Shiny! New! Ideas!

New book ideas are like a dusting of snow, still fresh and invigorating. You can go sledding! Or skiing! Or build a snowman! Or have snowball fights!

New snow hasn’t turned mushy and slushy and horrible yet. It hasn’t soaked through your shoes or frozen your car to the driveway. It hasn’t knocked out power or pulled down trees or ruined you day in any number of ways.

New snow is all potential. It is all upside. It has not yet broken your heart.

I recently finished putting together a book project submission for my agent. The submission includes a summary of the story and a few sample chapters. When I first had the idea, I could barely even say it aloud, it felt that magical, that amazing. I was completely in love with it!

Of course, this happens to me ALL THE TIME. I have an idea, the best idea I have ever had. As I hang out with it more, I love it more. It just grows shinier and bigger and better. Oh, I can’t get enough. Really. I daydream about the idea. I probably have cartoon hearts and flowers floating around my head. It is new snow!

But there is a reason for this. I have not yet put a single word down on paper. I have not yet seen the story’s blemishes, holes, unsolvable problems, clichés, and general overall ridiculousness yet.

And then I do. And that new snow just avalanches me back to reality, the reality of what it takes to get from an idea to a book.

There are times when the avalanche hits and I think I might give up. Clearly, the new idea is not worth what comes next, right? All those words, cutting them and chopping them and rearranging them? That desperate panicky feeling when there is a problem I just can’t figure out how to solve? I should definitely quit right now.

After publishing seven books, I’ve figured out how to dig myself out of the avalanche and start chipping away at the idea. I know how to fool myself into thinking only about the next chapter.

You just can’t quit.

Here are some middle grade books I’ve read recently where I’m grateful the author grabbed that shiny idea and ran with it right until the very end. The word be a lesser place without them.


The Dark Lord Clementine, bySarah Jean Horwitz

Dastardly deeds aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one hears the name “Clementine,” but as the sole heir of the infamous Dark Lord Elithor, twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous has been groomed since birth to be the best (worst?) Evil Overlord she can be. But everything changes the day her father is cursed by a mysterious rival.

Now, Clementine must not only search for a way to break the curse, but also take on the full responsibilities of the Dark Lord. But when it’s time for her to perform dastardly deeds against the townspeople—including her brand-new friends—she begins to question her father’s code of good and evil. What if the Dark Lord Clementine doesn’t want to be a dark lord after all?


Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu

The world tilted for Elodee this year, and now it’s impossible for her to be the same as she was before. Not when her feelings have such a strong grip on her heart. Not when she and her twin sister, Naomi, seem to be drifting apart. So when Elodee’s mom gets a new job in Eventown, moving seems like it might just fix everything.

Indeed, life in Eventown is comforting and exciting all at once. Their kitchen comes with a box of recipes for Elodee to try. Everyone takes the scenic way to school or work—past rows of rosebushes and unexpected waterfalls. On blueberry-picking field trips, every berry is perfectly ripe.

Sure, there are a few odd rules, and the houses all look exactly alike, but it’s easy enough to explain—until Elodee realizes that there are only three ice cream flavors in Eventown. Ever. And they play only one song in music class.

Everything may be “even” in Eventown, but is there a price to pay for perfection—and pretending?


The Tornado, by Jake Burt

Bell Kirby is an expert at systems, whether he’s designing the world’s most elaborate habitat for his pet chinchilla, re-creating Leonardo da Vinci’s greatest inventions in his garage, or avoiding Parker Hellickson, the most diabolical bully Village Green Elementary has ever seen.

Since third grade, Parker has tormented Bell, who’s spent two long years devising a finely tuned system that keeps him out of Parker’s way. Sure, it means that Bell can’t get a drink when he wants to, can’t play with his best friend on the playground, and can’t tell his parents about his day, but at least he’s safe.

Until Daelynn Gower touches down in his classroom like a tornado.

Bell’s not sure why the new girl, with her rainbow hair, wild clothes, and strange habits, is drawn to him, but he knows one thing–she means trouble. It’s bad enough that she disrupts Bell’s secret system, but when Daelynn becomes the bully’s new target, Bell is forced to make an impossible decision: Finally stand up to Parker. . .

Or join him.


Shine!, by J.J. Grabenstein & Chris Grabenstein

Who do you want to be?” asks Mr. Van Deusen. “And not when you grow up. Right here, right now.”

Shine on! might be the catchphrase of twelve-year-old Piper’s hero–astronaut, astronomer, and television host Nellie Dumont Frisse–but Piper knows the truth: some people are born to shine, and she’s just not one of them. That fact has never been clearer than now, since her dad’s new job has landed them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely doesn’t fit in.

Bursting with humor, heart, science, possibilities, and big questions, Shine! is a story about finding your place in the universe–a story about figuring out who you are and who you want to be.


Charlie Thorne and The Last Equation, by Stuart Gibbs

Charlie Thorne is a genius.
Charlie Thorne is a thief.
Charlie Thorne isn’t old enough to drive.

And now it’s up to her to save the world…

Decades ago, Albert Einstein devised an equation that could benefit all life on earth—or destroy it. Fearing what would happen if the equation fell into the wrong hands, he hid it.

But now, a diabolical group known as the Furies are closing in on its location. In desperation, a team of CIA agents drags Charlie into the hunt, needing her brilliance to find it first—even though this means placing her life in grave danger.

In a breakneck adventure that spans the globe, Charlie must crack a complex code created by Einstein himself, struggle to survive in a world where no one can be trusted, and fight to keep the last equation safe once and for all.



Beth McMullen