Tag Archive: MG



This blog post is a response to a Huffington Post UK article which argues that J.K. Rowling’s success is hindering the success of up-and-coming writers. If you think that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. Blaming lack of success on someone else’s good-fortune is a little narcissistic and certainly counterproductive. But I’m not here to defend Rowling (who has earned her place in world literature).

No, I’m want to address my concerns with the second paragraph. She says:

I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?

-Lynn Shepherd, Huffington Post UK, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing So Much She Should Stop Doing It

(A little advice: if you want your criticism of a book/series to be taken seriously, you need to attempt to read that particular work, even if it’s only a few sentences. At least you can say you tried.)

As a whole, children’s fiction can encompass a broad age range. From picture books and Beginning Readers to the young adult genre. However, when I say “children’s fiction” in this blog post I refer to the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) genres because that is what I have the most experience with.

The idea that children’s fiction is not “stimulating” for “grown-up minds” is ludicrous.

Not because they are what I write and read the most. But because this is absolutely untrue. And that is why I love those genres. I have learned more about how to write well from books like The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games than I have from most of the adult fiction I’ve read (and I’ve been reading in the adult section since I was twelve or thirteen).

My first issue with her statement has nothing to do with that appropriateness of an adult reading children’s fiction, it’s simply part of good parenting (or so my mom tells me):

If your child is reading a book, you should take the time to read it as well.

My mom and I were always passing books back and forth and thus we were able to talk about what I was reading (Still do, actually). It’s part of being involved in a child’s education and staying aware of what they are learning. Most of my thoughts and opinions are the way they are, not because my parents forced them on me, but because we had (and still have) frank discussions that allowed me to explore my own opinions.

Now it’s great (phenomenal!) if you take the time to read to your kids. Some of my best memories are of the half hour or so my mom would spend reading with my brother and I before bedtime (I used to get in so much trouble for staying up to read ahead). Those experiences are part of why I love to read. (Thanks Mom!) But even if they’re past that age where reading together is “cool”—or it’s not practical for your family right now—keep abreast of what your kids are reading.

That brings me to my second issue.

In the grand scheme of things, the Harry Potter series is only seven books (granted, some of them are gargantuan). Now that may seem like a lot to some people. But let’s break it down.

If the average person reads eight books a year and they start reading consistently at ten and the average lifespan is 78 years (these are based on vague internet statistics, if you have better stats, post in the comments), then an average person can expect to read 500+ books in a life time. The Harry Potter series is 1% of the total books a person will read in their lifetime. One. Percent. There will be plenty of time and (hopefully) opportunity to read other books of varying age brackets.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with the above statement.

Children’s literature is NOT inferior to adult literature. In fact, I think that authors of children’s literature probably have more difficulty than someone who writes for an adult audience.

For one thing, kids are far more likely to be…um, frank (brutal) when they don’t like something. They have no problem saying, “This is dumb. You’re dumb. Why do I have to read this?” (I used to work with kids and I still work with teens, so this is from experience.)

The other challenge MG & YA authors face is length.

A typical middle grade novel is going to be under 40,000 words (established authors may have more wiggle room). To put that in perspective an adult novel is usually double that number; Sci Fi and fantasy can end up pushing 100k words.

Because they have limited space, I find that MG & YA authors have to be more intelligent and concise in their writing than their colleagues that aim for the older audience. EVERY word counts for double. They only have 40k words (70k in YA) to develop the plot, expose character, reveal backstory and maybe throw in a theme. And it has to be entertaining. How long do you think a bored twelve-year-old will keep reading?

Now for those of you that padded your college essays with shady spacing and chili recipes, this might not seem like a big issue. But us writers? We’re the ones that spent all night trying to figure out how to cut 2500 words down to a thousand and always ended up turning essays with at least one page more than required. I’m not saying this makes us better than you, it’s just that…we like to write.

My point is that the grown-up brain can benefit from reading fiction even if it’s marketed to younger readers (and it’s all about marketing). I am consistently surprised by the depth of storytelling in MG & YA novels. If you want examples, I would suggest the Percy Jackson series, anything by John Green, Ally Carter’s books, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Finally, children’s fiction is just as capable of making us to question society and our own opinions. More so I find sometimes. Most of the adult fiction I’ve read feels more geared towards escapism. It’s the YA books that make me sit up and think about the world. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

And don’t forget, some of literature’s favorite classics are classified as “young adult”. For your perusal, I present this list (cross-referenced between Barnes & Noble’s website and Goodreads.com). Tell me you don’t recognize some titles that cover issues we still talk about today:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So what do you think? Do you enjoy middle grade and young adult fiction? What are some of the reasons you like these genres? Can you think of any examples where a MG or YA author displayed fantastic story-telling?

Many thanks to my friend Dot Hutchison, who can be found at dothutchison.com, for answering all my questions and children’s lit. Also, you should check out her book, A Wounded Name. It is one of the two versions of Hamlet I approve of (the other being The Lion King)

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Artemis Fowl #7: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

Ages 12 and up

Artemis Fowl has just turned fifteen and he’s ready to do something that he has never done before: Save the world–willingly. It should be simple shouldn’t it? With the best of both human and fairy technology at his disposal, Artemis has discovered a workable way to slow down global warming. But unfortunately, it seems that any time that Artemis and Captain Holly Short occupy the same space trouble is bound to follow. Artemis and his friends find themselves under attack from an enemy that Holly had forgotten she had. And if that isn’t enough, Artemis seems to be suffering from Atlantis Complex, a rare fairy psychosis that couldn’t have picked a worse time to develop. As Artemis, Holly, and friends try to get to the bottom of both the attack on themselves and the subsequent attack on Atlantis (because, ofcourse, they are related) they must also contend with Artemis’ growing paranoia and a split personality that brings to light things that Holly would rather stay hidden. Will Artemis’ distrust of even his friends keep them from saving the fairy folk yet again, or can Artemis overcome his new nemesis–his mind.

The Artemis Fowl books are books that definitely deserve a permanent home on my bookshelf. And once they’ve settled on one cover design, they will have one. I discovered this series through a friend, who gave the first book to my brother. Now at that time, by baby bro was not the biggest reader. And he loved it. So of course, I had to read it. I’ve been in love with the series ever since.

One of the best things about the Artemis Fowl series is that is so much fun from beginning to end. This newest book isn’t any exception. Right off the bat you have not only a mystery (What is with Artemis’ sudden obsession with the number five?), but the usual banter. There’s really no build-up, no easing into the problems of the plot. The strange state of Artemis’ mind is disturbing in a character you love. And just when as you start to figure out what the heck is going on, BAM! The usual mayhem occurs. And maybe a few deaths. This could be really heavy, gruesome stuff, but Colfer still uses dialogue and description in such a way that even with things are exploding, you’re laughing your socks off. I mean, he has Butler pretend to be a luchador–complete with a crazy costume. The characters in The Atlantis Complex are just as much fun and witty as they have been in the last six books.

It’s nice to get to see Artemis vulnerable to what he has considered his greatest asset in the previous six books. He feels more like a normal teenager with each book (not that he ever will truly be normal) and I think this is the first time he’s ever actually wished he was. It is interesting to see how much everyone has come to rely on having Artemis to help think them out of a situation. Artemis’ crazy is well-written. It’s a smart kind of crazy. He’s not bouncing off the walls and shouting incoherent sentences, he’s simply paranoid and more than a little obsessive-compulsive. Which doesn’t work out so well when you’re leaps and bounds beyond your friends intelligence-wise.

This book feels a little more confined than those that came before. And I guess, since a majority of it is spent in a tiny submersible sub, that is expected. Still, it works. I walked away from this book feeling like I knew the main characters much better than I did before, so I didn’t mind that the cast of characters wasn’t as expansive as it has been in previous books, but I did notice. A lot of it was setting up for the next  book, I felt (which is kind of obvious after the ending). I will warn you that the ending of TAF is what could be considered a mild cliffhanger. And if the rumor that this is the penultimate Arty book is true, then I suppose to be expected.

This book was everything that I could have asked for it to be…even if we had to listen to Orion call Foaly a “noble beast” so many times it was nauseating. The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I had missed Artemis and Holly and Butler and Juliet and Foaly and yes, even Mulch. It was wonderful to be able to interact with the characters that I have grown up with. And I will be eagerly awaiting any news of the next volume in the series.

This is a good example of:

  • Description
  • Dialogue
  • Character building
  • Adventure novel
This book is on my recommended reading list.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

All ages

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, which, as anyone in the kingdom of Ingary knows, means that she is destined to fail if she decides to try seeking her fortune. So Sophie, remains at her father’s hat shop helping her stepmother keep the business going. That is, until she manages to offend the Witch of the Waste (though she doesn’t know how). As punishment Witch lays a curse on Sophie, turning her into an old woman. Unwilling to face her family, Sophie sets off. It isn’t long before she comes upon wicked Wizard Howl’s moving castle. Howl has made a reputation for capturing young girls and eating their hearts. But Sophie is an old woman, so she’s safe, right? In the castle, Sophie meets Calcifer, the fire demon that is responsible for most of the castle’s magic and Michael, Howl’s apprentice. Sophie strikes a bargain with Calcifer, he will free her from her curse if she can free him from his bargain with Howl. As she grows to know Howl and the two other occupants of his castle she finds that that everything is not as it seems. Not with Howl. Not with Calcifer. And most certainly, not with herself.

My first experience with Howl’s Moving Castle was actually through a friend who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen Miyazaki’s movie. Which is an awesome movie, by the way. I highly recommend it.

The book is ten times awesomer (Yes, I said “awesomer”).

Anyways, when I found out it was a book as well, of course I had to go buy it. And I’ve gotten my money’s worth. This is my third full reread–not counting all the times I’ve picked it up to reread my favorite parts.

There are some books that just seem to transcend age range. This book is slated for ages 9-12. I was eighteen when I first read it and I enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed many books. Howl’s Moving Castle is a book that will be just as much fun for the parents to read as for the kids. It’s written in the same style as Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (another awesome book). Full of wit, magic and mayhem. The humor is clean and timeless. Jones’ wording is chosen for the utmost impact both to the story and the enjoyment of the reader. I’ve started tweeting random sentences when I’m reading, I maybe tweeted a tenth of what I wanted to. Just reading the chapter titles is an experience in and of itself. This book will tickle your funny bone until you don’t think you can possibly laugh anymore.

There are some ways that this was definitely written for a younger audience. The plot is quick, there is no time for your attention to wander. Now don’t by any means think that it has a simple plot. This book has one of the most twisty plots that I have seen in a book for this age range. There is a lot packed into Howl’s 448 pages, so you have to pay attention or you’ll miss something. Also, the book’s short format makes every word important. The descriptions are brief. But they are also colorful and vivid. Jones establishes the world and then thoroughly immerses you in it. You can picture the streets of Kingsbury and the wharves of Porthaven in your head. Dialogue is quick and snappy, with one liners galore and each character’s voice distinct and entertaining.

The characters are constantly revealing new and different layers of themselves. When we first meet Sophie she seems quiet and timid. Used to talking her way out of situations meekly. She seems content to stay at the hat shop and determined to help her two younger sisters (who have much better chances at finding their fortunes). And then she gets cursed into her nineties and we get to see a little of Sophie’s real personality. She’s fiesty and fun and no longer afraid to speak the thoughts that have been entertaining for two chapters–even when it means standing up to a wicked wizard. Howl plays the flamboyant playboy, but (as anyone who reads Batman comics will know) there is much more to him than Sophie has heard in her little town of Market Chipping. These character’s are far from perfect (very far, in Howl’s case), but that’s part of what makes them so lovable. And what makes watching them grow so much fun.

This is one of those books that is just as great to read in bed on a rainy day (the sun will be shining inside, trust me) as it would be to listen in the car on a family trip. It’s wonderfully complicated and surprising. Even in my third read through, I was discovering new levels to both the characters and Jones’ handling of the plot. And I recommend it to anyone who wants to write. I always walk away from this book refreshed and inspired to write more.

This is a good example of:

  • Character development/story arc
  • Plot
  • Descriptions
  • Making every word count
  • Putting fun into your writing
This book is one my recommended reading list.

Magyk


Septimus Heap #1: Magyk by Angie Sage

Ages 9 and up

The beginning of young Septimus Heap’s life started out with promise. He is the seventh son of a seventh son. A child guaranteed to be very magykal. That is, until he dies only a few hours into his short life. With no time to mourn his family must take in a foundling infant girl, whom they name Jenna. Ten years pass and Jenna is revealed to be the long lost princess,  born on the same day as the Heap child’s birth and her mother, the Queen’s, death. Her life of hiding with the Heaps, is thrown into upheaval when the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, arrives to divulge the secrets of her birth and to whisk her away before the Supreme Custodian’s Assassin can find her. Fleeing with Marcia, her brother Nicko, her father, Maxie the wolfhound and the mysterious Boy 412, Jenna and her family find themselves in hiding from DomDaniel. DomDaniel, ex-ExtraOrdinary Wizard and practicer of Darke Magyk wants Jenna dead so that he will have no contest for the rule of the small kingdom. If she is to live, Jenna must outsmart the Assassin, the Hunter, DomDaniel’s Apprentice and even DomDaniel himself. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, her long “dead” brother may still be alive. Is Septimus really alive? And if he is, is he really who he claims to be?

The Septimus Heap series is one that has been taunting me for ages. Every time I would go to my library I’d see book two or book three, and I knew I wanted to read them. The covers were just too much fun to pass them up (I don’t usually read a book specifically because of the cover, I believe this is a first). But try as I might, I could never find book one at my library. And then I got my Nook e-reader. Among my favorite features is Free Fridays. Guess what book was the first Free Friday book the week I go my e-reader.

Right off the bat, things were interesting. I mean, the main character was pronounced dead by page 12. Which meant one of two things: this was a ghost story (unlikely because ghosts don’t age and a story about an infant doesn’t promise to be interesting) or not everything was as it seemed. And then there is the death of the queen and the (quickly solved) mystery surrounding Jenna’s real parentage. All-in-all there were the makings of a good story. And it was a good story.

Sage tells the story using a host of characters. All of whom have at least one or two traits that define them. The multitude of the characters doesn’t get confusing, which is the tendency in books with a lot of minor characters. And part of that is because she uses her minor characters just as well as she uses her main characters. They get integrated into the plot. They get reused at least once. And some of them, like Boy 412 and Stanley the Message Rat, end up becoming major characters (okay, maybe Stanley wasn’t a major character, but he was important).

The world of the book and the way the book is written are also tied together. Of course it’s a world with magic–I mean, “Magyk”. But that magic is ornery and doesn’t always do what you think it will do. So too with the plot. You kind of know where the story is going, but it doesn’t take you straight there. It’s more like the wizards described in the book. It like to go on tangents. It kind of reminds me of me telling a story to a friend. I’m constantly stopping to explain important things. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because you it’s fun to learn about this little world. It’s a bad thing because the story tends to ramble, heading every which way until it sort of focuses for the climax.

There was, unfortunately, a lack of urgency for me when I read the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good and never boring, but it never grabbed me. I never got to that point where putting the book down was painful. Part of that might have to do with the fact that I am an adult reading a book written for middle-schoolers (actually, now that I think about it, it probably has a lot to do with it). The expected reveal of Sepitmus’ identity was probably the most compelling reason to read (cause I wanted to see if I was right…I was). The way each big bad was taken care was also slightly anti-climactic, something  I hope changes with the next five books. It kind gave Magyk the feeling of  being an intro book, with the real action to come in subsequent books.

By far, my favorite part of the book was how the narrative was handled. It was unabashedly an omniscient narrator. A great deal of the book was from Jenna’s point of view, however, it often broke off to another person’s viewpoint. We get a sense of the whole story. We’re shown all the pieces that we need to understand exactly what the stakes are. One minute we’re with Jenna in her aunt’s cottage, the next we’re watching the Supreme Custodian or DomDaniel as they plot how to get their hands on her. Usually changing viewpoint in the way that Sage does (sometimes in the middle of the chapter) is a big no-no, but in this book it just works. It flows.  And it’s clear. You are always aware of when the character focus shifts, but it’s not jarring.

This is definitely a book aimed at preteens. The way the book is written, the constant shift in point of view, the myriad of absurdly quirky characters, and the comical bad guys all land Magyk in the 9-12 age range. It’s good, clean fun that would a make a great read-aloud book with the whole family (hey, the younger you start, the more likely they are to become book addicts). It’s even suitable for the younger children in the family if they have someone who will read it to/with them. I look forward to discovering the next few books.

This is a good example of:

  • Omniscient narrative
  • Use of minor characters
  • Middle school fiction
  • World building
  • Tying world’s history into the plot
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