Thursday, December 1, 2016

When the Dog Bites by Jim Hill

"When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorites things
And then I don't feel so bad."

It's been a tough month for all things positivity, so as we kick off a new month (rabbit rabbit), maybe it's time to make a list of some of my favorite things, with a (mostly) middle-grade twist.

Some Books:

Milicent Min Girl Genius
One Crazy Summer
8th Grade Super Zero
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze
The Chronicles of Prydain
Raymie Nightingale
Wolf Hollow
The Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Some Things for Listening:

The Yarn
The Writers Panel John Green Interview
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert interview with Neil Gaiman

Some Things for Which to Look Forward:

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! by Stephen Bramucci
14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop
Vampires on the Run: A Quinnie Boyd Mystery by C.M. Surrisi
Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin (YA, not MG)

The Anticipation of Potter:

I'm about to begin reading Harry Potter to my eight-and-eleven-twelfths-year-old. My wife and I haven't allowed him to watch the movies (such hardship!), and our practice is to read only a chapter or two of whatever book is on tap. With Harry and all things Hogwarts, I fully expect he's going to race ahead between bedtimes and devour the series. We may need multiple copies to keep everyone on the *ahem* same page.

A Reminder from Robin (and Lin):

Even when the world is bleakish, words will set you free. I'll write my way out. You will too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

WriteOnCon is Returning February 2-4, 2017 by Dianne K. Salerni

“From 2010 to 2014, the popular online kidlit conference WriteOnCon offered writers a unique opportunity to learn and grow their craft, all from the comfort of their own homes. Over 13,000 people attended during the last year! Unfortunately, increasing time commitments meant the organizers were unable to continue the event in subsequent years. But now WriteOnCon is returning, with a new organizing team but the same purpose: to provide an affordable and fun conference experience that’s accessible to everyone.” ~ The 2017 WriteOnCon Team

If you attended WriteOnCon in the past, then I needn’t say anymore, and you can skip the rest of this post. But for anyone unfamiliar with WOC, this is a 3-day online writing conference for kidlit writers. There are writing forums where you can get feedback on your query or first five pages, blog posts, live events – and Ninja Agents! The Ninja Agents – real life literary agents appearing anonymously – sneak into the forums to read, comment, and sometimes request! WOC has all the benefits of a big writing conference and none of the disadvantages: high costs, travel expenses, having to wear pants, etc. 

The time for Early Registration is NOW. It’s easy; it’s affordable; and there are perks. Critiques are on offer from agents, editors, and published authors – and they’re selling out fast. (But don’t worry. I keep seeing new ones being added.)

Visit the WriteOnCon website.

Watch the video.

Register here.

Follow WriteOnCon on Facebook and Twitter.

See you there!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Writing Thrillers for Kids by Donna Galanti

Do you love to be scared? I do (when I know it’s safe)! Haunted houses. Hayrides. Rollercoasters. Adventure rides. (and yes, that's me with my family on a ride!).

I got so scared once in a haunted house that I whacked the “ghosts” with the teddy bear from my costume. The management turned on all the lights and asked me to leave. Oops.

Just last Halloween my friend dared me to do Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary, a haunted house at an abandoned prison. I was very proud that I didn’t whack anyone this time!

But I still get scared of real places as a grown up. Of our dark garage. Of our creepy old cellar. Of nighttime when taking the trash cans out. My heart pip-pops waiting for that creature or boogeyman to grab me. I know he could be. My imagination tells me so.

And thriller movies are fun to get scared by – but I think it’s even more fun for me to watch my son watching them. When he was younger he would yell at the characters, “save yourselves!” then jump up and down, cover his eyes, and hug me in fright – whether it was Jurassic Park, Twister, or Dante’s Peak. I think the same elements in thriller movies cross over into thriller books.

Basic elements of a thriller:
Incorporate plot twists to shock the audience
Tease viewers to keep them hanging on until the end
A hero, or band of heroes, opposing an enemy while on a quest
The threat of death or capture is always looming

Here is a snapshot of my favorite thrillers for kids:
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Double Vision by F.T. Bradley

As my son became an avid and selective reader, I discovered that kids love to be thrilled not just in movies but in books too. I started reading some of the thrillers my son had on his bookshelf like Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan and Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo. In doing this I began to see patterns in these kid adventure tales – and I began applying what I learned, along with general thriller elements, to create my own stories.

10-steps I discovered for writing kid thrillers:
  •  Put the kids in charge. Kids don’t want to read about grownups having adventures.
  • Which leads into…have the kids figure out how to take the bad guys down – not grownups. Kids want to see themselves as the hero, not Mom or Dad or their teacher.
  •  Whatever scary situations the kids find themselves in – they must navigate their way out.
  • Don’t dwell on the dark stuff. Make it happen fast without gory detail – kids can use their imagination.
  • Give them friends in their travels. Life is hard without friends! And a kid needs friends to help him along his scary adventure.
  • Through story events have the kids discover their own strength and courage to overcome the bad things happening to them.
  • Make all seemed lost! End the chapters on cliffhangers to encourage kids to keep turning the pages and find out what happens next.
  • Have it work out in the end, or at least partially, even if all seems doomed for a while.
  • Add humor! Interjecting a dollop of funny can alleviate the tension in the scariest of scenes and lighten the moment.
  • Make it a series. Have a final resolution to the story but leave it open for more stories down the road for the characters. Kids love to follow their beloved characters into new adventures.

As you can see, I love to read and write thrillers for kids. And that’s just what I did with creating the Lightning Road series. Here’s the book trailer for book 2 in the series, Joshua and the Arrow Realm. Do you think the story has the elements of a kid’s thriller?

What are your favorite kid thrillers to read? If you write kid thrillers, what are some thriller elements you include?

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Photo by Catherine Cronin

My wife is a middle school guidance counselor, and this year, as last, she has one or two transgender students who are coming out—in sixth grade. At age eleven. Their parents are in various stages of disequilibrium, trying to rise to the occasion.

Another kid I know dissolved in tears recently, worried that two of his classmates (and their families) may now be deported under the new administration.

A girl who was adopted from Guatemala at birth by two parents from upstate New York now wonders if she will be sent back to the country of her birth.

No matter what your feelings about the outcome of the presidential election, there is no doubt that kids are feeling the stress and uncertainty of the sea change in our political system. What can we as middle grade authors do in the face of their vulnerability? 
Here are some ideas:

1)  Write the stories of those children in flux—kids who are facing pressures and fears due to immigration, discrimination, dislocation of any kind. These stories can be written in the voice of a targeted or vulnerable child if you feel qualified to do so, or in the voice of the kid who is a friend/ally/bystander.

2)  Seek out books that portray these experiences (see resources). By reading and buying these books, we support those authors, and we familiarize ourselves with the narratives of children who are going to bear a lot of the brunt of the new administration hitting the ground in January. There have already been specific groups identified as targets: Muslims, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Syrian refugees, Dream Act kids, transgender kids. On top of that, we have heard dire pronunciations about instituting “law and order” in our cities, putting communities of color at risk.

3)  Use your own platform to amplify stories and authors from these communities and perspectives. If you’ve read a wonderful book about an immigrant child, a child of color,  a kid who is LGBTQ, tweet about it. Stories about immigrants and refugees build empathy and break down stereotypes. Write a review. Read these stories to inform your own work and world views. Book-talk these diverse titles when you do your own author events—amplify, publicize, and spread the word on social media and in person.

4) Dig into these resources:
**Read author Jacqueline Woodson’s brilliant essay in the New York Times: “How Do I Comfort Our Frightened Son After the Election? I Tell Him How Our People Have Survived.”

**Check out School Library Journal’s Islam in the Classroom

**Use the rich resources of We Need Diverse Books to find stories about African American kids, Asian kids, Latinos, Muslim kids, LGBTQ characters,  and more.

**Explore these on Twitter: #ownvoices, #booksfighthate

Be brave. Be generous. Stand up for kids who need us now and will continue to need us in the coming months and years. It’s imperative.

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."   ~~ Toni Morrison

Monday, November 14, 2016

Picture Books for Big Kids: Building a Story Around the Art by Eden Unger Bowditch

Okay, so we’re grown ups. We are supposed to outgrow Legos and chocolate and books with pictures. Yeah, right! Having kids is a great excuse for pulling out those Legos, even when the kids are off doing something else. And big money has gone into studies- conducted by adults, of course- that have shown, without a doubt, chocolate is good for us. Hurray! So now is the time to admit that we love our stories with a side of pictures! The rise of the graphic novel shows us all that picture books are not just for little ones. Illustrations are for kids of all sizes.

As I await the ARC for The Strange Round Bird…, the third book in my Young Inventors Guild trilogy, I am almost as excited to see the illustrations as I am for the text. My publisher has been wonderful about supporting the diagrams of the inventions- once again created by the brilliant Mary Grace Corpus ( ) and the numerous period-specific photos I collected in Cairo.

Fabulous MG and YA books, like Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, have hit the shelves and knocked us all out. And, indeed, these stories engage and enthrall, but the accompanying artwork is as much of the package as the words that surround them. I know I love to flip back and forth and follow the pictures as I read.

Traveling around on book tours, supporting the first YIG book, The Atomic Weight of Secrets…, I was asked over and over why I didn’t include diagrams of the inventions described in the story. And the demand was not only from kids. Several librarians, teachers, and bookstore folks, as well as a physicist, all asked the same thing- where are the pictures? These readers were right! I met with my editor and spoke with the art folks at Bancroft and everyone agreed that we would include diagrams in The Ravens of Solemano... But the few diagrams (unfortunately, fewer and smaller than I or any reader wanted) only whetted my appetite for including more. I begged. I pleaded. And my cries were heard. I was given the freedom to add more art. In this book, Mary Grace’s diagrams will be more numerous and prominent. And they shall not be alone. Since The Strange Round Bird… takes place in Cairo, I began searching at markets and old shops, in the archives of The American University in Cairo, where I work, collecting interesting photos that would fit into the story. As I wrote, I was inspired by what I found and, as my collection of photographs grew, I began to build elements of the story around them.

Every picture can tell any one of a thousand stories. It’s a pleasure when the story it tells is yours.