All for Love: A Middle Grade Reader Romance

In celebration of attending my first SCBWI conference this weekend, I’d like to share my love of literature with you. I’ve been reading middle grade novels since I was of age—I never grew out of the genre. Even though I thought I was writing a young adult novel, on the sixth draft I discovered it was actually MG. It makes sense because my absolute FAVORITE novels are all categorized as MG, and more often than not, they are marked with “Ages 10 and up” or “10-14” for the reading level.

There are MG books marketed for eight to twelve year olds. Those novels are typically set in upper elementary school grades and are slightly longer than chapter books (think Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and How to Eat Fried Worms.) But what I’m focusing on today are those magical coming-of-age novels that have universal themes that related to everyone from tweens to adults.

Well beyond the first three Harry Potter books—which did make it socially acceptable for adults to venture into the children’s section—there is a plethora of life-changing literature to be found in the fiction section for younger readers. These books are deep and rich with truths of life and death.

The following list is my challenge books. I dare friends and family who “don’t read kids books” to read one and no one has been disappointed. Most of these titles are award winners and the majority won the Newbery Medal. Trust that honor—the children’s librarians at ALA know what they’re doing! I’ve divided my list of the TOP TEN MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS into three sub-genres to make it easier to find what might interest you the most.

Historical (pre-1950s):

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (This book captures the emotions of slavery in New England during the American Revolution. It is cross-merchandized in the YA section because of its heavy subject matter, but is listed as ages 10 and up.)    
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (An awesome sea adventure set in the 1830s.)
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (A novel in verse about the dust bowl in Oklahoma beginning in 1934.)
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Haven’t you always wanted to know what it was like to live on Alcatraz? A son of a guardsman in 1935 shares his story.)
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Spend 1937 in the middle of nowhere Illinois with a hillbilly granny. Hilariously funny. You could cheat and listen to the audio—it’s brilliant.)

Science Fiction edge:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Classic. Enough said.)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (Futuristic/dystopian—before it was trendy—and deeply moving.)

Contemporary:

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (My favorite novel of all time.)

  • Holes by Louis Sachar (Amazingly crafted, and supports a historical story within the present-day plot. Double bonus points!)
  • Listen by Stephanie S. Tolan (I just found this one about a year ago. Deceptively quiet, but so very tender. Great for dog lovers.)

Have you read any of these? If not, I dare you to read one!

What would you put on your list of favorite middle grade novels?

Escape into Reading

This month has been filled with family and home. I’ve been surrounded by a few nieces and many more nephews, and all the things that accompany them. Laundry, food, messes, and noise. And of course fun, laughter, love, and adventure. But I’ve had to cope with lack of quiet and thinking time. So I went into literary hibernation.

I escaped what was going on around me by snuggling into books. Forget the army battle sounds coming from down the hall and the trail of toys stretched from the sofa to the bedroom–I’d rather be in Kosovo or playing middle school soccer.
So, as you can see from my list of books in the past two weeks, I’ve been hibernating a lot! A couple of these books were read in less than 24 hours.

A great closing to The Hunger Games series. A kindred spirit gave me the first book for my birthday and immediately loaned me the other two books so I could read the series straight through. Loved how it ended, though about ten pages before I was about to scream at Katniss for one of her decissions.

Katherine Paterson has been one of my favorite writers since I read Bridge to Terabithiacirca 1989. This book came out about two years ago but I finally purchased the hardcover (thank you Books-A-Million bargain tables, for this and two other books on the list) last month. I had no clue about the wars in the Kosovo area during the past two decades, other than people were dying. This book made me want to learn more about recent history I’ve been blind to.

Nice summer romance with a HEAVY dose of southern spice. This is the most southern sounding book I’ve read in recent years, if not ever.

I was able to meet the gracious author, Crickett Rumley, at a local book signing last week. Fun read–laughed out loud many times.

Wow! This is the best contemporary middle reader book I’ve read in a LONG time. Amazingly deep. Will be looking for more by Edward Bloor!

Does this make half of my books this time southern? Even Tangerine was set in Florida, with scenes in TX and AL. This was one of my 24 or less books. Adventure with heart. Enjoyed it enough to want to purchase my own copy to have for my kids to read.
So, what have you been feeding your mind this month?

Reading by the Numbers

This morning I went out with the kidlets and friends on an alligator hunt and spied three gators.

It’s always fun to see animals in their natural habitat—especially from a safe vantage point.
This was our first week of summer break. Although I’m not officially starting back to homeschooling until mid-July, I’ve started the middle child on learning to read and the eldest with typing skills. It’s been a little slack these first few days, but I think we all needed some off time to refuel.
On a literary note, I’ve done next to nothing in the past three weeks on my WIP. My goal for this weekend is to get back on track. I need to finish the last tidbit of the first draft so I can better home into the poignant scenes in the beginning.
My reading the past few weeks:

Very insightful!

Fluffy fun–already passed on to a friend.

Still digesting this one. Full of GREAT information and advice. (Thanks for the loan, Joyce!)
Lately, I’ve been analyzing my reading habits and book collection. Though I’m not huge on numbers, I do love a good pie graph. Thanks to mathwarehouse.com for the pie making abilities.

These are my firm TOP TEN contemporary writers—authors who I’ve read five or more books by that have had new books out within the past decade. Otherwise I’d add in Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Beverly Cleary… you get the picture!
Middle Readers: Richard Peck (he might have some “teen”, but nearly all are middle readers that I know of), Gail Carson Levine (?), Susan Cooper (?), Katherine Paterson (but not exclusively—she’s written early readers and picture books, too…)
Young Adult: Laurie Halse Anderson (no, she does picture books and middle readers also…), Shannon Hale (NOPE- sometimes she’s found in middle readers—hello, Newbery Honor—and she has two adult books which I adore), Sarah Dessen (might be the only single genre writer on my list)
Adult: Terry Brooks (though many teens read his fantasy books), Beverly Lewis (no, wait… she does picture books, middle readers, and teen, too!)
Cross-overs:Madeleine L’Engle is all over the literary map—in a good way—but then again… it looks like 90% of my favorites are!

What would your pie graph look like?
To gather my thoughts in a parting gesture, I’d like to use a quote the lovely Léna Roy used on her own blog today, which was spoken by her grandmother:
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” -Madeleine L’Engle

New Year, Better Me

I skipped last week. And I don’t want to muddle through any hum-drum excuses or anything. (Cough. Cough.)
All the blogs I read have posts wrapping up the blogger’s 2009 thoughts so I figured I’ll actually go along with a trend.
I’ve enjoyed a year of raising kids and appreciating the differences between boys and girls, now that I finally have a girl.
Read lots of books, as usual. Too many to name, but Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson was the most haunting. I’ll try to start mentioning what I’m reading with each post.
Writing—yes!!! I joined the local Writer’s Guild and was honored in being extended a spot in a small critique group.
I actually went to the movie theater TWICE. Of course both movies were for books (in two different series) I enjoy. Can you guess which ones?
I’ve improved my health and am sticking with regular exercise.
My life-list for bird watching is now at seventy-six species I’ve identified.
I’ve been able to complete numerous knitting projects and feel like I might be ready to advance to more varied patterns.
My husband and I celebrated thirteen years together a few weeks ago.
And… a bunch of other things. You can go back and read my previous posts if you really want to know more.
Love and best wishes for a productive 2010 to all—especially to Katherine Paterson as she takes over the position as the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature.

Do You Love a Banned Book?

It’s banned books week!
http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm
Some of my favorite authors have banned books and books that have attempted to be banned from schools and libraries. Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L’Engle, and Laurie Halse Anderson are three that come to mind.
Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is my favorite novel of all-time. Some parents have concerns about it because the main character has a crush on his young female music teacher (what kid hasn’t had a crush on a teacher?) and also because a death in the book. No spoiler beyond that- just READ it. It won the Newbery Award for a reason!
Madeleine L’Engle ranks in the top five Christian fiction writers of the last century- I’m talking with the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, may they all rest in peace. Some people are scared of the book A Wrinkle in Time because it doesn’t meet their ideal of religion- that it’s too “new age”. If you want correct doctrine don’t go looking for it in a novel… but you can find universal truths in the symbolism therein.
The most recent attempts at banning were blogged about by by Laurie Halse Anderson at her site last week. http://halseanderson.livejournal.com/264680.html Twisted, one of her novels on the chopping block, is possibly the most eye-opening novel I’ve read. As a parent it made me fear for my boys upcoming teen years. Heavy, yes. Uncomfortable at times, yes. Worth it for the learning experience, yes! It’s a novel I’ll allow my children to read once they reach a level of maturity in which the topics can be digested properly. A wonderful talking point to encourage conversation between parents and children.
Parents need to read what their children are reading. Literature can be a gateway in which scary, tough, and heavy topics can be approached in a safe, third person way. Books are tools, learn how to use them appropriately.