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I recently read and blogged about all 15 middle grade novels on The Sunshine State Young Readers' Award List. I grouped the novels into categories to see what they have in common.

1. Contemporary or Historical? - Eleven books on the list have a contemporary setting and four are historical fiction.

2. Humorous? Three of the books are humorous: THE MISADVENTURES OF MAUDE MARCH, AIRBALL MY LIFE IN BRIEFS, and SCHOOLED.

3. Multicultural? Four books deal with different cultures: LA LINEA, HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET, THE ENTERTAINER AND THE DYBBUK, and GABRIEL'S HORSES.

4. Elements of Fantasy? Though it varies widely, seven of the books fit this category. ALL THE LOVELY BAD ONES and THE ENTERTAINER AND THE DYBBUK are ghost stories. FIRST LIGHT and GO BIG OR GO HOME are science fiction. DRAGON SLIPPERS and INTO THE WILD are more like fairytales, while FOUND is action/adventure.

5. Problem Novels? Three of the books fit this description: WING NUT, LA LINEA, and RUNAWAY. These are the books that I will long remember because they caused me to think about hard issues and see the world outside my own experiences.

All of the books have great writing in common. Though I enjoyed each and every one, my three favorites are THE MISADVENTURES OF MAUDE MARCH, LA LINEA, and RUNAWAY.

Congratulations to the authors who had a book on the 2009/2010 list!

The cover art of this middle grade novel first caught my eye. We have three boys with oversized feet, skinny legs, and all wearing funky boxer shorts. I immediately knew this book would make me laugh!

I read an interview with L.D. Harkrader in which she said the inspiration for this story came from The Emperor's New Clothes. How cool is that.

Our protagonist is seventh-grader, Kirby Nickel. Kirby has very little natural athletic ability, but in a small Kansas town, he makes the basketball team anyway. Everyone does.

Coach is determined to turn this no-talent team into champions. He gives them STEALTH SPORTSWEAR, which in reality means the boys are playing in their underwear. But then a strange thing happens: the boys actually play better in their underwear.

This book is humorous and it has heart. Kirby learns a lot about himself as he becomes a decent basketball player. In the end, Kirby finds what he wants most in the world, and most importantly it wants him too.

FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead

FIRST LIGHT is the debut novel of Newberry Award winning author, Rebecca Stead. The book has elements of fantasy, science fiction, adventure and mystery.

Peter joins his parents on an expedition to Greenland, where his father will study global warming. The trip should be an adventure, but on the ice cap, Peter is troubled with headaches and visions.

Meanwhile Thea has never seen the sun. Her people live deep inside the arctic ice. When Peter and Thea's lives collide, they discover a secret connection between their families. Time is running out for Thea's homeland. The teens need a plan to save the people of Gracehope.

I really enjoyed FIRST LIGHT and plan to read WHEN YOU REACH ME. Have any of you read both books? I'm wondering what they have in common.

May. 9th, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kelly! Hope it's your best one yet.

Author Steve Weber gives lots of tips for online marketing in PLUG YOUR BOOK. Some that I found particularly helpful include:

1. Find readers in your target audience and give them your book. Ask them to post an honest critique on Amazon.

2. Correspond with readers who enjoyed your book, and ask if they could spare the time to write a review on Amazon.

3. Target specialized magazines and trade publications.

4. Become a "librarything author."

5. Go on a blog tour.

6. Add your book title to your Amazon pen name so that it's displayed when you post reviews.

7. Offer book excerpts or sample chapters PDF download from your website.

8. Use the specialized features on Amazon (e.g. making a search suggestion).

9. Auction a single copy of your book on eBay in one or more subject categories.

10. Pursue affiliate sales on websites that specialize in material related to your book.

RUNAWAY by Wendelin Van Draanen

Twelve-year-old Holly runs away from an abusive foster home and makes her way cross country to California. Her life is a continual struggle to find food and shelter. Holly's story unfolds as she writes in a journal given to her by her teacher. The journal becomes Holly's lifeline - her most precious possession.

Author Wendelin Van Draanen researched this book by sneaking into the cargo hold of a bus, staying in a homeless shelter, and camping in the wilderness without supplies.

This book really made me think about the problems faced by runaway teens. Is there a significant homeless population in the place where you live?

HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET by Sherri L. Smith

The novel HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET all takes place in one day - Ana Shen's eighth grade graduation day. Ana is salutatorian of her class and just as she starts her graduation speech, something very unexpected happens and the rest of the ceremony is canceled. But Ana's problems are just beginning.

Ana's father is Chinese American and her mother is African American. The two sets of grandparents don't get along very well and always compete for Ana's attention. When the whole family takes over the kitchen to cook for Ana's graduation party, it's a recipe for disaster. Especially since her arch rival shows up unexpectedly, the boy she's crushing on comes with his bigoted father, and her grandmothers are ready to slug it out. Still the hot, sour, salty, and sweet meal shows Ana that different flavors and different heritages can blend together perfectly.


Ann Whitford Paul gives great tips for choosing a book title in WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. I think the tips work equally well for novels.

While not every title will contain all of the characteristics, these tips are a smart place to start in evaluating possible choices. Is your title...

1. Brief
2. Catchy
3. Unique
4. Straightforward

Does it...

5. Express the Mood of the Book
6. Hint at What the Book Is About
7. Create Suspense
8. Give the Artist an Idea for the Cover Illustration
9. Include the Main Character's Name
10. Use a Catchy Line From Your Manuscript

Make sure...
11. The Title Doesn't Give Away the Ending
12. That A Child Can Easily Say It Out Loud (for picture books)

I compiled a list of possible titles and several of my critique buddies made suggestions. I used Ann Whitford Paul's book to evaluate the choices. I selected WHEN SARAH WASN'T LOOKING because it's unique. A quick check of Amazon.com shows me that it hasn't been used before. That's important because I want readers to be able to find my book without searching too hard. WHEN SARAH WASN'T LOOKING also delivers on #'s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11.

All in all I think it's a great title choice. Thanks to my friend Barbara Krasner for suggesting it.

The librarians who select the books for the Sunshine State Young Readers Award Program do a fantastic job of picking books that will appeal to middle schoolers. But what impresses me most is the number of great books they choose with male protagonists.

I had never heard of author Gordon Korman, but a quick check at his website tells me that he has published more than 55 books with over seven million copies sold. Mr. Korman has written several series as well as lots of stand alone titles.

I loved reading SCHOOLED and found myself chuckling during most of it. Our protagonist Capricorn (Cap) Anderson grew up on a commune. His hippie grandmother, Rain, homeschools him and he has little contact with the outside world. When Rain falls and breaks her hip, Cap is forced to live with a middle school guidance counselor and attend middle school.

Because of Cap's weirdness, (he's never handled money, watched TV, doesn't own a cell phone, and dresses straight out of the 1960's), he is elected class president as a prank. What follows is both hilarious and heartwarming.

Tip for writers: The book is told from the viewpoints of several different characters. Each chapter starts out like this Name: Capricorn Anderson, Name: Mrs. Donnelly, Name: Hugh Winkleman. It's an effective way to get the inside scoop on all the major characters in this story.


For readers interested in "boy books" let me introduce you to the novels of author Will Hobbs. He's published seventeen of them and I just finished his latest GO BIG OR GO HOME.

The action starts when a meteorite crashes through the roof of Brady's house, tears through his mattress and lands underneath his bed. Brady can't wait to share the excitement with his cousin, Quinn.

Quinn comes for a visit and the boys show the rock to a professor at a nearby museum. He wants to study the rock, hoping to prove that there is life on Mars.

In the meantime, Brady and Quinn go mountain biking, camping, and caving. The boys are stunned when Brady is suddenly able to perform athletic feats that he's never been able to do before. But Brady also develops symptoms of a terrible illness. He wonders if the meteorite is responsible for both his new athletic abilites and his sickness.

GO BIG OR GO HOME is chock full of action as the boys race to save Brady's life.

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