Reading goals for 2014: Back to middle grade

19156898As soon as there is a goal or an assignment, I am among the first to sign up — and the one who knows all along that I won’t meet the goal. I’m pretty sure I have this all figured out, but this post is about READING, not about therapy. So let me say that I hate book clubs because I hate required reading, I hate that Goodreads encourages readers to set a number goal for reading (a happiness algorithm based on emotions when reading would be a better goal, I think), and I hate feeling like I’m letting library patrons down by not reading what they do. So hello 2014 — and goodbye to all that other silliness and guilt about reading.

Each year I read a lot of middle grade, but I go through it so quickly and read so much that I rarely keep track of titles. I lead a library book group that meets twice a month to talk about the books we’re all reading, and I’ve sadly stopped talking about children’s and YA in this group because I see people check out as soon as I say it’s not an adult book. I love this book group format and the people who participate, but I somehow let it stop me from reading what I want to read.

This year my focus is going to be on middle grade (no afterthought) and I’ll track it on goodreads with this middle grades read in 2014 shelf. As of today, there’s only one book on the shelf, but that’s okay because it’s the fantastic The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm. (It’s not out yet, but you can see the cover reveal and read all about it in this blog post from Mr. Schu.)

Several years ago, I read  100 middle grade novels in a period of a few months. I was immersing myself in children’s literature not only as an aspiring writer (this was pre Hannah West mystery drafts) but as someone toying with the idea of going to grad school to be a children’s librarian. THAT, my friends, was the best reading year of my adult life. And this year is off to a great start.

Short review: ‘Counting by 7s’ by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic middle grade with a genius middle schooler whose world is turned upside down when her parents are killed in a car accident. This is one of those stories where an unlikely cast of characters come together to make things right, characters get enlightened along the way, bonds form and the ending is hopeful. Lots of books try to do this; Counting by 7s nails it. It’s being compared to Sharon Draper’s “Out of My Mind.” It made me also think of Susan Patron’s “Higher Power of Lucky” and Joan Bauer’s “Almost Home,” mixed with Lisa Yee’s “Millicent Min.” Humor, heart, and you learn a ton through 12-year-old Willow Chance’s observations. Another bonus, that I wish we didn’t have to still call out: Diverse group of characters in terms of ethnicities (Vietnamese, Spanish, unnamed) and personalities — just the way life and friendship is in most of our communities. Love this one!

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Cross cultural writing

Great post on The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors: “We passed a national milestone recently and one of particular relevance to everyone who writes for children. Our last census demonstrated that more than 50% of kids in this country are children of color, and for children’s writers it’s cause for reflection…” Cross Cultural Writing

Seeing an author I love …

Here’s a puzzler: I write and talk about books for a living (in two different jobs), yet I absolutely cannot write about books. Or at least not the books that I love to my core.  If I really love a book, I am terrified to write even a paragraph about it, which I thought was probably because I’m afraid of not doing the book justice. But the truth is that I want to keep it inside my head, in some sort of cloud bubble of perfection, surrounded by emotions and visceral reactions, without concrete words to bring it down.

Such is the case with When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Anyone I know has heard how much I love this book, yet if someone asks me to explain why, I clam up. This is a book that shook me to my toes when I read it, reminding me not only why I want to write, but why I want to read.

Tonight I saw Rebecca at a book event in Seattle. She is unassuming, engaging and completely delightful. And now I love her all the more because she said tonight how she can’t talk about the books she loves most, wanting to keep them in that fragile world inside her head.

Hannah West on your iPod … or even iPhone.

My friend Terry emailed me yesterday to tell me that she came across my middle-grade mystery series, Hannah West, available on audio. Had I forgotten to mention it to her? There was no forgetting — BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW! Ay caramba. How does that happen?

I’m thrilled that any book of mine is an audio book (although I wish someone had told me that was in the works). I was especially excited to see this little bit of promotional copy: “Use your own iPhone, mp3 player or iPod for playing Hannah West on Millionaire’s Row audio book.

I don’t have an iPhone, but my fictional creation can be heard on one. That greatly amuses me. If the series is succcessful on audio, I will be further amused and pleased by royalties.