I was so excited when my boxes (four boxes!) of pretty new Hannah West books came that I immediately set up a Goodreads giveaway for Hannah West: Sleuth in Training (link goes directly to the give away). Then the good people at Two Lions publishing stepped in to offer 20 (twenty!) hardcover copies of Hannah West: Sleuth on the Trail. You should enter!
(this post was originally published on The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog on 11/20/2015)
“Dogs I like” is one one of my book shelves on Goodreads, and I feel a tremendous delight each time I get to add a new book to the shelf. These books are not necessarily about dogs (although some certainly are); rather, these are the books where the author (more…)
What if I told you that being a librarian had ruined me as a reader? Well, it would be a lie. Mostly.
About four times a year, I suffer a bit of a reading crisis. You could call it a reading slump if you’d like, but given that my day job involves connecting people with books, I consider it a full-blown bookish crisis. I feel an obligation to be up on what’s new; plus, shiny new books! If I’m preparing for a community book talk program, I’ll spend weeks and weeks of late-night reading specifically for what that audience might like. It starts to feel like an assignment.
Luckily, this happens only occasionally. Seasonally, in fact. And, luckily, I’ve found a few ways to climb out of the plotless, character-void abyss of a reading slump that comes after required reading. Here are five ways I’ve found to connect with books again, along with my personal book prescriptions.
Choose a different format. I’m not just talking e-book versus print here. I most often read new releases (hardcover, checked out from the library) or soon-to-be-released (which means digital advance copies on an ereader). My favorite format, however, is trade paperback. The size is great for bus commuting and couch reclining, the weight feels good in my hands, and I plain and simple just like this type of book best.
- Rx: Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett (2013). A novelist hits her head right before a reporter interviews her, and whatever she said (she can’t quite recall) has made her a literary darling in great demand for her wisdom on writing and publishing.
- Prescription notes: I had checked this out twice in hardcover, but returned it both times unread. I was attracted to the redesigned cover (a basset hound!) and a blurb from super librarian Nancy Pearl.
Shop differently. I work in a building with close to a million books (Yes, I know! Bliss.) Yet I do most of my browsing online from reviews and Twitter. I’ve lost the “serendipity in the stacks” that lead to some of the best discoveries. Sometimes I just need to get out of my regular book selection space — computer screen and my workplace — and visit a book store or another library.
- Rx: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012). A rom com with an unlikely relationship between a quadriplegic and the young woman hired to help him.
- Prescription notes: That description didn’t exactly pull me in, which is why I hadn’t placed it on hold at my own library. It also was one of those books that I didn’t need to read, because it was so widely shared and read. Then one day, three years after it was published, I came across the book — a nice, clean trade paperback version of the book — on display at a different library branch. Sold.
Read short stories or essays by a favorite author. I was going to say “pick up a collection of short stories.” But what I’ve found is that to come out of this particular slump, I need assurance that an author’s style and voice will keep me going. I stick with authors I know I enjoy, but look for their shorter work.
- Rx: We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter (2013) and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace (1998).
- Prescription notes: Walter’s slim collection of short stories offers the same wry observations I found in my favorite of his novels, The Financial Lives of the Poets. As for Wallace’s nonfiction, I fall in love anew each time I read one of his essays.
Base your next book on its appeal characteristic. Do you read for character, story, setting, or pure love of the language of writing? Sure, it’s possible you read for all four, or for different ones depending on your mood. But what’s the common appeal among your favorite books? For me, it’s character.
- Rx: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015). I’m still reading this one, immersed in the lives of four friends who first met at college. I don’t ever want to come out of this book.
- Prescription notes: This character-rich novel is such a satisfying reading experience for me, reminiscent of my other favorite character novels: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
Ask a professional. Talking to a librarian or a bookseller is the truest form of reading therapy. A good one will get you talking about what you like in books, and give you a book match based on clues you’ve given when talking about books you love AND the mood you’re in at the moment. Ask a friend for a book recommendation and you’ll often get one of her personal favorites; ask a librarian or a bookseller and you’ll get a suggestion tailored just for you.
- Rx: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (2014).
- Prescription notes: A librarian friend handed this to me, knowing I’d first be intrigued by the cover art and then enticed by the set up. If Glee and Heathers had a baby — and added a mystery — it would be this book. I read it in two sittings, and was back on my way to being the reader I am.
My quarterly slump is behind me now, and I’m off for a great reading season. Here’s hoping you are, too.
Each month the collaborative blog the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors lists new releases. Following this feature saves me a lot of time as I look for the new, the brightest, the yet-to-be-discovered books written specifically for middle grade readers. It’s not an all-inclusive list, which would be exhaustive. And its manageability makes it a terrific resource.
Here’s an excerpt from and link to the post:
Did you happen to see recent headlines about how independent book stores aren’t just surviving, they’re actually thriving? The Week magazine summarizes findings and offers its own spin on why book stores are vital, including the fact that they “curate and recommend in a human way.” That point is crucial for middle grade readers who depend (often unknowingly) on parents, librarians, teachers, and booksellers to help them find the right book at the right time. We here at the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors take the privilege of being able to curate and recommend quite seriously — and joyfully. And with that, we happily present you with fifteen choice middle grade books heading to book store and library shelves this month (continue reading October new releases on the Mixed-Up Files blog here).
You wouldn’t think adults would be so crazy nostalgic about checking off the books they read, harkening back to their summers spent reading library books. But say the words “adult summer reading program” and you’ve got our attention.
Enter Book Bingo and we’re hooked.
This summer, Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts & Lectures brought grown-up readers across the city a summer reading program just for us — and we’re absolutely loving it. In Summer Book Bingo, each square on the bingo card is a challenge — read a book by a local author, read a book translated from another language, read a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and so on. Get five in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally and you’ve got “bingo” (and a chance to win prizes).
But the best part? It’s not the prizes. The absolute best part is that people around the city are talking about what they’re reading. We’re hearing about it in our libraries, seeing people share what they’re reading for each square on Twitter and Instagram (#BookBingoNW), and listening in while readers offer each other suggestions to get to bingo.
Last summer, my favorite podcast, “Books on the Nightstand,” did a fabulous job starting conversations — and keeping them going — through its version of Book Bingo. Podcast hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness offered suggestions each week on the podcast, and readers shared its suggestions, too. Its Goodreads group is impressive with 5,000 members; its discussions are topical and there are already more than 50 book bingo categories being discussed. People love to talk about what they’re reading and people love to read about what to read next.
Anyone can play along with “Books on the Nightstand” and players get different cards. You can get a randomized line up of reading challenges by printing from here (refresh before printing). I’m sure the intent is to take whichever card you’re handed, but I’ll admit to hitting refresh three times before printing. Sorry, I just really couldn’t face a book with footnotes, after not finishing David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest two summers in a row; my next card had “read a biography of someone you dislike” AND “read a book you think you’ll dislike.” Too much disliking for my summer reading … but a simple “refresh” and I’ve got a card that challenges, but isn’t a turn off.
Even if you don’t play the “BOTNS” version of Book Bingo, its podcasts, shownotes, and discussion boards are excellent places to get ideas for what to read next.
Seattle’s Book Bingo version (which has also made it to France and Médiathèque Languidic, a library in Languidic, for Biblio Bingo) has just one card. The categories are open-ended enough that it doesn’t seem to matter if you read fiction or nonfiction. And the good thing about one standardized card is that it brings some structure and commonalities to reading discussions around the city. You can walk into any library or independent book store and pick up a bingo card, talk to librarians and booksellers about what to read, maybe even talk with other customers or library patrons. There really is potential for three months of people talking about what they’re reading.
I find this city-wide focus on reading — and talking about books — extremely satisfying. Reading is, of course, solitary, yet so many of us are looking for a community of readers. We can read alone, together. We can talk about what we’re reading when we feel like it, if we feel like it. We can feel the satisfaction of finishing a good book and writing the title in a bingo square.
Right now my Book Bingo card is on my refrigerator. This is one summer reading program piece I plan to keep, long after summer ends.
This post originally appeared on Huffington Post 7/12/2015 here.
Bigger than life characters, epic battles, good versus evil, outlandish monsters and over-the-top family strife are just a few reasons Greek myths are now — just as they have been for generations — absolutely irresistible for middle grade readers. And while no kid wants to hear this now, getting a grounding in Greek tales will serve these young readers well the rest of their lives. So many references in literature (Shakespeare, for one) and pop culture have roots in these myths, and they’ll also provide fodder for kids’ own stories and interpretations.
If <strong>Percy Jackson and the Olympians</strong> first reeled your reader to Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena, you may be wondering what books to grab next. Or maybe your reader likes the idea of Greek myths, but isn’t really sold on the whole Percy Jackson thing. Either way, here are some ideas for what to read next:
Timeless intrigue of Greek Myths for middle readers — From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors (continue to read post I wrote … ):
—— this post was written for and originally appeared on From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog —–
“Geography of Nowhere” – the session at the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference on April 11, 2015, caught my interest before I noticed the powerhouse lineup of authors presenting (Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Nikki Loftin, Janet Fox, and Geoff Herbach). The topic of setting as character is one a writing pal and I have recently been discussing (read: obsessing over). How do some writers create a sense of place that roots the story and gives the characters context? On the flip side, how can we avoid the excessive description that I keep encountering in books I’m reading (and abandoning) recently?
I walked into the session just as Kirstin Cronn-Mills talked about the setting of one of her YA books (The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind) as “fifty miles from the closest Target.” Brilliant! With six words she immediately conjures the expansiveness and confines of the character’s hometown.
Each of the panelists talked about sensory details, like how the sound of wind changes at the top of a hill. And in some locations, you can’t overlook the weather. In Texas in August, Nikki Loftin said, the weather is a character; it’s there in the dust and the sweat and the sheer oppressiveness of heat.
“Choose details that will reflect an aspect or emotion of the main character,” Janet Fox advised. In Nightingale’s Nest, Loftin created a bargain store — the kind that exist in towns too small to attract big-name big-box stores — called Emperor’s Emporium. She needed the specificity of this store to show the longing of her main character, John, whose family’s poverty is a level below the people who shop there
What about the settings that seem so mundane and repetitive to many of us? The suburbs or the residential housing along interstate corridors? Cronn-Mills sees these as “a blank canvas that you can embroider;” authors can create quirky places where kids want to go.
My notes from this conference session are full of arrows and underlines, along with my own characters’ names and details of their surroundings. In the midst of revising a manuscript, the nuggets I gained from this session are helping me cut and clarify. And that is a glorious thing.
This was my second year attending the AWP conference, and I again was overwhelmed by how helpful, instructive, and motivating these sessions can be. There were 13,000 writers in Minneapolis for the 2015 AWP gathering, and hundreds of sessions on the craft of writing. This is a hard-working and hard-writing group, and workshops were every hour, right through lunch and dinner, and beyond. The focus of the conference isn’t on writing for children — there were only a handful that specifically called out middle-grade — but every presentation I attended had a valuable take away. I want to be a better writer, and this focus on words — rather than marketing and selling — was pretty spectacular.
See more blog posts about reading and writing middle grade books at
From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog.
Our video made it all the way to the International Space Station. Here’s a blog post I did for Seattle Public Library:
by Linda J.
We made a little video and sent it into outer space, asking astronaut Reid Wiseman, currently living and working on the International Space Station, to talk about a book that changed his view of the world. His thoughtful answer shows the power of imagination and what reading means in his life. Take a look!
I must say that it is pure pleasure to work at a place like Seattle Public Library where, on a Sunday morning, you can say to three of your librarian coworkers: “Hey, do you guys want to make a video with me and send it to the International Space Station?” And then your three coworkers/friends jump up and say “Of course!” before they even ask any questions about it. David Wright is on the left, asking the question; then it’s Josie Watanabe, Linda Johns (me) and Hayden Bass. We took two minutes on…
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