Posts Tagged middle-grade fiction

February New Releases

In need of a cure for the winter blahs? I know I am. A pile of lovely new releases are coming our way in February. There’s so much to choose from, I don’t know where to start.

 

She’s Still Here: Paranormal Investigator Series Book One by Caitlin Alexander

When the dead speak, Kate listens.

Kate is new in town. Jane has been there for what seems like forever. Can Kate find out the truth? The one that is keeping Jane tethered to Ravendale Middle School? Find out in book one of the Kate Sablowsky Paranormal Investigator Series … And Know Life’s not just the here and now.

For fans of Mary Downing Hahn and the Nancy Drew mystery book series, you’ll love Caitlin Alexander’s debut middle grade paranormal horror, filled with the perfect combination of ghostly mystery and adventure.

 

 

 

 

Enly and the Buskin’ Blues byJennie Liu

Twelve-year-old Enly Wu Lewis is determined to go to band camp and follow in the footsteps of his musician father, who died years ago.

But his mom, a single parent working two jobs, is saving every penny for his older brother’s college tuition. So Enly sets out to earn the money for camp on his own, by busking with an obscure instrument he can only kind of play. When someone drops a winning scratch-off lottery ticket into his tip box, Enly thinks it’s the answer to his problems–but he’ll have to overcome teenage thieves and his own family if he wants to achieve his dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

Bunny Bonanza (Must Love Pets #3) by Saadia Faruqi

A young middle grade series that combines the heart and friendship of the Baby-sitters Club, with the irresistible appeal of adorable animals!

Hop to it!

Imaan and her friends London and Olivia really think they’re getting the hang of this whole pet-sitting business thing.

So when a client needs the girls to watch an adorable rabbit named Doc, they jump at the chance. Watching a rabbit hop around seems easy compared to what they’ve done for their last few clients. But this isn’t any rabbit– Doc is in training to be a trick rabbit– one that can run obstacles and perform for an audience.

London has the bright idea that Doc can be entertainment at an upcoming neighborhood street party. It will be good practice for Doc– and great advertising for Must Love Pets! What could go wrong?

 

 

 

Harriet Spies by Elana K. Arnold (Author) Dung Ho (Illustrator)

 

The unforgettable star of Just Harriet returns for another mystery on Marble Island, from award-winning author Elana K. Arnold.

There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:

She always tells the truth.She’s loving spending her summer on Marble Island, where she is an A+ mystery-solver.Okay, maybe she doesn’t always tell the truth.Actually…she has a tendency to lie quite a bit.

Which is why, when one of the guests at her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast finds that their treasured pair of binoculars has gone missing, no one believes Harriet when she said she had nothing to do with it. But this is one time Harriet isn’t lying–and she knows that if she can find the binoculars and figure out who really took them, she can prove it.

With her cat, Matzo Ball, her grandmother’s basset hound, Moneypenny, and Harriet’s new friend, Clarence, helping her out, Harriet knows she can crack the case. But when the culprit isn’t who Harriet expects, it’s up to her to decide how important the truth really is.

 

City of the Dead by James Ponti

In this fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies go codebreaking in Cairo in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

Codename Kathmandu, better known as Kat, loves logic and order, has a favorite eight-digit number, and can spot a pattern from a mile away. So when a series of cyberattacks hits key locations in London while the spies are testing security for the British Museum, it’s clear that Kat’s skill for finding reason in what seems like randomness makes her the perfect candidate to lead the job.

And while the team follows the deciphered messages to Egypt and the ancient City of the Dead to discover who is behind the attacks and why, Kat soon realizes that there’s another layer to the mystery.

With more players, more clues, and involving higher levels of British Intelligence than ever before, this mission is one of the most complex that the group has faced to date. And it’s also going to bring about a change to the City Spies…

 

 

 

The Win-Over by Jennifer Torres

The Mendoza twins are back! From the author of Stef Soto, Taco Queen comes this follow-up to THE DO-OVER.

The Mendoza family is growing!After a rocky beginning getting to know each other while quarantining together in a pandemic, Raquel, Lucinda, and Juliette are finally getting along as stepsisters–and actually liking it! Now they get to make it official. Their parents are getting married… in Mexico! But, when they arrive they find bringing together the two families won’t be as easy as they had hoped. Sylvia’s favorite aunt does not approve of the match.Lucinda, Raquel, and Juliette know just what to do. If they can show Tia Enriqueta that their parents are meant to be together, they’ll have to support the wedding! But in all their scheming, doubt starts to creep in. The sisters start wonder if they can really trust each other at all. Suddenly they have to ask themselves…are they better off apart after all?

 

 

 

 

 

Virtually Me by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Using personalized avatars, a group of kids look for a fresh start in school when a virtual reality academy opens after a pandemic.

This school year, Bradley, Edelle, and Hunter will be wearing virtual-reality headsets and attending a three-dimensional, simulated school while interacting as avatars. Having a customized avatar is a bonus as some students want to hide behind a new identity.

Bradley is eager for a brand-new identity. A cool avatar will allow him to escape the bullies who have made fun of him for years and gives him a fresh start to make new friends on his own terms.

Edelle is forced to attend the virtual school by her mom who says she’s too obsessed with being at the top of the “Best-Looking Girls” list circulating at school. Even worse, Edelle’s mom insists she chooses a generic avatar. Mortified by how her avatar looks, Edelle registers under a new name so no one can identify her. But will she lose her prized social status if no one can recognize her?

Hunter is known for his popularity, charm, and his lustrous mane of hair, except with his recent diagnosis of alopecia, his hair has begun to fall out, even his eyebrows. VR school allows him to maintain his popularity–and the illusion of a full head of hair–even if it means hiding behind an avatar. He tells his friends that once his grades are back up, he’ll return to school in person. But he wonders how being isolated will affect his relationships.

As Bradley, Edelle, and Hunter get to know each other in their virtual environment, they realize that the school is not all fun and games and the simulated environment just brings different problems than an in-person school. Each student will see themselves and their world through a new lens as they learn about what true friendship means and the difference between fitting in and belonging.

 

Opportunity Knocks by Sara Farizan

For fans of Barakah Beats and Wendy Mass comes a funny friendship story from Lambda Literary Award winner Sara Farizan that’s sure to be a lucky charm.

Lila is trying to find her way in the world–to figure out her thing. Her talented sister, Parisa, and athletic best friend, Melanie, both seem to have found theirs… and Lila can’t help feeling left behind.

But just when she thinks she might have it in her school’s new band program, the floor falls out from beneath Lila. The program may have its funding cut!

Lila visits her local bank in an attempt to secure a loan for the band program. While she’s there, she’s shoved by a passing stranger. Before she can even complain, however, the man leaves the bank and disappears. At her feet, Lila sees a strange box. Inside rests an old key, with a message carved into the box: A simple clue for you who holds the key. Remember to unlock the door for Opportunity.

It turns out the key is magical! After falling asleep with it in her room, Lila is awoken by the appearance of a strange glowing door, which knocks three times from the other side. Upon opening it, Lila is met with the strangest sight. A girl her age waltzes into her room and claims to be Lila’s lucky day. The girl says she’s been called by many names: Providence, Fortuna, Lady Luck, Opportunity… but Lila can call her Felise. Felise will stay with Lila for seven serendipitous days, during which Lila will be the luckiest person in the world!

But the man who lost the key has not forgotten about it–or Lila. Having spent a fortune procuring the Key to Opportunity, he’ll do everything in his power to get it back.

 

The Talent Thief by Mike Thayer

A girl with the ability to borrow other people’s talents must use her powers to find her own spotlight in The Talent Thief, a wish-fulfilling middle-grade novel from Mike Thayer, the author of The Double Life of Danny Day.

Tiffany Tudwell is cursed. She once tripped over a backpack and fell face-first into a trashcan. She had pink eye on picture day. One time she tried to hold back a sneeze and farted on the cutest boy in class. She longs for the spotlight, but it’s safer to stay hidden in the shadows where the curse can’t reach her and no one can make fun of her.

Until the night two meteors collide over her backyard giving Tiffany the ability to steal people’s talents for a day–like stealing mean girl Candace’s beautiful singing voice in the middle of play rehearsal, or drawing an incredible self-portrait after borrowing the teacher’s pencil. Her power even gets the attention of the most popular boy in school, the smooth-talking Brady Northrup.

But her powers can’t solve everything–or can they? When a local philanthropist announces a fundraiser contest, Tiffany, with Brady’s help, decides to use her powers to save her dad’s failing planetarium. And maybe discover her own talent along the way…

 

Chester and the Magic 8 Ball by Lynn Katz

Twelve-year-old Georgia believes her toothless rescue dog is psychic. With a spin of a Magic 8 Ball, Chester predicts the future with a high degree of probability. He assures Georgia the “outlook is good” for her parents’ troubled marriage. He wows her math class by predicting heads or tails with every coin toss. But when the stakes are life or death, Georgia must learn the difference between magic and probability and find her own powers to increase the likelihood of a happy ending.

Chester and the Magic 8 Ball is an empowering story of hope for anyone facing life’s unexpected challenges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Air with Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

An empowering and big-hearted sequel to the bestselling and critically acclaimed From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks!

Two years ago, Zoe Washington helped clear Marcus’ name for a crime he didn’t commit. Now her birth father has finally been released from prison and to an outpouring of community support, so everything should be perfect.

When Marcus reveals his dream of opening his own restaurant, Zoe becomes determined to help him achieve it–with her as his pastry chef of course. However, starting a new place is much more difficult than it looks, and Marcus is having a harder time re-entering society than anyone expected.

Set on finding a solution, Zoe starts a podcast to bring light to the exonerees’ experiences and fundraise for their restaurant. After all, Zoe knows full well the power of using her voice. But with waning public interest in their story, will anyone still be listening?

 

 

 

 

One Giant Leap by Ben Gartner

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Enchanted Life of Valentina Mejía by Alexandra Alessandri

Encanto meets The Chronicles of Narnia by way of Colombian folklore in this middle grade fantasy adventure. To save their father’s life, a brother and sister must journey across a land full of mythical creatures and find the most powerful and dangerous of them all: the madremonte.

Twelve-year-old Valentina wants to focus on drawing the real world around her and hopefully get into art school in Bogotá one day, but Papi has spent his life studying Colombia’s legendary creatures and searching for proof of their existence. So when Papi hears that a patasola–a vampire woman with one leg–has been sighted in the Andes, Valentina and her younger brother Julián get dragged along on another magical creature hunt.

While they’re in the Andes, a powerful earthquake hits. Valentina and Julián fall through the earth…and find an alternate Colombia where, to Valentina’s shock, all the legends are real.

To get home, Valentina and Julián must make a treacherous journey to reach this land’s ruler: the madremonte, mother and protector of the earth. She controls the only portal back to the human world–but she absolutely hates humans, and she’ll do anything to defend her land.

 

 

 

It Happened on Saturday by Sydney Dunlap

Thirteen-year-old Julia would much rather work with horses at the rescue barn than worry about things like dating and makeup. But when her BFF meets a boy at camp, Julia’s determined not to get left behind. After a makeover from her older sister, she posts a picture of herself online and gets a comment from Tyler–a seemingly nice kid who lives across town. As they DM more and more, Julia’s sure that Tyler understands her in a way her family never has. Even better, their relationship earns her tons of attention at school. Then Julia finds out Tyler’s true plan, and her world is turned upside down. She fiercely guards her secret, but could her silence allow her friends to fall into the same trap?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O’Shaughnessy

What are the essential ingredients that make a family? Eleven-year-old Mo is making up her own recipe in this unforgettable story that’s a little sweet, a little sour, and totally delicious.

Nan was all the family Mo ever needed. But suddenly she’s gone, and Mo finds herself in foster care after her uncle decides she’s not worth sticking around for.

Nan left her a notebook and advised her to get a hobby, like ferret racing or palm reading.
But how could a hobby fix anything in her newly topsy-turvy life?

Then Mo finds a handmade cookbook filled with someone else’s family recipes. Even though Nan never cooked, Mo can’t tear her eyes away. Not so much from the recipes, but the stories attached to them. Though, when she makes herself a pot of soup, it is every bit as comforting as the recipe notes said.

Soon Mo finds herself asking everyone she meets for their family recipes. Teaching herself to make them. Collecting the stories behind them. Building a website to share them. And, okay, secretly hoping that a long-lost relative will find her and give her a family recipe all her own.
But when everything starts to unravel again, Mo realizes that if she wants a family recipe–or a real family–she’s going to have to make it up herself.

 

Whale Done by Stuart Gibbs

In the eighth novel in New York Times bestselling Stuart Gibbs’s FunJungle series, Teddy Fitzroy returns as FunJungle’s resident sleuth to find the culprits behind a blown-up whale and a string of beach sand thefts.

After an escaped kangaroo starts a fire that burns down his house, Teddy Fitzroy accepts an invitation to go to Malibu with his girlfriend, Summer, and her mother, Kandace. He’s hoping to spend some time relaxing on the beach, but wherever Teddy goes, trouble isn’t far behind.

First, a massive dead whale has washed up on the beach–and before anyone can determine what killed it, it explodes. Doc, the head vet from FunJungle, suspects something fishy is going on and ropes Teddy and Summer into helping him investigate.

Then, Teddy stumbles upon yet another mystery involving tons of stolen sand. And the paparazzi start spreading rumors about Summer dating a celebrity, leading Teddy to question their relationship.

Without Summer as his trusted partner, can Teddy navigate the rough waters of this glitzy world and uncover what’s going on?

 

 

The Town with No Mirrors by Christina Collins

In a modern-day utopian community where mirrors, photos, and even words like beautiful and ugly are forbidden, a girl who has never seen her own face harbors a guilty curiosity about the outside world. A thoughtful exploration of self-image in a world familiar to readers of The Giver and The List.

Zailey has never seen her own face. She’s never seen her reflection, or a photo of herself, or even a drawing. In the special community of Gladder Hill, cameras and mirrors are forbidden: it’s why everyone’s happier here. Nobody talks about anyone else’s appearance. You’re not supposed to even think about what other people look like, or what you look like.

But Zailey does.

She knows her superficial thoughts are wrong, and her sketchbook, filled with secret portraits of her classmates and neighbors, could get her in trouble. Yet she can’t help but think those thoughts, and be curious about the outside world where she once lived, years ago. Most of all, she wonders what it’s like to see herself–her own face.

When Zailey suddenly finds herself beyond the gates of her town, she has a chance to see if what she’s been taught about the outside world is true and search for the mother she barely remembers. Only then will she find out the real story about Gladder Hill. But is she prepared for the truth?

 

 

Is It Okay to Pee in the Ocean?: The Fascinating Science of Our Waste and Our World by Ella Schwartz (Author) Lily Williams (Illustrator)

Get the facts you’ll really want to know when you really need to go.

Why do we pee? Is pee just yellow water? Is the ocean a giant toilet bowl (eww!)? If you’ve ever wondered about your body’s waste . . . urine luck! This book is all about pee: from why and how we do it, to its effects on our world.

Explore the human systems that make pee happen, tackle environmental questions about the impacts of human waste, discover surprising uses of urine throughout history-like in mouthwash and skin creams-and even try out at-home, hands-on experiments (with no bodily fluids required, of course!).
With engaging black-and-white-illustrations and just enough ick-factor, this engrossing (and sometimes a little bit gross) book gets to the bottom of an oft-ignored part of the science of life.

 

 

 

It’s a RHAP, Cat: : An Ellie & Co Book by Lee Y Miao

A twelve-year-old history nerd. A mysterious lady in a Rome art gallery.

When twelve-year-old Cat discovers her look-alike in a portrait by Raphael, she can’t wait to research this mysterious lady from the 16th century. But sparks fly when she signs up for the Renaissance History and Art Project (RHAP) contest.

To win, Cat needs to ask her one-time rival, Trey. She’s distracted by softball. He’s distracted by lacrosse. They’re both distracted by the class diva.

Will she find clues in old letters handed down over generations? Or will the lady’s secrets remain undeciphered? It’s up to Cat to solve the riddle. If only more than five hundred years didn’t stand in her way!

 

 

 

 

Finally Seen by Kelly Yang

From the New York Times bestselling author of Front Desk comes a gripping middle grade novel about a young girl who leaves China to live with her parents and sister, after five years apart, and learns about family, friendship, and the power of being finally seen.

My sister got to grow up with my parents. Me? I grew up with postcards from my parents.

When ten-year-old Lina Gao steps off the plane in Los Angeles, it’s her first time in America and the first time seeing her parents and her little sister in five years! She’s been waiting for this moment every day while she lived with her grandmother in Beijing, getting teased by kids at school who called her “left behind girl.” Finally, her parents are ready for her to join their fabulous life in America! Except, it’s not exactly like in the postcards:

1. School’s a lot harder than she thought. When she mispronounces some words in English on the first day, she decides she simply won’t talk. Ever again.

2. Her chatty little sister has no problem with English. And seems to do everything better than Lina, including knowing exactly the way to her parents’ hearts.

3. They live in an apartment, not a house like in Mom’s letters, and they owe a lot of back rent from the pandemic. And Mom’s plan to pay it back sounds more like a hobby than a moneymaker.

As she reckons with her hurt, Lina tries to keep a lid on her feelings, both at home and at school. When her teacher starts facing challenges for her latest book selection, a book that deeply resonates with Lina, it will take all of Lina’s courage and resilience to get over her fear in order to choose a future where she’s finally seen.

 

See anything you like? Let us know in the comments below.

Agent Spotlight: Jonathan Rosen at The Seymour Agency

Hi Jonathan, I’m so excited to interview you for our Agent Spotlight here on the Mixed Up Files, the blog you yourself started and have watched go from success to success over the last 10 or so years. You recently made the jump to agenting as well, joining The Seymour Agency, so now we get to tap your brain from the “other side!”

Jonathan Rosen, literary agent at The Seymour Agency

Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming a literary agent?

Jonathan:  Hi Meira,

Thanks for asking me!

Being an agent is something that I had thought about doing for a while. So, at the end of 2021, I spoke to my agent, Nicole Resciniti about it, and she thought it was a good idea. So, mid-year of 2022, I started learning the ropes and announced shortly afterwards.

People who follow you on social media will quickly see your sense of humor. Is that something you look for in authors to represent?

Jonathan: I’ll always have a soft spot for humor in anything, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a humorous story in order for me to be interested in it.

People will also see how much a fan you are of retro popular culture. Do you bring that to the table as an agent?

Jonathan: I will say that I’m very interested in anything pop culture related. I handle a lot of nonfiction as well, and a lot of it is grounded in the pop culture realm.

What most struck you when you made the jump from author to author AND agent?

Jonathan: A few things. Not that I didn’t know it, but I got to see for myself just how busy agents are. It really is a lot of work. A lot of reading, research, and working on things for clients. It really keeps you busy. Another thing that struck me is just seeing things from the other side. Learned a lot of things.

Knowing what you know now as an agent, what do you wish you would have known when you yourself were querying, and then as a pre-published author on submission, and then as a published author?

Jonathan: Proper submission format or etiquette. You’d be surprised at how many generic queries you get. Even with addressing it as Dear Agent. Just making sure everything is done right. Your query, your submission should be in great shape as well. Have even received queries, that say, It really starts getting good on page 6. Then, why doesn’t it start there? Don’t sabotage yourself.

What MG books influenced as a child and what are you loving that’s out there now?

Jonathan: My favorite books as a child were the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I just devoured them. As far as what’s out there now, there are so many that I do love. Won’t name specifics, but there are many that I read and admire.

Photo via empireonline

As much as it’s important not to “write to trends” it’s interesting to see what trends or themes emerge in publishing. What trends are you seeing in children’s publishing: is anything over the hill now and what do you think might be on the horizon?

Jonathan: I don’t speak of trends. I am a firm believer that you should just write what you want and if it’s good, a home will be found for it.

Can you tell us a little about your own MG work?

Jonathan: I still am writing MG, and have several stories planned, but currently have been working on an adult book. Have other stories that I want to tell.

What’s the best way for people to find out more about you as an author and what you’re looking for as an agent?

Jonathan: As an agent, you can check my bio on SeymourAgency.com, my MSWL wishlist, or just query me. I really do have a variety of tastes. I’m interested in so many different types of things, so take a chance.

As far as my work as an author, besides my website, Houseofrosen.com, I guess we’ll find out more about my work when my own agent submits it to editors. Have a few things in the pipeline that I’m excited about. 😊

Jonathan, it was so great to speak with you and get your insights–thank you!

Jonathan can be found on Twitter at @houseofrosen

 

 

Beyond Personification – Using (and Teaching) More Complex Literary Devices in MG Writing

I hope everyone’s year is off to good start!  Depending on your climate and interests, hopefully you are getting just the right amount of snow, rain, sun, or beach days. No matter the conditions, winter is a good time for bringing newness—new year, new plans, new lessons, new pages. I’m happily revising a MG historical right now and looking for new ways to enliven the narrative while staying true to plot and character. At the same time, I’m analyzing some new-to-me MG books for my editing job, and I thought I’d share some (hopefully) useful insights on three literary devices you might not immediately associate with MG writing.

You probably know these devices well, but since they don’t necessarily go hand in hand with middle grade curricula, you might not think of them in connection with MG. Generally, middle grades get a fair amount of similes and metaphors, imagery, personification, foreshadowing, and maybe a little situational irony; beyond those, many other literary techniques may not be covered in depth until later junior high/high school, even though examples appear in MG literature all the time.

You probably are already including the following lit devices in your MG writing because they are naturally graspable concepts for most middle grade readers—even though readers may not know the names. Recognizing these literary devices and elevating them as a strategy for revision might bring some fine, original moments to your MG writing—along with a breath of that newness we tend to crave in a project we seek to improve.

Vignettes

A vignette can refer to a short, standalone piece of writing; it can also mean a standalone performance, like one of a series of monologues or scenes in a nonlinear play. But vignettes appear all the time in narrative storytelling as well; look for them as brief sketches or descriptions that don’t contribute to the plot directly but work to more fully convey characterization, setting, or mood.

Vignette derives from the French word vigne (vineyard), which probably brings images of connected, trailing, spreading vines. MG vignettes, like literary sketches, are all of those: connected to the story, but leading the reader’s imagination a few steps down a path for a quick glimpse from a new perspective, like in this moment from Lisa Yee’s Maizy Chen’s Last Chance:

The Ben Franklin Five and Dime smells like apples. The handcrafted jewelry and glass jars crammed with colorful candies make me feel like I’ve walked into a treasure chest. A dig bald man in a nubby orange sweater sits at the soda fountain counter. He looks up from his banana split, but when our eyes meet, he turns away, almost shyly. (Chapter 6)

The lens on the story or character (or both) is adjusted and refocused with this descriptive little sketch, but no passage of time or plot event occurs. Think of a vignette as a time-standing-still moment in which you get to take a good look around. Sometimes the author stops time to build suspense or prolong and heighten emotion, like in this moment early in Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight:

Besides the traitorous leaves, Stella could hear a pair of bullfrogs ba-rupping to each other, but nothing, not a single human voice from across the pond. She could, however, smell the charring pine, tinged with …what? She sniffed deeper. It was acid, harsh. Kerosene. A trail of gray smoke snaked up to the sky, merging with the clouds. (Chapter 1)

In the time it takes to sniff the air, the author fills the moment with tone, sensory imagery, foreshadowing, and the hint of danger. Vignettes are powerful, swift tools in MG.

Allusions

Allusions are brief references to something that exists outside the scene, typically calling to mind some recognizable name or element from mythology, history, religion, culture, or another story. They are layered with meaning and rely on the reader “getting” the content based on their general familiarity with the topic. They are a quick and punchy shot-in-the-arm of interest for the reader who recognizes them, too, making them perfect for MG—middle graders enjoy coming across an unexpected mention of some bit of knowledge they already know. And you can communicate a complex idea with just a mention of an allusion—sometimes more easily than in explanation.

Think younger with MG allusions; favorite childhood characters, fairy tales, ideas, and stories that have stood the test of time and appear across multiple works or iterations might work well. If you want to get across the idea of an overbearing, oppressive, authoritative character, don’t call them a Big Brother; maybe call them an Umbridge. Ask if your allusions represent only one time period, culture, religion, or group. Consider cultural figures whose renown has crossed cultural divides.

Of course, allusions also offer a great opportunity for an MG writer to sneak-teach readers a new bit of history or culture when the reference might be not-so-recognizable. In Jennifer L. Holm’s Full of Beans (which takes place in Key West in the 1930s), the allusion to the town’s “resident writer” offers the chance to investigate Ernest Hemingway; and in Brenda Woods’s When Winter Robeson Came (set in 1965), protagonist Eden’s piano teacher mentions Margaret Bonds and Julia Perry, Black female composers.

Juxtaposition

The tricky-sounding word belies its simplicity. Juxtaposition is simply the setting up of contrast between two elements (characters, settings, ideas, emotions, really anything) for the sake of highlighting one or both involved. Middle graders are keen on comparison (this is why we introduce and review metaphor and simile so frequently at early middle grades) and with juxtaposition, the meaningfulness is simple and elemental—thinking about what’s dissimilar between two sides speaks to just the right developmental skills of middle grade.

Many MG novels start off with a juxtaposition between the way the protagonist thinks the week (holiday, school day, morning, etc.) will go and the strange, unexpected, or shocking events that really occur. Juxtaposed characters can show a host of contrasts; opposing traits might appear in dramatic foils.

Juxtaposition of setting is key if a protagonist leaves their Ordinary World for another place. Think of how effectively Neil Gaiman sets up the difference between Coraline’s real home and the otherworldly home of her “other mother.”

In a more recent example, Brian Young uses juxtaposition to set the stage in his Healer of the Water Monster, starting with the Navajo legend revealed in the Prologue (the gentle Water Monsters who keep the waters “tranquil” and “nourishing” become violent and destructive when Coyote kidnaps one of their infants) and continuing with protagonist Nathan’s big change in summer plans from bonding time with his father on a trip to Las Vegas to—instead—a long stay with his grandmother Nali in her mobile home in the desert. Even the chapter headings show juxtaposition of language with the number first in Navajo, then in English.

If you teach middle graders, they might be ready for some brief introduction to these and other lit devices that go beyond the usual study of personification and foreshadowing. They might look for examples of allusions in their class novels, and talk about why the author chose the reference they did. A handy chart or table in their reading journal can be used to compile examples of juxtaposition. And vignettes present an excellent opportunity for creative writing in the classroom; students might try their hand at short character sketches when a “walk-on” character in a class novel inspires description.

Happy writing in this year – I wish you all the best with everything new!