Monday, December 15, 2014

MMGM: Masterpiece, The Family Under the Bridge and 2014 Goals

Today is a little bit of an odds and ends post. It’s my last post of 2014, since I’ll be taking the last two weeks of December off to celebrate Christmas with my family. So, I want to fit everything in.

First, I want to share two marvelous middle grades for you. Both of these are books I’ve read to my kids in the last few months. One is more recent and one is a classic.

MASTERPIECE by Elise Broach

I have to admit that I tried reading this a few years ago and couldn’t get into it. Then I realized this was the perfect book for both my sons. It has art (for my older) and insects (for my younger). There’s something about reading aloud a book, sharing it with others, that really makes a book come alive. This time, I could hardly put it down.

What I loved about this book:

  1. POV of a beetle: Never, ever did I think I would love reading the POV of a beetle, but it was exceptionally well done. Not only did you get this inside view of life in the walls, but it was a good choice, since Marvin (the beetle) was so central to the action. The boy character, while endearing, didn’t drive the plot as much.
  2. I love with Broach’s books that you always learn something about art or history. Although the paintings by Durer in this book are made up, you learn a lot about Durer (one of my favorite artists) without even thinking about it.
  3. I loved the theme of friendship, of sacrificing for your friends, and finding that kindred spirit outside your family. I think kids will relate to that.
  4. The pen and ink drawings throughout really add to the text.

THE FAMILY UNDER THE BRIDGE by Natalie Savage Carson

Now this is a bit of an old-fashioned read. It was written in the ‘50s, but I chose it because it takes place at Christmas and is set in France. If you can look past the anachronisms (like a French girl named “Suzy”), it’s a delightful story. Like MASTERPIECE, it’s told from an unlikely POV, an adult, a French hobo named Armand. The kids, though central to the story, are not as fully developed as Armand’s character, but that didn’t seem to turn my kids off from this book. But Armand—what a great character! He loves living under the bridge and can’t handle it when a family of starlings (children) takes his spot. He’s determined to have nothing to do with them, but eventually, of course, that changes. This book is very short (less than a 100 pages). I loved that the writing was descriptive, but sparse, not a word was wasted. Getting to experience Paris at Christmas, from the POV of a homeless man and kids, was what made this book for me. And did I say that the illustrations are done by Garth Williams, illustrator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? That definitely added to the old-fashioned appeal.

Finally, I wanted to do an update on my goals for 2014. I set the bar very low for myself, or maybe it’s just they were rather vague, so it’s not hard to say I met them. But the writing things in 2014 that I am most thankful for:

  1. Finishing a MG manuscript (after writing 2 YAs). This manuscript I started five years ago and put aside when I got discouraged. I still can’t believe I finally finished it.
  2. In June, I applied for a Darci Pattison Novel Revision Retreat. I’ve wanted to go to one of these forever, ever since I first heard about her Shrunken Manuscript Technique.  This is the first time she’s come to my state. The retreat is next month!
  3. And, of course, I am thankful for all of you! You have made my first year of blogging stupendous. I have been touched and inspired by your  comments and support.
Have you read any good holiday reads? Did you reach your goals for 2014?

I hope you all enjoy your holiday season! See you in 2015!

Monday, December 8, 2014

MMGM: The Fourteenth Goldfish

I have some unscientific research going on in my house. When I pick up a middle grade book for myself, I watch closely to gage my sons’ interest. If their interest is lukewarm, they’ll ask what it’s about, but not pick it up themselves. Sometimes they will admire the cover or read the flap. But if they’re really hooked, I’ll have to fight to get a chance to read the book myself.

THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH was a book that we were fighting over. Even though it had a girl heroine, the science aspects and the silliness of a grandfather turning back into a middle schooler, hooked my sons.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.


  1. The beauty of science in everyday things. I loved how Grandpa Melvin showed Ellie how cooking was all about science, seeds, and other everyday things. I think this is something that science-phobic kids can relate to.
  2. The moral quandary of science and progress. I loved how Holm set up the question about whether you were going to be a Robert Oppenheimer (The Manhattan Project) or a Jonas Salk (War on Polio). How this question is answered in the climax had a huge pay off.
  3. A girl heroine who becomes interested in science, but in a natural way. Enough said.
  4. Humor. A good part of what made me compelled me to read this book in 24 hours was the humor. Grandpa Melvin and his antics, especially when he goes to middle school, were priceless.
  5. The theme of believing in the possible. I loved how this theme ran throughout the novel. As Grandpa Melvin says: “Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible.” A good quote for writers as well.
    THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH is a unique book. I think the concept would appeal to anyone who loves science, or doesn’t think they do, but would like to be persuaded. It’s humorous, but deep at the same time, which shows how talented Jennifer L. Holm is.
Have you read any books which science?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

ISWG: Deadlines

The Insecure Writer's Support Book is out! Look for my contribution, "The Art of Not Writing."

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond – Available Now!

Just in time for IWSG post week and Christmas - The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Guide to Publishing and Beyond is available for downloading. Thanks to everyone who contributed – it is packed with information! Please help us spread the word about this awesome book.
Tapping into the expertise of over a hundred talented authors from around the globe, The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond contains something for every writer. Whether you are starting out and need tips on the craft of writing, looking for encouragement as an already established author, taking the plunge into self-publishing, or seeking innovative ways to market and promote your work, this guide is a useful tool. Compiled into three key areas of writing, publishing, and marketing, this valuable resource offers inspirational articles, helpful anecdotes, and excellent advice on dos and don'ts that we all wish we knew when we first started out on this writing journey.

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Find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Goodreads.

Now back to my regular insecure writer's post:

It seems like there are two kinds of people in this world: those who thrive on deadlines and those who are driven crazy by them.

My husband is the first. He isn’t very productive without a deadline, but give him a deadline and he’ll pull several all-nighters to make it.

I, on the other hand, hate deadlines. They make me nervous. They disrupt my creativity. I freeze with deadlines and have a hard time working.

Having a deadline for my magazine pieces caused me weeks of stress and hampered my creativity.

In November I had my first deadline for a manuscript. I had to turn in a full by the end of a November for the Darci Pattison Whole Novel Revision retreat I’m attending early next year.

As much as I’m excited for this retreat, the whole idea of finishing a novel by a certain date did not make me more productive. It made me more stressed.

When I’m drafting I need two things—very little input from readers. (Otherwise I get discouraged and give up.) And time. I need time to take the leisurely road, to ponder things, if I can.

But I didn’t have the luxury of doing that this time.  I did finish my draft, but the only way I made it through was by telling myself to keep going. It didn’t have to be perfect. After all, it is a revision retreat. And now I’m dealing with the fact that I sent off a manuscript that was finished, but less than my own ideal. If only I’d had more time to tinker. . .
So, instead of giving advice this time, I have a question. How do you deal with deadlines? How do you put that date out of your head so you can still be creative and write well?

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

 Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

Monday, December 1, 2014

MMGM: Paperboy

I do apologize for taking such a long break from posting a MMGM. Life has been very stressful over the last couple months, and I fell a bit behind in my reading.

I’m finally starting to catch up. PAPERBOY by Vince Vawter is a book I was looking forward to reading ever since I heard about it. I loved GLORY BE or LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK, and PAPERBOY reminded me of both of them, but from the point of view of a boy with his own challenges.

The synopsis from Amazon:

Words don’t come easy for an 11-year-old boy coming of age in the segregated South of Vince Vawter’s moving novel, Paperboy. Spending the summer tending his best friend’s paper route leads to new discoveries, friendships, and danger as the lives behind the closed doors of neighbors, now his customers, are exposed for the first time. For a boy with an impossible stutter, this poses a whole new set of challenges to let his thoughts and feelings free. Paperboy is an impressive look at hope and bravery in the face of adversity and the fierce protection of love.

My take:

While I’ve read other reviews that said Paperboy started out slow, I did not personally find this to be so. I was immediately drawn in by the narrator from the moment he mentioned that he hated commas, because he had to pause so much in real life. I also liked some of the technical choices the author made: not using quotes for dialoging and using s-s-s-s before the narrator’s dialogue. This made me really feel like I was in a stutterer’s head.

But what really sold me on this book was the depth of emotion and the strong bonds that the narrator had with his two mentors, Mr. Spiro and Mam. Mr. Spiro is a fount of wisdom. He’s traveled the world and has rooms full of books. In many ways, he’s your typical yoda-like mentor. He says lines like this: “I contend that one is likely to find more truth in fiction. A good painting after all is more truthful than a photograph. Remember that, Young Messenger, for all your days.” (p. 66) A good reminder for those of us who are writers!

But it was Mam who stole my heart. No matter what happens, she holds her head high. “I fear no man the likes of Ara T. No matter who has a hold of me I know the Lord will protect my soul.” (p.201)  Her willingness to lay down her life for the narrator (and he for her) was moving. I loved how Mam saw everything through the lens of faith and saw promise in the narrator he didn’t see in himself. As the narrator says at the end, he’s learned: “my soul doesn’t s-s-s-s-stutter.”

This is an intense book and will keep you on the edge of your seat at the end, even though it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. And boy does it deliver in characters. These are some of the most realistic and well-rounded characters I’ve encountered in middle grade.

Caveat: There are some violence scenes in this book, especially towards the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for sensitive readers or kids on the younger end of the middle grade range. But it’s a  very important read.
Have you read any moving middle grades lately?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Thanksgiving Books

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It has yet to be commercialized. (I sure hope I never see the day when we have a Turkey on a Shelf!) It has some of my favorite foods. It doesn’t involve candy.  And at the risk of sounding Scrooge-ish, I am so glad that no gifts are involved. Gratitude is the emphasis. So refreshing.

In light of that (and because I am woefully behind on my middle grade reading), I am posting about two of my favorite Thanksgiving books. These are both picture books, but I think they would even appeal to older kids. I’ve never been one of those parents that ban picture books or push my kids to only read “at their grade level.” I still read picture books myself. We don’t grow out of them.

The Thanksgiving Door:

I discovered this a few years ago when I was looking for some Thanksgiving read alouds for my kids. It’s a different kind of Thanksgiving story. There are no pilgrims, no Native Americans, but there is a beautiful example of hospitality and giving thanks. Ed and Ann, an elderly couple, burn their dinner and end up going down the street to a restaurant run by new immigrants. The door is open because a potato has been jammed under the door, and they are asked to join in the immigrants’ Thanksgiving. One of my favorite lines: “In old country Thanksgiving door is like a happy heart, opened up big and wide. Potato good for that,” Grandmother said. It reminds me to keep the doors of my heart open this time of year.

The Secret of Saying Thanks:

I discovered this book several years ago when my in-person critique group went to a reading by the author, Douglas Wood. He read this particular book at the reading, and I was struck by how poetic the text was. I was especially drawn to the emphasis on being thankful about nature. I bought a copy, getting it signed for my kids though they were too young to understand it at the time. Now that they’re older, they come back to it. This has gorgeous illustrations, and the secret, when you discover it at the end is poignant and beautiful.

What are you favorite Thanksgiving or holiday books? Is there something you’re particularly thankful for this year?

I won't be posting next week, due to the holiday, but to my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing about a Place You’ve Never Been

Scotland--Where I'd like to go....
Always in the past, I’ve chosen to set my novels in places where I’ve traveled, but after awhile, you run out of familiar settings. With my current project, I wanted to write about a place I wanted to go to, but haven’t traveled to yet.

Can it be done?

For a long time I thought that writing about a place you’ve never been was impossible (it completely violates the “write what you know” adage), but then I read a writing book by an author who wrote a series of books about India. He had never traveled to India, but loved the country. Of course, he did a lot of research. But he was certain the reason his books did well was that he was passionate about the culture--not because he was an expert.
I tend to agree. Writing what you love is more important than writing what you know.

So, if you’re considering writing about a place you’ve never been, here’s a few things I did to help me picture this place in order to write about it:

  1. Talk to people who’ve been there. It’s interesting how easily outsiders can characterize a place. I talked to a few people who’ve traveled to the settings in my novel and asked them about the details their impressions. This helped me include authentic details.
  2. Read travel guides. I found travel guides to the country I’m writing about invaluable. From everything from how long a particular ferry ride takes, to common expressions, to the taste of the country’s favorite soda, I learned details that will help me make sure I got things right.
  3. Watch films about my setting. (Nothing like an excuse to hang out on Netflix and/or You Tube for awhile.) I found You Tube great for movies about tourist destinations, the insides of buildings, and the countryside. Netflix was good for movies set in my country and historical documentaries. Watching a DVD series about this country’s history (although I won’t use most of the details in my novel), helped me get a better feel for the people and what has shaped them as a culture.
  4. Memoirs. These were invaluable, especially since the memoirs I read were from outsiders. (My protagonist is a tourist.) Again, the details were helpful, but also reading memoirs helped me gain a sense of place and culture.
Have you written a story set in a place you’ve never been? Do you have any tips?

Monday, October 27, 2014

MMGM: The Watsons Go To Birmingham--1963

I have been a big fan of Christopher Paul Curtis ever since I read BUD, NOT BUDDY. He hasn’t disappointed me yet in his other books either. I particularly enjoyed ELIJIAH BUXTON and THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE. Somehow I had never got around to reading his very first book, THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM.

Now I have, and if you haven’t read this one yet, you are in for a treat.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

 Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron, who's thirteen and an "official juvenile delinquent." When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home with the amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. They're heading South to Birmingham, Alabama, toward one of the darkest moments in America's history.

What I loved about this book:

  1. Humor: There are many books who will make me smile, but this book actually made me laugh out loud. The first chapter and the tongue incident are not to be missed. And the Watson parents have the most ingenious (and hilarious) punishments.
  2. Child-like POV: Curtis is a master at capturing a childlike POV. I loved how Kenny believed some of his big brother Byron’s stories, even though they were outrageous, how he viewed his parents, and bullies. About bullies, Kenny says, “I don’t know why bullies have such a good sense of humor, but they do.” Who hasn’t felt that way at times?
  3. Bullies: Bullies have been way overdone in kid’s lit, but I loved how Curtis treated them in the Watsons. The bullies weren’t just two-dimensional egomaniacs. They were three-dimensional, funny and smart with some of the best lines. Byron, Kenny’s brother, was a bully, yet stuck up for Kenny and got upset over a dead bird.
  4. Civil Rights issues dealt with in a gentle way. Although I was expecting that the Civil Rights movement would play a bigger part in this book than it did, I thought the treatment of what went on in Birmingham was gentle enough, especially as seen through Kenny’s eyes, to make this book accessible to kids on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum. Also, the marvelous use of humor balanced out the harsh things the Watsons encountered and made them all the more sympathetic and real.
  5. Episodic vs. Plot-Driven: Although the episodic nature of Watsons is a departure from most contemporary kidlit, I thought it really worked well here. Each chapter was a story in itself with the main plot of Byron’s troublemaking the Watson’s journey to Birmingham tying everything together. If you’re a writer thinking of doing an episodic story, this would be one to study.

I could go on and on about the things I loved about this book. My only quibble was a plot point with the Grandma and the strange tangent about magic at the end. But all in all, this is a wonderful book. I’ve had a challenging month as I have a family member seriously ill, so this book was just the medicine needed.

If you like Curtis’ other books, slice-of-life historicals, or The Christmas Story, you will love this book.

If you have read it, and want to continue in Kenny's world, Hallmark made a movie of it last year. I haven't seen it yet, but there is more info here.

Have you read any middle grades that made you laugh recently?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Few of My Favorite YA books…

I blog so often about middle grade fiction, it sometimes seems like I don't read anything else. But I do love YA and adult fiction as well. I thought for a change, I'd highlight a few of the memorable YAs I read this year. 

SEKRET by Lindsay Smith

I’m not normally a thriller reader, but I am a huge Russophile. I thought this concept sounded intriguing: what would happen if KGB agents had supernatural skills? But what really won me over were the details. Smith’s Russian is correct, she captures Russian diction (even when writing in English), and the atmosphere of Soviet Russia was dense and rich. A couple of other things I loved: an interesting love interest and a satisfactory ending without a cliffhanger (even though it’s a series).

FIREHORSE GIRL by Kay Honeyman

When I heard FIREHOUSE GIRL dubbed a Chinese Pride and Prejudice, I knew I had to read it. But once I got into it, I realized the love story, while somewhat like P & P, really takes a back seat to the main story, which is about Jade Moon finding her identity as a strong, independent Chinese woman. Reading this book also meant learning the harsh truths about Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West Coast). The author is not Chinese, but was inspired by her adopted daughter from China, which shows that it's more important to write what you love than what you know. 

A TIME FOR MIRACLES by Anne-Laure Bondoux

This is a translation from the French. This is yet another book set in Russia, but it’s one of the only books I’ve come across that deals with Chechnya during the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. The writing, so incredibly lyrical, conveys the child-like voice of Blaise perfectly. I was incredibly moved by his adventures as he and his guardian, Gloria, travel through the former Soviet republics and Europe by foot. If you loved “Life is Beautiful,” you will love this.

BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross

This is one of the only books I’ve ever picked up because of a book trailer. It's that good! You can watch it here.
Despite its cover, which is somewhat misleading, you must give this one a try. It's set in France during the building of the Eiffel Tower, but the premise, based on an Emile Zola story, is unique.  In late 1800s Paris, Maude takes a job as a foil, an "ugly" girl who works as a companion to a rich girl to make her look pretty. But what occurs—and what this book says about our current beauty-obsessed culture--is well worth the read. I loved this book for its depth, its theme, and its rich layers of details.

Have you read any great YAs lately?

Monday, October 13, 2014

MMGM: Out of My Mind

Sometimes you read a book that’s so wonderful with a message so powerful, that you want to stand on the street corner and press it into everyone’s hands, saying, “You must read this book.”

That’s how I feel about OUT OF MY MIND.

When Andrea Mack blogged about this book, I knew I had to read it. There are few books from the POV of someone who can't communicate, especially for kids.

Besides, I used to teach in a learning resource room, and some of my former students have cerebral palsy. In reading OUT OF MY MIND, I got a glimpse into their world.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom—the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow. In this breakthrough story—reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—from multiple Coretta Scott King Award-winner Sharon Draper, readers will come to know a brilliant mind and a brave spirit who will change forever how they look at anyone with a disability.

What I found interesting about OUT OF MY MIND:

--The book begins with narration and a lot of back story, which breaks the "show, don't tell" rule. But this technique worked really well for this novel. Melody’s voice is so unique and so strong that you can't help but be enthralled. The initial back story also allowed for deep characterization.

--The book dealt with prejudice against people with disabilities in an unflinching and realistic light. It was hard to read about teachers and students treating Melody like she was invisible or inconvenient (or worse), but that was why this story rang true for me.    

--The supporting cast who was for Melody: Melody’s parents, the next door neighbor, and her instructional assistant saw a spark in Melody even before she could truly communicate. They were amazing and inspiring, yet sometimes they didn’t always understand Melody either. A humbling reminder that even the best teachers and parents are human too.

--People with disabilities were portrayed as well-rounded characters. Each of the characters in Melody’s classroom was well-developed, interesting, and unique. The author did not rely on stereotypes. I was moved by Melody's realization about her classmates at the end of the novel: "Not one of them even knows how to be mean."

--I loved how Melody at first fails to save her goldfish, but then is able to save her sister, despite her inability to communicate in typical ways. Her growth as a character was not so much becoming more independent and venturing out, but realizing that she had skills and gifts to offer the world all along.

If you like to experience another world through reading, I encourage you to check out this book. It will give you a whole new perspective on people with disabilities and how we often judge someone’s intelligence by communication alone.

Caveat: As previously noted, kids don’t always like the same books as adults do. My nine-year-old picked this up and quickly put it down. “This isn’t interesting to me.” This is a quiet, character-driven book that may not appeal to all readers, especially those who read to escape or like action-packed books.
What books have you read lately that have completely changed your perspective?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ISWG: The Art of Not Writing

When I was first getting serious about my writing, it seemed like all the advice I heard was write, write, write. As long as you kept writing, everything would be okay. Fast draft. Don’t think too hard. Just get it out. You can always revise later.
If I got stuck, I would just push through. I’d write something, anything, to get to the other side, to the end.
I wrote pretty decent beginnings, but my endings were (you guessed it) were downright awful.
I produced two drafts of two different novels like that, and by the end, I realized they had so many structural issues; they were nearly unfixable.
That’s when I started doing something different. When I got stuck, really stuck, I stopped writing. I might switch to another document and start brainstorming. Sometimes I’d stop and write in my journal. But I didn’t keep going with the scene.
If I was stuck, I realized, it was my subconscious telling me something. This scene wasn’t working. I knew it on a deep level, even if I couldn’t verbalize it.
Sometimes I work on another manuscript, read for fun, eat lots of chocolate, or watch entirely too much Netflix.
Usually I feel a pang of guilt: but I’m not writing! But there is no timer, no race, no arbitrary finish line. I’ve learned from experience that rushing doesn’t create good writing.
Invariably when I step away, if I am just patient and wait, the inspiration comes. It’s a step of faith.
But my writing is better for the waiting.
If I were to give one piece of advice to my younger writer self, it would be: Don’t rush.

Category: Writing
I give permission to use this post in the Insecure Writer's Support Group Anthology.
Bio: I write middle grade and young adult fiction, and my nonfiction articles have appeared in Highlights, Calliope, and Learning Through History.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the October 1 special anniversary posting of the IWSG will be Kristin Smith, Elsie, Suzanne Furness, and Fundy Blue!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Shakespeare Stealer

I picked up THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER, because I just read Blackwood’s CURIOSITY and was hankering for more from this author.
I’ve seen this book recommended numerous times, and I can’t say why I didn’t pick it up. I think it was the title and premise. I didn’t know if I could hang out with a character with a goal of stealing a beloved Shakespeare play.
But the great thing about THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER is that Widge grows into a character with nobler goals. And that, my friends, is worth the read.

Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare's play "Hamlet"--or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.
What I loved about this book:
  1. Historical authenticity:  Widge's language, thoughts, and actions are always authentically Elizabethan. He never comes across as a modern character trying to survive in the past, which I sometimes encounter in historical kidlit.
  2. Character dialogue/language: One thing I really enjoyed about this book was how Widge spoke in a different dialect than some of the other characters. They make fun of him for saying “aye” and “nay” and other colloquiums. Widge's ongoing attempt to speak like a Londoner was a fun mini-plot within the story.
  3. Character Arc: Widge is sympathetic at first because he’s been put down and misused by others. Even the goal of stealing the play is forced upon him. But the beauty of this story is how he comes to realize that he does have a choice.
  4. Subplots that add to the main plot: I loved how Blackwood used another character who was struggling with similar issues to Widge as a comparison/contrast. If you’re a writer looking to study how subplots can support the main story, study how Blackwood uses Julian/Julia’s story.
  5. An interesting villain: Falconer is one of the most memorable  villains I’ve read in kidlit. I love that he’s menacing, and yet, somehow, relatable. The reveal at the end was fitting and didn’t diminish the story.
    I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy gritty and fast-paced historical fiction and enjoy authors like Avi (THE TRAITOR’S GATE) and Karen Cushman (WILL SPARROW’S ROAd others).
    Have you read any good historical fiction lately?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.