Four on 400 December Contest Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

THE BOY WHO FELL SIDEWAYS (MG Adventure)

The later it got, the more unfair it seemed.

Why do they get to go? Why not me?

Graeme tossed and turned as the grandfather clock ticked away the early morning hours.

I’m far more fluent in Shianese than Keith, and I’m better than Patricia at… well… nothing really. But crossing an Edge has always been my dream!
A toe poked out from under his blankets. He kicked in frustration, leaving his entire leg goosebumping in the cold night air.

And now I’m wide awake. I won’t get any sleep, and I’ll be cross and dopey for my first day at stupid Maydales, and I’ll never make any friends, and…
He lay back and envisioned his favourite fantasy, the one his much-older siblings would soon experience. Crossing an Edge of the cube-shaped world, and being Sideways.

Sideways! Where he’d walk on walls like a fly and slide up a slope. His gravity from here at home would stick to him for some weeks, until he eventually regravified. But before then…! All the experiments he could try! He’d be a bit scared, no doubt. If he were to fall, his gravity would pull him along, shooting across the landscape like a crossbow bolt. Of course, that wasn’t very likely. The embassy city was safe and well-designed, equally accessible to Shian residents and Anglian visitors.

Suddenly, Graeme sat up. He had a plan. He’d been making it for weeks without admitting it. He got up, dressed, tiptoed to the front hall, and searched the piles of his sister’s luggage, carefully stacked for the early-morning wagon.

Am I really going to do this?

There it was. The largest of Patricia’s specimen cases. Eventually, she would pack it with fascinating flora and fauna samples. But for the outbound trip to Shian, empty. Nearly five feet long, sturdy, padded, and pierced with air holes. A label even marked it “Fragile,” so it wouldn’t end up at the bottom of a pile in the ship’s hold.

Graeme sucked in a deep breath, opened the case and climbed in. He took a final look around the house, so comfortable, the site of so many memories, and nearly lost his nerve. But then he saw his ugly little trunk, full of his new school uniform and his old, tired life; and he lay back and closed the lid.

Laurel: Wow! You’ve packed lots of story into a small space and a very clear kickoff to adventure. Tiny things: “Why do they get to go?” in the second line threw me out and doesn’t feel–to me–as original and gripping as the rest of the piece. Personally, I’d rather get to know Graeme a little more before I hear his voice directly. I don’t think the reader would miss that line if it were gone. I wasn’t positive that “no doubt” was right for Graeme’s voice but I don’t know him and you very clearly do. I love the Sideways concept and the idea that someone can be regravified. Well done! I wonder what’s going to happen next!

Kristi: This is fantastic! I was so sucked in to the story and I love it when a story gives me so much action, but also so many hints at what’s going on ALL without feeling rushed or info dumped. I did feel the change of POV wasn’t really working. Maybe if those parts where in italics? BUT, I would need a good reason for it– and I’d be willing to read a chapter like that as long as it was clear by chapter two why it’s written as such. The only other comment I have is, won’t his sister notice her case is heavy? Otherwise, I love this!

Gabrielle: This is such a unique concept, and I think you’ve got a good start. Kristi points out the changing POV and I agree–that’s jarring. I think you could stand to slow this way down and let us feel it with him more. He comes to his plan too fast. The alternative would be to have him in bed already knowing what he’s going to do, but going over it all in his head–thinking it through, feeling where he is now for the last time. I think this could work really well, with inherent tension as he’s lying in bed freaking out. You’ve got some telling still happening. Try focusing on the micro. It’s the details that will draw us in and avoid those pitfalls.. What are his specific memories as he’s saying goodbye? What will he miss?  You’re on the right track with lines like – goosebumping in the cold night air. I love the line about his old truck too. Give us more detail, and spin it out for us so we’re right there with Graeme and this will be a very memorable story!

Julie: You’ve given us a tantalizing glimpse of a pretty cool world (which feels fantasy/sci-fi to me, not just straight contemporary adventure) and I love the title. I agree with what the others have said about the POV change. I think you’re switching between internals and third person narration, but it’s pretty jarring, especially for the opening page. The theme of him frustrated over being left behind at Maydales as his older sister get to cross the Edge feels great for middle grade, as does the idea that he’d stow away. But it feels a little rushed, which is keeping us from FEELING Graeme’s frustration building up to the point that he stows away. As Gabby said, slowing down and giving us more sensory details will ground us in the world and in Graeme’s experiences.

Best of luck!

Middle Grade Fantasy: A Roundup of Modern Classics

Part of the fun of writing fiction is that you never know exactly what’s going to happen when you sit down at your desk. Still, I have generally leaned toward writing realistic, contemporary stories, and that’s what I’ve read for the last several years (to the exclusion of nearly everything else).

So when I started on my current work-in-progress, the last thing I expected was for it to be a fantasy, much less a fairy tale. But when my protagonist pricked her finger on a thorn from the stem of a rose (while sitting in a castle tower) on the very first page of my very first draft, I knew right away that I didn’t have a choice––I was about to plunge head first into a world of my own creation.

As I started to explore the genre, I realized the landscape had changed quite a bit since the days of THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, HARRY POTTER, and NARNIA. Needless to say, I had my reading cut out for me.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I’d been missing out on a whole slew of amazing stories and gorgeous writing. From THE PRINCESS ACADEMY to THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (and everything in between), the genre quickly captured my heart.

I figure I can’t be the only one who has neglected the fantasy realm as an adult, so I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve been exploring. Whether you are new to the genre or you are searching for holiday gifts, here is a sample of some of the “modern classics” I think you (and the kids in your life) will find well worth your time:

Happy Reading! (And if you have more fantastic MG fantasy to suggest, please share in the comments below.)

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

Jessica Vitalis is a middle grade author represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, Jessica volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor and with the We Need Diverse Books campaign. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Ontario or eating copious amounts of chocolate.

Dear The Phantom Tollbooth

Oh, this strange, wonderful, wise book. Every month, I’m writing a love letter to a book that has shaped me, and this month, it’s The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

For those poor souls who haven’t yet read this classic, it’s the story of Milo, who comes home from school one day to find a tollbooth addressed to him. He drives his toy car through it and enters the magical Kingdom of Reason, where he discovers two warring kings, Azaz the Unabridged, who believes words matter more than numbers, and his brother, the Mathemagician, who is equally certain that numbers are more important than words. Milo embarks on a quest to reunite the kings and save the land by rescuing the twin sisters of the kings, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason, who have been exiled to the Castle in the Air. Joining him on the journey are Tock, a dog whose belly is a huge watch, and the Humbug, a gruff and self-important beetle.

The language is absurd and delicious. Juster excels at word play and puns, and each sentence can be unpacked for layers of meaning and added delight. Here are a few gems:

“Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.”

“If something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”

You want to linger over each sentence, but Juster pulls you along with Milo and his crew to the next adventure, which is bound to be even more fantastic and silly than the last.

Hidden in amongst the bizarre and the playful, though, are some real nuggets of wisdom. For instance, Milo learns on his journey that one can easily jump to the island of Conclusions, but the only way out is a long, hard swim through the Sea of Knowledge.

When Milo finally makes it to the princesses, he laments, “[W]e would have been here much sooner if I hadn’t made so many mistakes. I’m afraid it’s all my fault.”

Princess Reason responds, “You must never feel badly about making mistakes…as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

I recently read The Phantom Tollbooth to my nine-year-old. I was pleased to find that as an adult I felt the same delight I had as a child, luxuriating in Juster’s language. My son’s guffaws made clear that this book, now more than fifty years old, holds up well.

More surprising, though, was to realize how much the book had shaped me. The Phantom Tollbooth introduced me, a devoted rule-following kid, to the joys of a journey with lots of side trips and missteps, and to playing around with language just because it is fun to do so. It is a lesson I am still learning.

I also believe that it is due to The Phantom Tollbooth that I view the greatest and most moral of skills to be the fair and peaceful resolution of disputes. As a child, I wanted nothing so much as to be the lovely, kind, just, and intelligent princesses. I think I became a lawyer because of them.

I still feel a catch in my heart at their description: “They were dressed all in white and were beautiful beyond compare. One was grave and quiet, with a look of warm understanding in her eyes, and the other seemed gay and joyful.” Rhyme’s laugh was “as friendly as the mailman’s ring when you know there’s a letter for you.”

Wouldn’t you want to be them? Don’t you?

And while I know that I will never achieve their heights of calm wisdom and lighthearted reassurance, this book taught me that it is worthwhile to strive for those things. It taught me that reason and compassion can save almost anything.

Favorite Quote:

So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

Kate Hillyer loves reading aloud, mostly because of the guffaws. She writes middle grade stories about brave girls who fight for the things they love. She blogs here and at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. You can find her online at www.katehillyer.com and on Twitter as @SuperKate. She also has a book blog, www.kidbooklist.com, and lucky dog, she gets to be a Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. 

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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.

 

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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!

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