Monday, December 9, 2013

And the winner of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is...

According to, the winner of the SIGNED hardcover copy of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher is:


Congrats, Michael! Expect an email from me, asking for your mailing address.

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I'm taking a blogging break for a few weeks, to get ready for Christmas and still have time to work on my fourth novel and some picture books. Those of you who know me on Facebook may already have heard this, but I just signed my first contract with Highlights for Children, for a rebus story. I know they don't publish right away (or ever), but it's a sale, and I'll take it! I normally wouldn't mention things like this on the blog, but I'm tickled pink because the first time I submitted anything to Highlights was in 1995. So there's a lesson for all you aspiring writers. 

Persistence pays off. 

(Sometimes it just takes longer than you expected!)

Herr's Christmas display, Nottingham, Pennsylvania

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! May all your publishing dreams come true in the coming year. And if you're not a writer, but you are a reader, may you discover
new treasures in Children's literature in 2014 and share them with all of us!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winner of THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL... and an intriguing quote

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving weekend and didn't have to go shopping that day. I'm wondering how long it will be before retailers start trying to get you to do your Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa shopping in August... Will this consumer madness ever stop? Okay, forget I asked that. So buy books, people. If you must buy something, buy books! Preferably from brick-and-mortar stores. Small Business Saturday doesn't have to be limited to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Thank you. I'll get down from my soapbox now.

Besides, I have a winner to announce. According to, the winner of the hardcover of THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL by S.P. Gates is (ta da!):


Congratulations, Rosi! And expect an email from me asking for your mailing address. Readers, don't forget my other giveaway, the signed hardcover of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher, still going on at this post

I have no MMGM book review this week, due to family celebrations and travel, but if you go to Shannon's blog, you can find links to many other wonderful posts.

However, I do have a middle grade quote for you.

"Books are like truth serum – if you don’t read, you can’t figure out what’s real."

                                                              -- Freak, in Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick  

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What do you think, reader? Do books help you figure out what's real?  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Middle Grade Heaven -- Seven debut authors from the Lucky 13s in one room! Plus a GIVEAWAY

Seven of the Lucky 13s; in front: Kit Grindstaff, A.B. Westrick,
back row (l to r): Elisabeth Dahl, Caroline Carlson, Kristen Kittscher, 
Melanie Crowder, Jennifer Ann Mann

Last week, I had a blast meeting seven middle grade debut authors at once. Yes! I made it to the last stop on the Lucky 13s VENTURES AND MISADVENTURES tour! I got quite a few pictures (most were a little blurry because I didn't want to use flash and, you know, blind them all). Thanks to Haverford Township Free Library and Children's Book World for hosting the event. Scroll down for info on the books.

From left: Kit Grindstaff, Kristen Kittscher, Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson,
Elisabeth Dahl, Jennifer Ann Mann, A.B. Westrick

Kit Grindstaff and Kristen Kittscher both said their books were the first they'd ever written, 
although Kristen admitted it took many years and at one point she started over!
Here, Kit talks about THE FLAME IN THE MIST while Kristen looks on.

A.B. (Anne) Westrick with the Magic Jar of Literature (more on that later)

Elisabeth Dahl talks about (and still has!) her favorite book from childhood,

The audience got to play a fun game!
They took turns pulling out a slip of paper from the Magic Jar of Literature and reading the sentence aloud. They then tried to guess which of the seven books it came from, after which the author read the entire passage. Every kid in that audience was eager to participate.  

Melanie Crowder reads a moving passage aloud from PARCHED. 

Young fans talk to Caroline Carlson, Elisabeth Dahl, and Jennifer Ann Mann

A. B. Westrick with a happy fan

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Any of these books would be a great addition to your middle grade shelves. They range from funny to serious and include fantasy, realistic contemporary, and historical. 

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, ages 9 to 13)
In this darkly-atmospheric fantasy, Jemma Agromond learns she's not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. I've recommended this book before, in this post.

Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl (Amulet/Harry N. Abrams, ages 8 to 12)
Genie has been selected to be the class blogger and write down the wishes and dreams of her classmates. But it's scary to express her opinion in public. What if her class gets upset?

Parched by Melanie Crowder (HMH Books for Young Readers, ages 10 to 14). In this haunting, evocative eco-fable, written in a gorgeous prose that's almost poetic, a boy, a girl, and a dog struggle to survive in a world gone dry. I'm in the middle of reading this one, and I'm taking my time so I can savor the language. I first heard about this book from Akossiwa Ketoglo in this post.

Sunny Sweet is SO Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann (Bloomsbury USA, ages 8 to 12). Eleven-year-old Masha has a six-year-old evil genius for a sister. Most of the action takes place in one crazy day, starting when Masha wakes up with plastic flowers glued to her hair. First in a series!

Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick (Viking Juvenile, ages 10 and up). The Civil War has ended, but for fourteen-year-old Shadrach, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, the conflict isn't over. His older brother takes him to a meeting of a secret society whose mission is to protect Confederate widows. But when Shad realizes what the KKK is really doing, he must make a decision.

Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, Book One) by Caroline Carlson (HarperCollins, for ages 8 to 12). Hilary has always wanted to be a pirate. But the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates won't take girls. So Hilary sets out on her own high-seas adventure, with her best friend, a talking Gargoyle. Plenty of shenanigans abound. Read Natalie Aguirre's interview with Caroline on Literary Rambles at this post.

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher (HarperCollins, ages 8 to 12, first book in a series!)  Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends, and spies. Fans of funny middle-grade mysteries will devour this fast-paced contemporary mystery, set in a California beach town.The girls find more than they bargained for when they spy on their neighbor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka: Dr. Awkward), the middle school guidance counselor. What is Dr. Awkward hiding?

Kristen admitted this book is "somewhat autobiographical" because she had a spy club with her own best friend when she was in school. So the story has a highly authentic feel, as Sophie and Grace sneak around, make accusations, and get in deep trouble.

And the best part is, I'm giving away my signed hardcover copy of The Wig in the Window (only because it's the first book I finished reading)! Plus it comes with a pen, so you can write your own spy notes. To enter, all you have to do is become a follower and comment on this post. International entries welcome. This giveaway ends at 10 pm EST on Sunday December 8 and the winner will be announced on Monday December 9. Good luck!

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Don't forget you still have nearly a week to enter my other giveaway, for a hardcover of The Monster in the Mudball. Go to that post to enter.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Monster in the Mudball -- and a Giveaway!

The Monster in the Mudball by S.P. Gates (September 2013, Tu Books/Lee & Low Books, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: hardcover review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): In this Junior Library Guild selection, eleven-year-old Jin must run around the English town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne trying to track down a monster named Zilombo. Jin teams up with Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts A. J. Zauyamakanda, or Mizz Z, for short. 

Zilombo gains new, frightening powers every time she hatches. Now the monster is cleverer than ever before . . . and it appears that Jin’s baby brother has disappeared! Will Jin’s baby brother be next on Zilombo’s menu? As the monster’s powers continue to grow, Jin and Mizz Z must find a way to outsmart Zilombo!

Why I liked it: This is a lively, fast-paced, multicultural fantasy adventure. If you can put up with a bit of head-hopping between characters in this brisk, third person narrative, you'll be rewarded with a great tale. Mizz Z is terrific. Jin's older sister Frankie has an important part to play. But mainly, you'll find yourself cheering for Jin -- the first protagonist I've ever encountered who has dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects coordination. How he handles that, and helps save the day, makes him a fascinating character. 

Read a guest post on Lee & Low's own blog, in which the author shares photos of the English town where the story takes place. Interestingly, I read the book before I saw these photos, and it's almost exactly as I pictured it! So you know S. P. Gates is great at evoking a setting. Here's a teaser:

This is where Zilombo hides out, in an old sewage pipe

A little about the author (from the publisher's press release): S.P. Gates began her writing career over twenty-five years ago as an English teacher who wrote stories for her classes. One day she decided to send one of her stories in to a publisher and, to her amazement, her story was published. She is now the award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young readers including both middle grade and young adult fiction. Gates drew inspiration for The Monster in the Mudball from her time teaching in Malawi, Africa. Additionally, Jin, who has dyspraxia, is based on the experiences of Gates’ son, Alex, who also grew up dyspraxic. “Other children who have special educational needs might be interested to read how, despite his problems and to his own amazement, Jin becomes a hero,” Gates says.


And yes, I'm giving away that hardcover copy that Tu Books sent me for review. It comes with its very own "egg" from which you can grow your own monster! To enter, all you have to do is be a follower and leave a comment on this post. International entries welcome. This giveaway ends Sunday Dec 1, 2013 and the winner will be announced Monday Dec 2.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Annual event at Children's Book World -- and Writing advice from Jerry Spinelli

I was in heaven on November 1st. Or, more precisely, I was at Children's Book World, in Haverford, PA for their annual Author and Illustrator night.

My only regret (besides the fact that I forgot to take photos - kicking myself, here) is that I didn't have enough money to buy a book from each of the more than 30 authors or illustrators present. And of course there wasn't enough time to talk to all of them.

This is actually a photo of Ellen Jensen Abbott from a previous event at CBW in October!

But I did talk to my friend Ellen Jensen Abbott, my friend K.M. Walton, and also Tiffany Schmidt, E.C. Myers, Ame Dyckman, Jen Bryant, Elisa Ludwig, Lisa Papp and Robert PappLee Harper, and Jerry Spinelli and Eileen Spinelli.

These were the books I purchased that night!

Also in attendance was my friend Ilene, whose YA deal (as I.W. Gregorio) was just announced in Publishers Marketplace. Yay, Ilene!

(Note: Yes, most of these authors are either YA or PB authors. But never fear, MG champions, because next week, I'm planning to attend a middle grade event sponsored by Children's Book World - you can read about it here! And this time, I'll try to take pics...)

Best conversation of the evening: I told Jerry Spinelli that I just finished the rough draft of my third novel the day before. And I asked, "What advice can you give me?" He said, "First, treat yourself to a milkshake because you've done something most people never do. You've finished a novel."

Then he told me to wait THREE MONTHS before tackling the revisions. As I thanked him and walked away, he said, "Remember! Three months!"

So I'll take your advice, Jerry. I'm letting it marinate until the end of January. And I'm already writing my fourth novel. But if there's anything I've learned in my years of writing, it's that there is no right or wrong way to revise a novel. Just like there is no right or wrong way to write a rough draft.

How long do you wait before revising a rough draft? Do you put it away and let it simmer? Or do you dive right into draft two?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko

This week's MMGM is the third in a trilogy that started in 2004 with Al Capone Does My Shirts, continued in 2009 with Al Capone Shines My Shoes and now concludes with another exciting tale from Alcatraz in the 1930s. For other MMGM links, see my sidebar or Shannon's blog.

Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko (August 2013, Dial Books for Young Readers, historical fiction, for ages 9 to 12).

Source: Purchased from using the gift card I won from Michael Gettel-Gilmartin. Thanks, Michael!

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Alcatraz Island in the 1930s isn't the most normal place to grow up, but it's home for Moose Flanagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and all the families of the guards. When Moose's dad gets promoted to Associate Warden, it's a big deal. But the cons have a point system for targeting prison employees, and his dad is now in serious danger. After a fire starts in the Flanagan's apartment, Natalie is blamed, and Moose bands with the other kids to track down the possible arsonist. Then Moose gets a cryptic note from the notorious Al Capone himself. If Moose can't figure out what Capone's note means, it may be too late.

Why I liked it: The character of Moose won me over in the first book, and his voice is just as likable in this volume. Thirteen-year-old Moose wants to do what other kids do; play baseball, run around, avoid homework. But he often has to babysit for Natalie (although Choldenko wisely never mentions the term "autism", since it wasn't used yet in 1936). After the fire, Moose discovers suggestions from Al Capone in a notebook that escaped the flames. I loved the way the author managed to work this in, making it seem like Capone is critiquing Moose's homework. But the information turns out to be far more important than that.

It probably would help to read the first two books, but Choldenko has so skillfully introduced the situation and the time period and characters (without any info dumps) that this proves to be a smooth and enjoyable read whether you've read the first two books or not. Which also makes this a great book for writers to study.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spring Forward, Fall Back: Reading with the Seasons

As we prepare to turn our clocks back here in the US next Sunday (and gain an hour of sleep - bliss!), I thought I'd do something different today.

Do you ever try to read seasonally? I don't mean reading Christmas or Hanukkah stories near those holidays. I mean, by the season itself. For instance, every few years I re-read The Secret Garden in the spring. It has to be in spring, when the grass is growing greener and the forsythia and magnolias are blooming. Reading along with the season seems to give the book more meaning, makes it more of a celebration.

So this autumn, I decided to re-read The Fledgling, by Jane Langton. Part of the Hall Family Chronicles and still available in paperback; the first image (on the left) is a photo of my well-loved Harper & Row hardcover from 1980. I bought the book before it was awarded a Newbery honor in 1981. The second image shows the Harper paperback from March 1981. Personally, I prefer the hardcover image.

This gorgeous story about Georgie, a young girl who gets flying lessons from a goose, is a beautiful evocation of childhood and the universal dream of flying, but it's also a song of praise to autumn. This book is rich in sensory images of New England in the fall: leaves turning scarlet, the air growing crisp and cool, geese flying south for the winter -- and oh, their honking, which Langton brings to life in a most creative way.

This quiet little story may seem old fashioned today, when stories have to be faster-paced, with less description, but if you let that stop you from picking it up, you'll be missing a great read. Yes, it's descriptive. But there's plenty of conflict, since both the nosy neighbor Miss Prawn, and the bank president Mr. Preek, are trying to stop Georgie from going on her nightly flights with the Goose Prince.

What books have you read that bring a season to mind?

Monday, October 21, 2013

A thought-provoking quote

"All reality, I decide, is a blender where hopes and dreams are mixed with fear and despair."

-- Willow Chance, narrator of Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

See last week's post for my review of this amazing book.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Counting by 7's - Newbery guesses, anyone?

It's never too soon to start wondering what middle grade novel will win the Newbery Medal in January, and which ones will be honor books. I rarely guess them right (except for the year When You Reach Me won the medal), but I always enjoy trying.

My pick for the medal this year goes to:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (August 29, 2013, for ages 10 and up, Dial Books for Young Readers)

Source: I won the arc from Gina Carey. If you haven't yet visited her very cool blog, be sure to check it out. 

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Why I loved it:  Like Auggie in Wonder, Willow is one of those unconventional characters -- intelligent, observant, fragile, and yet strong -- who stay with you long after you turn the last page. The voice is perfect. There's a surprising amount of humor in what could have been a tearjerker. Chapters narrated by Willow in first person alternate with chapters in third person that give us insight into not only Willow's character but into the refreshingly real cast of secondary characters, a multicultural group of people who come to love Willow as much as you will.

Here's Gina's review.

What book do you hope will win the Newbery in January?

For other MMGM participants, see my sidebar or Shannon's links.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gasp! An extra post -- for an extra day: THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne K. Salerni Cover Reveal

I'm thrilled for my friend Dianne K. Salerni (Pennsylvania resident and author of two YA novels, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves)

 because she will be making her MG debut in 2014 with...

The Eighth Day (coming from HarperCollins, Summer 2014)

Isn't that the coolest cover EVER?  Doesn't it make you desperate to read the book?

Here's a teaser from the flap copy:

When newly orphaned Jax Aubrey awakes to a world without people the day after his thirteenth birthday, he thinks it’s the apocalypse. But then the next day is a regular old Thursday. Has Jax gone crazy? What’s going on?

Go visit Dianne's blog to find out more and to congratulate her!  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Odessa Again for MMGM

Odessa Again by Dana Reinhardt (for ages 8 to 12, May 2013, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Fourth grader Odessa Green-Light lives with her mom and her toad of a little brother, Oliver. Her dad is getting remarried, which makes no sense according to Odessa. If the prefix "re" means "to do all over again," shouldn't he be remarrying Mom? Meanwhile, Odessa moves into the attic room of their new house. One day she gets mad and stomps across the attic floor. Then she feels as if she is falling and lands . . . on the attic floor. Turns out that Odessa has gone back in time a whole day! With this new power she can fix all sorts of things--embarrassing moments, big mistakes, and even help Oliver be less of a toad. Her biggest goal: reunite Mom and Dad.

Why I liked it:  This is exactly the kind of book I would have adored as a ten-year-old. It's fun, escapist reading, with time travel! But at the same time it delves into contemporary issues real kids face. I loved Reinhardt's unique treatment of time travel. This isn't like 11 Birthdays or Groundhog Day. The first time Odessa falls back in time, she goes back exactly 24 hours. The next time, it's 23 hours, then 22, and so on. You can see where this is heading. Reinhardt mines the comic possibilities to the fullest, but you also might find your heart pounding when time begins to run out.

Here's Susan Olson's take on it (interestingly, I had planned to feature this book on Sept 30, but got waylaid by a bad cold, and Susan reviewed it instead!)

What's your favorite time travel novel?

For other MMGM participants, see my sidebar or Shannon's links.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Another great quote

"Only great ideas come when you are running. It is the way of things."

Bee, the narrator of Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

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What do you think, reader? Do your best ideas come to you when you're running (or swimming, walking, or biking)?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Loki's Wolves Giveaway Winner

I have a winner to announce!

According to the winner of the hardcover copy of Loki's Wolves is:


Congratulations and expect an email from me!


Monday, September 9, 2013

MMGM Loki's Wolves -- and a Giveaway!

I've been wanting to read this book ever since I first heard about it in Publishers Weekly. Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong, two popular YA novelists, have collaborated on their first MG series, The Blackwell Pages. I finally bought a copy of the first book and yes, I will be giving it away. Details at the end of the post.

Loki's Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr (May 2013, Little, Brown, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: Hardcover purchased from Books-A-Million

Synopsis (from Indiebound):  "The runes have spoken. We have our champion...Matthew Thorsen."

Matt hears the words, but he can't believe them. He's Thor's representative? Destined to fight trolls, monstrous wolves and giant serpents...or the world ends? He's only thirteen.

While Matt knew he was a modern-day descendent of Thor, he's always lived a normal kid's life. In fact, most people in the small town of Blackwell, South Dakota, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke. No big deal.

But now Ragnarok is coming, and it's up to the champions to fight in the place of the long-dead gods. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team, find Thor's hammer and shield, and prevent the end of the world.

Why I liked it: It's a fast-paced, thrilling adventure for kids and young teens. The authors waste no time in sending Matt, Fen, and Laurie on a dangerous journey to find the other descendants. There are trolls, giant wolves, and police officers trying to stop them. In addition, the authors do an excellent job of filling us in on Norse mythology without hitting us over the head with it. Boys and girls will enjoy this, since Laurie certainly holds her own against the guys. Give this to fans of The Lightning Thief.

For other MMGM links, visit Shannon's blog.


Now for the giveaway! I will be giving away one hardcover of Loki's Wolves to one lucky follower of this blog. International entries welcome. You MUST be a follower and you MUST leave a comment on this post. I'll give you an extra entry if you mention on Twitter (I'm @JoanneRFritz) and another entry if you mention on your own blog. Please let me know in the comments. This giveaway ends at 10 pm EDT on Saturday Sept 21, 2013 and the winner will be announced on Sunday Sept 22.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Great Quotes from Children's Books

"How will the world change if we do not question it?"

-- Leo Matienne in The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Monday, August 26, 2013

MMGM: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

If you've followed my blog for a while, you know I'm a huge fan of Wendy Mass (see this post and this one). But I never read Jeremy Fink until this summer.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown paperback, February 2008, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: purchased from The Big Blue Marble Bookstore, an indie bookstore in Philadelphia, on a trip to visit my friend Mariga, who works there.

Synopsis (back cover copy and Indiebound): Jeremy Fink is about to turn thirteen. He collects mutant candy, he won't venture more than four blocks from his apartment if he can help it, and he definitely doesn't like surprises. On the other hand, his best friend, Lizzy, isn't afraid of anything, even if that might get her into trouble now and then.

When a mysterious box arrives for Jeremy with the words The Meaning of Life engraved on the lid, Jeremy and Lizzy can't wait to find out what's inside. But the box is locked, so they set off an on adventure around Manhattan to find the keys to life's biggest mystery.

Why I liked it: You've gotta love a book that starts with this line:

My sweat smells like peanut butter.

The almost-teen boy voice is fantastic. And I loved the dynamic between Jeremy and Lizzy. The adventure with the keys brings Jeremy out of his shell, so there's plenty of character growth. And the ending was not at all what I expected. 

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I'm excited that Wendy Mass has a new book coming in September, The Last Present, set in the Willow Falls universe of 11 Birthdays, Finally, and 13 Gifts. Leo and Amanda get to travel through time! Can't wait. Release date: September 24, 2013.

For other MMGM links, visit Shannon's blog.

If you read Jeremy Fink, what did you think of it? And what books are you looking forward to in September?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Catching Up

News alert: Since I last posted, I became a published writer of fiction. Okay, so it's flash fiction and it's online, and I was paid all of $3, but it's a publishing credit. Visit this page on Every Day Fiction if you'd like to read my story. I have another story coming in September from Twisted Endings.

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So sorry I haven't been around lately. I'm back from my blogging break, which wrapped up with two weeks' vacation in Maine. My family and I live in Southeastern Pennsylvania. So why do we go to Maine, when we could more easily drive to New Jersey's beaches, or the Chesapeake Bay?

I think a few photos will explain that.

Back Cove, West Boothbay, Maine

Back Cove, West Boothbay, Maine

Looking the other direction toward Boothbay Harbor

My husband walking on Ogunquit Beach 
Ogunquit's rocky coastline 

That, my friends, is a Lobster BLT, and it was delicious

But enough dreaming about my vacation (sigh!). It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. And on my blogging break, besides finishing a much-needed revision and blueprinting a new novel, I tried to catch up on some middle grade classics I'd missed. I bought these books from my friendly local second-hand bookshop. I recommend all three of these, though by today's standards, they're a wee bit old-fashioned.

The Witches by Roald Dahl (Puffin paperback 1998)

Synopsis from indiebound: This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches.

Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There's nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma's stories—but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself.

My take: Like every Roald Dahl book, this is imaginative, funny, fast-paced, and well worth reading.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Puffin paperback 2001)

Synopsis from Indiebound: Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live in the woods—all by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever. Named a Newbery honor in 1960.

My take: Lovely, in an idealistic sort of way. I've always enjoyed books about a kid on his own in the wilderness (Hatchet, for instance) and how he manages to make fish hooks, build a shelter, and figure out what berries to eat. I doubt real parents would be as unconcerned about his adventure as Sam's seem to be (but I was really glad his Dad came to visit him at Christmas). This is one of those quiet books that simply don't get published today. If you're looking for more excitement, stick with Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (Puffin paperback 1986)

Synopsis from Indiebound: Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions. Winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal.

My take: A fun, old-fashioned story, this felt like The Wizard of Oz meets Around the World in 80 Days. No one writes books like this anymore. For one thing, the main character is an old man, not a child. I'm not sure if today's kids would enjoy this, but I did.

While in Maine, I read Neil Gaiman's new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is not for kids. But it's filled with gorgeous writing, so read it if you get a chance.

What did you read this summer?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Art of Browsing in the Rain for MMGM

Browsing is such a lovely thing to do, isn't it? For ten years, I worked in a huge bookstore, and yet I never had time to browse. If I wasn't helping customers, I was shelving new books or reshelving old books, straightening, alphabetizing, and working on the website.

Now that I'm between jobs, I've rediscovered the joys of browsing. We had a lot of rain in June this year, and one rainy day I found myself at the library. Other than the rain drumming on the roof, it was quiet. Schools were still in session, so I had the middle grade area to myself. I usually head to the library with a specific list, and this time was no exception. Among other books, I found Shakespeare's Spy (which proved to be a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to Gary Blackwood's trilogy first mentioned here).

But then as I wandered the stacks, a small book caught my eye. I'd never heard of it before, but I'd heard of the author. Impulsively, I checked it out. I love libraries.

The Magic Half  by Annie Barrows (Bloomsbury, 2007, age 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Miri is the only single child in the middle of a family with two sets of twins--older brothers and younger sisters. When the family moves to an old farmhouse Miri accidentally travels back in time to 1935 only to discover Molly, a girl in need of a real family to call her own. 

Why I liked it: The time travel element, of course! Plus, Miri is a well-rounded, sympathetic character. Also, I'm the younger sister of twins. Apparently I used to ask my mother, "Where's my twin?" So this book felt like it was written for me.

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Please note: Next week, I'll be taking a five to six week blogging break to get some writing and revising done, and also going on vacation to Maine for part of that time. But I'll be back after that with plenty of new book recommendations and some writing posts.