Posts Tagged Judy Blume

Agent Spotlight: Lynnette Novak

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome agent Lynnette Novak from The Seymour Agency to The Mixed-Up Files. We had a great talk about publishing and middle grade books. You can learn more about Lynnette and what types of manuscripts she’s looking for here. In the meantime, take a look at the interview to get to know her even better.

 

Dorian: Welcome to The Mixed-Up Files! Can you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a literary agent and about The Seymour Agency?

Lynnette: In Canada, I was a teacher and a writer, then I added freelance editor to my titles. When I moved to the U.S. to be with my husband, I continued writing romantic suspense manuscripts and started to final and WIN contests, including becoming a Golden Heart Finalist (RWA) and having two manuscripts final in the Daphne (as well as other contests). I grew my editorial business online and was a mentor in Pitch Wars for two years. That’s what put the “agenting bug” into my system. I loved going through my slush pile, choosing which project to work on, and seeing it go somewhere. Both of my mentees acquired agents and one is now published! My writing career was starting to take off, but I was really drawn to agenting, so that’s the path I decided to follow. I’m so happy I did. I LOVE THIS JOB!!!

 

Dorian: How wonderful to be involved in so many facets of the book industry. What middle-grade books inspired you as you were growing up?

Lynnette: I loved Judy Blume, as well as many other authors, but she was my go-to.

 

Dorian: What are some of your favorite recent middle-grade books?

Lynnette: Too many to list! LOL It also depends on my mood. Sometimes, I want to read MG horror. Other times, I’m more in the mood for something contemporary, especially from a diverse author who can offer an authentic voice. I also like cute and funny as well as cool worlds in fantasy and sci-fi. Plus, I’ve recently fallen in love with novels-in-verse and graphic novels.

 

Dorian: What genres, subjects, or themes would you be thrilled to receive when you open your in-box?

Lynnette: See previous answer. LOL I’m really drawn to an author’s voice above all. Hook me with that, add a unique premise (or a twist to something that’s been done), and I’ll be thrilled!

 

Dorian: What do you wish writers who query you knew about the publishing industry?

Lynnette: I wish more authors would do their homework before querying. I receive too many queries with word counts that are way under or over the industry standard, which is usually an instant rejection.

 

Dorian: Good advice! What are some of your hobbies or special interests that aren’t necessarily obvious through your agent profile?

Lynnette: I’m a crafter. I do all kinds of crafts like: cross-stitching, building miniature houses, painting sculptures, diamond painting, scrapbooking, Rainbow Looming, needle felting, crocheting, and more!!! I’m also obsessed with animals and nature!

 

Dorian: Do you see any changes coming up for middle-grade books in 2022?

Lynnette: Oh, if only I had a crystal ball! LOL

 

Dorian: I guess that’s what we all want LOL. You mention that before you were an agent, you were an editor. What craft tips do you have for our readers who are also writers?

Lynnette: Learn about GMCs (goals, motivations, conflicts – both internal AND external—and what’s at stake), show/don’t tell, POV slips, talking heads, backstory dumps, pacing, and authentic dialogue.

 

Dorian: Great tips! Would you like to tell us about any middle-grade books coming out this year from The Seymour Agency?

Lynnette: Marzieh Abbas has a six-book early chapter book series, starring Muslim-American sibling Nadia and Nadir, coming out in the fall of 2022.

Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz’s COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES, a middle-grade anthology including 13 stories about the Jewish rite of passage by: NYT bestselling author Barbara Bottner, NYT bestselling author Nancy Krulik, NYT bestselling author Stacia Deutsch, award-winning author Alan Katz, award-winning author Laura Shovan, award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin, Sarah Aronson, Debbie Reed Fischer, Debra Green, Henry Herz, Jonathan Rosen, Melissa Roske, and Stacie Ramey is coming out in March 2022.

I can’t talk about the other MG deals yet because they haven’t been announced, but for the most part, those will come out in 2023.

 

Dorian: How can readers and writers follow you on social media?

Lynnette: @Lynnette_Novak on Twitter

 

Dorian: Thanks so much, Lynnette, for taking the time to talk to us!

Lynnette: Thanks so much for having me! I had a blast!!!

 

 

 

First Lines of Children’s Books Revised for a Pandemic + Contest

I was recently inspired by a blog post featuring the beginnings of ten classic novels for adults, rewritten for our time of social distancing. I thought it would be fun to do the same for some iconic middle-grade novels.

CONTEST: Take a look at the ones below, and then crank up your creativity to post the real first line and a revised first line of your favorite middle-grade book in the comments section. A panel of judges will choose a favorite on January 2, 2021 at 11:59 PM, and I’ll donate $50 to one of the following charities (winner’s choice): St. Jude, Feeding America, or Doctors Without Borders. I’ll post the winning entry on Sunday, January 3.

(Click on the titles and go to the Look Inside feature if you’d like to read the original first lines.)

 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“Where’s Papa going with that axe, and why isn’t he wearing a mask?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night, but no one cared because they were all sheltering in.

 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, disinfecting his groceries with Lysol wipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas with just lousy gift cards,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly fine refusing to social distance from others in the grocery store, thank you very much.

 

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen, where she’d surely be roped into baking yet another loaf of sourdough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me and that I should have stocked up on toilet paper on the way home.

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day. I knew the pandemic still wasn’t over the second I got up. I knew because my mother didn’t even bother to sniff under her arms.

 

Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

On the morning I was scheduled to die a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house. Thankfully, he was more than six feet away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial and found guilty just because she forgot to cough into her elbow.

 

Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a Zoom party, there was much disappointment in Hobbiton.

 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink because everyone is either working from home or being homeschooled, and it’s the only place where I can get some peace and quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

Family Book Club: Middle Grade Books That Can Be Enjoyed by ALL

As I write this I am preparing to leave New York where we’ve been for the summer and return to London (where we live during the year) in time to quarantine for 14 days before school starts. I am kind of freaking out about what I am going to do with my kids in quarantine, but probably like most people with children or who are around children, the theme of this summer has certainly been “unstructured time.” My kids are currently 15, almost-12, 9.5, and almost-6. And thinking back to lockdown, one of the things that worked well was spending some time a few days a week listening to an audiobook while we colored or just relaxed. Okay, the 15-year-old did not involve herself in this, but for the rest of us it was nice. And when I would be reading a middle grade book to the 11 and 9 year old before bed, she would often casually come in and listen, or if we were discussing a book she’d read or I’d read to her when she was younger, she would happily weigh in.

How about a Family Book Club, in whatever shape that might look like to you?

So, for other people struggling with how to fill the last weeks of kids’ summers with something other than screens and devices, I thought I’d make a list of middle grade books that family members of different ages and genders would all enjoy reading (or listening to) and could then discuss.

I’m thinking middle grade books that work on a number of different levels—understood even by little ones not quite reading chapter books to themselves, hit the sweet spot of middle grade readers (either to be read out loud to or to read themselves), might interest your teen if they’ll deign to participate (boredom works in interesting ways), and sophisticated and nuanced enough to be truly enjoyed by adult readers too. 

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea—this moves quickly because of short chapters narrated by different voices. The classroom dynamics are realistic and I found it wise in a way that I, as an adult, have taken the subtle lessons, for example how to handle a “girl wars” bully. There are now 3 additional sequels.

 

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo—written deceptively simply, this one is funny and moving and heartwarming—an all-round winner for everyone every time I’ve read it. I’d say ANY Kate DiCamillo is a good choice for family book club: as Ann Patchett writes, some people like the magic animals ones (her) and some the realistic childhood ones (me) but they all “crack you open and make you a better person.”

  All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor—written in the 1950s about a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, this one just never, ever, feels dated. We are working our way through the sequels now.

 

 

Fudge books, in particular Superfudge by Judy Blume—laugh-out-loud funny and relatable about 6th grader Peter and the antics of his irrepressible 5-year-old brother Fudge. (My teen daughter’s suggestion was Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great).

 

Fortunately The Milk, by Neil Gaiman—madcap storytelling that’s fun for all ages.

 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White—honestly, I hadn’t read this since I was a kid and pretty much remembered nothing from it. Reading it to my almost-6 year old this summer, the writing blew me away as well as the story. Garth Williams’ illustrations are a delight for everyone. A classic for a reason.

 

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary—again, funny and relatable situations that make moving drama out of everyday circumstances and relationships. These have been a big hit over and over again and provoke great discussions about relationships and difficult situations. My personal favorites are Ramona and Her Mother and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

 

All of the above are available as audiobooks too. And speaking of audiobooks, a special mention for How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell narrated by David Tennant because on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group someone queried if people had recommendations for an audio book for a long car ride with an 8-year-old that everyone else in the car would enjoy, and this was the overwhelming favorite.  

An important note:

When I looked at my list above I realized that it had no real diversity or POC in it. While many of the books we’ve enjoyed as a family do (see below), I couldn’t think of one that worked as well with my criteria of working for young children too—please, if anyone has any suggestions please add them in the comments.

 

Books next on my own family to-read list that I think will work well:

George by Alex Gino

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Babysitter’s Club, the original books by Ann Martin—I loved this piece in the New York Times recently about boys reading these and my sons have devoured the graphic versions, not to mention that all of us are LOVING the fabulous Netflix series. Thought this might work well for us in audio. The first 5 are narrated by Elle Fanning.

 

Family Book Club for Middle Grade Readers and Up:

Graphic novels abound with moving stories and are great for reluctant readers or for kids ready for sophisticated themes but aren’t at a reading level for more advanced MG novels. They don’t work as well for the littlest members of the family, but if that’s not your situation, these books sparked lots of conversation and good book discussion in our family recently.

New Kid by Jerry Kraft —code switching and discomfort in either world when middle schooler Jordan changes schools, but instead of art school where he’d wanted to go, his parents send him to a prestigious academic school where he is one of the few kids of color. My kids have each read this several times and have asked a lot of questions sparking great discussion.

 

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed—family love, education, and a Somali refugee’s story as told to graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson. Both my sons devoured this. My 9-year-old described it as about “a boy with a brother who can’t speak. Really sad but really good.”

 

Other MG books on my (older) Family Book Club list:

One Crazy Summer trilogy—The first book, the story of 3 sisters joining their estranged mother in tumultuous 1960s San Francisco, has been a big hit with all my kids over the years and coming late to the party I’ve just discovered that there are two sequels which I can’t wait to try.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—“Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.” I can’t recommend this book highly enough—I think my boys will be ready for it this year and really look forward to reading it with them. I also gave it to my older daughter’s best friend who loved it and I hope my daughter will read it too!

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson—this just won the prestigious Waterstones Book Prize in the UK and I’m excited to read it with the kids. 

If mysteries are your family’s thing, check out some of these.

 

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. I just finished this and want to hand a copy to everyone I know. In a portrait of contemporary Jewish life, this book explores self-image, grief and friendship and is a wonderful, wonderful, thoughtfully-written debut.

Middle Grade for All

In truth, minus needing to encompass a little one’s needs, to me the perfect Middle Grade book is written in a way that absolutely resonates on many levels and to many ages. My list includes a lot of obvious ones–classics and award-winners. But there are thankfully untold numbers that are amazing for a Family Book Club. In addition to the ones mentioned above, here are some suggested by friends of mine who said these worked well for different-aged readers in their families:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (for fans of The Westing Game)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds (have just ordered this for myself)

Born a Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, adapted for young readers edition

And Finally, In Her Own Words:

One of my favorite middle grade readers, who was in a neighborhood mother-daughter book club with her mom, recommends these (and her mom endorses them too 🙂

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Jennifer Choldenko

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

 

Happy Reading, Everyone!

Let me know how you get on with any of these, and please write more Family Book Club suggestions in the comments. With fears of a second Covid-19 wave and another lockdown looming (and who knows what will be with school), we all might have a LOT of time on our hands. But I can think of worse things than spending it reading and discussing great children’s books. Stay safe and Happy Reading! 

 

All books can be bought on MUF’s Bookshop.org affiliate program or wherever fine books are sold.