In Which I’m Nerdy, Again



Today on The Nerdy Book Club, they are hosting my “Top Ten Books Featuring Autism Spectrum Disorder.” If you love children’s/teen literature, teaching, libraries, or anything related to those topics, be sure to follow their blog. Those nerdy people post daily and are full of inspiration and insight.

Did you miss my first post with the group? Find it here:

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.)


  • 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?

An Autism Literary Journey

It’s no secret that my oldest child is on the autism spectrum (check out posts under the “Autism” category) but this summer we passed a milestone: a READING benchmark.

Call me a bad parent, but one of my only questions for the neurologist who “helped” diagnosis my son with PDD-NOS was “Will he ever learn to read?”  My sweet son didn’t sit still long enough for me to read more than a page or two of a picture book—he was more interested in lining up his video cassettes.

Thankfully, he did learn to read and in the past year he’s been reading for pleasure. Every night, he’d read aloud to himself from The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter or the Curious George cannon. Over and over. I was happy to see him reading, and had to brush tears from my cheeks the first few times I caught his little brother and sister huddled around him in bed after lights out to listen to the stories, but I didn’t want him stimming on the same stories.

When his fourteenth birthday approached this July, I decided to formerly introduce him to my bookshelves which he passed dozens of times a day. I pointed out a section of middle grade novels and let him pick one of the E.B. White books since he was familiar with the characters from their movie reincarnations. He went through Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan the first week. He plowed through the complete Bunnicula series by James Howe and several Newbery books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Shiloh, The Whipping Boy, and Sarah, Plain and Tall. He even read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

SIXTY books in two months! I gave him a journal when he began his novel reading journey and in it he draws the cover of each book he completes. Now, I need to go back to the bookstore and buy another journal.

I’ve always had a major children’s book collection happening but last week I started fearing for my home library. He’d moved from the lower middle grade novel—typically for 7-10 year olds—bookshelves to my personal favorites—the ten and up category.

So, we began this week with a trip to our local library branch like a good homeschool family. Usually, my guy would only look at the DVDs and a book or two if pressed. This time, I showed him the children’s fiction section and he started putting Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary books in our bag. I’m majorly excited but a little sad that he’s got dibs on Lair & Spy by Rebecca Stead before me.

The Dreaded Year-end Blog

Or shall we call it “The New Beginnings Blog”? Yes, that’s much better. See, barely a year older and already wiser.
Speaking of birthdays, here’s a picture of my most awesome gift.

I’d get frustrated with it but it’s too much fun. Whoever created this is an evil genius.

Since I changed my New Year’s resolutions into birthday goals, I pulled out the dusty list and decided what was mastered, what needed continual coverage, and what had to be ditched. Here’s the latest line-up.
For my “physical” goal, I dumped the “get below ___” and have set in place actual monthly mile goals, as well as how many times a month, to chart my exercise. Life is too short to live by numbers, whether it’s counting calories or trying to get those last five (or twenty, or more…) pounds off before you can feel totally happy with yourself. Just give me jeans that don’t create a muffin-top effect and a shirt that doesn’t make me look six months pregnant and I feel great. But I must admit, it’s getting harder to find those clothes…
“Mental” was difficult to keep (no snide remarks, please!)—reading one non-fiction book a month. Some months I read more than one and other months I was lucky to keep up with my scripture studies and my few magazine/newsletter subscriptions (which are non-fiction). So, I’m keeping it simple: Keep learning!
“Spiritual” is a keeper. I still need to improve the quality of my prayers. It’s just too easy to whisper a quick “thank you” and snuggle into bed at night. Or keep hitting snooze until all the kids are running around and I forget to start the day on my knees.
For the “emotional” aspect of life I’ve broadened my goal to include more things but removed the actual time constraints. So, instead of completing an emotional inventory once a month (I only got around to doing two this past year) I’ll “keep track of my emotional state by regular (how’s that for a cop out?) journal keeping, testing, and meditation.” In case you were wondering, I do the Beck Depression Inventory and Burns Anxiety Inventory tests to track my ups and downs, as suggested by a great counselor many years ago. But that’s another entry…
“Social”: I totally suck with all things social. I’m keeping my dinky goal of having one date with my husband a month because I really need to work on spending quality time with my man. And I’m too much of a wallflower to attempt weekly/monthly social gatherings.
I think “Family” is the only goal I excelled at. We are in the habit of weekly Family Home Evenings so I’m upping the goal to have daily devotionals. Just a mini something, beyond the reading of a verse or two of scriptures before bed I already do with the kids. I’ll be homeschooling my oldest next school year (yet another future entry) so the daily devotionals would work well into a schooling schedule.
“Financial” is tough. Didn’t meet the goal but I’m thinking positively and increasing—actually decreasing—the numbers. Oh, those pesky numbers again! Didn’t I just write something about life being too short to live by numbers. Might need to rethink this one…
I came close to meeting my “professional” goal. I wanted to complete the first draft—I’m about two-thirds of the way through—of Corroded, my WIP (work in progress). My new goal is to have Corroded polished in time for the 2011 submission deadline for the Delacorte contest. Hopefully the publishing company will keep that contest going, but if not, I’ll look for an agent or submit elsewhere. Delacorte offers a yearly prize for the best contemporary teen book for a first time novelist. The winner is published with an advance as the prize money. Since that goal will actually extend beyond my next birthday—submission is in the fall—I’ve also added to begin my historical fiction novel, which I’ve been researching/thinking/planning/etc on for the past couple years. Plus, I will be open to submitting short pieces for publication or contests when the opportunities arise, but I don’t want to add in a goal for those. Less stress.
Feel free to urge me along with these goals. Keep me on task by asking me how something is going. I do much better at staying focused when I have someone checking on me. That’s why my BFF (Blog Free February) was so successful—I felt I had to answer to Laurie Halse Anderson.
On to other things…
I’ve read several interesting books in the past month.
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry kept me as interested in the story as The Lace Reader, her first book. It always helps when Hawthorne references are thrown in but the mental issues driving the story were well crafted by themselves. The fact that I visited Salem two years ago makes her books that much easier to visualize while reading. Brunonia’s books are two out of maybe six “adult” fiction books I’ve read in the past year or more. They aren’t squeaky clean, so reader beware.
From the local library I borrowed The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom. His actual novels are now on my to read list. The book is a great source of information and easily digested. I even read it before bed several times instead of my usual fluffy reading.

Speaking of fluff, my last nighttime read was the type of novel I’d usually skip. But since I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader’s copy (which I also got for The Map of True Places) I tried it out. One of those upper class high school novels… it’s called She’s So Dead to Us, written by Kieran Scott. It’s better than I expected—stayed up three nights in a row, way past my usual lights out, to read. But even though the ending was more of a beginning (sequel/series in the works, I’m sure) it’s not something I’ll seek out again.
Tonight I’ll start When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead because Newbery winners seldom disappoint. Another library selection.
A few other things of interest that happened in April:

I saw my first 3-D movie since Captain Eoo at Disneyland in the mid 1980s. Alice in Wonderland was great! The technology and the story were a great match. I loved the older Alice and how the movie started and ended. Still not my favorite Johnny Depp performance, though. That goes to Benny and Joon.

Took a day trip to New Orleans to spend a few hours with my awesome cousin who was down south from out west on business. We hadn’t seen each other since a reunion in 1994, I think it was. I’d have to check the cow shirt to be sure…
The family spent “A Day Out with Thomas” one rainy Saturday afternoon. The kids LOVED all the trains, especially the ride on Thomas the Tank Engine, even though he was terribly SLOW.
Spent a dozen collective hours at the Little League park.
And all the kids went to the dentist for cleanings, the youngest for the first time. We’ll be dealing with a cavity-filling appointment in the future. Gag.

No, they aren’t that bad on the little princess’s teeth. This pictures makes me feel a little better, though.
Wow! It looks like I need to return to blogging more often. This blog is huge!