immediate and pulls readers in more easily. This is exactly the reason. We’re hearing directly from the character at all times.

This also means that we can get to know the character more intimately by the types of words they use. Look at this example from Leslie C. Youngblood’s LOVE LIKE SKY: “We got out of the car, and he reached for my hand as we crossed the lot. I grabbed it like I would catch a grasshopper, knowing I’d let it go but wanting to see how it felt. Frank’s hand was like a polished stone, hard but still smooth.”

The character G-Baby grabs Frank’s hand, and there’s an urgency there. Then the “like I would catch a grasshopper” tells us so much. Like being able to hold Frank’s hand is a moment she’s curious about but could be fleeting and she has to take the chance right now because it could jump away in a second. That tells us a lot about the relationship between G-Baby and Frank. Then G-Baby uses the simile of “a polished stone”, not just a stone, but a “polished” stone, like in G-Baby’s mind, this hand is something that should be taken care of.

Tone

The language of a book sets the tone. If you use upbeat words, readers immediately get ready for an upbeat story. But take a look at the first two sentences of Kim Ventrella’s SKELETON TREE: “The day the rain stopped, Stanly Stanwright found a bone in the garden, poking up out of the dirt. It could have been a bean sprout, only it was white and hard and shaped like the tip of a little finger.”

How brilliant is this? Simple, to the point, and yet hidden within these words is so much about the story. Not only do we immediately get drawn into the book’s inciting incident (the finding of the bone), we also get the tone of the story. Kim Ventrella didn’t choose to start on a sunny, happy day, but “The day the rain stopped,” implying that maybe it’s been raining for a while…and perhaps that the rain is symbolic of other things in Stanly’s life.

In Roshani Chokshi’s ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME, the language of the opening immediately lets us know we’re going on an adventure. But it also has a tone of storytelling, beckoning the reader in, encouraging us to pull up a seat and get ready for a good, action-packed story: “The problem with growing up around highly dangerous things is that after a while you just get used to them. … Some folks may not like the idea of working on a weekend, but it never felt like work to Aru.

“It felt like a ceremony.

“Like a secret.”

And notice the line breaks. They tell us that this is important information, but also build on each other to draw us in. Fantastic!

Pacing

Talking of line breaks, language and how we break it up with grammar can speed up action or slow it down. Here’s a paragraph from an action scene in K.A. Reynolds’ THE LAND OF YESTERDAY: “A flash of memory seized her brain. Of her father, trapped in Widdendream’s attic, screaming her name.

“Her lantern pulsed, and then , it blazed.

“Cecelia backed away slowly.”

The words and sentences are short and clipped, letting us read it quickly and giving us that feeling of speed and anxiety. Those first two sentences could be one, but K.A. Reynolds separated them at “Of her father,” telling us this is important and keeping the action tight.

But now, read these few lines from the first chapter of Patti Kim’s I’M OK, when the protagonist, Ok, is at his father’s funeral: “She tells me to eat, eat up, even if I’m not hungry, even if I don’t feel like it, because I’m going to need all the strength and energy to grow through this very hard thing that’s happened to me. It’s not normal, she says. It’s all wrong. What a senseless mess.”

That first sentence is long for a reason. It slows us down so we focus on every single part. Each section builds on the next, just like in the ARU SHAH example above. In that case, however, each phrase is given strength from their separation, but Patti Kim joined them with commas so each phrase strengthens the next and makes the maximum impact with the entire sentence. Then Patti Kim changes it up. Whereas the “She tells me…” sentence is long and supportive, the shorter sentences that follow are staccato and harsh, bringing us back to the difficult scene young Ok is going through.

There’s so much more that I love about playing with language. In my own book, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, I used so many different types of figurative language that I developed creative writing exercises from it for educators.

What’s your favorite way to use language in your middle-grade books? What kind of language tricks do you love to read?

Quick Plug!

If you’re a language nerd like me and love how language affects voice, join me in my online class at The Writing Barn on June 22.

Book List: Just Right Poetry for Middle-Graders

It’s National Poetry Month!  What better way to celebrate than to explore some of the great poetry books available for readers ages 8-12?  As you read poetry this month or anytime, remember that poets tune in to the sounds of feeling and the feelings of sound. Please READ  POEMS ALOUD to fully enjoy them.

Here are some appealing collections by single poets:

Marilyn Singer in Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems, ingeniously turns familiar fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella upside down in poems that you can  read forward and backward for opposite meanings! Her other books in reverso form are Follow Follow (featuring more tales like The Little Mermaid and The Tortoise and the Hare) and Echo Echo, based on Greek myths. All three are illustrated by Josee Masee.

Patrick Lewis’s Everything is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis, Illustrated by Maria Cristina Pritelli, earns its title. It includes a range of poems written our third Children’s Poet Laureate. Subjects include animals, people, reading, sports (some of the best baseball poems I’ve read–take that, Casey at the Bat!), riddles, and funny epitaphs.

In Animal Poems, Valerie Worth captures the uniqueness of animals ranging from bear to porcupine to mole to jellyfish in brief but rich free-verse word pictures.  Stunning paper-cut animal illustrations by Steve Jenkins accompany the poems.

Joyce Sidman is our premier nature poet for children.  Her extraordinary books explore the natural world with vivid poems in various forms, based on solid science. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors depicts animals that have adapted around the world and are definitely not endangered. See also her other titles , including her Caldecott Honor Winner Song of the Water Boatman and Winter Bees 

A good way to discover new poems and poets you love is to browse through anthologies with a variety of poets and poems. 
In Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, Chris Coldly and Mary Wentworth have written poems in homage  to great poets past and present who have inspired them., reflecting their styles and ideas.  The subjects include  Maya Angelou, Basho, e.e.cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walter Dean Myers, Pablo Neruda , Mary Olver, Rumi, and even Chief Dan George.  A joyful book with bold illustrations by Ekua Holmes.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye is also a superb anthologist with a special interest in poems from less familiar voices.  See The Space Between our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from the Middle East, and This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the WorldShe also compiled a collection of poems written by her students in poetry-in-the-schools classes over the years: Salting the Ocean: 100 poems by Young Poets. 

More and more novels in verse are appearing, most of them for at adult readers.
A wonderful exception is Kwame Alexander’s be-bop and free verse Newbery Award winner The Crossover. Here’s what Publisher’s Weeklyhad to say in its review of the book: “The poems dodge and weave with the speed of a point guard driving for the basket, mixing basketball action with vocabulary-themed poems, newspaper clippings, and Josh’s sincere first-person accounts that swing from moments of swagger-worth triumph to profound pain.” A page turner, even if you’re not especially a sports fan.  See also the other books in his Crossover series: Booked and Rebound.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a spare, quieter free-verse novel published in 2007 that still resonates in the present moment. This touching story of a young Sudanese war refugee trying to find his way in America is told through his own eyes and voice.

Middle Graders love humor.  Here are some books that take pitch-perfect aim at the middle-grade funny bone.

I’m loving Chris Harris’s I’m Just no Good at Rhyming and other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grownups.  Of course he is good at rhyming, but kids will find the title poem hilarious.

Caleb Brown is also a humor treasure, especially his Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems about Just about Everything.  See also The Ghostly Carousel: Delightfully Frightful Poems.  He has a new book coming out in June, Up Verses Down: Poems, Paintings, and Serious Nonsense.

Douglas Florian is  best known for his slightly younger books of clever word-play and paintings.  But he has two big books of humor: Poem Depot, Aisles of Smiles and Laugh-eteria. He has also collaborated with  J. Patrick Lewis in the wildly clever Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems.

Younger middle-grade fans of Shel Silverstein are in for a treat with his posthumously published book of spoonerisms  Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook.

What about middle-graders who would not only like to read poetry but to write their own?  Of course the best way to learn to write is to read and write and write some more.  But the following books may give young writers some encouragement and inspiration:

Kathi Appelt, Poems from Homeroom : A Writer’s Place to Start

Ralph FletcherPoetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You.

Paul B. Janeczko, A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms

Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets.

 

 

Readers, the hardest part about compiling this list was choosing from all the possibilities!  Please use the comments to add poetry titles you think or know from experience middle-graders would love.  Then let’s all get to our bookshelves, independent bookstore, or local library and celebrate National Poetry Month!