MYC: Tightening

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about Sentence, Paragraph, Chapter, and Story Length. This week, we’ll discuss Ten Steps to Tightening.

One of the important steps in the revision process is tightening. This is a multi-level, multi-step process, but oh so important to make your writing sparkle. This task is a bit tedious, so I normally save it for the end, just before sending it to betas.

1. Cut unnecessary words!

  • Eliminate as many of these as possible: very, really, just, back, up, quite, rather, start, begin
  • Eliminate “that” (but be careful with “that”––sometimes “that” makes a sentence much more readable). That phrases can be tightened. Example: The house that sat up on the big hill… becomes… The house up on the big hill…
  • Eliminate “of” when it follows all, off, outside
  • Check “up” and “down” when it follows a verb. Chances are you don’t need it. Example: Sat down at the table. Stood up.
  • So” and “such” are unnecessary: so tired, so lovely, such injustice, such beauty
  • Look at “but“. Sometime it’s a good conjunction and sometimes you can use it to start a sentence as an emphasis word. Often you can cut the “but” and write two separate, more powerful sentences. If you use “but” to start sentences often, it loses its punch.

To eliminate these unnecessary words, in your Word document, type the word in the Find function. Go through the entire document and delete as many as possible. Then move on to the next word.

I’ve found that after going through the exercise of doing this on several manuscripts, I’ve trained myself to use these words less often in more recent WIPs.

2. Cut unnecessary dialogue tags!

Said, answered, asked…

You can definitely do this, especially if you are paragraphing your dialogue appropriately so that it is clear who is saying what.

Example:

“Pass me that tomato,” Dad said as he grabbed the cutting board and a serrated knife.

“Pass me that tomato.” Dad grabbed the cutting board and a serrated knife.

3. Cut filtering verbs!

These include overused seeing verbs and thinking verbs: heard, saw, felt, knew, imagined, wondered, pondered, thought, understood, realized

For the sensing verbs, the sentence is normally stronger without the filter. Example: She heard the car door slam against the garage wall. Replace with: The car door slammed against the garage wall.

For the thinking verbs, just deliver the information or ask the question directly.

Examples:

She thought about all the people like her who had failed to finish college.

So many others like her had failed to finish college.

She wondered why she’d been successful when so many others had failed.

Why had she been successful when so many others had failed?

4. Question your adjectives! 

I’m not bashing adjectives here. They can stir emotions and visual images that are comforting and make the story come to life. But sometimes ,the description is excessive and takes you right out of the story.

Do you really need to say a “bright, warm, cloudless, sunshiny day”? I think not. Think about how your character would describe it and keep it simple.

5. Also question your adverbs!

We already got rid of “really” and “very”, but carefully scrutinize your -ly words to make sure they add value to each sentence. Sometimes an adverb is just a signal that you need a more precise verb and. Example:

She spread butter thickly on the toast and quickly put it in her mouth on the way out the door.

She loaded the toast with butter and stuffed it in her mouth on the way out the door.

6. Eliminate redundancies!

She nodded her head and shrugged her shoulders.

This can be simply be written as: She nodded and shrugged.

Another example:

Emily began eating her soggy bagel. Three boys ran into the cafeteria and started yelling, “Everyone, go outside. Now!”

“Began” and “started” are redundant. Skip them both.

Emily ate her soggy bagel. Three boys ran into cafeteria yelling, “Everyone, go outside. Now!”

7. Check for “was”! 

A high density of “was” in your writing normally signals that your sentence structure doesn’t have much flavor and is likely very passive. Often this means you aren’t using active verbs. Active verbs reduce wordiness and pulls your reader in.

Examples:

I was envious of your grade on that last test.

I envy your grade on that last test.

At the party, she was dressed like a fairy and had wings and a wand.

She wore fairy wings to the party and carried a wand.

We were at the party, but there were so many people we had to leave early.

We left the over-crowded party early. 

8. Check your fall back words! These are your words that you tend to overuse, often when you’re trying to convey what your character is feeling.

Only you know what these are for you. Mine are breathed, shrugged, nodded, heart raced…

Seeing the same reactions repeated over and over will make your story flat. Mix it up by finding new ways to express that your character feels relieved, frustrated, excited, or scared. One of the best resources that I’ve found for this is the Emotional Thesaurus. It’s filled with thousands of different emotional responses that will help set your story apart.

9. Check for “stuff” and “things” and make them specific!

There was so much stuff swirling in her head that she couldn’t think of the answers to the questions on the test.

The history facts swirled in her head, making it impossible to answer the test questions.

10. Eliminate unnecessary phrases!

I notice these when I look for “that” in my manuscript. Sometimes the that seems necessary in the sentence, but really you just need to get rid of the phrase accompanying it.

Example:

Maria became furious as Allison kept bringing up examples that had nothing to do with the topic.

Maria became furious as Allison kept bringing up unrelated examples.

 

Additional Resources:

10 Overused Words in Writing

30 Filler Words You Can Cut Out of Your Writing

43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing by Diana Urban

44 Overused Words and Phrases

 

We’d love to hear your suggestions for tightening in the comments! Come back next week to read our discussion about Using All Five Senses.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Nic Stone Interview: Dear Martin

Black Yale-bound graduating senior Justyce McAllister’s good life at his prestigious, mostly-white prep school takes on a new harsh reality after he’s falsely accused of crimes and roughed up by a policeman while innocently helping a friend. Meanwhile, daily news accounts of young black men being shot or arrested flood the airwaves, stirring up strong opinions among his classmates. As Justyce searches for answers to explain why he’s now facing scorn from his peers despite being a good kid and a star student, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a second run in with police ends in tragedy, Justyce grapples with being powerless to escape systemic racism. He can’t help but question if Dr. King’s teachings are still relevant and starts looking for answers in a place he thought he’d left behind.

Author Nic Stone doesn’t give us the answers, but she frames questions in a fresh, thoughtful way, promoting deeper dialogue helpful for understanding and confronting racism and social injustice. It’s impossible to read DEAR MARTIN without feeling changed, moved. A must-read for high schoolers and older.

I am more than thrilled to welcome Nic Stone to The Winged Pen! Congratulations, Nic! DEAR MARTIN is an important, powerful book that I hope many, many people—especially teens—will read. Writing it must have been difficult both technically and emotionally, but I’m thankful you did. This book will change lives.

Nic:  Eep! Making me blush already! Thanks for having me 🙂

Obviously, Justyce is a pretty level-headed and very intelligent guy. Even so, he finds himself in trouble, serious trouble, many times throughout the story. What do you hope your readers will learn from his struggles?

In a nutshell, that being smart and doing *stupid* things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, one rarely has anything to do with the other. I, like Justyce, was a highly intelligent, generally level-headed teenager… but that didn’t stop me from keying my mom’s car. Even Einstein was capable of punching someone in the face when he was pissed off, you know? ALL of us have the capacity to let our emotions to get the best of us. We should constantly bear that in mind.

Justyce is black. He benefits from a great relationship with a black professor in the story, but there are also some important white characters who influence and support him. Justyce is very aware of the importance of these white people in his life, but he also feels conflicted about it. Justyce’s internal dialogue about this seemed very heartfelt and brings some important considerations about interracial friendships to the surface. Could you talk about that a bit more?

So I grew up with very excellent white people who, to this day, are very supportive of me and my work, even when it makes them uncomfortable. And it does. There’s also some validity to the notion that once you really get to know another person, their race becomes peripheral, in a sense (hence that whole “I don’t even see you as [insert marginalized racial identity]” statement that, while likely true, is also a microaggression). BUT in order for any relationship to work, it has to be built on mutual respect and concern for the other person’s well-being. There has to be a willingness to set aside one’s own preconceived notions for the sake of stepping into the other person’s shoes and making an attempt to see the world as they do.

But even saying that makes me uncomfortable because I know there will be some (white) people who take it and say “SEE! You’re supposed to try and see things from MY perspective!” People like this won’t do well in friendships/relationships with people who are different from them. Hell, people like this won’t do well in any relationships because they’re too self-focused.

Bottom line here: if you value and respect other people, are open to hearing their opinions and experiences, and have their well-being as your highest priority, you’ll be the best friend anyone could ask for regardless of race.

I know many white people who might be too afraid to read this story. Maybe they think the story will be too angry (IMO, it’s not angry at all) or just not for them. Why should they read Dear Martin?

Exactly because this question exists, lol! This is the thing: if we don’t explore experiences outside of our own, our worlds will stay small. Books are the perfect place to explore other people’s experiences and emotions because… well because they’re inanimate. Even if a book contains someone’s expression of anger, the book can’t hurt you. It can’t lash out or scream at you or punch you in a fit of furious passion. Books are the perfect place to grapple with things that make us uncomfortable, opinions that differ from our own, experiences we could never live because they don’t require an immediate response out of us, you know? They don’t stare at you waiting for you to say something. You can sit with the information. Chew on it. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones. And you can put them down and never pick them up again, and they won’t hold a grudge. In my opinion, stepping outside of your comfort zone to read something that makes you nervous can only make you a more thoughtful, well-rounded person.

Readers who want to know a bit more about the birth of this story should check out your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing. I was thrilled to hear that you’ve got another book in the works. Can you share anything about it with us?

By the time this interview goes live, I will have turned my copyedits in, LOL. Book 2, as we’ll refer to it for now, already has a title and a cover (that I LOVE) and a slated pub date. What I can say about it is that while it’s different from Dear Martin, it deals with another marginalized aspect of my identity (yay #intersectionality!), and it’s the book I wish I’d had back when I was trying to figure some things out about myself.

I loved your YouTube interview with Adam Silvera, especially the part where you speak to aspiring black authors. Your words, “You are power” are so true. We need to read and share these stories. We talked about this quite a bit at the MadCapRT Writing Cross Culturally workshop where you and I met in March 2017, but could you tell us what advice you have for white authors. What can we do to support diversity in literature?

YOU, Michelle, are doing the best thing you could possibly do: reading and promoting books by and about people of color. The other thing I would say to white authors is: be willing to step aside. Just last week, a white author I know was complaining (in private, so the person shall remain unnamed) because a black author at the same imprint—the only black author at this imprint, mind you—got to fly to New York to assist with the photo shoot for said black author’s book cover whereas the publisher is using stock images for the white author’s cover. There was this cry of, “It’s not fair!” and while I can understand how the white author would perceive things that way, frankly, it wasn’t fair four years ago when my first agent struggled to garner editor interest in the first book I ever wrote because they didn’t think a black lead would sell. Yes, it sucks to feel like what you’re creating isn’t being valued, and it’s not any one white author’s fault the industry has a diversity problem it’s working to remedy. But it also wasn’t any one black author or Indian author or disabled author or gay author’s fault the problem existed in the first place.

Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Nic a cupcake with frosting the same color as her gorgeous purple lipstick. (Seriously, you need to check out Nic’s lipstick game on Instagram. Bonus: she often posts pics of her beautiful family.)

Nic’s side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a cupcake and wind up with perfectly {insert frosting color} lips? Someone should invent that. I would be all over it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Already have two: I make people and control minds. (Such is the life of a mother/author. **bows**)

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll gel pen. (Okay fine: mechanical, 0.5 pt.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. No brainer.

Sweet or salty?  Both simultaneously? (PLZ DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE I NEED BOTH OKAY #saltedcarameleverything)

Dog, cat, or other? Do human babies count? Because I like those best. Super snuggly without the shedding.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter. In pants.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?  Think critically, stay open to being wrong, and never stop learning. Seriously. These are the best things you can do for your writing and your life.

Thank you so much, Nic, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Dear Martin and your future books!

Information about Nic Stone’s release party in Atlanta on October 17th is to the right, but for those who can’t make it stop by your local Indie or check out these links to purchase DEAR MARTIN: 

Indiebound | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N

 

 

 

Photo credit: Nigel Livingstone

About Nic Stone
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Website | Twitter | Instagram

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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MYC: Make Your Story Fit Your Reader

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about Creating Interesting Dialogue and Description. This week, we’ll discuss making sure the content and sentence, paragraph, chapter, and word count work for your reader.

As you are revising, one important step in the process is to make sure that you wrote a book that “fits” your reader. Below, I’ve attempted to attach some numbers as rough estimates based on my own browsing and research about books in these categories, but please, please, please do you own research too. The point of this post is to make sure you’re thinking about content and sentence, paragraph, chapter, and story length as you revise.

Chapter Book

These are for kindergarten through fourth grade. But, of course, that’s quite a spread in reading ability. Some chapter books are for beginning readers and others are transitionary, getting the reader ready for middle grade fiction. Often these books are about family relationships and friendship.

Beginning-level Chapter Books: In terms of vocabulary, they are similar to the level 3/4 books in the popular I Can Read leveled readers. The plot is normally simple and the sentences are short and uncomplicated. These early chapter books are typically published with a large font and are color-illustrated, often with a picture on every page. The art typically supports the texts, meaning it is important to the story because it shows things that don’t have to be described, much like a picture book.

Examples: Princess in Black series, Mercy Watson, Captain Awesome, Ivy and Bean, Heidi Heckelbeck, and Dragon Masters.

Sentence Length: Generally short (<10 words) with a few longer sentences.

Paragraph Length: Less than six sentences. Some are single sentence. Lots of white space. Normally less than 50 words.

Chapter Length: Some have no chapters, but typically less than 12 highly-illustrated pages (note: this is as-published, no how it will be in your document)

Story Length: Ranges typically from 1500-6000 words

Higher-level Chapter Books: As compared to the beginning readers, the vocabulary is broader. There is less repetition. The sentence structure becomes more complicated by adding phrases and more adjectives and adverbs. The plot may be more elaborate, maybe by adding mystery or leaving out details to let the reader figure out on his/her own. The concepts/details may require a higher level of thinking. Perhaps the biggest change of all is that the font is usually smaller and, though the illustrations are still there, they aren’t usually necessary for understanding the story. Illustrations are often done in black.

Examples:  Judy Moody, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, early Magic Tree House series (the Merlin Missions are for middle grade readers)

Sentence Length: Usually less than 20 words per sentence. There are still many short sentences in between longer sentences, and this structure is ideal even for adult works. More complicated in structure and word choices.

Paragraph Length: Slightly longer than the early chapter books, but still generally less than 75 words. Still more white space than middle grade.

Chapter Length: Some have no chapters, but typically less than 12 illustrated pages

Story Length: Typically from 4000-15,000 words

Middle Grade

Middle-grade stories are typically for ages 8 and up. They deal with more complicated concepts and sometimes cover sad and more mature topics than you will find in most chapter books, like divorce, death, bullying, and risky behaviors. These books often give children a wider window into the world by covering these topics and they also often include characters that have different cultures or ethnicities. Often books help readers explore their feelings about issues with friendships and family through story, and they are great tools in helping children understand empathy and community. Romance, if any, is usually limited to hand holding or a quick, nervous kiss. These books have few illustrations and they are often confined to the chapter heading.

Examples: When You Reach Me, The Journey of Edward Tulane, Fourteenth Goldfish, Karma Khullar’s Mustache, Wish

Sentence Length: Readers are capable of tackle long, complicated sentences, but using a variety of sentence lengths is still important. Vocabulary should reflect the types of words you would expect these readers to know or be able to figure out with context clues. Though helping the reader expand his/her vocabulary is a fine goal, be careful that there isn’t a high density of challenging words in your sentences.

Paragraph Length: Mostly two hundred words or less with a variety of paragraph lengths so that you don’t tire your reader.

Chapter Length: There’s really no rule here. A young reader is often more likely to tackle the next chapter if it is less than 10 pages, especially if he knows mom/dad will let him/her go a few minutes over lights-out time for reading. 🙂

High action scenes may require longer chapters, but if the chapter is clocking toward 20+ pages, you may want to find a way to break it up. Short chapters with choppy sentences are great for when you need to increase the tension in the story.

Particularly important for this age, leave small cliff hangers at your chapter endings when possible.

Story Length: Stories that don’t require a lot of world building are typically 20,000-50,000 words. Sci-fi and fantasy can be longer, but generally those should be less than 70,000 words.

Young Adult

Young adult stories are mostly for ages 13+. Profanity, sex (not erotic), drug and alcohol use are okay, but it’s not as acceptable for books with a younger protagonist (<15 years old). In young adult books, the parents tend to have a less important role in the protagonist’s life because they are more focused on friendships and non-familial relationships.

Great resource by agent and author Marie Lamba about what’s appropriate in MG vs. YA.

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-key-differences-between-middle-grade-vs-young-adult

Examples:  Across the Universe, The Sun is Also a Star, I’ll Give You the Sun, The Hate You Give, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Sentence Length: These readers often have adult-like reading skills and can handle complex sentences and vocabulary.

Paragraph Length: Less than 200 words for most paragraphs. A variety of paragraph lengths is best.

Chapter Length: Less than 25 pages generally with mini-cliff hangers to keep the reader turning pages.

Story Length: Less than 90,000 words unless complex world building is necessary for the story. For sci-fi and fantasy, this can be longer. See Maria Lamba and the post in resources for more details.

Resources:

Word count: http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

Page count (funny): http://100scopenotes.com/2014/07/15/all-middle-grade-should-be-192-pages-no-exceptions/

Chapter length:

https://kidlit.com/2017/06/05/childrens-book-manuscript-chapter-length/

http://writersroadtrip.blogspot.com/2009/12/wrt-rules-of-road-chapter-length-and.html

https://writers.stackexchange.com/questions/41/what-is-a-normal-length-for-a-chapter

http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/2012/05/chapter-novel-lengths.html

An excellent resource for finding out the word count for your favorite books: http://www.arbookfind.com

Thanks for reading this week’s Master Your Craft post. Come back next week when we’ll discuss Tightening your manuscript!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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Native American Literature for Young Readers

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! As the wind turns from humid to crisp and the leaves begin to change colors, we can’t help but think about Thanksgiving and our mixed feelings about this celebration. My education about Native Americans as a child was woefully inadequate and wrong for the most part. Understanding that our childhood views of colonialism were misrepresented is important to our history, our culture, and our humanity and the best place to begin fixing our misunderstanding is to make sure that the books we read are representative of Native American culture.

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, we’ve been busy reading to create a list of recommended books that should be in our classrooms, home libraries, or reading stacks this fall and all year. Yes, you should read Sherman Alexie’s books too, but there are many other fine Native American authors who are often overlooked. We’ve chosen to shine a light on them.

 

We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Julie Flett

A perfect book for new parents welcoming baby into the world. A lovely rhythmic read aloud, beautifully illustrated.

Board book, ages 0+

 

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julie Flett

What makes your heart fill with happiness? Holding hands? The sun on your face? This little board book does a great job of reminding us to cherish these moments. Beautiful, happy illustrations, alluring to the eyes.

Ages 0+

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu

A joyous story filled with details about the traditions associated with the dresses jingle dancers wear. Young Jenna gets help from her family and community to give her dress its own voice. Beautiful, lyrical text with traditional Indian phrasing. Warm, inviting illustrations.

Ages 6+

 

The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz and illustrated by Sharol Graves

Originally published in 1977, the 40th edition of this book of truth about Indigenous People and colonization will be published in October. If I had to purchase only one book for my library for the fall, this might be the one. Clearly expressed text quickly explains the lives of Indigenous people as America was discovered by the Spanish and the population exploded as more settlers came here.  Ages 6+

 

Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave

This story about Shi-shi-etko and her little brother Shin-Chi’s journey to an Indian residential school shines a light on one of the darker moments in our country’s history.  The author’s note provides additional historical context for the story, context that many of us missed in our history lessons and can share with the next generation through this sweet book. Ages 6+

 

Saltypie  by Tim Tingle and illustrated by Karen Clarkson

Saltypie tells the story of a grandmother through her young grandson’s eyes. Filled with wisdom and tenderness, this story of a woman who lived a life of adversity without losing her good humor and warm heart has a surprise at the end that’s worth a read. The author notes include additional historical context and some lovely family photos.  Ages 6+

 


Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and Illustrated by David Shannon

Hiawatha, a brave Mohawk warrior, is angry. He wants revenge when his family is killed in a battle of warring tribes. But everything changes when he is visited by the Peacemaker, a prophet who wishes to end the warring and changes Hiawatha’s mind and heart. Hiawatha’s story is a timeless tale, important for all humans for understanding unity, cooperation.

Ages 8+

 

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Native Americans Ray Halfmoon and his Grampa live in Chicago, which is much different from life in Oklahoma where Grampa grew us. The fun, interrelated short stories are heartwarming and help young readers understand what life is like for many present-day Native American.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

 

Soft Rain: The Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen

Nine-year old Soft Rain’s inspiring story illuminates an important part of our American history, one that should not be forgotten–the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The author’s voice is perfect for helping young readers understand the impact of being torn from your family and forced to relocate.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

The Warriors by Joseph Bruchac

Twelve-year-old Jake Forrest has spent his whole life living on an Iroquois Indian reservation. He must leave the life he loves when his mother graduates law school and lands a job in Washington, DC. Jake, who has always been a star lacrosse player, struggles to adjust to the spirit of the game off the Indian reservation. Through this story, we learn that the origins of lacrosse are tribal. There are just enough lacrosse scenes to satisfy fans of the game, but at its heart this is a realistic story about the struggles we all feel trying to fit in. The Warriors deftly grapples with issues such as racism, violence in sports, and cultural misappropriation.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle

This. Book. Will. Keep. You. On. The. Edge. Of. Your. Seat. Unlike anything I’ve ever read and full of surprises. A story about a young Choctaw who doesn’t survive the Trial of Tears, told by his ghost. Each chapter a cliffhanger, this is a terrifically compelling tale of resilience and unity with surprisingly humorous moments.

Ages 8+

 

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III

Learn about Crazy Horse through a modern child’s eyes in this stunning novel. Full of the beauty of oral tradition, family heritage, and road trips, this one is perfect for you and your middle-grade reader.

Novel, Ages 8+

 

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

This story, and the others in the series, has the feel and tone of Little House on the Prairie and other pioneer-era stories but with a more sensitive and historically accurate portrayal of Native people. Follow the adventures of two young brothers as they navigate childhood in a rich historical setting. Novel, Ages 8+

 

Fire in the Village, by Anne M Dunn

A collection of fables, legends, and creation myths from an Anishinabeg-Ojibwe elder living on the Leech Lake Reservation. The seventy-five stories in this beautiful collection capture a piece of history that might otherwise have been lost.

Short-story collection, Ages 12+

 

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Wonderful story about reservation life, friendship, racism, poverty, family and something that binds all of us: music. Prepare to cry with this one, folks. It will break your heart and make you mad at points, but the journey of emotions is well worth the ride.

Novel, Ages 12+

 

My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Did you know that native Alaskans were given radioactive drugs without their permission to study whether their bodies were biologically more resistant to the effects of cold weather? Powerful, factually-based narrative about the difficulties Alaskan Native Americans children faced when they were uprooted from their families and culture and sent to a school where they were punished if their native language slipped from their lips. Multiple POVs give the reader a broad picture of the range of their struggles, all delivered in an intriguing, relatable story that would be a great classroom read for ages

Novel, Ages 12+

 

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

The importance of the Navajo Code Talkers during WWII was so secretive many historians don’t even know about it. Thanks to Joseph Bruchac’s family connection we can now all read about these brave men who helped keep troops safe during the war by using a code based on Navajo language, the same language they were forced to suppress as they were educated in schools designed to make them fit into white culture. Infused with Native American history and  culture, Code Talker helps us understand what it must have felt like to be in young Ned’s situation as he went from life on a reservation to working the front lines as an American soldier in WWII.

Novel, Ages 12+

 

Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon

This murder mystery follows 19-year-old Cash as she revisits family history on a journey to help her friend investigate the murder of a Native man on a neighboring reservation. Anyone who loves good crime fiction will appreciate this novel.

Novel, Upper YA/Adult

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

When the Robot War ignites, our government crumbles. Human resistance is led by small organized groups. The Osage Nation in Gray Horse, Oklahoma is one of these groups. Despite decades of oppression, these small tightly-knit tribal mini-nations remain strong, the perfect fighters against the collapse of humanity  This book is a sci-fi thriller written in the style of World War Z  by a Cherokee citizen who also has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon and Masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.  This gripping story is perfect for upper YA (high school age) and Adult.

 

These are all books that we can personally recommend, but don’t stop there. There are many resources for finding authentic and accurate books written by Native Americans.

Debbie Reese’s AMERICAN INDIANS IN LITERATURE BLOG

Kara Stewart’s blog FROM HERE TO WRITERNITY  We’d like to give a special thank you to Kara who helped us hand-pick some of the titles we’ve reviewed!

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Blog

And checkout/subscribe to our Native Writers Twitter List.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

JULIE ARTZ writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to contributing to The Winged Pen, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, is a Pitch Wars mentor, and contributes regularly to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. You can also follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

 

 

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Fall Releases on Our Radar!


Fall makes me long for crisply cool, slightly overcast days. Why? On days like this, I enjoy exerting myself in the yard, cleaning up my summer gardens and preparing the cool season garden, and then hopping in the hammock with a book. Here are a few new releases for fall that have caught my attention.

Picture Books

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote

By Margarita Engle and illustrated by Raúl Colón

One of my favorites for this fall, definitely an award contender. It’s a fictionalized first-person biography in verse about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, father of the modern novel. As a child, his vivid daydreams of daring knights provided refuge from his family’s troubles and inspired one of the world’s most influential books, Don Quixote. Gorgeous pen and ink illustrations perfectly contrast Miguel’s dreams with his reality, speaking to the power of story in our lives. A beautiful and engaging book to treasure.

Releases October 1, 2017

Brave by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

This book celebrates BRAVE kids and reminds us that all kids have the power to be brave and kind…

–when they face new challenges

–by helping others

–by speaking up

Great inspiration, reminding us to follow our hearts and find courage to do what is right, even when it’s hard, and showing us that there’s a little superhero in all of us.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

After the Fall by Dan Santat

From the New York Times–bestselling and Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Dan Santat, we finally find out what happened after Humpty’s tragically famous fall. When his beautiful paper airplane lands on that dreadful wall he’s been trying so hard to avoid, his paralyzing new fear of height haunts him. Stunning illustrations carefully balance whimsy and the gravity of his situation. My favorite thing about this book is the story behind Santat’s dedication. Watch the video where he shares why this story is a love letter to his wife.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

Red and Lulu by Matt Taveres

A pair of cardinals becomes separated when their lush, shady home is cut down and sent to New York City to become a Christmas Tree. Such a beautiful, poignant story about miracles. Because of this and the dazzling watercolor illustrations with amazing perspectives, my family may have a new holiday favorite.

 

 

Middle Grade

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Red, the ancient oak who’s been watching over the neighborhood for about two hundred years, is known as the wishtree because every year locals tie notes with their wishes to Red’s branches. You would think Red’s seen it all, but then a Muslim family moves in to the neighborhood. Red has to take things in his own hands to protect the family’s young daughter when a community member makes them feel unwelcome. With interesting, fun characters, this beautiful story of hope, friendship, and community,  is guaranteed to make you laugh and cry both happy and sad tears. Beautiful!

Releases October 3rd, 2017

 

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt

Thirteen-year-old orphan and pickpocket-extraordinaire, Nicki Demere, has been chosen by the U.S. government to join a mother, father, and son who are being protected by Witness Protection from dangerous mobsters. Are her tough-girl skills enough to keep the family safe? Though the plot may seem unbelievable, this fast-paced, captivating story with relatable characters and fun family dynamics will make for some very fast page turning. Highly recommended!

Releases October 3rd, 2017

 

Young Adult

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Fifteen-year-old Will’s older brother Shawn was just murdered. He knows what he must do. He must follow The Rules, which means that Shawn’s killer must die…by Will’s hands. He hops on the elevator on his way to get revenge. But on each floor, a new passenger gets on. A passenger that is in some way connected to Shawn. 7 floors with 6 visitors.

This book is BRILLIANT. Told in free-verse, every word is precisely chosen to grab your heart and mess with your head. This is a book to be shared and talked about. IT WILL CHANGE LIVES. I love a lot of books, but this is my favorite read of 2017 so far. Buy it and share it. There should be several copies in every high school in America, so donate one if you can. I predict this one will win multiple awards, and it will deserve every single one. To be devoured again and again.

Releases October 17th, 2017

 

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m starting today! My daughter tore through it in two days and said, “Mama, you’re going to love this book.” Then she handed me a box of tissues. “And you’ll need the whole box.” I do love books that make me think and feel, and she has assured me it will do both. It’s the story of three siblings who were given up for adoption at birth. When the middle sibling, sixteen-year-old Grace, gives her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family and discovers that she has siblings. This story about family, relationships is on the longlist for the National Book Award for Young People along with Long Way Down (above) and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (below). There are so many great books on the longlist this year, so please check them out.

Releases October 3rd, 2017

I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

I haven’t read this one yet either, but it’s up right behind Far From the Tree. I normally read all the books on the longlist and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. This is the description on the back of the book: “From debut author Erika L. Sanchez comes a laugh-out-loud and poignant novel about losing a sister and finding yourself.” It’s about Julia, a girl who dreams to be a writer and refuses to let her family’s expectation get in her way.

Releases October 17th, 2017

We’d love for you to share your fall favorites in the comments!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

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