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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.

Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities Giveaway! – An Interview with Author (and Ukelele Player) Mike Jung

Ok, how awesome is this cover?

Mike Jung is a funny, funny man with a ukelele. ‘A ukelele?’ You ask. Yes, a ukelele, trust me, he’s like the John Mayer of ukelele playing. Or maybe the Jason Mraz. Whatever, he’s really good is my point. (I don’t have a clip of him playing, but check out the fantastic photo below of him serenading editor Arthur A. Levine and author/illustrator Dan Santat)

‘But this is not a blog about ukelele players!’ You argue. ‘This is a blog about middle grade writers’. Which brings me to the point I was trying to make all along — Mike Jung is a funny, funny man with a ukelele who is also a fantastic writer. His debut novel, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Books, 2012) is hilarious, heartfelt, rip-roaring adventure chock full of middle grade goodness! And not only that, he’s a one-time blogger at Mixed Up Files, who has come back to let us help celebrate his book launch!

So fasten your seatbelts, middle grade readers! Here is one stupendous interview with the man who made superhero Captain Stupendous famous:

Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on “From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors,” Mike! It’s nice to have you, as a former blogger here, return “home” to celebrate the launch of your fabulous debut novel, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities.

Superheroes, Robots, Aliens, and Dastardly Supervillains your novel has them all. Yet, Geeks get top billing in your title and in your line-up of protagonists. Whats up with that? Are geeks the new superhero?

Geeks and superheroes both have perennial relevance, if you ask me! I knew all along that while the heroes, villains, battle scenes, and sound effects were important for making the book fun to write and read (I hope, anyway), the real heart of the story lay with the emotional arc of the characters. One of the many benchmarks of Arthur Levine’s genius is his ability to cut through all the trappings of a story and see its essence. He helped me see that GEEKS is really the story of how Vincent Wu, who sees himself as dismissed, berated, and unlovable, but eventually realizes that he’s acknowledged, celebrated, and genuinely loved. Vincent is very much the eponymous geek.

 

So onto the second part of your title, Girls. There are three boy protagonists in your adventure the three stalwart members of the Captain Stupendous Fan Club– and one girl. Did you think about things like gender balance when writing?

Thinking about gender issues is something I always try to do – it’s a big deal, you know? I want my daughter to grow up in a world that doesn’t devalue or dismiss her because of her gender, and I think our personal sensibilities and values do infuse our work to at least some degree.

That said, I wasn’t thinking specifically about maintaining mathematical balance between the boy and girl characters. In early drafts Polly actually was the narrator of the story, and the most important secondary character was her best friend, who was also a girl. And after two years of working on the manuscript I hit a wall, because it just wasn’t working as well as I thought it could – I couldn’t find the story arc, the characters weren’t developing fully, and most importantly in my mind, the voice felt off.

I scrapped the manuscript, strip-mined it for recyclable bits and pieces, and started over. I didn’t make the story autobiographical, but the friendship of the boys in the Captain Stupendous Fan Club was loosely inspired by my own boyhood and teenage friendships, which were NOT gender balanced. And the manuscript suddenly came alive.

Now, does that indicate something about my own level of unconscious gender bias? Probably, although I’m not sure that’s a question anyone can honestly or accurately answer with regard to themselves. In terms of sheer “this many boys” and “this many girls” numbers, the story ended up resembling my own middle-grade life experience with a fair degree of accuracy, so it is, at the very least, grounded in the childhood Mike Jung’s subjective perception of reality.

 

Mike Jung: Superhero self or secret identity?

Alright, now that were on a roll with this title thing Secret Identities. Tell our loyal readers, Mike. Do you have one? If you did, what would it be?

My mind is actually making an interesting connection between this question and my new identity as an author! I’m a very, very, very introverted person, and I also deal with quite a high degree of social anxiety. As a result, I have a deep, rich inner life, as I imagine all writers do. I often think that if I’d tried doing this 20 years ago, when in-person networking was the only game in town, I’d have utterly failed to gain a toehold in the publishing world. Now, however, we have the Internet, which allows raving Walter Mitty types like myself to get online and express our inner lives with ease, speed, and potentially wide distribution.

It’s made all the difference for me – online watering holes like Verla Kay’s Blueboards, Facebook, Twitter, and group blogging communities (including the Mixed-Up Files!) are where I’ve established the overwhelming majority of my writerly relationships. They’re also where the louder, brassier, goofier facets of my persona have taken flight. People who’ve only interacted with me online actually mistake me for an extrovert, whereas those who’ve met me in corporeal space know that while I have some very extroverted moments, I usually behave in a much more reserved manner.

That’s not to say the loud, brassy, goofy things I say and do in service of my writerly identity aren’t genuine expressions of who I am – those qualities do exist in me, they’ve just spent a lot of time below the surface. I think I just needed to find the right context, tools, and community of people, at which point it’d feel natural and easy for them to emerge. So here I am, and here those qualities are, emerging like a house on fire.

I guess that means “public persona” is my superhero identity, and my “private persona” is my secret identity, huh?

 

One among many things I love about your books is that you take the trope of small town protected by beloved superhero and put it in the context of a multicultural America of today, without ever making race an issue to be addressed. Can you talk a little about ethnicity in your novel?

I’m a great admirer of Lisa Yee’s work, and among the many reasons why is the fact that she writes about Asian and mixed-race kids, but doesn’t write about them being Asian or mixed-race. The first time I saw Millicent Min, Girl Genius was in my local public library, which had it and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time in a display of California authors. I was delighted to see an Asian kid right there on the cover, and I was even more delighted to read a story about a child of immigrants who the author wrote about as if her ethnicity and family circumstance were completely, utterly normal. Which, of course, they are.

I wanted to write my book the same way, not because I dismiss the importance of discussing ethnic identity, immigration experiences, cultural assimilation, or racism (how could any thoughtful, rational, intelligent person dismiss those things?), but because I strongly believe that kids with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds shouldn’t have to subsist solely on a diet of books about what it means to be kids with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They need stories in which the characters look like them and have families like theirs, but also have fun, go on adventures, make stupid jokes, engage in immature stunts, and take on the occasional giant robot.

My kids are growing up in a spectacularly diverse community, and there are plenty of days in which the complexities of that diversity aren’t problems or issues – they’re simply part of their experience of the world.

 

Another issue weve talked about at this blog and in other kidlit communities is what Leila Sales called the Ol Dead Dad Syndrome in a PW article last year. So there are no dead parents in your novel! And parents actually play a major role! How did you balance this with the need to let your kid protagonists take on the active role in driving the plot?

A little secret: there actually was a dead parent in the manuscript when it was acquired! So initially I had the syndrome, but we worked through it during the editorial process. Broken record time – another measure of Arthur’s genius is his insight into the emotional core of a book, and one of the first things he told me was that the manuscript simply wouldn’t support the psychological weight of a dead parent, and fixing it would require turning it into an entirely different book. So I converted the dead dad into an example of that other parental trope, the emotionally absent workaholic, which worked much, much better.

Vincent’s parents were present in the story from the first time I wrote him, but Arthur really worked with me to give all of the characters more depth and nuance. That process resulted in a whole bunch of new relationships between different characters, and that’s how Vincent’s parents ended up playing such pivotal roles in the plot.

 

Ok, Ive been softballing you this far. Onto the hard questions but I like you, so Ill make em multiple choice:

Mike ukelele-serenading his book and his editor, while author/illustrator Dan Santat is so moved, he begins to dance

Solo superhero, one loyal ward/sidekick, or fan club/support team?

Fan club/support team, of course.

Genetic mutants, alien from another planet, or self-made depressed millionaire with gadgets?

Alien from another planet. Cultural diversity, you know. 😉

Evil Robot or Mad Scientist?

Why not both?

Superhuman strength or Telekinesis?

Telekinesis. It’s more subtle.

Tights or a mask and cape?

Mask and cape, PLEASE. The world will thank you for not giving me a pair of tights.

 

There are a lot of comic book style capitalized words with big letters like BOOM and WHAP in your novel. What were/are some of your favorite comics? (And in follow up – what were/are some of your favorite capitalized action words?)

My favorite superhero growing up was probably Spider-Man – angsty teenage kid who’s a social outsider and a bookworm? Yeah, I related. The Silver Surfer wasn’t far behind, though – he had a different kind of angst, but it was still one of his defining characteristics. Plus he was a guy with an indestructible silver skin riding on a cosmic surfboard, working for an interstellar entity that ate entire planets at a gulp. How can you lose?

I think of the capitalized action words in somewhat archetypical terms, so I don’t have too many examples that are truly ripped from the pages of a Silver Age Marvel or DC comic. But Nightcrawler’s teleportation-induced “BAMF!” is a classic, as is the “THWIP!” of Spidey’s web-shooters. In the realm of declarative statements, “HULK SMASH!” stands the test of time, “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME” is an eternal winner, and of course there’ll always be “SHAZAM!”

Thank you so much for your time and for your hilarious, romp of book!

Thanks so much for having me! I’ve always been proud of the tiny role I played in helping launch the Mixed-Up Files, so this feels very much like a homecoming.

 

If you would like to qualify to **WIN** a copy of Mike’s book please leave a comment below telling us about YOUR favorite superhero within the next 24 hours! A winner will be announced tomorrow October 4 at noon! Don’t be late, because unlike that other caped crusader who shall remain nameless, Captain Stupendous can’t turn back time for you!

 

Sayantani DasGupta is both a geek and a girl, and she’s working on her secret identity. As a kid, she preferred Supergirl to Wonder Woman, although she did covet that invisible plane and the awesome wrist cuffs. When she’s not working on her MG and YA novels based on Indian folktales and myths, she’s hanging out with her own 8 and 10year old superheroes.

Newbery Award Winners!

Here at “From the Mixed-Up Files . . . of Middle-grade Authors”, we’d be very remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the award excitement and buzz going on in children’s literature this month!

For years, I’ve eagerly anticipated Award Month at the ALA Mid-Winter conference when librarians from around the country as members of ALSC (American Library Services for Children) get together to celebrate – both in person and virtually. I still remember the first year there was a live feed from the VERY ROOM THE ANNOUNCEMENTS WERE MADE! What excitement! The names of the winning books! Cheers erupting from the crowd! The reports of early morning calls to the shell-shocked winners and their giddy, teary voices; the thrill of those librarians bestowing their love on the winners they chose.

I’ve always loved hearing The Call stories and then reading the acceptance speeches given at the summer ALA conference (June 23-28 in New Orleans) and I have all fingers and toes crossed to attend this June and rub shoulders with famous authors and librarians, especially since my recent books take place in Louisiana.  Hey, I’ll *just happen* to be there filming my book trailer for Circle of Secrets (October, Scholastic)!

But I digress . . .

Since this site is ALL ABOUT MIDDLE-GRADE BOOKS, we give you the list of the Newbery winners for 2011!

John Newbery Medal

About the John Newbery Medal

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.


In 1921 Frederic G.Melcher had the Newbery Medal designed by René Paul Chambellan. The bronze medal has the winner’s name and the date engraved on the back. The American Library Association Executive Board in 1922 delegated to the Children’s Librarians’ Section the responsibility for selecting the book to receive the Newbery Medal.

The inscription on the Newbery Medal still reads “Children’s Librarians’ Section,” although the section has changed its name four times and its membership now includes both school and public library children’s librarians in contrast to the years 1922-58, when the section, under three different names, included only public library children’s librarians. Today the Medal is administered by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of ALA.

How the Newbery Medal Came to Be

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children’s Librarians’ Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children’s librarians, and Melcher’s official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922. In Melcher’s formal agreement with the board, the purpose of the Newbery Medal was stated as follows: “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

The Newbery Award thus became the first children’s book award in the world. Its terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.

From the beginning of the awarding of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, committees could, and usually did, cite other books as worthy of attention. Such books were referred to as Newbery or Caldecott “runners-up.” In 1971 the term “runners-up” was changed to “honor books.” The new terminology was made retroactive so that all former runners-up are now referred to as Newbery or Caldecott Honor Books.


2011 Winner

Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc.

2011 Honor(s)

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night
by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Heart of a Samurai
by Margi Preus, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS
One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garcia and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Turtle in Paradise
by Jennifer L. Holm, published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

For a full list of all the Award winners from ALA=American Library Association, please go here.

And if your favorite book of 2010 did not win, or the book you personally wrote, re-wrote for years, finally launched, but didn’t win, I leave you with a wonderful quote by one of my all-time favorite writers.

E. L. Konigsburg: “Affection for a book is its best award, and books that earn that award arrive from the hearts and minds of writers, not juries.”

We’d love to discuss in the comments, any stories about the winning books as well as your favorite book from 2010!