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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Middle Grade Novel, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Total Eclipse of the Moon

redmoonTax day approaches – everyone's favorite day of the year. Tonight I plan to stay up past midnight and watch the day arrive. Not because I waited until the last minute to do my taxes (although there's that) but because tonight there will be a total lunar eclipse.

Most of North America will be able to see the eclipse and since the moon is close to full it should be pretty dramatic. Because of the timing of the eclipse, sunsets and sunrises in other parts of the world will make the moon look blood red. Kinda cool! If you have cloudy skies or too many city lights to see it, The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will broadcast the eclipse live starting at 9:45 p.m. PST.

This is also the last week of the blog tour for WISH YOU WEREN'T. Here are the planned stops.  

The Book Cellar: Erica posts an interview about my reading and writing habits.  
Books and Needlepoint: Kristi will post her review of Wish You Weren't.  

Book Loving Mom: Amy will post her review of Wish You Weren't.

I want to thank all of the bloggers who hosted me during this tour. Book bloggers are seriously the coolest people. They don't make money from this. They do it because they love books and I'm totally honored to have been part of so many awesome blogs.

0 Comments on Total Eclipse of the Moon as of 4/14/2014 11:37:00 AM
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2. #532 – Evil Fairies Love Hair by Mary G. Thompson

evvil fariries kve hair.

Evil Fairies Love Hair

by Mary G. Thompson

Clarion Books       8/5/2014


Age 8 to 12       320 pages


“You could be gorgeous, brilliant, a star athlete, or great singer, or you could put a hex on your worst enemy. And all you have to do is raise a flock of two-inch-tall fairies. Easy, right? Wrong. Ali learns this the hard way when her flock-starter fairies get to work. Raising them means feeding them, and what they eat is hair. Lots and lots of human hair. Where to get the hair is Ali’s first challenge. What about the beauty salon? Easy, right? Before long, Ali’s friends, classmates, teachers, sister, and parents are entangled with the evil fairies, who have their own grandiose and sinister agenda. It’s up to Ali to overcome these magical troublemakers and set things right.”


“AGREEMENT 1. Alison E. B. Butler in exchange for one wish, hereby agree: . . .”

The Story

Alison is raising a flock of evil fairies in exchange for one wish. She wants to be smarter than her sister, who get s straight A’s and her parent’s attention. She has two problems right away. Michael gave her the two flock-starters and now he insists on checking up on her, constantly. It wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t the second worst jerk in town. His brother is number one and dating Ali’s sister Hannah—the one who can do no wrong. Second problem, the baby fairies. All the babies want is to eat and they eat human hair, lots if it. Where is Ali going to get all that hair? She can’t use her own, and keeps her hair in a high bun to ensure the fairies don’t get to her hair. The boys shave their head.

Ali spots the beauty salon across from the middle school. They throw hair away every day. Ali tries to grab some of the discarded hair, but Mrs. Hopper, who has cut the Butler family’s hair since forever, catches her. Ali learns that Mrs. Hopper is not who she seems to be and wants to rescue Mrs. Hopper—the real Mrs. Hopper. Hopper is not the only one held captive. Molly and Tyler, who broke the rules while raising their flocks, are now suffering the penalty, and Mrs. Hopper—the fake one—is now holding them captive. Will Ali be able to free all three? Can she be able to get anyone else to help? Most importantly, will Ali raise her full flock and get her wish?


I love Evil Fairies Love Hair. It has some normal teenage angst, a normal family, middle school casts, two flockstarters who may or may not help, and a good dash of magic. The good kids are not always as good as they seem and the bad kids are not as bad as everyone, including parents, believe. Then there are the little evil fairies, who may not be fairies at all. Evil Fairies Love Hair could be a confusing story, but events happen in good time and everything flows nicely from one plot point to the next. In fact, I had read half the book before I thought to check the time. I didn’t want to put the book down.

From the title, Evil Fairies Love Hair, I had no idea what to expect. The fairy on the cover is odd looking with large, bulging eyes that fill up half her face and a baldhead. She looks demanding and she and her fellow fairies are a demanding bunch. Their leader put the fairies in this position and was now trying to get them to where she wanted to be in the first place. Problem is, she easily makes mistakes, mainly due to her enormous ego. I love the humor and the middle school principal who never has a clue what his students are doing. He just wants them back to class. All the adults are clueless.

Middle grade kids will love this story. It will have them thinking about what they would wish for, if they had the opportunity. Kids will also wonder what getting their wish would cause to those around them. Would it be worth it to have everything you want? This is the author’s sophomore novel. (Escape from the Pipe Men! is her debut and will be reviewed here soon.) The writing is excellent. The story pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages. Kids looking for a magical tale with a few twists and turns will want to read Evil Fairies Love Hair. You may think you know what a fairy is and what a fairy does, but do you really? To find out, you need to read Evil Fairies Love Hair. Be careful what you wish for—you might just get it!.


EVIL FAIRIES LOVE HAIR. Text copyright © 2014 by Mary G. Thompson. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Blake Henry. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston MA.


Learn about Evil Fairies Love Hair HERE.

Buy Evil Fairies Love Hair at Amazon—B&N—Clarion Books—your local bookstore.


Meet author Mary G. Thompson at her website:  http://www.marygthompson.com/

Find more intriguing books at the Clarion Books website:  http://www.hmhco.com/

Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


Also by Mary G Thompson

Escape from the Pipe Men!

Escape from the Pipe Men!









NEW from Clarion Books

The Twin Powers

The Twin Powers


The Perfect Place

The Perfect Place

evil fairies love hair

Filed under: 5stars, Favorites, Middle Grade Tagged: children's book reviews, Clarion Books, ego, fairies, hexes, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, imps, Mary G. Thompson, middle grade novel, relationships, wishes

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3. Writing Processes Blog Tour

A post to brighten this wet spring morning. The lovely Akiko White, recent winner of the SCBWI Tomie dePaola illustrator award, tagged me to join this fun Blog Tour on writing processes. Each week, authors post answers to four Writing … Continue reading

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4. review#398 – The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond

.. The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond Oliver Jeffers, illustrator Candlewick Press 4 Stars Inside Jacket:  Since all the jobs on the quayside disappeared, Stan’s Uncle Ernie has developed an extraordinary fascination with canning fish.  Overnight, life at 69 Fish Quay Lane has turned barmy.  But when Uncle Ernie’s madcap obsession takes …

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5. Karmack by J. C. Whyte

Karmack*Middle-grade fantasy novel

*5th-grade boy as the main character

*Rating: Karmack by J. C. Whyte (MuseItUp Publishing) is a good novel about a bully who learns a bit about karma through the creature pictured here. Filled with humor, interesting characters, plenty of pranks, adventure, and a subtle lesson, children will enjoy this book immensely.

Short, short summary: Sully is the Big Cheese of the 5th grade. He got that way by being tough (a bully) and playing pranks on everyone from classmates to his teachers. He has a gang, and he has enemies. . .until one day, when he sees a little creature, Karmack (stands for Karma) playing pranks on him and his friends. He’s able to catch Karmack and question him about what he’s doing. Karmack’s basically there to even out all the bad things that Sully and his friends are doing. If Karmack doesn’t do his job, all of their bad deeds will add up, and some doom will happen to them. In the end, Sully figures out how to beat bad Karma, and he changes as a result of it. Although it sounds like this novel could be preachy, I don’t feel like it is. The lesson is there, but the characters and situations are interesting enough to get kids into the novel and discuss the lesson afterwards.

Buy this book from the publisher: MUSEITUP Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/museityoung/karmack-detail

So, what do I do with this book?

1. This is a great book to work on reading skills, such as character arc, character emotions, and character motivation. Sully goes through amazing changes in the book–you can discuss why with kids–and also list characteristics he has BEFORE he meets Karmack that might have led to him being able to make these changes.

2. Give students a journal writing prompt: If you could have a conversation with Karmack about your good and bad deeds, what would you say? Write a one-page conversation between you and Karmack OR a letter to Karmack. Are you “balanced”?  Could you get “balanced”?  What if you are leaning in a good way–more good than bad?

3. Before you read the end of the book with children, stop at the part where Sully says he put the mustache on the photo. Ask: Do you think he really did it? Why or why not? How did it get there? Why is it there? What’s going to happen now that Sully admitted it, but maybe didn’t do it? Ask students to use their knowledge of the story world to make some predictions. Then after reading the ending, see who predicted correctly.  (As long as a prediction is logical, even if not correct, it works for this activity.)

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6. review#401 – Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom by Cheryl Carpinello

Cheryl Carpinello’s Book Blog Tour 2013 The King’s Ransom .. .. Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom by Cheryl Carpinello Jodi Carpinello, illustrator MuseItUpYoung 5 Stars Back Cover:  In medieval Wales, eleven-year-old Prince Gavin, thirteen-year-old orphan Philip, and fifteen-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice Bryan are brought together in friendship by one they call the …

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7. review#405 – Hello There, We’ve Been Waiting for You! By Laurie B. Arnold

. Hello There, We’ve Been Waiting for You! By Laurie B. Arnold Prospecta Press 5 Stars . Back Cover When Madison McGee is orphaned and forced to live with her wacky grandmother in boring Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, she’s pretty sure nothing will ever be right again. Her grandmother is addicted to TV shopping …

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8. review#408 – Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield

.. Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield The New York Review Children’s Collection 5 Stars . . . . . .   .   .   ..   .   .   .(illustration free). Back Cover:  Twelve-year-old Smith is a denizen of the mean streets of eighteenth-century London, living hand to mouth …

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9. It Begins!

Today starts the blog tour of awesome around the internet. Twelve stops, twelve chance to win a copy of WISH YOU WEREN'T and astronaut ice cream – yum!

Here's where you'll find me this week:

Monday: Mundie Kids (I'm guest posting about -- you guessed it -- wishing on stars!)
Wednesday: Cover2Cover (This time I'm talking about other ways to wish)
Wednesday: The (Mis)Adventures of a Twenty-Something Year Old Girl will be posting a review Friday: Sher A. Hart will have a book review

In addition to the tour, I'm thrilled that the esteemed Middle Grade Ninja will be featuring me this week on his amazing blog. Tuesday he'll do his Book of the Week review of WISH YOU WEREN'T and on Thursday, I'll be answering his famous 7 Questions Interview. If you're a writer and you've never visited the Middle Grade Ninja, do yourself a favor and go now. He's got interviews with agents, editors and writers like Sara Crowe, Tina Wexler, Kendra Levin, Lynne Reid Banks and Ingrid Law. Seriously cool interviews I'll be rubbing shoulders with!

If you're looking for more chances to win, the contest is still open over at Literary Rambles. You can win a copy of the book, a wish token and a pocket watch just like the one Tör uses to manipulate time in WISH YOU WEREN'T. (Although I don't guarantee that this watch will have the same magical properties as Tör's!)

Whew! It's going to be a busy week! I hope I'll see you around the web!

And just in case you forgot, you can always get your very own copy of WISH YOU WEREN'T from these magnificent retailers :)
Amazon   |  Kobo  |  B&N  |   Smashwords  |   Solvang Book Loft

0 Comments on It Begins! as of 3/24/2014 11:17:00 AM
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10. An Interview with Glen Downey, Author of Into the Fire

I am excited to welcome Glen Downey, author of Into the Fire, a middle-grade book. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon: “It’s been a year since Alice Booker disappeared — a year since she went to work one morning at the Byron County Library and never came back. Her son, Max, is still trying to come to terms with her disappearance when he strikes up a unusual friendship with Becky Smart, a tough new kid at Lincoln Middle School that everyone quickly learns not to mess with. When Max discovers there’s been a fire in his mom’s old office at the library, he and Becky form the Book-Smart Detective Agency to investigate. What they discover about the fire, and about the strange circumstances surrounding it, plunge them into a mystery that is almost too impossible to be imagined.”

WOW! As kids, can you remember wanting to be a detective? I can–I used to love to play Charlie’s Angels! But I digress. I got to ask Glen some questions about his new book and his writing career, so here we go. . .

Margo: Welcome, Glen, to Read These Books and Use Them. I’m excited to talk to you about your latest children’s book, Into the Fire. From the synopsis above, we know it has some mystery and adventure. How would you describe your book?

Glen: Into the Fire is the first installment of The Book-Smart Detective Agency series. At its heart, it’s a book about relationships: the lost relationship between Max and his mother, Alice, who disappears about a year before the novel opens, and his unique relationship with Becky Smart, the new kid at school whose tough exterior is not quite what it seems. It’s also a book about the insatiable curiosity of young people and about how brilliant they can be when given the opportunity to think for themselves. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a story about the power of books and reading, although to understand this fully, one needs to read the story.

Margo: Yes, of course! I am imagining it has something to do with the fact his mom is a librarian. . .(smiles) What age reader is it appropriate for and why?

Glen: When I came up with the concept for The Book-Smart Detective Agency, I wanted the series to be for middle-schoolers. This is a group of kids that I’ve worked with for many years as an educator. Into the Fire really speaks to kids in Grades 4-8, and its two protagonists are in Grade 7 and 8 respectively. I feel strongly, though, that teenagers and adults will enjoy the book as well.

Margo: I think that is true more and more–we are all reading each other’s books. What made you want to write Into the Fire?

Glen: I wanted to write a novel for young people about the special power of books and reading. As a kid, I was an avid reader; and as such, I was often encouraged to read books that would “challenge” me. I distinctly recall a conversation with a school librarian when I was a young lad who was bemoaning the fact that I seemed interested in books that were “below my reading level.” I can remember thinking at the time (not saying, of course, but thinking) that this was rather bad advice. I spent countless hours reading books like Two-Minute Mysteries, Encyclopedia Brown, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, Fighting Fantasy game books, comics, and the endless manuals and tomes of fantasy ro

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11. Should Characters Change During a Story? For Teachers and Writers

Found at this link: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/southern-belle.htm

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately–should characters change throughout the course of a novel, and more specifically–should they change for the better? In the latest novel I’m working on, I had a fairly simple, but hopefully humorous-appealing-to-boys story, idea for a middle-grade series–especially book one. While writing it and finishing the first draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month which is November), I realized that one reason why I wasn’t falling in love with the story yet is it was SO plot-driven. My main character was cute and clever and funny, but did he learn anything from his experiences? Did he change? Not much, and in the rewrite, that’s one thing I plan to work on.

In Finding My Place (White Mane Kids, October 1, 2012), Anna the main character definitely changes from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. I think it’s one reason why the book was accepted by a publisher and the reason why it’s fairly universal, even though it’s set in 1863 during the Civil War. Anna has to grow up and accept responsibility. She has to adopt to her new role in the family. She has to make decisions that affect more than just herself. She is not like this in the beginning of the book–in spite of her 13 years of age back in Civil War times. She was still acting like a child before the Siege, always wanting to write in her journal and not help out her ma.

You can help children understand character growth and change using books and characters, like Finding My Place or even picture books with younger students–any book or story that has a character (not concept books probably) who shows growth due to experiences. You can discuss these questions below with students when focusing on characters. (These questions will work for any book–not just mine. :) )

  • How is the character different at the end of the story than at the beginning?
  • What events happen in the book to help the character change?
  • Does the character change for the better or for worse? Explain!
  • Why do you think the character changed?
  • Can you think of a time in your life when you might have changed like this character did?

You would probably focus mostly on these questions during reading, but remind students of the answers when they are writing their own fiction stories.

For more information on Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, please see this page.

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12. Common Core State Standards Lesson Plan for 5th Grade Reading USING Finding My Place

One of the Common Core State Standards under reading standards K-5 literature for fifth graders is:

“Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.”

Using a historical fiction novel to teach this standard is perfect–in Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, there are a few events that are told from more than one character’s point of view. One great example would be the fire downtown. Another would be the army hospital. Here’s how you can use these events to work on this standard with students:

1. Pick an event that you’ve read in the story with students or they’ve read on their own, such as the fire downtown.

2. Ask students: how did Dr. Franklin describe the fire downtown?

3. Ask students: What is Mrs. Franklin’s description or opinion of the fire downtown?

4. Make sure students are giving details from the text to support this (Dr. Franklin tells what it was like to fight the fire; Mrs. Franklin at first says it serves the people right for having high prices.)

5. Ask students: What is James’s version of the fire? Again ask for novel support.

6. Discuss with students WHY each of these characters has a slightly different version of the fire. You can even bring in Rev. and Mrs. Lohrs as well as Anna. Each of these characters has an opinion/interaction with the fire. Why aren’t they all describing it the same way? Why don’t they all feel the same way about it?

7. Ask students to tell about an event the entire class attended. You can have them write in their journals first for about 10 to 15 minutes OR you can do think-pair-share–where they are thinking about the event, sharing it orally with a partner, and then the partner shares with the class. Did everyone mention the same details? Why or why not?

8. Now go back to the book and think about the army hospital. Ask students to write down Anna’s description of the army hospital. Next write down Molly’s. Finally do Michael’s or Frank’s. Do they all sound the same? Why are the descriptions slightly different? (They should be different or the students are not thinking about the individual characters.)

This will help students see bias in writing as well as unreliable narrators.

To buy a copy of Finding My Place, see this page: http://margodill.com/blog/buy-finding-my-place/ (Links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble)

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13. The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton by Angela Shelton (Interview, Giveaway, and WOW! Blog Tour)

TildaPinkertonI am happy to welcome middle-grade author Angela Shelton to my blog today for her book, The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton (Book One: Crash-Landing on Ooleeoo). I am really excited about this book, which kind of reminds me of A Wrinkle in Time. If I was still teaching elementary school, I would choose this book as a read-aloud for sure! This would also be the perfect book for a parent/child book club or to read together before bedtime.

I have a copy to giveaway–print or e-copy–it’s the winner’s choice. To be entered to win, please leave a comment by December 23 at 8:00 pm CST. I will choose one winner using random.org.

Here is a short summary:

The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton is a story of inter-galactic crisis with bionic bugs on a mission to capture the great Tilda Pinkerton and destroy her magical hats before she can spread her Light across the galaxy. Written in a wonderfully lyrical way that will appeal to fans of Dr. Seuss, Star Trek, Matilda Wormwood, and Harry Potter with every character’s name being a verbal play on their personalities. Quinn, for example, is Quinn Quisquilious, who works with rubbish to create new things. Belinda Balletomania is just that – obsessed with ballet. And of course Aaron Arachnophobia is the spider desperately afraid of himself.

Let’s join Angela and find out more about her book for middle-graders!

Margo: Welcome, Angela, and thanks for talking with us today! Tilda Pinkerton is a wonderful, lovely character, full of spunk, magic, and spirit! How did you create such a fantastical main character?

Angela: It’s me! Or at least the best me I could come up with. I wrote Tilda with all the aspects I would love to have more of: a vast vocabulary, magical powers, and direct contact with the light source!

Margo: Yes, we all need direct contact with the light source! What are some themes you are exploring in this first book?

Angela: I wanted to explore the theme of insecurity for one. It shows up in Tilda Pinkerton herself since she thinks she is deformed when in reality her deformity is her strength. It also shows up in little Maggie Mae who is mute since her mother disappeared and no longer sings or speaks. Turns out Maggie has a few tricks up her sleeve and more power than she realized, too.

Perception is the key word in Book One because I wanted to explore that what you think you know may not be true just because you were taught it–all your beliefs are based on your own perception. The book is also littered with many spiritual truths that I had fun sprinkling in and will show up more as the books progress.

Margo: I like that! “All your beliefs are based on your own perception.” So true! What led you to write a fantasy book?

Angela: I was a huge fantasy fanatic as a child and always had a dream to write fantasy. I love anything with magical trees and creating a book with trees you could ride like horses–I could not resist. But it all started with a meditation prayer asking what I should write next that would be great for kids and adults, and voilĂ –Tilda Pinkerton popped into my head.

Margo: How awesome is that! Who would you say is the perfect audience for your book? Whom do you envision reading it?

Angela Shelton

Angela Shelton

Angela: I originally wrote Tilda for 10-12 year old girls, the same age I was when I was reading the most fantasy; BUT lo and behold, the most people who are buying Tilda are women 50 and over. I was at a book signing yesterday, and it happened again, women 50 and over were the ones buying copies. So much for thinking I knew who I was writing for! Maybe Tilda is helping them connect with their 10-12 year old side again. Maybe they love clean, fun, and enlightening reads. I had a 12-year-old tell me that she really enjoyed Tilda and that it was very imaginative, but there was nothing inappropriate in it like there was in Twilight. I about fainted. The good news is that I wrote Tilda as a book I would want to read, whether I was 12 or 50: Who knew she would have such a wide audience? I did not!

Margo: I think it’s great, and actually as a children’s writer, sometimes I prefer reading books written for children. Us children’s writers are a talented bunch! While reading this book, I see a lot of ways that it can be “used.” One of the ways is the new vocabulary words you introduce and define on several of the book’s pages. What led you to do this?

Angela: Dinosaurs lead me to Tilda’s vocabulary! I play “Safe Side Superchick” in the Safe Side Series created by Baby Einstein’s Julie Clark, and I get recognized by kids all the time. I started being invited to their classrooms; and whenever I was around a group of kids, I would ask what they were loving to learn at the moment. The most common thing was dinosaurs. What struck me the most about it was how they knew exactly how to spell, pronounce, and explain each type of dinosaur. When I would try to get into the conversation and was incorrect about something to do with dinosaurs, I got the eye roll and the sigh–I just did not understand I was talking to experts! Seeing how well-versed the kids were in dinosaur speak, I wondered if they would be the same with large vocabulary. That is what brought the rare and sometimes difficult words into Tilda. But I know kids can handle it! (and 50+ women, too.)

Margo: Great, and I didn’t know that you were a Safe Side Series star, too. (smiles) On the front cover, it says, BOOK ONE! This means, readers are in luck–you are planning a series! What’s next for Tilda?

Angela: Someone kidnapped Tilda Pinkerton and she spends Book Two fighting to get away from her kidnappers and back to Ooleeoo to save Gladys, meanwhile discovering something horrible about Earth.

Margo: Poor Tilda–she can’t catch a break, huh? (laughs) Anything else you’d like to share about you, your books, or your writing world?

Angela: Buddy Balletomania is alive. That’s all I’m going to say. I am having so much fun creating Tilda and all of her friends. I learn as much vocabulary as Tilda shares, too; and though the general story is mapped out for 3 to 5 books, Tilda always surprises me, too.

Margo: As an author, those are the best kind of surprises. Congrats on your success, Angela. And readers, remember to leave a comment TO WIN COPY!

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14. Teaching Supply and Demand with Finding My Place

Final Finding My Place CoverI realize it is a few short days before winter break. You may not read this post until doing a search for lesson plans for supply and demand or if you decide to use my book in your classroom or home school program, and you are looking for lesson ideas. But either way, you can use Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg to teach supply and demand concepts.

The first place to do this would be with the fact that throughout the story, Grant and the Yankees are blocking supplies from getting to the citizens of Vicksburg. They are running out of everything. They are using substitutes instead of the real product: acorns instead of coffee grinds, sassafras for tea, berry juice for ink, and wallpaper for newspaper. When Mrs. Lohrs brings six apples over to the Franklins after Anna’s ma was hit by the shell, everyone is pleased and happy–about 6 apples. Can you imagine kids being excited about that today? So, that’s one thing you can ask children while reading this book–why was Anna happy about a gift of apples? The discussion should lead children to realize that when supplies are low, demand is high. When food is low–especially fresh food–then demand for it is high, and people will be excited about getting a gift of fruits and vegetables.

Then you can go on to the more economic lesson of what happens when there is a low supply and a high demand. In Finding My Place, this is addressed with the discussion about the prices at the General Store. Prices for almost all supplies are up–Mrs. Franklin talks about how it’s unfair and wrong, but that’s what happens when the supply for goods is down or low. You can ask children to think about popular gifts at Christmas time–like the newest video game system. When it is first out and there are a limited amount and NO ONE HAS ONE YET, demand is high and prices are high. As people buy them and they become more common and new systems are made, the demand is lower, the supply is still there, and so the price goes down.

In Finding My Place, you can even address how the price of goods being high creates tension and bad feelings and was probably the reason for someone setting fire to the General Store, which by the way did actually happen during the Siege.

When using books to teach a concept such as supply and demand, start with the events in the book and get students to discuss them–since they are already interested in the characters and the story. Then always try to find similar examples from the real world that students can relate to.

If you are reading this post during December–happy holidays to you and here’s to a great New Year in 2013.

PS: Also, there’s still time to win Angela Shelton’s mg, fantasy book: The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton (contest closes on 12/23) by going here.

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15. Finding My Place Thank You Notes

thank you by woodleywonderworks

I recently received two thank you notes–one in a roundabout sort of way–from children about my book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg. I thought I would share them here. These are my first ones from kids, and so I’m super excited! :) I am not changing spelling and or punctuation when re-typing, and I am not sharing names :) .

This one is from my friend, Becky, who bought the book for her niece. . .

Dear Aunt Becky and Uncle Ron, Thank you for the Book “Finding My Place” I Loved it! Love, G

This one is from a friend of my mom’s (and mine!) that goes to her church. The friend bought the book for her granddaughter.

Dear Miss Dill, I really, really loved your book. I learned lots of stuff like people had to live in caves. My mom and grandma and I really think it was a really good book. It was a really intresting book. Thank you for signing my book. I am going to share your book with my class. Your friend, M. R.

There is not a sweeter thing than notes like this from kids. It brings a huge smile to my face. :) I am busy scheduling school visits and writing conferences. If you are interested, you can find information at http://www.margodill.com and click on “Speaker Information.” To find out about Finding My Place, where to buy it, and an excerpt, please see: http://margodill.com/blog/finding-my-place.

photo found on Flickr.com by woodleywonderworks

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16. Finding My Place and the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing

I am currently creating a short guide (PDF or Word) that shows how you can use my book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (ages 9 to 12) in 6 + 1 Traits of Writing lessons. The guide will be free for the teachers at any workshops I do at schools and if a teacher/home school parent buys a copy of my book. To give a little preview, I thought I would show an excerpt of each trait on the next few Wednesdays. So, here we go. . .

IDEA is one of the 6 + 1 traits of writing. It is important to start with a good idea when you write because it makes it easier for the words to flow and more interesting for the reader. Usually the first idea we come up with is not our best idea. We need to dig deeper to find a unique idea. You can do this with brainstorming, word webs, free writing, talking to a friend, or even research. For example with my book, I wanted to write about the Civil War for kids, but there are already a ton of books out there about the Civil War. SO, I had to dig deeper, and I did some research. Then, I decided to tell a story from the Confederate viewpoint, make the main character a citizen and a girl instead of a solider/drummer and a boy, and I set it during one specific battle that had extremely interesting elements, such as the citizens living in caves to protect themselves from the Yankees’ bombs.

In Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, Anna, my 13-year-old main character, loves to write. She writes about events that happen in her daily life, poems, fiction stories, and letters. In one section toward the end of the book (page 134, chapter 21), Michael, Anna’s older brother, asks her to tell a story she has written. At first, she doesn’t want to because she doesn’t think it is a very good idea. Then when she does tell it, she realizes she never really ended the story. She started with the premise of a selfish orphan living with an elderly woman, who delivers food to his room. One day the food stops coming, and the orphan gets angry. He must leave his room to investigate.

Final Finding My Place CoverMichael asks her what happened, and Anna replies, “Yes, she had a heart attack. I never really finished the story.”

Here’s where you can use the IDEA trait with your students and this premise. Give them 10 minutes to brainstorm an ending to Anna’s story. Give them a few questions to think about: What could have happened to the elderly lady? What did the orphan do next? Does the elderly lady necessarily have to be deceased? Could she be teaching the orphan a lesson? And so on.

After the 10-minute brainstorm session, have students discuss their ideas with a partner. Then have a class discussion, where you make a list of the different ideas.

When concluding the lesson, talk to students about a fiction story they have written and ask them to think about their ending. Are they satisfied with it? Could they use these techniques to come up with an alternate (and perhaps better!) ending? Work on these new endings during the next writing period.

For more information on FINDING MY PLACE and to read an excerpt, please go to this link: http://margodill.com/blog/finding-my-place/

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17. For the Love of Pete (An Orphan Train Story) by Ethel Barker


This is a book I am EXTREMELY excited to tell you about for several reasons. . .

  • I helped to edit this book in its beginning stages in 2009, as part of my Editor 911 business.
  • It is a terrific HISTORICAL FICTION book for upper middle grade/tween/younger YA audience by a delightful author.
  • Ice Cube Press is a wonderful small publisher that also published DIVORCE GIRL (see my post:http://margodill.com/blog/2012/07/30/the-divorce-girl-blog-tour-and-giveaway-ya-or-adult/ ) which is one of the best books I read last year!
  • You can use this book to teach history AND writing lessons such as voice. There are TERRIFIC voices throughout this book.

*Historical fiction, upper-middle grade/tween/younger YA (set during the Orphan Train days)
*Three main characters: a street-smart boy, an older sister, and a younger sister–all three have chapters in their voice
*Rating: Well, is it appropriate to give a rating to a book you helped to edit? :) For the Love of Pete is a very well-written book with an interesting story/adventure that will appeal to both boys and girls–perfect for the classroom and/or home school setting!

Short, short summary:

The book starts out with a bang! Iris and her sister Rosie have to flee their New York tenement when their mother is murdered. This puts them out on the street, where they meet a “street rat”, Pete (love this character!). The three come to rely on each other and become friends. When they are put on the Orphan Train and taken to Iowa, they hope to stay together–but adults have different ideas about where the children should be and with whom. However, you can’t squash a child’s spirit or determination, and Pete, Iris, and Rosie work hard to get back together again.

So, what do I do with this book?

1. Compare a nonfiction book, such as Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Andrea Warren, to Ethel Barker’s book. What makes For the Love of Pete historical fiction? What true facts can you learn from it about the Orphan Train? Can you tell the author did research to make the characters experience the same things as the actual boys on the Orphan Train? (The back of the book does have a small section on the Orphan Train with a photo of boys living on the street.)

2. As mentioned, this book is told in three different voices–Pete, Rosie, and Iris. Ethel Barker does an amazing job with each voice, and this is a perfect example of voice to use with a six plus one traits lesson. You can read a bit of each chapter to the students, and without looking, they can tell you which character is speaking. Which voice do they hear? What makes that voice unique? Is it word choice? Sentence fluency? Which voice do they like best? Have a discussion about voice using this book as a starting point (since it has such a strong voice!).

3. This is also a great book to study characters, motivation, and feelings. Each character has their own motivation throughout the story (and it changes a bit as the characters develop). For example, ask students what is Pete’s motivation in the beginning of the book for helping the sisters. How does he follow through on this? Why does this motivation fit his character? As for feelings, how does Iris feel toward the end of the book? (Sad and determined) Why?

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18. Traveling and Voice: Some Thoughts on Finding My Place

Speaking to the COSMO group in Columbia, MO

Speaking to the COSMO group in Columbia, MO

Today, I have a few things to share with you about Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg: a story about my recent “book tour” :) , a story from someone who bought the book, and a quick lesson on VOICE, one of the 6 + 1 traits of writing–so let’s go!

Going On a Book Tour
Last week, my good friend, who is just like a mother-in-law to me (that’s a story for another post!), Pamela Anderson from Columbia, MO invited me to stay at her house with my two-year-old and speak to her COSMO group (diabetes research) and Pachyderms (the first club ever in the U.S.) and then organized a breakfast for me of old friends–all to promote my book. My husband came, too, and the trip was a huge success! I was worried about my talk because I was used to speaking to either groups of writers, teachers, or kids; but I tied the story of taking 11 years for my book to be published (FIVE after I signed the contract) to never giving up and following your dreams. People seemed to really relate to it, even if they weren’t writers because when I finished talking, there was actually a line to buy a copy of my book! I met the most interesting and nice people–one woman was almost 90-years-old and had been researching her family on the Trail of Tears for over 30 years. Her determination and spirit made my trip. The breakfast with old friends was so great, and my two-year-old came to that–I was a little worried about this, as she is not in the “patient” stage. But even she was so good and ATE, too. (You mothers of toddlers know what an accomplishment this is.)

I am so thankful to Pamela Anderson (the retired air traffic controller, not the actress) for organizing AND my husband Rick and my good, good friend Michelle Pfeiffer (I swear–I have a friend named Pamela Anderson and Michelle Pfeiffer–both married last names!) for helping me with KB!

Final Finding My Place CoverA Cool, Heartwarming Story
My mom’s friend, Bobette, bought a book for her grandson, Gavin. He is in fifth grade. My mom and Bobette have been friends for longer than I’ve been alive (not telling you how long that is!); and I’ve met Gavin before, but he lives in a different state–so I don’t know him well. Anyway, as the sweet kid that he is, he took my book to his fifth grade teacher and said that he HAD to read if for independent reading because this was written by a family friend. The teacher was reluctant–this is understandable because she has NO IDEA who I am–but agreed to read the book to see what she thought. (What an awesome teacher!) After she finished reading it, she agreed Gavin could read it, and even better–she put my book on her reading list. WOW! Thank you!

A Lesson in Voice: 6 + 1 Traits of Writing

This is a quick lesson you can do with ANY book, not just Finding My Place. But it works better with novel length books. traits-logo

1. Once you and your students have read at least half of the book, they should be familiar with the main characters’ voices. For example, in Finding My Place, students should be able to recognize Anna, Sara, James, Mrs. Franklin, and possibly Dr. Franklin and Stuart, too.

2. Review what VOICE is. This is such a hard concept for children to understand–there is an overall voice to the book, which is Anna’s in FMP, but then each character also has their own voice. Voice is the way the words sound together, and authors have their own distinct voice. For example, you can easily tell the difference between my book and one written by Mark Twain! (HA!)

3. Each student should have a piece of paper, numbered 1-10. You, the teacher (or students can take turns doing it to) or parent, read a line or two from FMP–it could be Anna’s narrative or dialogue OR dialogue from one of the main characters. Then ask students to write down whose VOICE they think that is.

4. After revealing the correct answers, discuss with students how they knew that Mrs. Franklin said what she did or that it was Anna speaking–what is different about the VOICE?

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19. A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Answered Prayer by Anna Alden-Tirrill (giveaway)


I have a special book to share with you today for chapter book/middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12 or so) titled, A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Answered Prayer. This book is inspirational or Christian fiction for kids with a heavy emphasis on prayer and Bible verses. It would be perfect for a homeschool family or group, parent/child book club, or a Christian school. Parents who are wanting to introduce or emphasize how prayer is answered and how Bible verses can be applied to our lives would also find this book helpful for their children to read or to read with their children. It has several illustrations. AND THE BEST NEWS OF ALL: I HAVE A COPY TO GIVEAWAY! IF you would like to enter the giveaway, please go below to the Rafflecopter form and do the tasks that you are interested in doing. Each task you do gives you more entries into the giveaway contest, which closes at the end of February. I’m using the Rafflecopter system because it is an easy way to keep track of entries! Thanks for trying it out with me.

A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Unanswered Prayer is. . .

*A chapter book/young middle-grade realistic, inspirational fiction (based on a true story) for kids ages 8 to 12
*12-year-old girl as the main character (and a cat named Mouse!)
*Rating: A Cat Named Mouse is an enjoyable and fast read, perfect for a parent to read with a child. This book is important to discuss with children–there are a lot of Christian concepts and ideas!

Short, short summary: After being introduced to Annie and her family and their cats (as well as some neat practices they have such as their TALK UP tradition), Mouse, one of their cats, goes missing when a large animal tears down a window screen, scaring the cat who likes to sleep on the windowsill. The cat either falls out the window or jumps out the open window and goes missing. During this time, Annie and her family come up with many different ideas to get the cat back–one of them being prayer, another discussing how God has a plan. They also make signs and look for the cat. So, since it’s a children’s book, you can probably figure out what happens in the end–but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone! Annie is a wonderful main character with very loving parents.

So what do I do with this book?

1. It’s important to discuss the concepts with children that are presented in the book. One of the main things to focus on is that Annie and her parents use prayer to help find Mouse, but they don’t just sit by and hope God finds the cat. They are proactive also. Asking children to respond in a journal after reading a section will give them a chance to reflect on what happened before the discussion.

2. This is a great book to compare a personal story to what happens in the story. Children can either discuss something their family prayed for and the prayer was answered or a time something important to them was lost and then found with God’s help. If they think about this time in their own lives, they will understand the feelings Annie is having, too.

3. If you are reading this post between Feb. 18, 2013 and Feb. 28, 2013, then enter the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win a copy. (United States and/or Canada mailing addresses only please) If you have any problems, leave a comment or e-mail me at margo (at) margodill.com. Depending on your Internet browser, you may have to click the blue underlined words that say: RAFFLECOPTER in order to see the form and enter the contest! Remember if you enter a comment, make sure you check the box in the RAFFLECOPTER FORM, so you are entered to win. :) EVERYBODY who checks the free entry gets two free entries into the contest without having to do anything else. :)

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20. Finding My Place Word Choice Lesson

Final Finding My Place Cover

Here’s a simple word choice lesson you can do with kids while reading FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL’S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG or really any historical fiction book. Word choice is one of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing.

One thing about the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing that I love is that these are the terms that professional writers use–from voice to word choice. So, when talking to kids about word choice, using a published book, you can say: “Authors have to make decisions about word choice all the time. Here’s this author’s story.”

When I wrote Finding My Place, it was very hard for me to write from a 13-year-old girl’s point of view during THE CIVIL WAR. I remembered being 13, so it was easy for me to get feelings down. But I kept using contemporary words. My critique group would say, “I don’t think people used the word OKAY or STUPID in 1863 like they do today. That doesn’t sound natural.” My word choice was off, and it messed with the authenticity of my book. So, I had to find words that did make sense during 1863, such as Anna calling James, “a loon,” or saying, “all right” instead of “okay.” I also tried to put a little Southern flavor in my dialogue through word choice instead of writing out how they might have talked. For example, Mrs. Franklin uses “y’all” and the kids refer to the Union Soldiers as “Blue Bellies” and “Yankees.”

Another thing that I had trouble with in dealing with word choice is using the words bomb and shell. First of all, I had to find ways not to repeat bomb or shell a million times during the periods in my book when the characters were experiencing being bombed. And people would argue with me that Vicksburg citizens wouldn’t have said, “BOMB!” Luckily, I read a diary from a woman who lived during 1863, and she used the words “shell” and “bomb” in her entries.

What you can do with children to discuss word choice in a mini-lesson is: pick a line or two out of the book–this can be done in any chapter and with any character and even with narrative. CHANGE some of the word choices to inappropriate ones and see how children think and work to improve the word choice. Then share the original lines from the book with them.

As I said, this can be done with any historical fiction book or really any book with strong word choice. Children LOVE to correct you or the author, and will work hard to find words that are unique and specific in this exercise.

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21. Sentence Fluency Lesson with Finding My Place

Final Finding My Place CoverContinuing with my Wednesday 6 +1 traits of writing lessons to go with my book, Finding My Place, today I’m going to talk about a lesson in sentence fluency, using Finding My Place.

One of the writing skills you teach with sentence fluency is having sentences of different lengths that start with different words when you are writing a section of your story. When you vary your sentences like this, the overall voice sounds more natural and the writing tends to flow better. The point is to study a published work like my book to see how a professional author uses this skill. Then talk to kids about it and show them how they can do this in their own writing also.

Pick any chapter in the book, such as chapter 23, “Missing Ma.” Read a section out loud to children. Next show them the section and ask them to write down the first word of each sentence. Ask them to notice how the first word varies. It can be repeated, but it is not always the same word. Also ask students to count how many words are in each sentence. They will notice that some sentences are long and some are short. (You can also talk to students about how during times of action or excitement, authors tend to use shorter sentences.) Finally talk about the different styles of sentences. Some start with phrases, others are subject/verb, and so on.

Once you’ve studied the book, then talk to students about looking for these types of things in their own writing–if it seems too much for your students, then choose one–such as varying sentence beginnings.

For more information on Finding My Place, please go to http://margodill.com/blog/ .

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22. Wisdom by Darcy Pattison and Other Exciting News

I have several things to discuss today, so this post is going to be a little different than the usual. First, I was lucky enough to get my free 48-hour copy of Wisdom, The Midway Albatross on Friday for the anniversary of the Japanese tsunami. Darcy’s book, with illustrations by Kitty Harvill, is beautiful. It’s an inspiring and beautiful story, along with wonderful illustrations. Wisdom, an albatross living on Midway, has survived tropical storms, a tsunami, hurricanes, and more, and she is still alive and giving birth! What an amazing survival story. Kids will love it, and they will be sitting on the edge of their seats and waiting in anticipation to see if Wisdom lives to see another year toward the end of the book. Darcy did an amazing job with the story and Kitty with the illustrations. I highly recommend you check it out and share it with some children!

I wanted to announce the winner of Stranger Moon, a middle-grade, adventure story written by Heather Zydek. The winner is Clara Gillow Clark! Congratulations!

Do you know someone who needs help to get started on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In? or Someone who is struggling with setting up promotion on these three sites. Or maybe it’s you. Maybe you are having trouble finding friends on Facebook or setting up your author page? Maybe Twitter hashtags make your head spin. Are you having trouble figuring out how to ask for recommendations on Linked In? If so, then consider taking my beginning social networking ONLINE class, starting on Friday. It is a super easy and laid back format.

Here is the COURSE DESCRIPTION: This beginners’ class will teach writers how to set up a profile on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and connect with people they know; to build a following of fans; to start working on a brand/image; and to promote books, articles, magazines, and blogs. Instead of using Facebook and Twitter to write about your fabulous dinner or disastrous day at the grocery store, you will begin to learn to sell yourself and your writing! This class is for beginners—if you already use all three of these social networks on a daily basis and are interested in learning more about how to market yourself on them, then you’ll want to take Margo’s Advanced Social Networking class.

To sign up, go to this link: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html#MargoDill_BeginningSocialNetworking. If you have questions, leave them in the comments or e-mail me at margo (at) wow-womenonwriting.com.

Finally, I am a Juice in the City affiliate, although I am not very good at it. :) Anyway do you see on my sidebar the black and pink box that says JUICE IN THE CITY? This widget will take you to a website that offers all kinds of deals–many of them are local (and by this I mean specific to a certain place such as Atlanta or LA), but some are nationwide because they are Internet companies. Many of them are great deals for MOMs or TEACHERS or GRANDPARENTS. If I notice any from time to time, I will make sure to point them out in my posts. So, I am doing this for today’s post:

You can get $45 worth of kids’ clothes for $22 from a place called Little Froglet. (Photo courtesy of Juice in the City/Little Froglet)

If you are interested in getting 51%

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23. Jingo Fever by Stephanie Golightly Lowden

*Historical middle-grade fiction
*Girl as main character
*Rating: Jingo Fever is a well-written book, set in 1918. It is also universal in its themes–situations that Adelle has to deal with, such as racism/bullying, in the book are current in everyday life.

Short, short summary:

(FROM CRICKHOLLOW WEBSITE) This middle-grade historical novel is set in 1918 during World War I in a small Midwestern town. The story deals in a quiet, thoughtful way with the effects of anti-ethnic bigotry (towards German-Americans) during wartime conflicts abroad.

Young Adelle Klein is a German-American girl who has come from Milwaukee with her mother to live for the summer of 1918 with Uncle Mike in Ashland, a small town in northern Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Superior.

Adelle struggles to cope with the local patriotic fervor, in support of American troops abroad . . . but spilling over into a hatred of all things of German origin.

As she seeks friendships with local youngsters her age, she wonders how to deal with the bigotry of anti-German sentiment, which escalates with the approach of the July 4th celebration. In the meantime, she and her mother worry about Adelle’s brother, Karl, a young man of German-American who is fighting with the U.S. troops in France.

The summer’s events will teach Adelle about the importance of standing up for what’s right.

Family & Friendship • Ethnic Heritage • Patriotism during War • Resisting Intolerance & Bigotry • Standing Up to Bullies

So, what do I do with this book?

1. In the beginning (and throughout), Adelle deals with bullying/teasing due to her German heritage. She becomes embarrassed by it. Even though this is set almost 100 years ago, children will be able to relate to Adelle’s feelings and actions. Ask students to journal about Adelle’s problems. Then ask them to write about if they have ever felt that way and what they did/felt/wanted to do.

2. Students may not understand why there is so much hatred toward the Germans. Some history may be needed to understand the story to its fullest. You can do a KWL (Know Wonder Learn) chart about WWI topics to see what your students/child already knows about this time period and what they are wondering. Here is a link to a good site that shows how to do a KWL chart: http://www.education.com/reference/article/K-W-L-charts-classroom/

3. Discuss the title of the book, Jingo Fever. Do students like the title? Do they think it is a good match for the book? Which characters in the novel have jingo fever? Ask students to give examples to support their answers. Does Jingo fever have a positive or negative impact on these characters’ lives?

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24. Special Children’s Book Week Post: Why Use Children’s Books

Of course, Children’s Book Week is special to me–I am a children’s author, I blog about children’s books, and I am a parent (as well as former elementary school teacher). I think I love children’s and YA books better than adult books some times! And I know that I am not alone.

But why are children’s books so important? I believe it is not ONLY because they help us to learn to read and comprehend OR because they remind us of a special time in our childhood when our moms read to us or when we went to library programs or even read 100 books over the summer. Children and YA books are meant to be used.

That’s what my blog is all about. I’ve covered using children’s books (and some adult books, too) since August 2008. You can see by my categories in the sidebar that I’ve covered YA, middle-grade, and picture books, and you can see the many authors I’ve read and wrote about, too. One of my favorites for middle-graders is pictured here–the “Al Capone” books–these books help children who are struggling with a special family situation, such as a sister with autism. It’s a great read, too, with a loveable main character, and children won’t even realize they are learning family dynamics or about children with special needs. That’s why I love children’s books–they are so good at disguising the lesson.

You can use children’s books and YA novels to teach history, social studies, science, writing, reading skills–almost any curriculum objective in the classroom or home school can be covered with the right book. I have included three activities to go with most of the books listed here on about 80 percent of the posts in almost 4 years–these activities are easy and ready to use in the classroom or at home.

The best thing, though, is children’s books can be used to talk about things that are hard for children–from potty training with Elmo to dealing with suicide with Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. Children can discuss joys and concerns through characters in books–that is a lot easier than talking about themselves.

So my hope for you is not just to read children’s books this week/summer/year, but to use them with a child or teen, too. You won’t be sorry!

And don’t forget to leave a comment below AND record that you did this in the Rafflecopter box to be entered to win a picture book critique or a bag of books from Guardian Angel Publishing.

PS: If you are interested in writing for children in magazines, picture books, middle-grade novels, or YA novels, check out WOW! Women On Writing’s classroom page. Our classes are economical and the teachers are professionals! Here’s the link: http://www.wow-womenonrwiting.com/WOWclasses.html. All classes are online and run this summer!

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25. Interview with Maggie Lyons, Author of Vin and the Dorky Duet

Today, I welcome author Maggie Lyons who will talk about her new novel, Vin and the Dorky Duet. Here’s a brief summary of the plot from Maggie’s website before we get on to the questions and her insightful answers!

The moment he walks through the door and sees the sharky grin on his older sister’s face, Vin suspects Meg’s hatching a plot. He’s right. Worse still, he’s central to the outcome. Meg tells him that their music teachers, parents—everyone— expects him to play her duet for trumpet and piano at the upcoming student concert. Vin is horrified. Meg insists that his only escape route is to persuade another trumpet player to take his place. She has the hunky Brad Stewart in mind, and she challenges Vin to introduce her to him. Vin doesn’t know Brad any better than Meg does, but Meg points out that Vin takes a couple of classes at school with Brad’s nerdy brother. Eyeballs Stewart is the last person Vin wants to make friends with until Meg’s promise of a David Beckham autographed soccer jersey changes the seventh-grader’s mind. He has five days to accomplish his mission—Operation BS—before the concert practice schedule kicks in. Vin’s game plan, thwarted by exploding fish tanks, magnetic compost heaps, man-eating bubble baths, and other disasters doesn’t work out exactly as he expects.

Margo: Congratulations, Maggie, on the recent publication of the middle-grade novel, Vin and the Dorky Duet. What was your inspiration for this story?

Maggie: Inspiration wafted in from my love of music and my addiction to challenges—which I don’t always meet, I must confess. I was trained as a classical pianist; and throughout my life, music has been my favorite language, my confidant, my religion. As for challenges, anyone who wants to live—as opposed to vegetating—must try to meet them, don’t you think? Vin and the Dorky Duet is about a challenge that a seventh-grader gamely takes on, though with unexpected results. My challenge in writing the story is to encourage reluctant readers to turn a few pages. I’d be thrilled if the book succeeds on that level because enthusiasm for reading as a child is critical to success as an adult.

Margo: So true! I loved to read as a child, and I bet you did, too. Who would you say is the perfect audience for this book?

Maggie: Children ages seven or eight through twelve.

Margo: Thanks! What themes do you address?

1. Life’s challenges: Challenges in life are often unavoidable and a life without challenges is boring, even for a plant.
2. Music: Learning to play a musical instrument can be fun, and little brain cells love it.
3. Judging others: You shouldn’t make up your mind about people you’ve only just met; some people’s wonderful personalities have to be coaxed out of hiding.
4. Sibling relationships, the good and the bad;
5. Children’s names, nicknames, and shortened names;
6. Endangered species: Many whales are endangered species.
7. Sports: Soccer, rowing, swimming

Margo: What a great list–and a great resource for parents and teachers. I like to tell parents and teachers how they can USE books with children. What could parents use your book to teach children? Can you suggest a couple activities or discussion points that go with it?

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