Monday, January 15, 2018

Reframing Your Thinking

Over the weekend I was at a meet with the all-girls robotics team I mentor. After winning the first match, the robot was riddled with small problems, connectivity issues, and just generally not functioning in the way it had in the past. Most the girls were disappointed but taking it in stride. One individual however, began to get upset, focusing on the fact that the coed team at their school was beating them. This was a full stop for me. I realized that this individual was focusing on the wrong things. Winning and losing had become more important than the main reason this team started, which was to build confidence in young women, get them excited about STEM, teach them to code and use tools, and help them learn to problem solve. And that is what this team has done time and time again. Sure winning is great, but it's a corollary to all the other things this team does so successfully--help girls grow, develop, be confident, and get engaged in STEM.

So what does all this have to do with writing?

Great question!

Quite a lot actually. I think as writers we often get so hung up on the fact that we aren't published, don't have an agent, didn't make this list, didn't get nominated for that award, aren't selling books and on and on and on. We see other writers doing exactly what we can't and wonder why, wonder if we're any good, wonder if we can compete with that. We compare ourselves to others rather than thinking about what we're really trying to accomplish.

We need to reframe our thinking. I mean sure we all want to get agents and get published and make all our writing dreams come true. That said, we really need to take a step back and understand why we write what we do and what we are trying to accomplish by doing so. And realize that there a lot of roads to getting there. Just because something worked for someone else doesn't necessarily mean it's the right path for you.
But reframing thinking is just the first step. Going back to the robotics team for a minute, once we were focusing on what the team was really about, the team still had issues to work through. We had to get to the root of the problem. After this particular match that didn't go well, the cable to the phone had come loose and the phone was no longer connected to the robot. This meant the robot couldn't receive any commands from the controls. We looked at the root of the problem which was we had a bad connection and needed a new cable. Once we fixed that, the robot stayed connected in the next match, and the team won again.

So once again what does this have to do with writing? Sometimes we get so focused on the details and that the overall goal that isn't getting accomplished, we end up in a fog and can't get anything done because we can't see what the real problem is anymore. In writing when we aren't able to meet our goals, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What am I really trying to accomplish here and what is preventing me from doing that?" Sometimes the answer is really simple, you can correct it and be on your way. Other times it's not so simple and the issue requires some extra thought and work. But again by reframing where your focus is, you can often see things in a new light.
As we start a new year, I encourage everyone to take a step back in 2018. Think about what's really important in your writing, why you do it, and if you aren't succeeding, what is the real root of the problem. Then get to work and start fixing it! 2018 can be a great year, you just have to reframe your thinking a little and start with something fresh.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Middle Grade Movies to Entice Reluctant Readers

Just about everyone loves movies. They’re big, exciting, and capture our ever-shifting attention. But they can’t compete with books for stimulating thought and imagination. 

Both books and movies have an important place in our culture and in our learning. But with all the hype and fun surrounding movies, how do we persuade reluctant readers to give reading (and their imaginations) a chance?


  • Novels spark readers’ creativity, they prompt us to ponder life and to consider new and different places and situations. 
  • When we take the time to read a novel, we are investing in it. This investment pays off. 
  • Novels provide hours of entertainment. The stories stick with us, even years later. 
  • There’s also a payoff of increased knowledge, thought, and mental development. 


Despite the awesome perks of reading, sometimes it’s tough to convince kids to crack open a book. But if they know the book has been made into a movie, sometimes that can be just the motivation they need. Especially if Mom or Dad require the reading before the movie watching. 

This has worked wonders in my family. The kids not only read the books, but sometimes develop a fascination for a series that grows into an appetite for reading in general. 

They also start to realize films must gloss over detail to fit into a couple hours. They start to recognize the richness of the reading experience, both in the added detail and in the room for imagination.

With this in mind, here’s some great middle grade books that have been made into movies. Enjoy!


Harry Potter (series)

Percy Jackson (series)

Chronicles of Narnia (series)

The Hobbit (series)


Goosebumps (series)

A Wrinkle in Time (series)


Alice in Wonderland

The Golden Compass

What are some of your favorite middle grade books that have been made into movies? What do you love about the film version and the book version?

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things, by Beth Hautala

The world needs this book.

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things, by Beth Hautala, was a story I could not put down. Seriously. I read it in two days.  

Eleven-year-old Olivia wishes things could go back to the way they were before her brother Jacob lost his toy ostrich. Ever since he lost it, his autism has seemed much worse. Olivia loves Jacob, but is frustrated with his meltdowns. She wishes she had a more “normal” family, where they don’t have to do things in any particular way, don’t have to worry about crowds or driving slowly on back roads, and don’t have a bunch of doctors and therapists coming over to the house to “observe”. Maybe, if Olivia can find the toy ostrich, things will go back to how they were before.

When the local community theater holds auditions for a children’s production of Olivia’s favorite play, Peter Pan, Olivia jumps at the chance to do something for herself. She auditions and gets the part of Peter, which is great except that her parents push Jacob to audition too. With Jacob in the play, Olivia knows something will go wrong. It always does.

Of course, things go crazy onstage and off. What’s crazier than a real, live ostrich that keeps escaping from the local traveling zoo and showing up in Olivia’s backyard? Is he trying to send her a message about things that are lost? About the power of Jacob’s toy ostrich to return things to normal?

As Olivia befriends Charlie, a blind boy who lives with his mom in a trailer behind the traveling zoo, she discovers that “normal” doesn’t mean what she thinks it does. Olivia loves Charlie’s positive spirit and willingness to help search for Jacob’s toy. But when Olivia opens up about her frustrations with her brother, Charlie questions her. He says, “So, just to be sure I’m getting this straight, you want the kind of family where everyone is healthy? And where you can do stuff together, and go places together, and everyone behaves themselves, and no one gets too worked up? So, not like the kind of family that lives at a zoo, and where someone is blind or anything? Normal like that?”

Instantly, Olivia is sorry. When she’s around Charlie, it isn’t awkward or scary or weird at all. But understandably, Charlie doesn’t want to be her friend right now. Olivia feels all alone. Jacob’s meltdowns are turning physical, he has an outburst during Peter Pan, and then he destroys her beloved costume.

And then the worst thing of all happens. Jacob goes missing. He runs away from home and Olivia knows it’s because of a mean thing she said to him.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I will leave you with this quote from Charlie, a good friend who teaches Olivia a few things about love and forgiveness:

“Look, people who are hurting say and do hurtful things,” he went on. “…when you hurt someone you love, either by accident or on purpose, you can always go back and work on the broken places. They might not look exactly like they did before, but they can be even better in the end. Stronger.”

 And here’s a closing thought from Olivia:

“Charlie and my brother and an ostrich had shown me how to look inside people, where they were the most real, the most lost, and to love them anyway.”

As Olivia says, learning to love is hard. 

But there’s nothing more important.

My rating: Five stars. Heartfelt, lyrical writing. A story that will open your heart to the power of unconditional love.

The Ostrich and Other Lost Things is coming February, 2018 from Philomel Books.

Here’s where you can preorder this amazing book:






Friday, December 29, 2017

The End of 2017 and the Beginning of 2018

Welcome to the end of 2017! In a matter of days our calendars will roll over to a new month, and a new year ripe with potential will begin. Today some of the contributors at Middle Grade Minded will be sharing some of our favorite books (or bookish moments) from 2017, and some of the things we’re looking forward to in 2018.

Stefanie Wass
My favorite middle grade of 2017 was THE WAY TO BEA, by Kat Yeh. It is wonderful to imagine a world where we don't label someone right away. Instead, we get to know them first. The takeaway from this book is simple: Love is love is love. My best middle grade moment was being selected for Pitch Wars 2017. After two months of hard work under the supportive, insightful eye of my mentor, Julia Nobel, my middle grade contemporary manuscript emerged with tighter tension, faster pacing, and a heightened sense of mystery. I can't wait to see what lies ahead for this manuscript in 2018!

Jamie Krakover
My favorite middle grade book this year was MRS SMITH'S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. I loved Abby, the kick butt heroine and all of her sass and wit. This book was loaded with adventure and strong female characters plus spies. What more could you want?

In terms of favorite middle school memories, I was bullied a lot in middle school, but aside from Math and Science classes which I loved, I managed to find a safe haven and a friend in the school library. Which is odd looking back because at the time, I wasn't a huge reader, but I'm glad I had that safe space where I could be my crazy, goofy self.

In 2018 I'm looking forward to new beginnings and getting back to writing and working on some middle grade projects.

Tom Mulroy
There were several phenomenal middle grade books released last year, but the one that easily affected me the most was THE DOLLMAKER OF KRAKOW by R.M. Romero, a seamless blend of fantasy and historical fiction told with an extraordinary voice. Beyond that my best Middle Grade Day was attending a young author’s conference that gave me the opportunities to meet authors Jacqueline West and Kelly Barnhill. As far as the coming year goes, I’m anxious to start working on some new ideas and getting at least one more manuscript out into the world!

Wendy McLeod MacKnight
My favourite middle grade read this year was ORPHAN ISLAND - it left me with so many questions and theories and was a beautiful story about the transition out of childhood.

My best middle grade memory was the publication of my first book, IT’S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE! It was the culmination of many years of hard work and many years of dreaming!

I’m excited about 2018! Greenwillow Books will publish my second novel, THE FRAME UP, in June, and I’m looking forward to school visits and hopefully, an opportunity to finally meet a lot of my writer friends!

Kim Ventrella
My favorite 2017 release was ALL'S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson. As always, so funny and spot-on in terms of recreating all of those awkward childhood moments. Also, it totally made me want to work at a renaissance faire!!! My best MG memory was the publication of my debut novel, SKELETON TREE! It was SO AWESOME!!! (Yes, there are a lot of exclamation points in this post)! In 2018, I'm most looking forward to writing full-time. Yup, it's true, I will finally be fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a starving artist!!!

Shari Green
I recently shared three of my fave 2017 MG reads, but the one that had perhaps the biggest impact on me as a writer was WISHTREE, by Katherine Applegate. It spoke to me of possibility, reminding me how many different ways we can choose to tell a story, and how marvellously receptive kids and the kidlit community are to hearing stories told in all manner of voices and formats. I felt encouraged to stay out of writing ruts, to experiment, to play, and above all, to tell stories in whatever way they need to be told.

In 2017, one of the best MG moments for me personally was having my books selected for several provincial readers’-choice programs. It’s an honour and a thrill being part of any program that involves putting books in kids’ hands!

As 2018 nears, I’m super-excited about attending the OLA’s Festival of Trees as a Silver Birch award-nominee author, launching my third MG book (MISSING MIKE), and writing something new!

Monday, December 25, 2017

New Year's Resolutions for Writers

I love New Year's resolutions! What can I say, I guess I've always been a dreamer :) And 2018 is going to be particularly awesome, because I'm quitting my day job to write full time!!! I have SO MANY goals for this upcoming year, but in terms of writing I want to spend more time operating in the 'learning zone.' This is different from the 'performance zone' where you have deadlines, high stakes and probably high stress. The 'learning zone' is where we can break down writing into its component parts and spend time improving each of these skills. For a complete discussion of the 'learning zone' vs. 'performance zone', see this great TED Talk by Eduardo Briceño.

So, here are some of the ideas I have for improving my writing in the 'learning zone' this year. Hopefully, they can be of some use to you as well.

Blank Notebook

1. Analyze books from a writer's perspective and start a dedicated notebook where I record what I learn. I often have these breakthrough moments when I'm analyzing a novel and I say, 'oh, that's how it's done!' but then I don't take notes and I inevitably forget everything I've learned. No more in 2018! I'm starting a dedicated notebook to record my eureka moments, and I want to analyze more books from a writing perspective, too. Let's say 24 total.

Ufo Crash

2. Write and read outside of my genre/area of expertise. I want to broaden my perspective as a writer by reading books that are wildly different from what I usually read and writing stories, in new genres or using new styles, that I never plan to show to anyone (ever). Maybe I'll try a sci-fi western in first person present, or, horror upon horrors, a romance :P This would also be a great way to experiment, in a no pressure environment, with skills that I'm not completely comfortable with, like writing books with large casts.

3. Listen to other writers talk about their craft and spend time doing writing exercises, even and especially when they don't relate directly to a piece I have under contract. I love the podcast Writing Excuses, but I've never actually tried one of the exercises that they give at the end of every episode. That will change in 2018!

4. Read more for pleasure. Not every type of reading should involve notes, so I also want to read more for fun more in 2018, focusing on library books and books I already own (since I will officially be a starving artist). I'm going to set my goal low, at another 24 books, which brings me to 48 total, including the titles I plan to analyze. That's only one book a week (with four bonus weeks), which means I'll hopefully be setting myself up to exceed my goal!

As I'm putting these resolutions into practice, it's my hope that I'll identify some specific areas of my writing that need work and then I can hone those skills through reading and practice. Hopefully these resolutions have given you something to think about as we get ready for 2018, and here's wishing an adventurous, productive year to all!!!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Three Lists of Three (a.k.a. Books! More books!)

For me, one of the best things about any holiday time is catching up on my to-be-read pile. I will never have that pile under control--never ever--but I sure do enjoy days when the only thing on my to-do list is read. 

For some reason, I read less than usual in 2017. I'm not happy about that, but still, I'm thankful for all the excellent stories I stumbled across. I read some wonderful books, and there are many more waiting for me. Today, I'd love to share some of those books with you, so voilà! Three lists of three. (Not necessarily top three, but top-ish…)

Three of my favorite middle grade reads of 2017:
  • Rules for Stealing Stars, by Corey Ann Haydu
  • Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate
  • Forget Me Not, by Ellie Terry

Three 2017 middle grade books I haven’t read yet but am really looking forward to:
  • The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City, by Jodi Kendall
  • Two Times a Traitor, by Karen Bass
  • The Someday Birds, by Sally J. Pla

Three of my most anticipated middle grade books of 2018:
  • A Possibility of Whales, by Karen Rivers (March 13)
  • Every Shiny Thing, by Cordelia Jensen (April 17)
  • Where the Watermelons Grow, by Cindy Baldwin (July 3)

It's highly unlikely I'll run out of things to read, but please, just in case, share your fave reads of 2017 and most anticipated reads of 2018 in the comments. Thanks! 

Wishing you many hours of uninterrupted reading time this holiday season. Also, peace, joy, and love in abundance. :) 

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Year in Middle Grade

It's my last Middle Grade Minded Post for the year and I can't help but look back.

This has been a wonderful year for middle grade books.

You can't help but feel that a year that gave us Orphan Island, Refugee, Wishtree, The Stars Beneath our Feet, The War I Finally Won, The Dollmaker of Krakow, and Patina to name but a few, is a good year.


#ownvoices and #weneeddiversebooks became a rallying cry within the industry and brought us new and wonderful stories:



And then there were the delights of just wonderfully funny and thrilling and epic MG, always the best antidote for everything negative in this world:



And heartwarming and inspiring tales:




In no way is this an exhaustive list, but these books helped me get through 2017, and made the world shine a little brighter for me.

Now, more than ever, we need middle grade novels that inspire, transport and delight readers. 

We live in a complicated world.

Sometimes we want to escape from it in a book.

Sometimes we want to understand it by reading a book.

Sometimes we want heroines and heroes who vanquish foes, kids who figure things out, animals and trees that have a different kind of wisdom, families that aren't perfect but keep trying, friendships that are messy but fulfilling.

Sometimes, we need hope.

I found all of that in the middle grade novels I read this year.

And if 2017 is any indication of the quality of middle grade literature, I look forward to 2018 with open arms, with my library card and wallet in one hand, my TBR list in the other, and a heart full of gladness for the creativity and respect for children shown by our middle grade authors.

I hope you have a wonderful and peaceful holiday season and look forward to more blog posts in 2018!