Sunday, April 15, 2012

I like big books and I cannot lie. (part two)

Listening To: 20 Years by The Civil Wars
Quotable: "Inspiration exists but it has to find you working." - Pablo Picasso

* Someone asked if I'd ever finished writing the post about Middle Grade novels I'm exited about reading this year. Thank you for reminding me! I meant to post this back when I wrote about upcoming YA books that are making my heart go pitter-pat. This is a long one, so maybe go get some snacks, come back, and make yourself comfy! :) 

As I've mentioned a time or a thousand, February marked the second anniversary of the day I turned twenty-nine years old. In the minds of children, this means that I am mostly pre-historic. In the eyes of my parents, I'm still a spring chicken. No matter how you view this age ... I'm pretty much an actual adult.

Except for when I photoshop Ceelo Green glasses onto my brother's face:

That is not mature. But otherwise!

Despite the fact that I'm a grown-up(ish), I happen to love middle-grade novels.

In fact, if I'm being tee-totally honest, middle-grade novels are my favorite reads. Middle School was the era I loved to read most. (The Baby-Sitters Club! Narnia! Bunnicula! Wayside School! Ma and Pa Ingalls! Goosebumps!) And it was the era I started getting serious about showing my very, very corny stories to other people. And also, and maybe most importantly, it was the era when I wore slap bracelets and airbrushed unicorn sweatshirts for school picture day. Hawt. (This I promise you: I was geek before it was chic.)

I've never stopped loving middle grade books. I love the style, for starters. Because it takes a very particular kind of voice to write it. Regardless of whether that voice has a lyrical flow (like my Writer Hero Kate DiCamillo) or more of a plot-centered punch (like Rick Riordan), all of it has a poetic clip to it. The words in these books are pure poetry - controlled poetry - and they're well paced. And they're fun. Young Adult books get lots of love, and rightfully so. Middle Grade books are a whole different kind of wonderful though, and I think they deserve some hype as well. Today, I am happy to be their hype-girl.

Whether you are a legit adult or just too legit to quit (or way too young to even know the song I just referenced), don't hesitate to pick up a middle grade novel this year (even if middle school is, thankfully, light years behind you). Middle Grade books are some of the most well written, most surprisingly literary books I've discovered. They steal my heart away every time.

These are just a few of a bunch of middle grade books I'm eager to nab in 2012:

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. I've followed Caroline's blog for a long time now and it has been quite an encouragement to me. Caroline has been very candid about her path to publication; a path that is typically bumpy and crackly and full of potholes. And sink holes. And suck holes.

I find her honesty very encouraging. For me, The Path to Publication (for fiction) (which is the not-so-secret-secret-dream) has mostly felt like a Dystopian version of The Oregon Trail Game. Apparently, you gotta get snake-bit and dysenteried a bunch before you ever get to Freedom Rock. (Put that in your metaphorical pipe.) Thus, I cannot imagine a writer who wouldn't be encouraged by Caroline's tenacity. I'd read her blog long enough to know that it was only a matter of time before her book(s) got snatched up. Sometimes talent shines through even when writers don't mean for it to, and her blog always had a sparkle to it.

Her first novel (which came out in January) tells the story of 12-year old May, a frontier girl living in the late 19th century who, unexpectedly, is abandoned one winter and has to survive alone. The novel is written in verse which is a tricky sell for me - despite the fact that I love poetry so much. I'm down with verse, but I think, for me, it can very easily fracture the pace of a novel. Plus, without the right skillz, writers get lost in the versey-ness of their verse. (That last sentence is a fine example of why I don't write many book reviews.) Incorporating verse the right way takes some savvy but I've read Caroline's blog enough to know she has it, tons of it. When I was a kid, I followed the Ingalls family all over the prairie. As an adult, I am excited to spend some of my Spring with May B. I'm confident May's gonna steal my heart. (The books today are all middle grade, so even if your parents are pretty strict about what you read, I'm guessing they'll be okay with these. But, of course, I can't know that for sure. So if a character stubs her toe and mumbles a cuss word, please don't throw rotten eggs at my car.)

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas. 

There are certain kinds of stories that pull me in immediately. More often than not, the writing is the first thing that hooks me - there's a certain style of writing I adore. But, regardless of the writing, I'm drawn to stories that have a classical, lyrical, enchanting sort of pulse in the pages. I like quests. I love heroes who don't feel heroic at all (the best heroes are always that way, aren't they?). I like lots of stories that weave together unexpectedly. I don't know if The Seven Tales of Trinket is like that, exactly, but everything about the blurb makes it obvious I'm going to read it. You can read more about the novel at Shelly Thomas's blog. Shelley has also written some lovely children's books. If you need some new reads for your little sibs, or the kids you nanny, do check out her Good Knight series. (Or, if you're like me, you can just check them out for yourself. Children's books are my favorite kind of poetry.) Trinket isn't out until this fall, so stick it your "TBR" list. I get a prickly sense about books that are going to be wonderful (it's my 6th Sense, maybe ...) (Book sense is far better than an I-See-Dead-People Sense, yes?), and this one's giving me the pricklies.

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Lofton.

So, that TV Show, Once Upon a Time?  Do you remember how I fan-girled all over that show when it first came on? Well ... I totally gave up on it. I have commitment issues when it comes to television, anyway. But there was an episode of Once when the wicked queen started pitching hearts into the fire (very Temple of Doom-esc) ... and it came off so corny for me. I get that it's storybook-fun and quirky and all that. My suspension of disbelief is pretty much in the stratosphere. I have a very high tolerance for storybook stuff. But the heart-wielding was just ... eh. A friend tells me I need to get past my roasted-heart prejudice, because the show is so fun. I'll try again someday. Maybe.

Regardless, I am always up for fairytale retellings. I'm nuts about them. And there is no shortage of them in the universe of kid-littery (yay!). Cinderella gets lots of love. I could argue that Beauty and The Beast is pretty much the basis of every love story ever. (Also it is the reason I want my very own library with a wheely ladder attached.) The coolest retelling that I've read about in a very long time, however, is Nikki Lofton's The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy. Oh. My. Word. I've read that it's like "Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel". (!) And I want to read it so much that I can hardly stand the waiting. You can click through to Nikki's blog to read the blurb. How cute is that cover?!

Be right back. I'm going to go grab a Diet Dr. Pepper.*


The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash. 

Last time I visited my nephew, he asked me to read Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune. Andy likes for me to read a certain scene over and over again, because I do June's voice like the woman who made Tapioca pudding for Renee Zellwegger in New in Town. Andy thinks that's funny. He does wonders for my ego. In that scene of Neptune, the harpies are swooping in and so I start to get nervous for Percy, and sometimes I have to stand up and jump around while I read. At that point, Andy mostly looks me as though (in the words of the great poet Rob Thomas), I'm just a little unwell.

Point: I like to get swept up in adventure books. Not only do I love adventure books, but I love books with maps. I wish I had a map in every book I own. Even if the book takes place in Podunkville, I want a map! Storybook maps are magical things.

Enter The Mapmaker and the Ghost. I actually saw it blurbed as something (... I don't remember the first part, but it was a comparison to another book or movie) ".... meets Goonies." And I thought, "Hellooooo, I must own." Because you know how much I love me some Goonies.

The Mapmaker and the Ghost sounds sweet and unique and awesome and adventur-y. The author is Sarvenaz Tash (her debut!) and you can read more about her novel on her site. An added perk? I'm almost positive this book will have a map in it. Jumpy claps are imminent.

Fun tangent: Sarvenaz is an Iranian name. As you might remember, one of my most favorite people in all the world also has an Iranian name, as do her sibs. I love the way their names sound. So storybook and chic. You can hear Sarvenaz pronounce her name here. And this is a sweet post about she wrote about her name.

There are, of course, loads more great books that will come out this year. First billing on my "wanna-read-like-whoa-list" always goes to Kate DiCamillo, Jenny B. Jones and Sarah Addison Allen. (And J.K. Rowling, obviously.) I read Jenny's There You'll Find Me earlier this year, and I loved it, but apparently she thinks she only has to put out one book a year or something. And I'm not sure if Sarah Addison Allen or Kate D. are putting out anything new in 2012 either. It's like none of them care that I can't bear the thoughts of going a whole year without their books. *gives favorite authors the stink-eye* But I'm keeping a vigilant watch. And I'm always watching for something I've never even heard of, something that surprises me, a cover that catches my eye in the bookstore, a first page that steals my heart away when I didn't expect it to. That's the best feeling for a lifelong geek, regardless of how chic she becomes.

If you're still reading this, you deserve cookies and pinwheels and plastic whistles and cupcakes. Festive things.

Just so you know, I don't get any kind of kickback from mentioning these books. I don't know these authors (but they seem awesome). I just think their stories sound incredible. I don't even get Book-It credit. Did you guys do Book-It? Or was that prehistoric? (Book-It, back in ye olden days, was Pizza Hut's way of rewarding booknerds. You got a huge button and, for every book you read, you put a star on the button. And when the button was full you got a free personal pan pizza.) I am forever grateful to Pizza Hut for championing my two great loves: reading and cheese. (Why doesn't Book-It exist for adults?!)

I feel like there's only one proper way to end this post: 

Do you remember your favorite book in middle school? I hope you'll let me know what you're reading now (regardless of genre!). I love hearing your book recommendations. I'll meet you in the comments so we can reminisce about good books. And Book-It. And airbrushed sweatshirts :) 

*Total lie. I had to take a break and sing my favorite line from Beauty and the Beast, "... isn't this amazing?! It's my favorite part because ... you'll see, here's where she meets prince charming ...but she won't discover that it's him till chapter three ..." 


  1. First: I can confirm that THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST has a map in it. It is an awesome map drawn by a very talented illustrator (not me). :-)

    Second: I've read MAY B. and SINISTER SWEETNESS and they are both superb. I think you're in for a real treat. (You clearly have excellent taste).

    Third: Pizza Hut Book It pins...YES!! They were the greatest invention ever.

    Fourth: Thanks for this awesome and super well-researched write-up. Fantastically entertaining and informative post (and I'm not just saying that because you mentioned my book). I'm glad I stumbled upon it today!

  2. I love this post. :) I love it when you write about books!

    When I was younger I practically lived in the Goodwill bookstore. I had a particular fondness for BSC books and ghosty books {Goosebumps included}. I still love reading tween/middle school books (I'm also one of those people who is obsessed with picture books :).

    In middle school, I read a lot of fairy tale retellings. Gail Carson Levine was my favorite (still love her books). Shannon Hale, too, but I discovered her a little later.

    Anyway, I added May B. and The Sinister Sweetness of Sinister Academy to my to-read list. Right now, I'm reading my first Dickens novel: Bleak House. I had a bit of a rough start, but now I'm loving it (though feeling slightly intimidated by its 1000 pages of small print).


  3. Loved Book It! Who knows how many pizzas I ate because of The Babysitters Club alone. :)

    1. You and me both! The BSC was my favorite. Did you read the super specials too?!

  4. Natalie - I loved this post! I haven't read any Middle Grade books since back in ye olde Book It days, but even just seeing the cover art on these books you're mentioning made my heart go pitter-patter. I can just SMELL the mustiness of my small-town library. Oh, I miss that.

    I think my favorite Middle Grade book was a Sweet Valley High Super Chiller Mystery about a ruby necklace. I read it every year for almost 10 years, every time we went on vacation. Those pages got very crinkly from the salty air at the beach and you really can't beat that.

    Right now I am reading "Trinity" by Leon Uris. I found it on a list of suggested books to read before visiting Ireland, since my husband and I are going in June. It's fiction, but has so much Irish history as its backdrop. I love it so far but wish I had mastered an Irish accent to read it in. :)

    Ok, too much commenting! By the way, are you on

  5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was my favorite in middle school and still is one of my favorites. Right now I'm still trying to get through Jane Eyre, although I one of my friends has talked about it so much and I'm close to the end that I've been extremely tempted to put it away for a good long while and start something a little more fun like Great Expectations or finish The Hobbit or even start Cinder (since I got the first 5 chapters on my kindle when you recommended it). But I've been so busy with school too that it's hard to find time to read much at all, which hurts my heart greatly. I loved The Night Circus, I read that over Christmas and if you haven''s a must. It's one of those with such brilliant imagery and characterization and mystery and fantasy and wonderful-ness that you can't help but sit and read until you finish and then want to immediately start all over again. Bethany got for me for Christmas, she's the best at picking out books. I think she's also got the 6th sense, I think she's usually drawn in by the covers and/or the titles. I however, do not. I hate picking out books because I always end up grabbing a really terrible one.

  6. I love midddle school books! I'm finishing off high school and I read/own way more books for tweens and such than teens. Perhaps because the young adult section has become the vampire scetion which I refuse to take part in. But middle school books are the best. Some of my favorites are artemis fowl, percy jackson and the olympians, trixie belden, and anything by the amazing and wonderful richard peck.

    1. Richard Peck is AMAZING! And Percy is great too. I haven't read all the Percy Jackson books, but I like the way Rick Riordan writes. He writes very outlandish creatures in a way that makes them seem so real.

  7. I'm reading a book by Nathan Englander. He's new to me, but I'm enjoying it immensely.

    Hey- did you get my email? Want to send you an advance copy of the ol' book but I don't have your mailing address.

    HUGS! Come to Nash soooooooon!

    1. I'll pick up a copy when it comes out. Congrats!

  8. I love middle grade books! My favorites have to be Richard Peck's "A Long Way From Chicago" and "A Year Down Yonder" which I didn't discover until high school. If you like humorous historical fiction and vignettes, you will love these. Bonus points for the audiobooks with their pitch-perfect narrators.

    I'm also fond of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series (Heather Vogel Frederick), as I love books about books. I was big on series when I was in junior high – Robin Jones Gunn was (and still is) a favorite, as was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Christy Miller, Sierra Jensen, and Alice McKinley were my best friends.

    1. I've wondered about The Mother Daughter Book Club. I love those covers! I need to check those out for sure. Christy Miller is such a sweet series! Her boyfriend was Todd, right? And there's a book where they got married later on, too? (Or did I just dream that up?)

    2. I've read Robin Gunn's books so many times I'll try to keept it short and sweet: Christy Miller 1-12 follows her through high school to early college. Sierra Jensen 1-12 picks up at the end of the last Christy book and follows Sierra through high school, with frequent interaction with Christy and the Gang. Christy and Todd: The College Years is a trilogy that takes Christy and Todd through adult courtship to marriage. And, most recently, RJG wrote a quartet about Katie Weldon (Christy's best friend) as she finishes college. Whew!

    3. I love the Katie Weldon series! The fourth book comes out on Tuesday, I'm so excited!

  9. SLAP BRACELETS! Oh my I'd forgotten about those! LOL!

    Hey, will shoot you an email, but regarding our Downton discussion...are you waiting on a response from me? Because I was waiting on an email from you...if you sent the starter I missed it somehow (stupid Gmail).

    I should totally check out this Lofton book. And you my friend should totally be watching Once Upon a Time. That show is TV crack!! :)

  10. Natalie, this post is great! READING RAINBOW!! LOL. I could sing along with it and it's been years since I heard it. I love, love mid-grade, and I'm long past that age. I never know anymore when I pick up a YA what I'm dealing with...and sometimes I just want a wonderful read. Like Paperbird, I'm totally tired of the vampire section. How many different ways can a vampire die/relive/conquer young girl, etc. And some really are on the dark edge. Anyway, thanks for these suggestions. The covers ALONE would make me pick them up. I especially can't wait for Splendid Academy! And I hope someday I can read YOUR fiction. I loved the Biscuit story!! Speaking of writing a novel, I just wrote one to you! lol Thanks Natalie, you ROCK. Grace

    1. Thanks for that sweet compliment! I agree, there's a lot more diversity in Middle Grace. And even the creepy reads have so much heart (and so many sweet heroes). Also, it makes me happy to know you can still sing along with Reading Rainbow!! :)

  11. Natalie! Wow, I'm floored by all your kindness here today. Thank you!

  12. Natalie, you *have* to check out this Etsy shop (newly opened by Kate of Flapperdoodle, one of my favorite Etsy shops): .


  13. I just took a wonderful hour to catch up on your blog- best decision of my entire day so far! I was a Book-It girl in elementary school. I think I maxed out how many times you could win the pizza and I still have all the pins with all the little stick on candles at my parents' home.

    I loved the Whitney Houston story on another post. A couple weeks ago I was in Kentucky judging a music contest and stopped at the local Walmart (an experience in itself as Kentucky Walmart stores seem to be unique) and bought road trip music of my own- a 2-CD set of Whitney Houston's latest hits. I bet the WH fan in the truck next to you was listening to the same project. Disc 1 is all the ballads, while disc 2 is dance remixes of 15+ of her songs. Thanks for keeping up your blog and providing another little corner of joy on the internet.