Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas-time Middle Grade Books

I thought I would list a few middle grade holiday books, in case anyone would like to read them.

by Nancy Krulik
Scholastic Paperback October 2009

 How The Pops Stole Christmas (How I Survived Middle School Super Special Series)

Jenny can't wait for the holidays, but her good mood quickly evaporates when she picks Dana as her "Secret Snowflake" in English class and finds out that her friend Sam is heading home to England for the holidays.

by Tony Abbott
Scholastic Press 2005


Unlike the traditional Santa Claus myth, Kringle is a coming-of-age story about an orphan who becomes a force for good in a dark and violent time. It is a tale of fantasy, of goblins, elves, and flying reindeer — and of a boy from the humblest beginnings who fulfills his destiny.
Our tale begins in 500 A.D., when goblins kidnapped human children and set them to work in underground mines. Kringle is one such child.... until he discovers his mission — to free children from enslavement. His legend lives on today, as he travels the earth every Christmas Eve to quell the goblins once more.

by Kathryn Laski
Scholastic November 2001

Christmas after All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, IN, 1932 (Dear America Series) 

At the age of twelve, Minnie Swift is living through one of the toughest times in America's history, The Great Depression. She keeps a detailed diary over the span of one Christmas month. Reflecting the sadness but also the optimism that characterized the time, this is an intimate portrait of a mid-western family's days and nights, ups and downs, triumphs and losses. It is the story of one family's persevering spirit.

The only one I have read is the Christmas After All and I enjoyed it.

There are lots and lots of picture books with the Christmas theme, but I couldn't find that many MGs that dealt with Christmas - hmm, maybe I should write one.

 Do you have any good ones to add to my list?

By the way, I mentioned in my last blog post about our local library's annual writing contest. They announced the winners at a reception on Thursday.

I was surprised and happy to find out that I took 1st place in poetry and 1st place in memoirs!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Writer's Rest and Relaxation

All year I have been writing and revising.

I am somewhat of a perfectionist and want everything just right or should I say,  just write.

I have been working and working on one of my middle grade manuscripts and finally decided to send it out again - with the many changes I made to it this year.
So, with fingers crossed, I took the plunge and sent it flying out into the world.

I also finished two new picture books, that I just love, and sent them flying out into the world.

Now - I wait.

Every now and then I suffer from writer burn out. That is what I am doing now. So, I have been taking a break and getting caught up on other things.

These burn outs usually do not last very long. I know by the first of the year, I will be at it again - working on my ideas and typing away at the computer.

Soon I will return with regular posting.

Our local library had their annual writing contest and Thursday there will be a reception to announce the winners and have them read their winning entry. I was notified that I placed, so I will be there. That may be just the nudge I need to start writing again. 

Do you ever get writer burn out?
Do you ever feel like you have to take a break - even if it is just a little one?
What gives you the nudge to start writing again?

I think my nudge is that I have to write and I am not happy until I put the words down on paper. As the main character of one of my middle grade manuscripts says, I get so full up, I think I am going to explode.

Monday, November 17, 2014

MMGM - Rude Dude's Book of Food

Welcome to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

I am telling you about:

Rude Dude's Book of Food
by: Tim J. Myers
Familius LLC 2014


I write a column for children every month in Two-Lane Livin' Magazine. My column is titled, Fun Facts for Kids.

I have learned two things:
Kids love facts.
Kids love learning facts written about in a fun way.

Tim Myer's book is all about facts written in a fun way. It has eight chapters about the crazy-cool stuff we eat. Food is fascinating when told about by the Rude Dude. Most everyone loves chocolate - right? But, I bet they didn't know about chocolate's trip down history. Also, learn all about hamburgers and one smart cookie. That's not chocolate chip cookies, but fortune cookies. And, we learn that awesome pizza has a short history in America. and you wouldn't believe the different toppings some people put on this favorite snack bar food.

Well, you get the idea. This book is all about foods kids love and it is written in a fun, and sometimes wacky, way. For all the teachers out there, in addition to learning a lot of neat facts about food, there are also lesson ideas and info on how the book meets common core standards.

So, if you know someone who wants to learn good, fun and weird facts about some of their favorite foods, this is the book for them.

 For more reviews on books click here to go over to Shannon Messenger's Blog.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 7, 2014

She said. He said. I said.

I recently read an article on writing in deep point of view. I always wondered what this meant. Among other things, it said that in deep point of view dialogue tags are replaced with action, body language, voice description or emotion. Replacing the tags makes your story feel more real.

That got me started on my little tangent of finding and replacing said's in my manuscripts.

Of course, you can't take away all of them. Tags serve the purpose of: identifying a speaker, preventing reader confusion, making long dialogue sections more digestible, and they provide opportunities to insert action or description - thus becoming an action or description tag.

Then there are adverbial tags. I try to avoid these - she said quickly, he said coldly, she said angrily.
These words can  make a tag seem more obvious and remind them that they are reading a story instead of experiencing it. Don't be lazy, let the person's dialogue and/or actions show that they are angry.

Last night, I took on the task of finding all the said's in a Middle Grade manuscript I had written. I deleted over 100 of them!
About a week before, I had checked another Middle Grade manuscript I had written. I didn't notice how many I deleted in that one, but it was quite a few.

In case you are wondering, here is one other way to help create deep point of view in your manuscripts:
Get rid of thought words/sense words, such as felt, heard, realize, look, decide and saw.
Why? Because these are telling words that you tack onto the start of a sentence that show the world as it is filtered through the character's eyes. 
Instead of saying, "he felt the hot rays of the sun on his body," say "the hot rays of the sun beat down on his body." I know that's not a very good example, but it gives you an idea of what I mean.

So, give it a try. Like me, I bet you will find a lot of dialogue tags and thought/sense words you can get rid of - and it won't hurt your manuscript a bit. In fact, it will make it better.

Anyone else have thoughts to add to this conversation? If so, tell us in your comment.

Happy Writing!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloweensie Post

I've entered Susanna Leonard Hill's 4th Annual HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST!

Everyone participating writes a 100 word or less Halloween story that includes the words pumpkin, broomstick and creak.

Here is my entry which is exactly 100 words, not counting the title:


Witches shout trick or treat
and sing a scary tune,
then they swoop and fly about
beneath the yellow moon.

Zooming on their broomsticks,
they fly to the pumpkin patch,
but crash into some ivy
and start to itch and scratch.

They hear frightful creaks
and turn around to meet
a sickly Mr. Frog
crooning trick or treat.

Grabbing ten fat pumpkins
they scoop out all the goo
and toss it in their pot
and stir their stinky brew.

They share with Mr. Frog
to cure his throat’s high pitch,
but keep the rest to spread
upon their itchy itch!

Well, that's it. 
Wish me luck. 
She has great prizes to give away to the winners. Go here and check out the other entries.

Happy Halloweensie everyone!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Revising Picture Books

Someone once asked me, "Why do you go back and make so many changes? If you are a good writer, your first draft should be good enough."

Well, those might not have been his exact words, but the gist of it was - why make so many changes? Why go over it again and again? Why, why, why?

Why? Because picture book writing is not as easy as non-writers think it is.

Sure, there are fewer words.
Sure, they are for young children.
But, younger readers are as important as older readers. Maybe, more important. We need to get children interested and excited about reading, so they will continue to read into adulthood.

I have been editing my latest picture book. I guess you could say it is fiction and non-fiction. I have a cute little story, with sidebar non-fiction information to go along with it. I had a bumpy start writing it, but I finally got past the problems and started to work on the words.

In picture books, every word counts. You search your mind, your thesaurus, your friends' minds and online sources for the best words. Picture book writing is one genre where I don't balk at using ing words. They can add to the flow and rhythm of the story. Instead of saying, they zoom, say zooming. Instead of saying, They dart everywhere, say Darting everywhere.

Use specific words.
Use great action words.
Use onomatopoeia (sound words)! 
I have found taking out the or replacing the with these makes a big difference. 
I have found replacing them and they with specific words makes a big difference.

Most importantly, I have found that going back over a manuscript that I thought was just right - makes a big difference. 

Do not be afraid to take suggestions from fellow writers. It will still be your story!

At the end of our writers' meeting a few weeks ago, a member made an almost inaudible remark and said you could say something like " --- ", and it was the perfect end to a stanza I was having problems with! (You notice I'm not telling the phrase. I don't want to give away what my story is about)

Do you have any suggestions to making the perfect picture book?

I (and my readers) are open to suggestions. 

By the way. I had a great time last week when my husband and I went to see Henry Winkler, co-author of the Hank Zipzer books!

Happy Writing!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Signing

I am having a book signing tomorrow at our local library.

But, it is more than just a regular book signing. In addition to having my books available for purchase and signed by me . . .

I will have light snacks made from recipes in my book, Fun Through the Seasons: Recipes, Crafts and Fun Facts for Kids.

I will have handouts for the kids - a Pumpkin Surprise coloring page for the young ones and a Pumpkin Surprise word hunt puzzle for the older kids. Pumpkin Surprise is one of the stories in my book.

And, I will have bookmarks kids can finish and take home with them. They can trim them with shaped scissors, punch a hole in the top and thread colorful ribbons through it.

If anyone wants to sit for a spell, I will be reading selected passages from my book and my article from this month's Two-Lane Livin' magazine titled, Colorful Pumpkins. You may never color pumpkins orange again!

 Give me a visit if you are in the area. I will be in the children's section of the Ripley Library from 11am till 1pm.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hank Zipzer A Brand-New Me! - MMGM

 Brand-New Me! (Hank Zipzer #17) Age 9-12 Years
This is the 17th in the series
Hank Zipzer A Brand New Me!
Grosset and Dunlap April 2010

It is graduation time and Hank's friends Ashley and Frankie get accepted to the Anderson Middle School Gifted and Talented Program. That means Hank and his best friends will be separated for the first time since they started school.
Hank hasn't completed the community service work required for graduation from PS  87. Luckily Mr. Rock, the music teacher, needs help. While cleaning band instruments, Mr. Rock overhears one of Hank's humorous monologues. He sees that Hank has talent and wants him to apply to the Professional Performing Arts School. All they have to do is have Hank's dad agree to the audition.

Will Hank audition and will he pass? Those are questions answered if you read this book.

In this series Hank is a smart kid, with learning disabilities, dealing with many obstacles during his time in the 4th and 5th grade. The stories were inspired by the true life experiences of Henry Winkler.

I think this series would be a great read for kids with learning disabilities and for kids without disabilities as well.

They are being read by the kids in our county. Our library has a display table just for this series of books. They seem to be popular, because many of them are being read - leaving just a copy of the book cover on display, stating that the book is currently checked out.

Have you or your kids read any of the books? If not, I suggest that you give them a try. These books are well written by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. Since I started to write, I have this bad habit of editing books while I read them. I have found that I do very little internal editing when I read these books.

Happy reading and go over to Shannon Messenger's site for more suggestions on Middle Grade books.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Hank Zipzer Niagara Falls, or Does It? MMGM

Grosset and Dunlap 2003
144 pages 
I have been reviewing books from the Hank Zipzer series, so I figured I should go back and review the first book in the series.

It is the first day of fourth grade and the teacher wants the students to write a five paragraph essay on what they did during the summer. Hank is terrified. Writing (and reading) is not one of his best subjects. Hank comes up with a plan to show what he did. His 'living essay' becomes a disaster when he tries to show and tell about his trip to Niagara Falls. He gets detention. Luckily he gets detention with Mr. Rock, the music teacher. Mr. Rock suspects Hank has learning problems and suggests that he be tested.

In addition to the books in this series being extremely humorous, they teach about kids with learning disabilities. And they show how kids like Hank can work through difficulties and overcome obstacles they have in everyday life.

Additional info: Henry Winkler is dyslexic and was not diagnosed until he was an adult. 

Now click over here to Shannon Messenger's site and read about other marvelous middle grade books!

Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM - Hank Zipzer The Zippity Zinger

In my countdown until Henry Winkler comes to our town.
I take timeout for another of Henry Winkler's Hank Zipzer books!

Hank Zipzer The Zippity Zinger

2003 Grosset and Dunlap
24,578 words

What does Hank do when his sock drawer is empty and it is time to go play catch with his Papa Pete?
He grabs the pair of socks from on top of the laundry basket and puts them on without looking. They turn out to be bright red girls' socks with little pink monkeys on them. And, on top of that, they are his sister's good luck socks!

Well, it seems they also bring him good luck. Bam! Bam! Bam! He throws strikes one after another. They must be lucky! But his sister needs to wear them when she competes in the school's Brain Buster Competition which takes place at the same time as the School Olympiad Softball Game.

His sister HAS to wear them, so what will happen when he pitches in the softball game? Can he pitch without his lucky socks? He doesn't think so, but they had to put him in the game in the last inning.

Will he be able to throw enough zippity zingers to win the game?

Will he win a gold medal to wear around his neck?

Well, I'll leave it up to you to read and find out what happens.

This is another funny book from the duo of Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Now go over to Shannon Messenger's Blog to read about other Marvelous Middle Grade Books.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I've been asked by children's author, Deb Hockenberry, to answer questions about my writing.
You can visit her blog here.

What am I currently working on?

I work on more than one thing at a time. It helps keep me from getting stuck or bored. My biggest project now is editing (again) my middle grade book, titled Duck and Cover. And, each month I write an article for Two Lane Livin' Magazine.

Why do you write what you write?

A few years ago, I had this urge to write a picture book about picking blackberries. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I found out about a writing group that met in Ripley and decided to go to one of the meetings. I discovered that I didn't really know how to write. But, I kept attending the meetings and my skills and confidence grew. I find I tend to live in the past, so I write from childhood memories. And, I love writing historical fiction - writing about a time before all of these new-fangled inventions and discoveries. I tend to write shorter pieces, so it works great for my love of writing for children.

Describe your writing process.

I sit in my chair and peck away at my laptop. Of course, an idea has to come. Sometimes that is the hardest part of the process, especially when I write articles for children. But, once inspiration hits - my fingers fly across the keyboard - stopping only to do more research. (And to eat, drink, take bathroom breaks and all those other necessary activities) Whenever I write a historical fiction, I do research before I write and if I need to, I continue to research as I write. I don't have any special time of the day or hours of the day that I write. Life sometimes gets in the way of a regular writing routine.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

I don't think my work differs from others in the same genre. I write what I know. I write what I am interested in. I write what I don't know and learn along the way.

Do I have a book or anything submitted?

I have several of my manuscripts that I am currently submitting. Still waiting for that acceptance!
I have self published a book, titled FunThrough the Seasons - Recipes, Crafts and Fun Facts for Kids. It is a compilation of my articles, which include easy recipes and crafts, that I write for kids for Two Lane Livin’ Magazine. I have organized the book into months of the year, each section starting out with an original poem about the month. And, I have added more content. It is a great book for preschool to grade school age children. They learn in a fun way.

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed the interview.

Monday, September 15, 2014

MMGM - Hank Zipzer - My Dog's a Scaredy-Cat

Welcome to MMGM. After reading my post, you can click here to go over to Shannon Messenger's site for more links to middle grade books.

I am reviewing another Hank Zipzer book today.


Publisher: Grossett & Dunlap 2006
Book Level: 4-6  word count: 25,613

When you were a kid, didn't you just love dressing up for Halloween. So does Hank. But no one liked his outfit! And on the day of the Halloween Parade at his school, Hank was beginning to wonder why he decided to dress up as a table in an Italian restaurant, too. After the parade he listed NINE HALLOWEEN THINGS I SHOULD HAVE GONE AS.
Nick, the school bully, made fun of his costume, made fun of his sister and called him stupid in front of the whole school and neighborhood. He wanted to scare Nick out of his socks. Hank's Papa Pete suggested he build a haunted house instead.
Hank got together with his friends to make the scariest haunted house ever. Not for fun, but to scare Nick.
They had to act quick and in his excitement and being very busy making the haunted house, Hank's dog, Cheerio, is  nowhere to be found. He thinks Cheerio's disappearance is his fault and suddenly scaring Nick is the last thing on his mind.
Do they find Cheerios and do they scare Nick in their scary haunted house? You'll have to read it and find out how Hank's Halloween night ended.

This is another one of Mr. Winkler's funny books that doesn't let you down.
In my opinion grade school kids will love it.

Happy reading and writing!

Monday, September 8, 2014

MMGM - Hank Zipzer The Curtain Went UP, My Pants Fell DOWN

Welcome to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Henry Winkler is coming to our town in October. He is going to the local schools and speak to the children and then he is going to be the speaker at a dinner that evening. My husband and I are going!

I've always liked Henry as The Fonz, so I decided to see how his writing skills were. His books are co written by Lin Oliver.

I am reading his books and so far - I love them!

I have just finished:

Hank Zipzer The Curtain Went UP, My Pants Fell DOWN
Grosset & Dunlap 2007
27,254 words 158 pages

Hank and math just don't get along. In fact, he is lucky to get a D. Heather Payne, Miss Perfect. Miss I'd-Love-To-Do-Homework-For-The-Rest-Of-My-Life. Miss How-Many-Extra-Credit-Problems-Can-I-Do? Miss I've-Never-Gotten-Anything-Lower-Than-An-A-With-Thirty-Three Pluses, has been assigned to tutor him. He couldn't believe it, he almost fell out of his chair.

But, if he wants to be the King in the school's play, Anna and the the King of Siam (and he really, really wants to), his father says he has to get a B+ on his next math test.

They study together and he actually starts to get the hang of long division. Will he get a B+ on his test? But, if he does, there is someone else blocking his path to playing the King - Nick McKelty. Nick is the school bully with iguana-cage breath and he also wants to be king.

This is a super funny book and I thinks kids will love it.

Next week I will blog about another one of his books. 

Now go over to Shannon Messenger's Blog and see what other Middle Grade books people are blogging about.

Happy Writing - and Reading!

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Do You Figure Out What to Send to Who?

Dear Readers,

If you submit very much, I am sure you have received a rejection letter at least once or twice in your lifetime.

Do you often wonder exactly what a publisher is wanting or needing.

I have received rejection letters that read 'Sorry, but your story isn't right for our list' or 'we feel it does not quite lend itself well to our list,' or 'after careful consideration, we have decided to pass on your manuscript,' or, sometimes the letter will say 'your story isn't quite there yet,' or 'it is charming, but.'


I have gone to their sites. I have gone to Amazon and 'looked inside' their published books, I have read them at the library, etc., to get familiar with what they publish.

But, some publishers publish such a variety of books for children - all quite different - that I have a hard time figuring out just what is 'right' for their list. I don't see a pattern.

Although I very much appreciate getting a rejection letter, since some publishers do not send them out any more if they are not interested in your book, I wish I understood more what the publisher wanted.

Anyone out there with a crystal ball?
How do you work your way through the maze of publishers and figure out what to send to who?

Maybe one answer is to make our story so special that a publisher cannot turn it down, even if it isn't right for their list?

So, until I can do that, I will keep writing, keep revising and keep submitting.


Janet Smart  of the Blackberry Patch

Confused, But Still Love to Write