Thursday, December 22, 2011


I am at a strange place in my writing journey. I'm querying one novel and gathering feedback on another. Last night, a picture prompted me to write a picture book manuscript, and I liked it. I haven't liked one of my own picture book manuscripts this much in years. Usually I get frustrated a few paragraphs in and never finish. And the drafts I do finish rarely excite me enough to pursue them. Picture books are hard. The story I wrote last night isn't a rhyming one, and it made my kids laugh out loud. It's just under 500 words, which is about the perfect length.

I also received my complimentary issues of this January's HIGHLIGHTS HIGH FIVE, last week, as I was on my way out of town for a couple of weddings. Mary Sullivan's illustration is perfect. I never know who will illustrate my poems or what the finished product will look like, but I've also never been disappointed.

If you don't subscribe to HIGHLIGHTS HIGH FIVE and would like to see "Worm School," most libraries carry the magazine. Ours does. Or if you'd like to listen, you can follow this link to an audio version of the magazine on the HIGHLIGHTS website. My contribution is on page 30.

Whatever holiday you might be celebrating, I wish you a happy one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


This is another one of those multi-layered posts, but I've buried some shiny in it. You may have noticed I like doing that. ;)

Last week, attending a couple of plays that my twelve-year-old niece had parts in, I realized that knowing most of the kids involved made watching more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. I'd either volunteered in their classroom at the elementary level or coached a team they'd been on, and having invested myself, watching them succeed makes me happy.

It isn't about what they owe me or anything I've done. I like them. Actually, "like" might not be a strong enough word. I can't recommend volunteering enough.

It's not so different from the way critiquing another person's writing helps me see changes I need to make in my own. The benefits of investment apply here as well. One of my critique partners, after years of querying and rejection, recently signed with an agent, giving me reason to happy dance. Adam Heine's manuscript is fantastic, and he'll be telling his story all week. Please, go congratulate him.

After all, he's one of the brilliant CPs who helped me polish the query I just sent out. Yes. I just sent my first query to an agent (December 13th, 11:40 PM). Let the rejection begin! 


Monday, December 12, 2011


This week's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reminds me of the late Anne McCaffrey, only without the sexy. ;)


DRAGONSDALE starts out slowly, but the characterization and world building are excellent. I'm sure I'm not the only reader to note the similarity between the dragons and horses. The dragons are kept in stables. They're trained, raced, and shown in competitions. Even the way they tease and bond with people reminds me of experiences I've had with horses. At least one of the writers has to have spent time around horses. So, it's Dragon Riders of Pern meets one of those girl and her horse stories. And it's grand.

Cara's father owns Dragonsdale, but he hasn't let her ride a dragon since a broken harness resulted in her mother's death. And Cara obeys him until riding a dragon saves her life. This forces her to choose between bad choices that get worse as the story goes on.

Salamanda Drake is an obvious pseudonym, so I went digging and found the real writers. Actually, reading the bio they created reminds me of this Simpson's episode with Neil Gaiman.

So funny.

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)

Monday, December 5, 2011


The omniscient narrator in Anne Ursu's BREADCRUMBS reminds me of the narrator in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Describing it as lyrical doesn't seem enough. The story starts out gently and crescendoes multiple times until you hear ice cracking.


You'll recognize bits and pieces of other stories, especially fairy tales, but the stories are twisted. When Hazel tells a boy in the woods "I don't understand this place," he says: "You can't understand it. People think there should be rules, or order." Bad things happen to those people. Actually, bad things happen to everyone who goes into the woods, but Hazel has to go through it to save her best friend, even though everyone keeps telling her he doesn't want to be saved.

This is another one I'd like to see up for the Newbery. Hazel's struggle to be a good friend and daughter brought tears to my eyes more than once. She's a character that young readers (and older ones, too) will relate to.  

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Monday, November 21, 2011


I love it when a book lives up to the hype. LIESL AND PO, by Lauren Oliver, had a lot of hype to live up to. Let's take a look, shall we?

"With nods to Dahl, Dickens, the Grimms, and even Burnett, the author has made something truly original."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Classic fairy tale elements weave throughout this spirited, old-fashioned adventure. [Liesl & Po] testifies to the power of friendship and generosity to conquer greed and depression."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"With her third book, Lauren Oliver (Before I FallDelirium) creates another highly original world, this one for middle-grade readers."
Shelf Awareness


Liesl’s cruel stepmother, Augusta, keeps her locked in her attic bedroom. Lonely and grieving for her recently deceased father, Liesl is surprised one evening by Po, a ghost who suddenly materializes in her room. The two become fast friends, and it is because of Po that Liesl is able to escape from her attic room and embark on a journey to bury her father’s ashes beside those of her mother. However, because of a mix-up at the undertaker’s, the box that Liesl carries does not contain her father’s ashes. Instead, it contains the most powerful magic in the world. And the alchemist who created that magic desperately wants it back.

I'll be disappointed if this one doesn't win the Newbery. It was that good.

Instead of spoiling the story, I'm going to say a few things about the author's note (which totally made me cry). Lauren Oliver wrote the book after the death of her best friend, and she talks about how the world felt "gray and murky, much like the world Liesl inhabits at the start of the story." She realized, after writing the story, that Liesl's journey was her own. This resonated with me, as it will probably resonate with anyone who has ever lost someone they love.

Beautiful, beautiful story. It reminded me of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A LITTLE PRINCESS, and yet the story line is completely different.

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)
Have a Marvelous Monday!   

Monday, November 7, 2011


First published in 1872, THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald, is the oldest middle grade I've recommend on my blog. I adored it as a child and pulled my beat-up copy out for another read a few weeks ago. It's one of those stories that feels like an old friend. The cover that I found on Goodreads isn't the one I remember, but mine's been missing its cover for so long that I don't remember it well.
The Princess and the Goblin
C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien admired MacDonald's work, especially his children's stories, and credited him with influencing their writing. Lewis believed MacDonald to be the greatest of myth-makers and said that his stories shock readers "more fully awake than we are for most of our lives." 

I've read and enjoyed more of MacDonald's work as an adult, but THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN remains my favorite. It's the story of a princess who the adults try to keep safely locked away from the goblins that live in the mountains and a miner boy who uncovers a plot to kidnap her. The two children don't always agree with each other. In fact, the authenticity of their voices is one of the story's most charming assets. But they are there for each other when it matters.

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Shiny Book Giveaway

It's November first, and there are NaNoWriMo posts all over the place. It kind of makes you feel left out if you're just plodding along with revisions. Maybe next year.

Maybe you know Steph Sinkhorn, and maybe you don't. She's celebrating her newly agented status with a giveaway of three prize packs that each include books (as in multiple) and critiques. You have until the eleventh to enter.

I'd be thrilled with any of these.




This gal has fabulous taste in books, and clicking on her name will take you to the giveaway. After cranking out 2,000 words today, you needed a distraction, didn't you? You're welcome. ;)

Monday, October 24, 2011


I'm not sure why I put off reading this series. I'd been hearing good things about THE MAGIC THIEF, by Sarah Prineas, since it came out. But waiting meant that I got to read the whole series at once, instead of reading it in yearly installments, and it's the best fantasy series I've read this year.

The Magic Thief


In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure. Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own. But Conn has little time to search for his stone between wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who or what is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic.

The layout and illustrations remind me of Angie Sage's SEPTIMUS HEAP series, but the characters and setting set this series apart. Everyone is more complicated than they appear to be, especially Conn, who isn't the most reliable of narrators. I love how Sarah Prineas even turns the magic into a character. Brilliant. It gives the story an urgency that wouldn't be there otherwise.

Lost (Magic Thief, #2)

You know how I feel about spoilers, so I'm just going to share the covers of the LOST and FOUND.

Found (Magic Thief, #3)

Have you read these? If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shannon Messenger's Giveaway

Shannon Messenger (co-founder of Write On Con and founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday) is throwing a virtual party (giving away books and jewelry and granting wishes) to celebrate her book deal with her "Wishes Come True" Giveaway.  You have today and tomorrow to enter her contest, though I hope the Shannon-as-a-genie pictures stay up longer.

Have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Not So Secret Life

Do you ever feel like your real life and your internet life are separate? I do. There are things I talk about to people in person, things I talk about to people on the internet, and then there are the things I hardly ever talk about, even though they're part of my everyday life.

On the internet, I mostly talk about books and writing.

In real life, I spend a lot of time trying to convince kids (whether they're my own or the ones I teach) that they want to do their schoolwork. I teach three to five year olds, so the amount of time they actually spend learning to read or write is minimal compared to the time we spend on other activities. Really, it's a job that's as fun as you dare to make it.

Or I'm showing older kids drills that (if practiced) will improve their chances of putting a soccer ball where they want it to go. Our team only has one more game to go. We've won two, lost two, and tied two. I'm competitive enough that I'd love to see them win their last game, especially at the middle school level, but not as much as I'd love to see everyone on the team score a goal. It's such a boost for their confidence. I only have one child left who hasn't scored that goal. I know she can do it. She scores in practice, every week. But I can't score that goal for her. All I can do is teach her and do my best to make sure she's in the right place.

And now we're to the secret. Around the end of August, I started taking piano lessons. My nine-year-old had been wanting to take them, so he and I started taking them at the same time. I enjoy it. I'm not sure why I don't talk about it. I like practicing, but I've noticed that if I don't practice fairly early in the day, it doesn't happen. I get too busy. This usually only happens about once a week.

But it's made me wonder if leaving writing until the end of the day is such a great idea. If I wrote earlier in the day, I could still write at night. Some nights, my brain is too tired. Of course, that's true of some mornings as well, but I'm going to switch things up a bit and see if I can't get more done.

After all, the end of soccer season ought to free up time for things like housework and watching singers in elephant costumes ride unicycles. ;)

Seriously though, if I don't make time to practice skills that are important to me, I won't improve at the rate I want to. I'm still learning how to write stories.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Last year I recommended Michael J. Kirby's debut novel, THE CLOCKWORK THREE, one of my first Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays. If you want to read that post, you can find it here. ICEFALL is even better. The story and characters aren't anything like those from his first novel, though. I've been trying to think of something to compare it to, and the closest I've been able to come up with is John Flanagan's RANGER'S APPRENTICE series.



Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

Kirby writes with power, beauty, and simplicity. In other words, his prose is gorgeous without ever turning purple.  Researching for this, I found a blog post where Mr. Kirby mentions that he listened to "In the Hall of the Mountain King," by Edvard Grieg, the Norwegian composer, while writing ICEFALL. Listening to it made me smile.

Have you read either of Kirby's novels?

If you'd like to read about more Marvelous Middle Grades, the following people would love to oblige you: 

Shannon Whitney Messenger (our founding mother)