Entries tagged with “middle grade”.
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Wed 3 Apr 2013
Posted by Pat under Book reviews
What’s better than a nice, cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day?
Unless it’s a nice, cold glass of lemonade AND an engrossing page-turner of a book.
Because spring is just starting to peek its head around the corner, it’s the perfect time to read The Lemonade War (Sandpiper, 2009) by Jacqueline Davies — either for pure enjoyment or to plan your money-making venture for the summer.
To get the full scoop on this book, which is the first in a series, let’s hear from today’s guest reviewer.
Today’s reviewer: Claudia
I like: Macaroni and owls and soccer.
This book was about: Jessie and Evan are brother and sister. They both love to sell lemonade on hot, beautiful summer break days! One day, Jessie and Evan both get in a fight. They decide that whoever gets $100 from lemonade earnings in the last six days of summer break wins. The winner gets to take the loser’s money! They both work really hard to get $100 in less than a week. Who will win? The pressure is on both Evan and Jessie. You have to read the book to find out who wins.
The best part was: I gave this book five stars because of its adventure and enthusiasm. You can get pictures in your head from the descriptive words, and you can relate to it. I have a brother, and I can relate. But we never had anything as intense as the competition in this story. It is also so enjoyable because of the brother-sister rivalry. I couldn’t put this book down, it was so great! This book is great to read as a group or book club. I definitely recommend it. I hope you enjoy it.
Three words that describe this book are: “Exciting.” “Surprising.” “Competitive.”
You should read this book because: You can relate, and it is exciting to see who wins.
Thank you, Claudia!
You can find out more about Jacqueline Davis and her many other books by visiting her website or reading this interview.
Wed 30 Jan 2013
Posted by Pat under Authors
In a little more than a month, Anna Staniszewski will have a second book out in the world.
Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in November 2011. The sequel, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, is coming March 1.
And the new book picks up with even more adventures for Jenny, a girl who has a strange job as an official “adventurer.” She travels across enchanted kingdoms saving magical creatures and fighting horrible beasts that most people think are only myths and legends.
Jenny’s new mission is to travel to the Land of Tales to defeat an evil witch and complete three Impossible Tasks. Throw in some school friends, a bumbling knight, a rhyming troll, and a giant bird, and happily ever after starts looking far, far away. But with her parents’ fate on the line, this is one happy ending Jenny is determined to deliver.
Anna was nice enough to drop by and answer a few, fun, fairy tale questions:
Why do fairytales always take place “once upon a time?” Wouldn’t it be interesting if things happened “Twice upon a time” or “Thrice upon a time”?
I think part of the reason I like fairy tale retellings so much is that the story can happen anytime. Today, next week, a hundred years from now. Fairy tales are such simple stories that they can work in pretty much any time or place. That’s why my next project is going to be about robot fairies that live on Mars. (Okay, not really. Well, maybe.)
Please complete the following sentences:
To truly be charming, a prince should always … Have perfect manners, a great sense of humor, and plenty of chocolate on hand.
When encountered by a frog claiming to be a prince, a princess should … Threaten to stomp on the frog if he tries to kiss her.
If a fairy godmother suddenly appeared in your living room, you would … Ask her to fix the broken lamps we have around the house. Oh, and maybe fix our broken microwave. And my husband’s car. Clearly, I could use a handyman instead of a fairy godmother!
Fire-breathing dragons are inherently evil. Discuss.
If dragons breathed rainbows and glitter, I think we’d feel differently about them. But fire, while useful in small amounts, is usually pretty dangerous. I would suggest not getting too chummy with any creature that could turn you into a s’more.
The best fairytale ever written is:
“East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” It starts off as a Beauty and the Beast story, but then it turns into a tale about a girl rescuing her prince. You really can’t go wrong with a magical story about a girl who saves the day (says the author of a magical story about a girl who saves the day).
“Happily ever after.” Is it a fairy tale?
I think it’s funny that people associate “fairy tale” with a story in which things are perfect. Most fairy tales are full of danger and deceit. Yes, there’s magic in the tales, but usually that magic hurts people. So “happily ever after” might be a nice idea, but I wouldn’t advise calling it a fairy tale … unless you want a potentially flesh-eating monster showing up at your door.
Thank you, Anna!
Want to know more about Anna? She was born in Poland and raised in the United States, and grew up loving fairy tales in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.
Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch.
Visit her at www.annastan.com.
Or, watch this really cool book trailer she created for My Epic Fairy Tale Fail.
Tue 25 Dec 2012
Lots of people love animals.
But fewer people dedicate a substantial portion of their lives to helping lost, homeless or hurt animals that come their way.
Author Peg Kehret does. And many cats, dogs, bear and deer have wandered past her home near Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State.
In her latest book, Animals Welcome (Dutton Children’s Books, 2012), Peg shares the stories of some of the more memorable animals she’s helped find safe, loving homes and explains her lifelong commitment to animal welfare.
This book was the perfect choice for today’s reviewer. Sonia loves animals, and has two cats that used to be strays. She’s shown with both of them at the right. Vince is in the top picture, while Sunny is in the bottom picture. (Just ignore the unmade bed and unfolded laundry in the background. I do.)
Take it away, Sonia!
Our reviewer: Sonia
Things I like to do: Play on my D.S, watch TV, ride horses, play Candyland with my dad, watch anime shows on my iPod.
This book was about: A woman who rescues animals that are abandoned or stray and helps them get better and tries to find them a good home.
The best part was when: The women found Mr. Stray, a cat, and had her husband make a house for him to live, and the house had a heater inside so the cat would stay warm.
I smiled when: The women found a stray mama cat and her kittens and when the women tried to get the third kitten in the carrier, it didn’t work because the kitten hid in the piano. The woman had to wait for the kitten come out from the organ after her husband was banging on the side.
I was surprised when: The husband was sick and then felt better but then died. I felt bad for the woman.
This book taught me: That when you see a stray animal, you can always help it — even though you don’t even know the animal.
Three words that best describe this book are: “Animals.” “Love.” “Caring.”
My favorite picture in this book is: The picture of Mr. Stray peering out of his special house. And the picture of the writer on the cover holding the cat she adopted herself.
Thank you, Sonia!
This book is a refreshing, informative, entertaining and much-needed look at the real life of helping animals who need it and how one committed person can make a difference.
Author Peg Kehret has also written fiction children’s books – three of which were inspired by her pet cat, Pete, before he passed away.
To learn more about her, you can:
Sat 22 Sep 2012
Are you up for a few Jeopardy-style questions to introduce today’s book and blogger?
Category: Middle-Grade Books.
Answer is: This book features a Jeopardy-loving girl who overcomes her fear of geography and some family challenges to gain confidence and realize a dream.
Question is: What is Donna Gephart’s newest novel, Olivia Bean Trivia Queen (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2012)?
Category: Awesome Kids.
Answer is: This teen likes almost any sport she can play and also likes to go shopping, play outdoors, act, listen to music, watch movies, READ, and lots more! But best of all, she likes to just hang out with her friends!
Question is: Who is today’s guest book reviewer, Sophie?
Nicely done. Now take it away, Sophie!
This book was about: This book is about a sixth-grade girl named Olivia Bean. But Olivia isn’t the typical sixth grader – unless typical means watching Jeopardy every night, getting geography help from her frenemy Tucker, and having a dad who lives almost all the way across the country with his new family. But that’s not all, now Olivia is trying out for Jeopardy’s kid’s week! She makes it through the first online round easily, but then she’s on to the audition rounds and things start to get more intense. Her instincts take over in the pretend game and she’s through that in a flash, but next is one of the hardest parts, the interview. Even if she does make it through the interview, will it be enough to get her through to the actual live game show with Alex Trebeck in Californa, where she could even see her dad? Read the book to find out!
The best part was when: By far the ending, during the real game of Jeopardy in California. The game was so exciting and sounded so real, but I am not going to say what happened cause I don’t want to give anything away!
I laughed when: Olivia found out that Tucker was never actually making fun of her, only complimenting her about her hula-hooping.
I was worried when: At the end of the book (during the recording of the real show), she started losing and also during the final jeopardy. (But that’s all I’m going to say.)
I was surprised when: Olivia had the conversation with her old best friend, Nicki (who is Olivia’s dad’s new step-daughter). They had been best friends, but when Nicki, Nicki’s mom and Olivia’s dad moved away it went bad. At first they would talk on the phone all the time, but after a while they grew apart, and later Nicki couldn’t even talk to her. Olivia didn’t understand why Nicki hated her. But by the end of the book. she understood, Nicki said it was just too painful to talk to her. You will have to read the book to find out what that means.
Other kids reading this book should watch for: The way Tucker talks to and about Olivia (especially if he mentions hula-hooping). In the beginning of the book you may not understand, but by the end, I promise you will.
Three words that best describe this book are: “Trivia.” “Life.” “Family.”
My favorite line or phrase in the book is: I have two:
“It’s fun to be smart, Livi” – Charlie Bean
Tucker: “So what are you doing later?”
Olivia: “I watch Jeopardy every night at 7:30.”
Tucker: “Oh that’s cool. My grandma watches that show.
You should read this book because: As you can probably tell by this blog, this book is definitely not just about trivia. You may be able to relate with a lot of the situations in this book because they are about everyday life. Besides that, you will learn a lot of very interesting and fun trivia facts (anything from gross to geographical trivia facts). But most importantly, you will learn that – good or bad – life will go on.
If you want to learn more about Donna Gephart — who also has written As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President and How to Survive Middle School — you can:
Mon 10 Sep 2012
Posted by Pat under Authors
Today, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming debut author Jeannie Mobley to this blog to talk about her middle-grade novel Katerina’s Wish (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012).
Although the book is brand new, the kidlit world is already buzzing. The book has earned several starred reviews, including one from Kirkus. The sometimes hard-to-please publication called Katerina’s Wish “top notch” and said, in part:
“Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her little sisters want to believe in their dreams, but life in a Colorado coal camp threatens to turn them into pipe dreams. Take one maybe-magical carp and three sisters who believe in wishes, stir them together with an evil shopkeeper and add a dash of romance, and you have one dandy first novel.
“Katerina’s sisters wish for little hair ribbons and plum dumplings when they find a special fish, but big sister has appropriately bigger plans. She wishes that her family could leave the coal town and have the farm they hoped to own when they left Bohemia for America in the late 1800s. But dreams are tricky things, easily dashed when real life interferes.”
I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting Jeannie at a writing retreat earlier this year, and I can truthfully say she is as smart and as talented and as nice as you’d expect after reading her answers to my interview questions.
Take it away, Jeannie!
How did you first get the idea for Katerina’s Wish?
I had a dream, which was really different from the book it ultimately became. But I woke up from the dream and my first thought was, “That would make an interesting novel.” Of course, dreams have many things that wouldn’t really work well in a novel, so as I become more awake and rational, I began to filter through what was really interesting and what was just strange. I also began to figure out how I would change it to be a more complete story and a unique story.
What process did you follow to turn that idea into a fully completed novel? How long did it take?
After the dream, I spent a couple weeks thinking about it and determining a time, place, and main character that best fit the story. Once I had those ideas figured out, I took about a month to write the book, gave it a rest, then spent about a month revising it. I gave that version to my agent to send out on submission in the summer of 2006. Within a few months, we had pulled it because we got similar feedback from multiple editors that it felt incomplete.
The story sat in a drawer for about three years while I wrote other things, and went different directions. I couldn’t get interested in working on it again. However I was gently nagged by my agent and my critique partners to get it back out. When I finally did, in the fall of 2009, I hated it so much that I didn’t even re-read the old version, I just started rewriting from the beginning, changing the voice, the plot, the point of view. It was a drastic rewrite, filled with doubts on my part, because I wasn’t feeling very connected to the main character.
I kept sending it to my critique group saying, “Are you sure this isn’t boring?” It took me six weeks to rewrite it, giving it a more complex plot, and adding other things based on the editorial feedback. It went back out on submission in 2010, and fairly promptly sold to Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster.)
So, actual writing time was about ten weeks, with another six to ten weeks of editing. Which translates to four years of actual time that passed from starting it to selling it.
What was your biggest learning along the way?
Wow, it’s hard to say. I grew so much in my writing at every step. After it was acquired, I learned a huge amount from my editor in the changes she made or requested and her explanation of why those changes needed to happen. I learned a lot about readers and expectations they bring to a book from her.
I also learned a lot about voice and plot in addressing the concerns that editors had after the first try with this manuscript. So, I have the editors who rejected it to thank, as well as the one who acquired it. I guess something else I learned is to accept the rejections and learn from them, rather than feeling destroyed by them. They can move you forward. (Even though they don’t feel that way at the time!)
How did the sale come about?
Erin sent it to Karen Wojtyla at McElderry right off, recognizing she was a good match for it. After the acquisition meeting, Karen asked if I would be willing to make the characters younger to set the novel firmly in the middle grade range (the characters had been about sixteen to eighteen and they were changed to thirteen to fifteen.) I agreed, and the deal proceeded. After it sold, I aged it down right away without any other notes or guidance from the editor. I sent that manuscript back in, and her subsequent editorial letter was based on that draft, rather than the one that originally sold.
Was this the first book you wrote? Or do you have previous “starter” novels that you did not sell?
Hahahahaha! My first book! You are funny, Pat. Let’s just say I am lucky to have a hard drive, so that I don’t actually have all those manuscripts literally in drawers.
Katerina’s Wish was the third novel that I sent out on submission. As for the ones that never went out on submission, because I recognized they weren’t ready? It’s in the single digits, but not by much. I love to write first drafts. It wasn’t until I had written quite a few that I got interested in actually revising them to turn them into something worthwhile.
What’s the most common question you’ve been asked since your book sale was announced?
“How is your book doing?” Followed by “When is it coming out?” Very few people in my life realize how long it takes a book to come out, so most of them think it has been on sale for years now. (It was acquired in the fall of 2010.) Two years is pretty normal for a book’s journey from acquisition to publication, but a lot of friends and family started assuming it was on the market within about two or three months of acquisition.
You are, I believe, an archeologist. Have you always been a writer, too? Do the two areas support each other, or are they totally different sides of your personality?
I decided to become an archaeologist in fourth grade. I wrote my first novel in sixth grade, so both have been part of my life for a long, long time. I think both professions stem from a fascination with and passion for, exploring the human condition. I love to imagine what other people’s lives are (or were) like, and how they were shaped by the constraints or opportunities that society offered. I do that both in my writing and in archaeology. However, the two use very different parts of my brain and require entirely different styles of writing, and in that sense, they compete for my time and attention more than I would like.
What are you working on now?
I have several more historical fiction manuscripts floating around. I seem to be working my way forward a decade at a time. Katerina’s Wish is set in 1901. I have stories in various stages of the submission/writing/revision process: one based on a Colorado legend set in 1917, a second about a boy on a Central Illinois Railroad train set in 1923, and a third that’s a middle-grade detective story set in 1933. Once I get those out into the world, I will only have to write seven or eight more before I will be doing contemporary fiction instead of historical.
Thanks, Jeannie! It was great having you and Katerina stop by.
If you’d like to learn more about Jeannie and Katerina’s Wish, you should:
Sat 25 Aug 2012
Tad and Taylor don’t know each other.
But in The Hop (Hyperion, 2012), a new middle-grade novel by Sharelle Byars Moranville, they’re both concerned about the same pond.
To Tad, a toad, it’s his home. To Taylor, a human girl, it’s a spot near her grandmother’s house that has provided some of her favorite memories.
Why are Tad and Taylor worried? Because the land is slated to be turned into a strip mall, which mean a backhoe will be coming to destroy everything.
Tad has one ray of hope. Legend holds that one brave young toad can help—but at a terrible price. Only if a toad kisses a human girl will Toadville be saved. Tad wants to rise to the challenge. So, with his best friend, Buuurk, he ventures off.
Taylor is trying to help as well. And when she meets Tad, their combined efforts just might be enough to save the day.
I like: Chocolate, Taylor Swift, books and dolphins.
This book was about: A frog named Tad whose home will only be saved if he kisses the Queen of the Hop.
The best part was when: Tad announced to the rest of Toadville-by-Tumbledown that he had kissed the Queen of the Hop, and that they were saved.
I laughed when: Tad became a human and helped Taylor look for the toad – who was Tad!
I was worried when: Tad lost Buuurk, and was scared.
I was surprised that: Tad turned into a human!
This book taught me: That no matter what happens, always keep working toward your goal.
Other kids reading this book should watch for: How Taylor absolutely loves her grandmother and also loves the pond.
Three words that best describe this book are: “Funny.” “Heartwarming.” “Happy.”
My favorite line or phrase in the book is: “Rumbler still has his big stinky feet right by us,” somebody said. “So how do you know we’re saved?” “Because I kissed the Queen of the Hop,” Tad said. And he could only hope that she would keep her promise.”
You should read this book because: It is a book of friendship and determination. It shows that you can do anything when you put your mind to it.
Sharelle Byars Moranville has written several other books, including Over the River – a Booklist Top Ten First Juvenile Novel, a Booklist Top Ten Historical Juvenile Novel, and a finalist for the 2005-2006 Iowa Children’s Choice Award. She’s also written A Higher Geometry – a Bank Street College of Education Best Book and a Booklist Top 10 Youth Romance.
If you’d like to learn more about Sharelle, you can visit her website. Or read this interview.
Sun 19 Aug 2012
The school year is just around the corner for kids across the country, but there’s still time to talk a little bit about summer camp.
To do that, we’ll be looking at My Extra Best Friend (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012) by Julie Bowe. This book is the fifth and final installment in the Friends for Keeps series that follows the adventures of Ida May and her group of friends.
The series kicked off with fourth-grader Ida May missing her best friend, Elizabeth Evans, who had moved away. To make matters worse, Liz wasn’t even answering Ida May’s letters. As the series progresses through the next several books, Ida May makes friends, enjoys them, argues with them, makes up with them and learns a lot about herself.
As this last book begins, Ida May and two of her friends are away at an overnight summer camp. and who ends up being one of their bunkmates? Liz. This opens old insecurities and brings up new questions for Ida May.
One thing’s for certain, this should be a very interesting week at summer camp.
Today’s reviewer, the aptly named Page, tells us more.
Today’s reviewer: Page
I like: Gymnastics, diving and pizza.
This book was about: A girl named Ida who goes to a camp and meets some new friends and reunites with an old friend.
The best part was when: Ida finds out her old best friend is in the camp too.
I laughed when: I found out Brooke (one of the girls at the camp) brought a crown.
I was worried when: Ida and Liz (her old best friend) were fighting.
I was surprised that: Liz as in the camp.
This book taught me: That you ccan always have more than one best friend.
Other kids reading this book should watch for: The part when Ida sees Liz for the first time after she moved away.
Three words that best describe this book are: “Good.” “Funny. ” “Surprising.”
My favorite line or phrase in this book is: “That’s very … helpful, Jenna.”
You should read this book because: It is a good book.
To learn more about Julie, you can visit her blog or her website.
You also can read this interview. Or watch this one.
And, if you have fun or not-so-fun summer camp memories, feel free to share them in the comments below.
Wed 25 Jul 2012
If you know a horse-loving kid, chances are he or she will be enchanted by Libby of High Hopes (Paula Wiseman Books, 2012) by Elise Primavera.
This quiet, lovely, early middle-grade novel tells the story of Libby, a girl who’s constantly being encouraged to live up to her potential. But that’s hard to do when Libby’s biggest love is horses, but her family only has enough money for one set of lessons and they go to her older sister.
Libby tries to learn on her own. She volunteers at the stable and makes friends with the horses there, an older client and one of the owners. She draws pictures of horses, watches her sister’s lessons and tries to pick up pointers.
But it isn’t easy seeing her sister get what Libby really wants. Especially since Libby knows her sister doesn’t value it as much.
And especially since — on top of everything else — one of Libby’s friends isn’t acting much like a friend anymore, but Libby’s mother is insisting Libby should still be friends with her and stay on the swim team, which Libby hates. And there’s this horrible princess spa party Libby is definitely too old to attend but has to anyway.
What’s a girl to do? Let’s ask today’s guest reviewer, Olivia, who often goes by Livvy. She found a lot of parallels between Libby’s life and her own.
Take it away, Olivia!
Today’s reviewer: Olivia
I like: Animals. Being on the swim team. Reading Harry Potter.
This book was about: A girl named Libby who loves drawing horses. Then, she finds a horse farm and she starts going there a lot.
The best part was when: Libby found out she got to take riding lessons on Princess.
I laughed when: Libby’s mother said, “Libby! Take the dog for a walk!!!”
I was worried when: Emily was at the horse show, and she was about to jump over a huge fence with her horse, Benson.
I was surprised that: Libby’s sister wanted to go to the farm.
This book taught me: To never give up.
Other kids reading this book should watch for: The part when Libby sees the horses for the first time.
Three words that describe this book: “Awesome.” “Horse-related.” “Cool.”
My favorite line or phrase in the book is: “No. It wasn’t fair.”
You should read this book because: You can make a lot of connections with Libby’s life.
Thank you, Olivia!
If you’d like to learn more about Elise Primavera, you can:
Thu 12 Jul 2012
Posted by Pat under Authors
When I read Flying the Dragon, the new middle grade novel by Natalie Dias Lorenzi, I was impressed from page one.
On the surface, the story shares how two cousins — Hiroshi and Skye — build a relationship even though one has grown up in Japan while the other lives in America. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on — kite building and flying, soccer tryouts, finding friends, learning new languages, deciding how important family and traditions are, and learning what it means to lose people and things that are loved.
All these pieces come together so perfectly and satisfyingly that, when the book is over, readers might just want to flip back to page one and start this story over again.
I am thrilled that author Natalie Dias Lorenzi is joining my blog today to talk about how this book came to be.
Take it away, Natalie!
Your book combines soccer, Japanese kite making, flying and fighting, cancer, and the ins and outs of learning a new language. How did you think to combine all these elements? What came first?
The kite flying and fighting definitely came first. Even though I’d lived in Japan for two years, I had never heard of this sport until I read Khaled Housseini’s novel The Kite Runner. I was completely fascinated by the idea that this seemingly relaxing, low-key hobby was actually a rather strenuous, sometimes dangerous sport in many countries around the world. In doing some digging, I found that it’s also got quite a following here in the U.S. I thought it would be an interesting topic for kids, so I originally brainstormed possible picture book plotlines.
I was taking an online course on writing for children through Writer’s Digest at the time, and one assignment was to write a 500-word exchange that featured dialogue between a protagonist and antagonist. I wrote a school scene on Hiroshi’s first day of school where he’s reaching out to a Japanese-American boy and trying to start a conversation. The boy is completely embarrassed to speak in Japanese in front of his American classmates, so Hiroshi is left friendless for the day — that’s where the ins and outs of learning a new language emerged. From there, I realized that what I actually had was an idea for a novel, not a picture book, and things built from there. The boy in Hiroshi’s class became a girl named Susan, who eventually became Skye, Hiroshi’s cousin.
I needed a way to get Hiroshi to the US from Japan, so I came up with Grandfather having cancer and the family deciding to go the U.S. for a last-hope treatment.
Soccer came last; Susan didn’t play soccer at first, not until I revised and added her as the second main character. At that point, I made her into Hiroshi’s cousin, and I needed a conflict that would make her resent the arrival of her extended Japanese family, yet remain sympathetic to readers. Thus, Skye the soccer star was born.
Which parts were the easiest to write? Which were more difficult?
For me, Skye’s chapters were probably easier to write than Hiroshi’s. Once I let her share the spotlight with Hiroshi, she really won me over. Considering that she’d started as a boy, then a girl, who wasn’t very nice to Hiroshi, I enjoyed getting to know who she really was. Since she was born and raised in America, this made her easier for me to figure out. In the scenes where she’s in the hated Saturday Japanese lessons, I drew heavily on my 10-year-old daughter’s experiences in Saturday Italian classes, where most of the kids are only here for a few years and have to reenter Italian schools. They’re at a much higher level with the grammar and vocabulary, whereas we just wanted our daughter to feel more comfortable talking to her Italian relatives when we go to Italy for the summers. My 13-year-old daughter plays on a travel soccer team, so I was in my comfort zone when writing Skye’s soccer scenes.
Hiroshi was harder to write. He reminds me of many former students who came to me with little to no English, were very reserved, and eager to impress their teachers. The scene where he wants to tell his ESL teacher all about Grandfather being ill and the move and missing the kite battle back home, yet doesn’t have the words—that scene is one that still touches me whenever I go back and read it, because I’ve seen this happen with many of my students. The biggest challenge in writing Hiroshi’s point of view is that I wanted to create a character to whom American readers would relate, yet it was important to me to stay within the parameters of Hiroshi’s culture. For example, there’s one scene where Hiroshi becomes angry with Grandfather, but instead of yelling and stomping out of the room, as an American kid might, I had to paint his anger in a different way, while still getting the intensity of Hiroshi’s emotions across to the reader.
What kind of research did you do for this book? How did you approach it and how long did it take?
I knew from the start that I’d have to do some heavy researching on kite fighting and kite making. I initially did research on the history of kite fighting for a children’s magazine called Learning Through History. In the meantime, I read Linda Sue Park’s middle grade historical novel The Kite Fighters, and I noticed that in her acknowledgments, she thanked a man named David Gomberg, president of the American Kitefighters Association. I sent him an email, and he was incredibly helpful and generous with his time. Over a period of a month or so, he eventually read over all the kite flying and kite fighting scenes and offered invaluable input. He also put me in touch with Harold Ames, who has won the Smithsonian Rokkaku Kite Fighting Competition more than once. That competition is now called the Cherry Blossom Rokkaku Kite Battle, and the same one that my main characters, Hiroshi and Skye, enter at the end of the book.
For the Japanese phrases and cultural details, I relied on my two years living in Yokohama, Japan as I wrote the very first draft of the story. But living in Japan for two years certainly did not make me an expert in Japanese culture, especially when it came to the everyday lives of a typical Japanese family. Once I had the final draft finished, two teachers who were raised in Japan and now live in the U.S. agreed to take a look at the manuscript, and hoo-boy, am I glad they did! They caught lots of little things that needed tweaking, and hopefully now the story will feel authentic to readers who are familiar with the Japanese language and culture.
Writers are always told to make things difficult for their main characters. I think you did that admirably with Skye and Hiroshi. In fact, several times when I thought things had gotten as bad as they could get, they got even worse. Was it hard on you making their story so hard on them?
It was hard, actually. I really debated with myself about the fate of Grandfather, because I love him! And I know how dear he is to both Hiroshi and Skye. I talked it over (via email) with my critique group, and there were pros and cons for both avenues, but I think the one I ended up with was the right one. Both Hiroshi and Skye had to navigate some tough times in order to become the people they become by the end of the story—both individually and as cousins in the same family. But during the writing of many scenes, I found myself cringing and apologizing to Hiroshi and Skye!
What was this book’s path to publication? Quick and easy? Long and tortuous? Somewhere in between?
Definitely long and tortuous, but well worth the path it took. In its early stages, I received an offer from a small house with an equally small distribution radius. I had submitted the manuscript to this publisher before signing with my agent, and she advised me to let her submit the manuscript elsewhere, and I’m so glad I did. After some minor revisions (which included the addition of Skye’s English Tips of the Day for Hiroshi), it went out on submission. We had a lot of no’s, most of which said that the writing was lovely, but the story was too quiet for the market.
After about a year of this, we pulled back to reassess and started taking revision. At the time, the story was only told from Hiroshi’s point of view, and Skye was a girl named Susan in Hiroshi’s class who wasn’t all that nice to him. I’d mentioned earlier to my agent that if the manuscript sold, I’d eventually love to write a book from her point of view, because she got a bit of bad wrap in Hiroshi’s version, and maybe she could tell her side of the story. In that phone conversation with my agent, she said, “I think Susan is dying to tell her side of the story … now.” So we settled on a revision where the chapters would alternate between the two points of view. Susan became Skye, Hiroshi’s cousin, and I instantly fell in love with her! She added some much-needed levity to the story and to Hiroshi’s personality.
Once the revision was finished, it went back out and we had interest from Charlesbridge within a couple of months.
Now that your book is out, what’s the nicest thing someone has said about it?
The very first review that Flying the Dragon ever had was from a boy named Erik who has his own book review blog called This Kid Reviews Books. When he emailed to say that his review of my book was up, I was so nervous! Here was a well-read kid who was part of my target audience. Would he like my book? It turned out that he did, and ended his review by saying that, “It is definitely a book I would read again.”
Another thrill for me was when I found out that Kirkus had given Flying the Dragon a starred review. The last line reads, “A quiet, beautifully moving portrayal of a multicultural family,” which gave my agent and me a chuckle; the original manuscript had been rejected so many times for being “too quiet,” and here was the word “quiet” being used as a positive!
Based on your experiences with this book, what’s the most important thing you learned?
That revision can sometimes mean rewriting. I always keep a file of the various versions of my manuscripts, so cutting entire chapters isn’t as painful. I used to be much more reluctant to cut words and phrases that made me swoon, but I’ve learned that story trumps even pretty words.
What advice would you give to fellow writers?
Don’t write in isolation. Join a community of writers in some way—through SCBWI, Verla Kay’s Blueboards, or a local writers’ group. I’ve been with the same critique group for about seven years now.
What are you working on now?
As a teacher, summer is my most productive time, but my writing to-do list is always longer than what I’m able to accomplish! Right now, I’m working on another middle grade novel and tweaking a picture book manuscript. Wish me luck!
Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Pat!
Thanks for stopping by, Natalie!
If you’d like to learn more about Natalie, visit her website.
Mon 7 May 2012
Posted by Pat under Authors
I’ve never lived anywhere that could remotely be considered Southern.
But I’ve always loved reading Southern fiction. So when I first heard about Glory Be (Scholastic, 2012), a middle-grade novel set in Hanging Moss, Mississippi, I knew it was something I should check out.
And I am so glad I did.
The book is about the summer of 1964. Gloriana June Hemphill — known as Glory – will turn 12. Suddenly, she’s faced with an array of changes and questions she never had to consider before. Her relationship with her sister is changing. So is her relationship with her best friend.
And people in town are choosing sides in a debate about what should become of the town’s segregated pool.
All in all, it’s not the summer Glory imagined — or wanted — in any way.
This is author Augusta Scattergood’s debut novel, and I am thrilled that she is joining Read, Write, Repeat today to tell us more about it.
You’ve said you started writing this book after Ruby Bridges visited the school where you worked as a librarian. Had you thought about writing books for kids before? Or was that moment an epiphany for you?
I’m sure a lot of librarians dream of seeing their own books on a library shelf someday. Maybe an occupational hazard? I’d always written— letters, newsletters, reports, book reviews. But an actual book, with a book jacket, an ISBN number, a dedication and author’s note, all those chapters? I’m not sure I’d considered how much hard work that actually involved. Maybe that’s a good thing!
When I heard Ruby Bridges say she thought things might have been quite different for her had the adults stepped out of the way gave me a beginning. That’s the moment I realized GLORY BE was a story I could tell.
How did being a librarian help you, or hinder you, as you wrote this book?
I certainly felt the stakes were pretty high! I knew the best literature, and that could have been intimidating. But I always advise anybody who wants to write to read a lot. I think the benefits of being a librarian who read great books outweighed the hindrances.
Walk us through GLORY BE’s path to publication. I read that this started out as a short story and evolved from there.
I started thinking about a card game my younger sister and I played when we were kids. During the summers, we were trapped in our rooms in the hottest part of each day, supposedly napping. We dreamed up a card game played with our collected “junk.” Those Junk Poker boxes were the visual image I remembered when I thought about the sisters’ relationship.
At that time, I was also planning my daughter’s wedding. My short story was going to be about two little girls and their wedding planner/church organist babysitter. Fortunately, I took a different path!
I wrote the first draft during a class at The New School in New York. It was a writers’ workshop, a weekly class with an amazing teacher Margaret (Bunny) Gabel. When she read aloud a chapter of the then-inaptly-titled Junk Poker, and I heard the responses, I was encouraged to continue.
About seven years later, after sending it hither and yon, getting the requisite number of rejections, putting it in a drawer, working on something new, I met an agent at a Maryland SCBWI event. A year later, she took on Glory Be and sold it to Andrea Pinkney at Scholastic.
What’s that they say? Ten years to overnight success. That would be me. Ha.
This is your debut novel. Now that the book is out, how is being a published author different than you anticipated?
I don’t think in a million years I could have imagined what fun/work/excitement this could be. Although I’d heard a lot of writers describe publishing their first books (from my many years of hosting Author Visits and attending writing events), it’s still hard to explain what it feels like just to hold a book that you wrote and know it’s touching so many young readers.
I think the best part may be the responses I’ve gotten from kids, parents and teachers who’ve discovered Glory. I even met someone who’s reading it aloud to her grandmother and her friends in their assisted living facility. She tells me they love the story. You can’t imagine—or predict— how that will feel.
What advice would you have for writers working to sell their first book? What do you know now that you wish you had known earlier?
My biggest mistake was sending the manuscript out before it was ready. I didn’t know what “ready” meant. It was free of typos and any kind of obvious mistakes. It was formatted perfectly. Everybody loved the characters, the voice, the setting. It just didn’t yet have a plot to match, or enough conflict and emotion. That was something I needed to learn, the hard way. Patience is a virtue. There is something to that 10-year thing!
Thanks for visiting!
You can learn more about Glory Be and Augusta by visiting her website or reading her blog.