Cybils Awards: MG Speculative Fiction

The winners of the Cybils Awards have been announced! If you haven’t heard yet, you must still be busy celebrating Valentine’s Day. The winner for the 2017 Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category is … WAIT!

First, what are the Cybils Awards? They are awards that recognize children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.

Second, I had the pleasure of being a round two judge for this category and reading the seven amazing finalists. Let me tell you, choosing a winner was very difficult, but my fellow round two judges and I did. The winner is:

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Aventurine is a young dragon ready to explore the outside world, but her family thinks she’s too young to fly on her own. She’s determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. The human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, which transforms her into one, but results in her finding her passion. Chocolate! Now all she has to do is find an apprenticeship in a chocolate house in a human city. Easy, right?

This book hooked me by the first sentences. I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human. But then, my grandfather Grenat always said, “It’s safer not to talk to your food…” I loved the twist in this creative story about passion and what it means to find it: the main character starts as a dragon and turns into a human. It was a wonderful journey to take as Aventurine taught us if you want something, you have to work for it.

As I said, all of the finalists are fantastic. I have to share them with you.

Goodreads

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Chantel would much rather focus on magic than curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems. Without magic protecting the city, it’s up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. In doing so, Chantel discovers a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

Chantel has a problem with deportment, being shamefast and biddable, and I admit I may have the same problem. But that wasn’t all that hooked me. The characters are unique, the descriptions are detailed without losing the wonderful voice, and their adventure is full of tension. Plus magic and dragons? You can’t go wrong.

Goodreads

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Harper doesn’t trust her new home. It’s rumored to be haunted, but she’s not sure she believes it. It gives her a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. Until her younger brother starts acting strangely. Harper’s blocked out memories can explain her brother’s behavior and the strange happenings in the house. But will she remember it all in time?

Do you like to be scared? Well you’ve come to the right story. The mysteries of the house are just as spine tingling as the mysterious missing memories of Harper. Add to that are the descriptions of the spirit, William. Let’s just say I found myself looking over my shoulder for an evil ghost.

Goodreads

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. Rosa just moved to Ingot, the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could

want to live in a place with no ghosts. She doesn’t understand why anyone would. Jasper has always lived in Ingot. He has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Until an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down. Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need her ghost appeasement tools and help from Jasper to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.

I loved the plot of this book. An unhaunted town is unheard of? Ghosts are normal? Cool! The characters, their jobs, even the setting in a renaissance festival were extremely well developed and fun ways to tell this story.

Goodreads

Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. It is Earth year 2213—but there is no Earth anymore. It was burned by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. Humans fled to Mars, but only as a temporary solution while they planned a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a permanent home. It’s the last day on Mars and Liam and Phoebe are going to be a few of the last humans to leave. Until they make profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.

Normally I’m a feet planted on the Earth kind of reader, but I was intrigued by the humans’ life on Mars. The descriptions were so well done, I could almost feel the planet’s dust. This novel is full of tension, sabotage, and aliens, as well as a reality check on how we treat our planet.

Goodreads

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. The underground city of Caverna has the world’s most skilled craftsmen who create wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer. The people of Caverna are ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are blank. Expressions such as joy, despair, or fear must be learned and only Facesmiths can teach them. For a price. Then comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying, she must wear a mask at all times. Her expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous.

Once again I was struck by the creativity of this story. People not having expressions? Facesmiths having to teach them? All the while telling the story of the wealthy and poor. And at the heart of it all is a naive girl who influences both.

Goodreads

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda can’t believe she was chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. As soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening message, and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.

This is a winner for science and space lovers. And inventors, people who love strong, independent female thinkers, and those who appreciate the importance of working as a team. Add tension and amazing descriptions and you’ve got it all!

You can find all of the 2017 nominated books here.

2017 Cybils Winners

2017 Cybils Finalists

2017 Cybils Nominations

All of these books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indi bookstores.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

The Magic of Friendship

I’m working on revising one novel and pre-writing another, and one thing keeps coming up with both projects: friendship.

I have two teen daughters, and I can tell you that EVERYTHING revolves around friends. And I remember that from my own teenage years – friendships were all-consuming, intense, up and down, and central to my daily life.

So as I’ve worked on these two projects, it has been especially important to me to make sure that the friendships in my stories are as vivid and central to my characters’ lives as they are in the lives of the teens I know.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially if your story and its conflicts aren’t based on your main character’s relationship with his or her friends. How can you ensure that your character’s friendships always feel authentic, rich and real?

I recently attended a talk at my local SCBWI led by editor Abby Ranger. She called friendship a key entrance to your story. Whether you’re writing an epic fantasy set in a completely new world, or a contemporary set in a world that is familiar to nearly all of us, your character’s friendships give readers a view of the heart of your character and her journey.

And friendship is different than other relationships your character has in his life. For one, it’s completely voluntary – friends don’t have to love you like family does. And the relationship isn’t clouded by romantic feelings.

So friendship is important to get right in any story for middle grade or YA. But how?

Take a minute to think about your own friendships. What are they based on?

I have a few friends who have known me for more than 20 years. We share some things in common – kids in some cases, hobbies in others – but our primary bond is one of time and deep understanding. They know what skeletons I have in my closet, they remember when I was a vegetarian who refused to eat beans, and at least one of them was there to drive me home from work when I had a horrid case of the stomach flu.

I have other friendships that have grown from a common interest. My knitting friends know a bit about my life, but they are even more well versed in what yarn-based project I’ve got in my bag at the moment. And of course my Pennies know each and every up and down I have with my fiction writing.

Think about your character and his or her friends. How did they meet? What drew them together? How did they cross that threshold between acquaintances and friends? What keeps them coming back to each other?

What do they know about each other that other characters don’t know? What are their power dynamics – is one the bold go-getter, dragging the other along? Is there a protector and a protected?

As you sketch out this important relationship, consider these tips, loosely gathered from Abby Ranger’s fantastic talk (and with examples from Harry Potter, an epic fantasy series with friendship at its core), for creating authentic friendships that push your characters to grow over the course of the novel:

Lean into contrast/conflict. Friends don’t always get along, and they often grow in different directions at different times. Show those conflicts – big and small – and use them to challenge your main character’s inertia.

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: When Hermione and Ron begin to recognize their feelings for each other, they each approach those feelings in different ways. That conflict is amped up by the ball and the character of Viktor Krum and adds a great layer of complexity to the story.

Communication between friends often consists of their own language. Show that in both dialogue and in non-verbal communication. Our closest friends can often say a LOT with a tiny change in expression!

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: How many times do Ron and Harry crack each other up with just a glance?

There is an intimacy in details, so be specific. Use details to show your characters knowledge of each other and their expectations of their friends. HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: When Hermione explains Cho’s feelings of sadness, grief, guilt and confusion to Harry and Ron after Cedric’s death, she shows a relationship with Cho that we don’t see on the page, but that is clear from those few details she shares. And Harry’s and Ron’s responses show that they never expected such complexity from either Hermione or Cho.

Teen friendships have DRAMA. Emotions are bigger and more unwieldy when you’re a teenager, and most of the situations you face, you’re facing for the very first time. Let the drama out! And that drama can crop up in many different ways – does your character have to sacrifice something for his or her friend? How do your characters earn their relationship? Do they fight for it? Do they risk something – parental or societal disapproval, say – to keep the friendship?

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: Right at the beginning of the first book, Harry faces a choice between being friends with Draco (and joining ranks with the “right sort” of wizard) and being friends with Ron (the “wrong sort”). He chooses Ron. Later, the two friends together choose to befriend the unloved Hermione. Both times, Harry is risking his social capital for his friends – and that choice continues to create drama that resonates throughout the series.

Friendships, particularly groups of friends, have their own circuitry. How do your characters connect to each other in the world of your story? What are the layers of friendships, from inner circle, to outer ring? What role does each character play?

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: Harry, Ron and Hermione each have their own specific role to play in their trio. But they’re not an independent entity. They’re also influenced and influence Ginny and Neville and Fred and George and Luna. Their influence also spreads to enemies like Draco. The various connections between the characters come back over and over again throughout the series, and the picture that network forms is complex, dynamic and rich.

Friendship should have an arc throughout the book. Even if the friendship doesn’t supply the main core of conflict in your story, your character’s relationship with friends should still have some sort of beginning, middle and end related to the journey he or she takes in the book.

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE: While the first book in the series is about Harry learning his true history and facing his greatest enemy for the first time, it is also about his journey from a lonely boy to a boy with friends. His friendships with Ron and Hermione wouldn’t be enough on their own to fuel a book about wizards, but they do give Harry a personal arc to go along with his hero arc, making him much more relatable in the process.

But perhaps the biggest clue that two (or more) characters are friends? Fun! Don’t be afraid to let your characters – even in the darkest and grittiest of dramas – have fun with their friends. That joy is the glue that has kept them together and that shows your reader the depth of your characters’ friendships.

Friendship is one of the most central relationships tweens and teens have. Whether you’re writing a space opera, a modern rom-com, a historical fantasy, or something else entirely, friendships are a great way to zero in on your novel’s heart.

 

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

Dear Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

I’ve been writing love letters to books that shaped me, as a person and as a writer, and for this month, it’s Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. I so enjoyed this book, a dreamy and beautiful retelling of the Snow Queen. What I want to talk about today, though, is how it influenced my writing.

I write contemporary fantasies, and love to come up with sumptuous settings and vast and daring adventures. When writing my first book, though, I kept getting feedback that readers weren’t connecting with the main character. I tried all the tricks for character development. I wrote questionnaires and character sketches galore. I composed backstory that would never see the light of day, and even drew pictures. Nothing.

When I met Ophelia, it finally clicked. The story is just the kind I like, with a heartbreak at its center, and an epic battle to save a beloved driving it on. But this character was so likeable. I devoured it for the story, but I studied it for the technique. How did she do that?

A few things, I decided. Done so quickly that they could easily be missed, but crucial in establishing character immediately. Consider the title of chapter one: “In Which Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard discovers a boy in a locked room and is consequently asked to save the world.” That is followed swiftly by the first line: “Ophelia did not consider herself brave.” Right away we know both that Ophelia is going to have to do something very important, and that she is not going to be thrilled about it. That makes me curious, and it makes her seem self-effacing. I like that.

Ophelia’s reluctant bravery is a characteristic carried throughout the story. Every time that marvelous boy locked in the room asks Ophelia to do something, she says no. Then, grudgingly, she does it anyway, because she can’t just leave him locked in that room. She takes on incredibly scary tasks, but hems and haws and complains the whole time, which certainly seems relatable to me. I wouldn’t want to go walking through rooms of ghosts, either.

Foxlee also gives Ophelia a few idiosyncrasies that help us to see her more clearly, and that show us Ophelia’s fear without her having to remind us. Ophelia makes lists to distract herself. She tugs on her braid when she’s worried, and when she gets really scared, she has to take a puff of her inhaler. Isn’t that perfect?

I began to think anew about other characters I love. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we see the Dursleys’ horrid treatment of Harry, and then one of the first things Harry does is free an unhappy snake from its cage. He is an underdog, and he wants to save other underdogs. In The Golden Compass, we see Lyra hide and eavesdrop, but ultimately come clean and risk punishment to protect her uncle. She is sneaky and has a strong sense of self-preservation, but also a redeeming moral code.

It isn’t merely about fleshing out character, I realized. Lists of their favorite ice cream flavors and the like weren’t helping, because they didn’t reveal what the reader needed to understand about the character for this story. Ophelia’s inhaler sure did, though. I now believe that the key to a good characterization is to understand the character’s defining quality that drives the story, then give a clear early example of it and a few tics or traits that show it throughout. For that understanding, I will always be grateful to Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.

Favorite quote:

Ophelia had never been prophesied before. It made her feel annoyed.

Kate Hillyer writes stories about brave girls who fight for what they love. She blogs here and at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. She currently serves as a Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her on Twitter and at www.katehillyer.com. 

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Holiday Gift Ideas: The Winged Pen’s Favorite Books

Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is in ten days. That means the gift-giving season is right around the corner! For most of us, it’s panic time. But the Pennies at The Winged Pen are going to make this holiday season easier for you. Below are some of our favorite books. They are great choices for the readers in your life (including yourself!)

Gita 

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson This fast-paced thriller, set in Kenya and Congo, follows Congolese refugee Tina, who joins a street gang in order to avenge her mother’s murder. I loved the deftly drawn characters, the high stakes, the nail-biting tension, and the window the author opened onto this part of the world. She spent a decade working for NGOs in Africa. (YA)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy This novel is so many things at once: a heart-breaking family saga; a story of a childhood spent in Kerala, India; a political awakening; a commentary on India’s caste system, its mythology, and history—as well as a fantastically beautiful meditation on the nature of time itself. John Updike said of it, “A novel of real ambition must invent its own language, and this one does.” (Adult, 16+)

Laurel

The Inquisitor’s Tale (or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog) by Adam Gidwitz Three children race through France in the middle ages to the final showdown at Mont-Saint-Michel where all question if the children can perform the miracles of saints. This warm, funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring story of adventure effortlessly brings the middle ages to life. The dialogue made me laugh out loud. Adam Gidwitz makes thought-provoking topics like miracles, racism, antisemitism, and Chaucer amazingly accessible. (MG)

Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booream Conor O’Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee, a harbinger of death shows up in his bedroom. The banshee insists on going to middle school and as Conor attempts to hide her identity and keep his family safe, he realizes he’s going to have to visit to the underworld. It is a zany story of a boy whose normal, middle school life gets a mixed-up shot of Greek and Irish mythology that makes him into the hero he never thought he could be. It is a laugh-out-loud excellent adventure story for reluctant readers. (YA)

Kate

To Stay Alive by Skila Brown An American history story of the wagon train journey west by Mary Ann Graves, her family, and the Donner and Reed parties. Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann’s narrative, told in verse, is of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere. This book blew me away with its gorgeous language. I was riveted from page one, and Brown handles the difficult subject unflinchingly, but without veering into the grotesque.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman Thrilling adventures of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds, where they meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them. I listened to the full-cast audio recording of these, which was so well done. I loved the epic scope of it, the interrogation of religion, and the stunning imagination of it.

Richelle

Homegoing by Yaa Gayasi This is a breath-taking novel built from a series of interlocking stories about the descendants of two Ghanian sisters — one sold into slavery and one raised free in Ghana. It was one of those reading experiences that made me feel changed when I put it down. (Adult)

You May Already Be A Winner by Ann Dee Ellis I loved this compassionate and hope-filled look at a child trapped in poverty. The main character’s fantasies of winning contests reminded me so vividly of the feeling of being a kid powerless to fix what’s wrong, but desperate to find a way to do it anyway. (MG)

Julie

Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill Xan, the witch from the Forest, accidently feeds baby Luna moonlight, filling her with extraordinary magic. As Luna’s magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences–a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Luna must protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known. This was one of those books I read slowly at the end to make it last longer. Barnhill’s world building is amazing and her storytelling shines in this magical tale. It is a 2017 Newbery Medal winner and NY Times bestseller. (MG) Check out our interview with Kelly Barnhill here.

Girl From Everywhere/Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig If there is a map, Nix’s father, a time traveler, can sail his ship across the globe and through centuries. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. If her father changes the past, it could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures, and her connection with the charming Persian thief. These two gorgeous historical fantasies are full of heart and magic. I flew threw them and can’t wait for the third. The first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. Its sparkling wit, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo. (YA)

Halli

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via a red balloon to 1988 East Berlin and meets an underground group who uses these magic balloons to help people escape over the Wall. As they try to get Ellie back to her time, it becomes clear someone is using dark magic to change history. There are so many wonderful things about this book. The stories of survival and dedication of those willing to help people trapped in dangerous and oppressive conditions are heartwarming. The characters are well developed with strengths, weaknesses, and strong motivations. You can’t help but root for them all, and even those with questionable methods have commendable goals. (YA)

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry Calliope June has Tourette syndrome and makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she moves to a new school, she tries to hide her TS, but the kids laugh and tease her. Only Calliope’s neighbor, the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is—an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?  This is a beautifully written story of fitting in and finding courage. It is a dual point of view story told in verse and prose. This was my first time reading a story told in both formats and I loved it! The author’s writing is amazing, especially her descriptions of emotions that utilize all the senses. Readers of any age will love this book of growth and acceptance. They will also have the ability to learn about a misunderstood disorder and realize how a little knowledge can result in a new friend. (MG)

Michelle

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder Nine children live alone on an isolated island with no memories of their past. Every year, a mysterious green boat appears bringing a new young child to the island and sailing the eldest away. With vivid characters that feel like our dearest friends and a lushly detailed setting, this heartfelt story beautifully captures the emotional ups and downs of saying goodbye to childhood and moving toward adolescence. For ages 8+, this book is on the 2017 National Book Award Longlist. (MG)

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez Julia isn’t the perfect daughter. That was her obedient sister Olga, who got run over by a semi. Julia wants to go to college to become a writer instead of living in agony, both grief stricken by her sister’s death and stuck with her undocumented and unbearably old-fashioned parents. A stunning and beautifully relatable story about family, cultural expectations, growing up, and mental illness. A Finalist for the National Book Award. Due to mature themes, I recommend this one to 15+.

Rebecca J. Allen

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor If you’ve read Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (if you haven’t, you should), this is more of the same type of awesome. There are mortals and monsters; sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. The setting ranges from a re-imagined Library of Alexandria to barren deserts to a palace floating in the sky. Fully crafted characters and charged actions scenes, as well as the author’s lush writing, make it a book to read and reread. This is the first book in a duology. (YA)

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab is the third and final installment in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series. The Darker Shades series is set in four Londons. Red London, bright with magic; White London, starved of magic and desperate for it; Gray London, magicless; and Black London, dead, overrun by dark magic and cut off to protect the other Londons. The dangerous magic of Black London escapes the barriers and is drawn feed on the rich magical of Red London. There, Kell, prince and Antari, must battle to protect his home from the danger he inadvertently unleashed. At his side are Lyla, a thief; Alucard Emory a pirate; Rys, first in line for the throne; and his enemy from Gray London. It is action-packed with rich characters and world-building. (YA)

Rebecca Petruck

Peak by Anders Ericsson After studying chess champions, violin virtuosos, star athletes, and memory mavens, the author provides powerful learning strategies that are fundamentally different from the way people traditionally think about acquiring new abilities. This book inspires me with the reminder that “genius” likely doesn’t exist. Nearly anyone can become very good, even expert, at a variety of skills with deliberate practice.

Dear Ijeawele, a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The author received a letter from a friend asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. This book, fifteen invaluable suggestions, is the author’s response on how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. This book not only inspires me, but also fills me with hope for girls and young women today. It’s a book I wish all women and men would read.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to his brother, Theo, during his lifetime, the author weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the extraordinary love of the Van Gogh brothers. This book inspires me because Vincent Van Gogh worked and worked and worked at his art, and it all could have been fruitless but for the faith and support of his brother Theo. I’m so grateful for the support I have from my family and friends. These are the books I think about when I’m feeling low and questioning choices I’ve made about my work. I hope they encourage other readers, too!

There are so many great books, we couldn’t pick just one favorite. Or two. Below is a list of more books we love.

 

Picture Books

Windows by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship by David Elliott, illus. by Melissa Sweet

Middle Grade

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

Patina by Jason Reynolds

This is Our Constitution by Khizr Khan

OCDaniel by Wesley King

Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

Young Adult

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Steifvater

These books can be found at your local independent bookstores, along with Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

More information on the loves and preferences of The Winged Pen writers, check them out on the Bio Page.

 

SaveSave

Save

Save

November Four on 400 Contest Window is Now Open!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of November, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the 14th of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the November Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on November 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Save

SaveSave

Save

Interview with Melissa Roske Author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN She completely embodies the MG writing community because she’s about the friendliest and most supportive person you will meet. Before I talk to Melissa, here’s more about her book: 

Eleven-year-old Kat Greene has a lot on her pre-rinsed plate, thanks to her divorced mom’s obsession with cleaning. When Mom isn’t scrubbing every inch of their Greenwich Village apartment, she’s boiling the silverware or checking Kat’s sheets for bedbugs. It’s enough to drive any middle schooler crazy! Add friendship troubles to the mix, a crummy role in the school play, and Mom’s decision to try out for “Clean Sweep,” a competitive-cleaning TV game show, and what have you got? More trouble than Kat can handle—at least, without a little help from her friends.

I’m so excited about this book, Melissa! I recently finished OCDaniel and it’s definitely one of those books that has stuck with me. You also tackle OCD in your book and it’s both personal to you and underrepresented in MG lit. 

Would you like to let us know how OCD has played a part in your life and how it inspired Kat’s story?

This may sound strange, but OCD played a huge part in my life while I was growing up, but I didn’t know it. Let me explain. My dad used to check the locks on the front door, as well as the gas jets on the stove, over and over, especially before he went to sleep at night. I figured he was just being careful, but I now know he had OCD. Even stranger, it wasn’t until I was done writing the book that I realized that the mom in the story, who has a cleaning compulsion, is actually based on my dad. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me, at least not on a conscious level. My dad, however, in addition to being a “checker,” is the opposite of Kat’s mom. He is extremely messy and keeps everything. I actually found an expired credit card in his wallet from 1998! I have some OCD symptoms too, like the need to have my window shades fixed at a certain level, and feeling uncomfortable if a drawer is left open or a cabinet door is ajar. Still, I wouldn’t say my OCD adversely affects my life. It’s just annoying, and disconcerting at times. To my family, and to myself.

You’ve had a pretty prolific career from an advice columnist to a life coach. What was it that made you choose writing as your next career?

I’d always been interested in writing, especially creative writing, but it wasn’t until I was working as a life coach, helping my clients achieve their goals, that I realized I wasn’t achieving my goal: to write a novel. So I hired my own life coach, the amazing Sara Lewis Murre, and got down to work. Sara helped me to stay on track by holding me accountable for my writing goals. She suggested, for instance, that I establish a regular writing routine, using a timer for each session. I wasn’t allowed to leave my chair until the timer dinged! I also tried to adhere to a daily word count, which helped. Little by little, the words added up until I had an 80,000-word novel. It was chick-lit novel that ended up in my drawer, but that’s beside the point, isn’t it? 

How long did it take you to complete KAT?

As above, KAT was not my first book. My first book was a chick-lit novel called Good Girls Don’t Go Commando. I suspect the title was better than the book, because I was unable to obtain literary representation. Several agents actually liked the premise and requested pages, but apparently chick lit was “dead” and nobody thought the book would sell. Keeping that in mind, I decided to try my hand at another genre: middle-grade fiction. I wrote the first draft back in 2011. It was only 100 pages long, but I knew I had something I could work with, so I did another draft. And another. And then another. A billion drafts later (!), I started querying agents. Within a year I had representation, but the manuscript didn’t sell and my agent and I parted ways. I then rewrote the novel from top to bottom, changed the title, and started querying all over again. This time I found an agent who was able to sell the manuscript. I signed the contract with Charlesbridge in 2015.

What’s been the most surprising (or maybe frustrating) thing about the process of getting published?

How long everything takes. There’s a lot of waiting involved, which can be very, very frustrating. Still, I remind myself that waiting is part of the process, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Unfortunately, patience isn’t one of my strong points, so I need a lot of reminding!

I hear ya! And I think everyone in the query trenches can attest to this too. Thanks for joining us and all the best with KAT now out in the world!

If you want to know more about Melissa or her book, check her out here:
WebsiteFacebook / TwitterGoodreads

and her book here:

Amazon/ Barnes & Noble/ IndieBound/ Goodreads  

 

 

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE.

Summer Road Trip Read Alouds

road trip

It’s summer road trip season, and in our family, that means I’m on the lookout for great books for reading out loud. That’s our favorite way to while away the hours speeding down the highways and back roads.

Not all books are great for reading aloud. To me, the key is that the plot has to be relatively straightforward (in case someone zones out for a bit, looking for the world’s largest ball of twine) and it has to move at a good clip (to keep the interest of those who might otherwise start kicking their sisters). Bonus points if it’s exciting, funny, and has silly names.

Here are some we’ve loved recently.

princess bride

The Princess Bride: If you’ve seen the movie, the book, which reads almost verbatim, will crack you right up. Everyone has his or her own favorite lines. In our family, the surest way to make someone laugh is to say, “Anybody want a peanut?” This is one of the rare instances in which I would recommend seeing the movie first, because the fantastic actors and settings make the book come to life as you’re reading.

snow treasure

Snow Treasure: This was one of my wife’s favorite books as a kid, but I’d never heard of it. It’s the fascinating true story of Norwegian children who smuggled $12 million in gold out of their country on sleds after the Nazi occupation in WWII began. We were all on the edges of our seats to find out what happened, and I especially love the kid power message here.

tumtum

TumTum and Nutmeg: These are fantastic for younger kids, who may not be able to follow a longer plot yet. It’s a series of long-ish short stories starring a fussy husband and doting wife mouse couple and their trouble-causing, pompous best friend, General Marchmouse. The stories are entertaining, but not too scary, and everyone is polite and trying to be good. It definitely has fun-to-say names.

hp

Harry Potter: To me, these are the quintessential read alouds. My wife and I actually read these to each other before we had kids, even over the phone when we were long distance. The stories are gripping, and get better as the series progresses. It has the best names of any books out there. Hufflepuff! Dumbledore! Rowena Ravenclaw! Plus you get to try out fun British-isms like “snogging” and “bloody.” You really can’t get better than this.

wizard of oz

The Wizard of Oz: Another one where the fantastic book gets overshadowed by the movie, I like this for a road trip because it’s the story of a journey and trying to get home. The books (there are five of them) read more like a series of connected short stories, so it’s also nice for bedtime stories, or where you can’t read it all at once.

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk: So silly and funny. A dad goes out for milk, takes too long getting home, and comes back to tell the kids the fantastic tale of where he’s been. It’s a quick read, and will have you all howling with laughter.

Okay, your turn! I’ve got a looong road trip coming up at the end of this month. What do you recommend? What have you loved?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is working on her British accent. You can see more of her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter

SaveSave

Book Buying Advice from the Kiddos

Today I’ve teamed up with my eldest daughter, Sylvia , because it’s her 11th birthday. And anyone who knows me knows if it’s your birthday (or any holiday) you’re getting a book from me.

In her earlier days, Sylvia was an easy girl to buy books for. She loved whatever I picked out. Now…. Well, it’s much more difficult. I seriously think it’s easier to buy her clothes than it is to pick out a book that she’ll actually read.

Sylvia nods her head vigorously here. 

So, I’ve decided to interview her and find out what she looks for in a book and how she decides what to read. And because we did this interview at home, one of her sisters, Surjee (9), joined in the conversation.

I’ll give her a chance to describe the books I’ve selected for her in her own words:

Surjee jumping in straight away: Boring.

Sylvia: Boooring! I don’t care. I just act like, “oh wow”, but I never read it. Then when you say, “I read this when I was your age,” I’m like “Yeah right, I’m not reading it now.”

How do you choose a book at the library or bookstore?

Surjee: I judge a book by its cover.

Sylvia: Yes, the cover is important, but it’s mostly the colors I look at.

Surjee: Like Falling In, boring. I mean come on—it’s boots. I never read past the 1st page.

Sylvia: Be glad you didn’t. It didn’t get any better. I read 3 pages.

So what makes you want to read a book?

Sylvia: If a lot of people have read it.

Surjee: If my friends like it.

Sylvia: The size of the words—if it’s too big it looks like a baby book, if it’s too little it just looks like you have to read the whole thing and it’ll take forever.

Surjee: I’ll only read it if it’s medium-sized words AND thickness.

Sylvia: And the last 3 pages better be interesting or I don’t read them. I’m just like, “Oh, I finished reading this.”

But if you’re in the bookstore or the library, how do you know you want to get that book?

Sylvia: I read the 1st page.

Surjee: Sometimes the 1st chapter.

Sylvia: It has to be funny. That’s most important. But also colorful, but not like pink. Not many kids like pink. And it should have an interesting title. Something cool like Dork Diaries because it sounds funny.

What about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE? Is that a good title? (that’s my book btw…)

Sylvia: It sounds okaaaay…. Mustaches are getting old. People will be like that’s so two years ago. Maybe Karma Khullar’s Instagram Account might be better.

Would you read a book your:

Teacher suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Mom suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Sylvia: The only thing you suggested that was good was Wonder.

Surjee: Harry Potter is the only book I liked you told me to read.

Yia yia suggested: Depends

Aunts suggested:

Sylvia: Might be weird because our cousins like some weird books… I would just look at the cover and decide. Usually if I don’t like it I just read while they’re there and then hide it on bookshelf like I did when Auntie Erica gave me Anne of Green Gables.

I’m going to email this blog post to the family I hope you know…

What’s your advice to adults buying books for a kid?

Sylvia: -The cover should match the personality of the kids.

-Read the 1st page- shouldn’t sound too formal. Diaries are more interesting.

-What’s going to happen must not be like these fairies are on a mission to find something.

-It can be outrageous or real, as long as it’s funny and interesting.

Surjee: Stick to graphic novels only.

You girls have definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m not sure you’ve really made my shopping any easier, but my take aways from this are:

  1. Before you buy a “classic” (Sylvia deems this any book you read as a kid and are trying to get your own child to read), ask yourself: Have I reread the book in the last 2 years? (you might be surprised how much of the book you didn’t really remember or even like any more.)
  1. The best sellers list is an excellent benchmark, but not the books with awards—those are liken to teacher/parent chosen books. Yes, New York Times Bestseller is MUCH more meaningful to your reader than a Caldecott Medal or Printz Award or a Newbery.
  1. Get the child in your life a gift card from the bookstore and save yourself the stress!

FullSizeRenderSylvia is flawless and can be found reading Dork Diaries when not taking selfies or eating tacos or taking selfies while eating tacos.

IMG_1099 Surjee never leaves home without her wand. When she’s not reading or watching Harry Potter she can be found reading Amulet or Zita the Spacegirl.

Photo on 3-19-15 at 1.23 PM #2 (1)

Kristi, their mom, endures the tireless mission of putting good books into their hands.

Interview with MG author Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Hi, Wendy. I’m really excited to talk to you not only because you recently revealed the cover of your debut upcoming book, It’s a mystery, Pig-Face, but also because you’ve got a unique story about how you got there!

Pig-Face Cover

Let’s start with the first question I’ve been dying to ask, how did you make the jump from CEO to author? I kind of imagine you yelling, “I quit!” and storming out of the office!

Ha! It was almost that dramatic (at least to me!) but not quite!

I had written years before and at university and it had always been my dream to write for children. But then I allowed working and having my own children to side-track me. Comments like “You can’t make a living as a writer”, “You have no connections in the industry” and “You don’t have an MFA” also didn’t help my confidence. So I kept working and I rose up through the ranks until I became head of my government’s Department of Education, overseeing a nearly billion dollar budget and hundreds of staff. I was at the top of the game, but I wasn’t happy, because the dream of writing was always there at the back of my mind. My father’s death was my wake-up call and my permission slip. What was I waiting for?

The day I gave notice was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I knew people would think it was foolish to walk away from such a good job to switch careers for something that might never pan out. Then I realized I didn’t care what other people thought. I was going to give this a shot, and I decided to apply the same principles to my new career that had gotten me to the top in my old one:

1) Be willing to change things when I got better information (the key is to become a good writer, not to think your work is so precious it can’t benefit from advice and criticism)
2) Be excellent. I can always tell when I’m cutting corners or being lazy. Cutting corners and being lazy doesn’t equal publication at least for me!
3) Be kind, optimistic, and patient. For the first two years, I had to be my own cheerleader because nothing was happening. I just had to believe the work I was putting into my writing would result in something wonderful. Even more importantly, I had to tell myself this wasn’t a race; others’ success did not mean I wouldn’t also have success.

Once you committed to writing, how many queries did you send out before you found your agent?

Oh the first year was horrendous! I hadn’t written in SO long, the business had changed so much and I lived hundreds of miles away from conferences that could have helped me. So I read tons of books on the craft of writing, took tons of online courses, wrote and rewrote, and hired professionals to give me critiques. It was very humbling to be starting all over again, and I queried WAY too early. I was sure everyone was waiting for my book. They weren’t. After about twenty or thirty queries I stopped, realized I was not following my own principle #2 and did a massive rewrite based on the feedback I was getting. I began to submit again in September 2014. I think I submitted to about 15 agencies that month and almost all of them asked for full or partial manuscripts. Finally, I could see the work I was doing was paying off. The week I signed with my agent, Lauren Galit of LKG Agency, I was in discussions with several other agents to represent me. But I chose Lauren because not only was she smart, she was witty and straightforward. The day Lauren signed me, I cried. It was almost two years after I’d left my old job and finally, I’ had a foot in the door! She sold my book a few months later!

What inspired this book?

The book is a kind of love letter to the small town where I grew up. The kids in our neighbourhood were always looking for mysteries to solve. If we couldn’t find one, we made one up, and not always successfully! Tracy, the main character in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, makes a lot of mistakes and assumptions about things based on how she sees the world.

Alright, now that we know you’re not only a super business lady and author, what’s another super power you’d like to add to your troupe?

Singer. I wish I could sing like Adele! Sadly, this one will likely evade me forever! It was not be my third career!

Do you write at night or in the morning?

Morning all the way.

Fill in the blank: I must have ______ when I’m writing.

I must have quiet when I’m writing and I must dither on the computer for exactly fifteen minutes. Don’t ask me why – maybe to get it out of my system?

Thanks, Wendy! It’s been fun. You can find out more about Wendy on her website and check out her books here.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a magical small town with a library card as her prized possession. Over the course of her professional life, she’s been responsible for early childhoWendy McLeod MacKnight 9565od and child welfare programming, and ended her public service career as head of the Government of New Brunswick’s Department of Education. Then one day she woke up and decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream of writing books for children. It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is her debut novel and any resemblance to the author is purely intentional. Wendy lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her family, Indy the Wonder Dog, her garden, and a ne’er-do-well groundhog.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave