Posts Tagged “writing for children”

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!

 

 

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– In the Classroom

 

 

Nuclear science is the study of the atomic world. Atoms are the building blocks of all matter, and everything around us, including our bodies, is made of atoms.

Students can explore the ways nuclear science impacts our world in these books:

Who Split The Atom? by Anna Claybourne  Using a DK-like format, it explores the early history and research into the structure of atoms, the periodic table, radioactivity, and atomic science. Loaded with photographs, graphics, “That’s A Fact!,” “Breakthrough,” and scientific sidebars, as well as vignettes of scientists, it is an accessible and engaging introduction to radioactivity.

 

Atomic Universe: The Quest To Discover Radioactivity by Kate Boehm Jerome  This National Geographic book uses a running timeline across the top of the pages (from 1800 to 1971), photographs, mini-biographies, and “science booster” sidebars to interest high-low readers in an introductory overview of radioactivity, atomic science, and nuclear reactors.

 

Activity

How is nuclear energy produced? In nuclear fission, the nucleus of a uranium atom splits into tiny atoms. The splitting produces two or three free neutrons and releases a large amount of energy. In a nuclear reactor, fission is used to make atomic energy. Divide students into groups and have each group research the process of nuclear fission. Each group should create a visual demonstration of nuclear fission and present it to the class. Get creative! 

 

Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high that ripped apart homes and schools, damaging Fukushima’s nuclear power plant and causing a nuclear meltdown. Chapters describe the events as well as the science of nuclear reactors. Each section begins with a readout of reactor status, from “offline” to “meltdown” with the last chapter exploring lessons learned.

 

Activity

Nuclear energy is a much-debated topic. In this activity, students will decide whether or not to support building a nuclear power plant in their town to provide electricity and replace fossil fuel-generated electricity. Divide the class into two groups – one group will support the building of the nuclear power plant, while the other group will oppose it. Have each group research nuclear energy and power and find facts and arguments to support their point of view. Hold a classroom debate and have each side present their strongest arguments for and against the nuclear power plant.

 

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling  This gripping dual biography provides an in-depth look at the discoveries, life-long personal sacrifices, and professional struggles that Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie made in discovering artificial radiation and Lise Meitner made in discovering nuclear fission. It also touches on Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of natural radiation, society’s grappling with radiation, World War II, and the atomic bomb. Includes a timeline, Who’s Who section, black and white photos, and fascinating sidebars further explaining the science.

Activity

Radiation exists all around us. It is produced as unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay, and travels as energy waves or energized particles. There are many different forms of radiation, each with its own properties and effects. What sources of radiation are you exposed to in your daily life? Have students research radiation sources and create a list of exposures. They can use this calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency to calculate their annual radiation dose.  What can students do to reduce or limit radiation exposure in their lives?

************************************

Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and a dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her online at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, Instagram @moonwriter25, and Twitter @carlawrites.