Monthly Archives: June 2010

Guest Blog: Ms. Cheryl on Tweens

Cher-y-lynne {sher-uhl-lin} –noun
1. One who sells or recommends children’s books at Barnes & Noble; a specialist in young adult, middle grade, and picture books.
2. A struggling young adult writer.
3. A lover of chocolate and popcorn.
Archaic: An Audiology and Speech Language Pathology major at Brigham Young University.
Origin: The View from Above & Beyond-

I have heard recently from three different editors that they are not looking for, nor accepting, “tween” books…If your protagonist is 13, they advise either making him or her 12, and therefore middle grade, or 15, and therefore young adult.

I’m here to tell you that I think the editors are wrong.

We all know that kids read up.  So for a true middle grade child, someone who’s around nine or ten, they want to read about a 12-year-old.  And for a young teen, someone who’s 14 or 15, they’ll want to read about someone who’s 16 and up.

I  hate to break it to you, but there is such a thing as a 11, 12, and 13-year old tween.  And they like to read.  And they’d love it if there were books for them.

Believe me, I know more than anyone what the problem is.  There isn’t a place to shelve these kinds of books.  And libraries and bookstores aren’t going to build a section for them…at least not until a huge blockbuster comes along that forces them to do so.

But in the meantime, half of the books are in the middle grade section and half of them are in young adult.  The trend I’ve seen is that normally, the tween boy books are kept in middle grade (Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan, Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Bartimaeous Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud) while the tween girl books are shelved in young adult (Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter, Frog Princess by E.D. Baker, Once Upon a Time series by various authors.)

The root of this discrepancy, I think, is what I discussed in my last post:  The fact that there are plenty of older middle grade books for boys, but a shocking lack of choices in young adult.  The reverse is also true.  There are not very many books available for older middle grade girls, but an incredible oversaturation of girly young adult books.

I think it’s time to change this.  What will it take?  A new S.E. Hinton (who is usually credited with creating the young adult genre.)  We need an author that will take the tween world by storm.

Now the hard part is just writing it.  Here are some pointers for what tweens are looking for:

1)      Content:  The content must still be just as squeaky clean as middle grade.  These parents do not want their kids exposed to the “teen” world just yet.  I recommend no swearing (no, not even a little!) and no mention of sex.  If it’s a girly book, a few chaste kisses are fine.

2)      Subplots:  Include them.  Normally there is a main plot and one subplot in middle grade, and there can be up to four subplots in teen (though four is really pushing it.)  I would have two or three in a tween book.  These kids are smart.  They can handle it.

3)      Character arcs:  This is an essential.  Most of middle grade has nice, friendly characters that tend to accomplish a life goal rather than change their actual personality.  It works, because younger kids need to like the characters right away.  In young adult, however, you often have characters that change so drastically that you can barely tell it’s the same voice.  This works too, considering that teens change their personalities as often as they change clothes.  But tweens?  They’re still figuring out who they are, even more than teens.  They don’t even know which “clique” they belong to yet.  A character that reflects that uncertainty—and finds a way to resolve it—will find the respect of that crowd.

4)      Humor:  Quite frankly, I would not try to do anything edgy with this group.  Someday, somewhere, I’m sure someone will pull it off.  But for right now, I would try to steer clear and instead try to make them laugh.  Tweens love sarcasm.  That’s why the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are still popular with them, even though that series is on a third grade reading level.  I think appealing to their funny bone is a brilliant marketing move.

5)      Action:  And let me say it again:  ACTION.  This is not the place to get bogged down with pretty descriptions and detailed theme analyses.  You are competing with the internet (which they probably just recently gained access to) and video games (many are now allowed to start buying the games rated “Teen.”)  Your story has to be more compelling than either of those.

Now, does this give you an excuse to call your editor and tell her she’s an idiot for making you change than age of your protagonist?  NO.  Unfortunately, they probably still can’t sell your tween manuscript.  But here’s hoping that someday soon someone will figure out a brilliant marketing move that will make Tween a legitimate genre.


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Books on my Lawn

I am tired.

I did not write one thing today.

I also roasted a chicken.

Do not roast a chicken in a hot house. It makes the house hotter. Who knew?

On Saturday we cleaned out our basement. I mean we moved out all the boxes and boxes of books onto the back lawn. We moved here last September and we are finally getting to that one room where I shoved everything that had no place. Including my boxes and boxes of books. This house, our old new house, has no built in shelves. Our last house had shelves. And shelves and shelves and shelves. Heaven.

Here? None.

We started to unpack the books and there was no where to put them.

So I hauled them out so I could think better.

Right now, three days later, those boxes are still out there. Waiting. In the dark. With the deer.  Waiting for me to put them away. Waiting for me to bring them in from the cold. The hot. The hose. The boys. All my books (almost all) are in peril and here I am in my bed complaining about being tired.

Do you throw away books? Donate them? keep them and keep them and keep them because they are books and you don’t throw away books or donate them or sell them or do anything but keep them?

I was trying to figure out what to do with them.

My brain does not organize. I can lift stuff, move stuff, vacuum stuff. I cannot figure out where things should go. What’s the most practical place to put boxes and boxes of books until I get some shelves?

The garage? Move them back into the spare room? The shed? I asked my husband.

Just tell me where to put things and I will, he said.

That’s the problem, i have no idea where to put them. Should we get new carpet? Why are the baby toys in the Christmas box? What were we just talking about?

Sometimes I think I would be the cleanest house person in the world if my brain worked right. If I put things away and was all organized and everything had a place and things had labels and I folded my underwear. I would be so clean because I am always cleaning. Cleaning cleaning cleaning. But I never get anywhere.

I am too distracted. Too impulsive. Too scattered.

I think about my writing. Is this how I am? I think yes. Is this bad? I think yes. And no. What if I had a different brain. What if I could write with an outline? What if I knew where things were going and why they were going to go there? Would it be easier? Do most writers have scattered lives with tricycles tied up with climbing rope all over their yard and boxes and boxes of books in their garden? Will I one day have cabbage patch kids riding big wheels in my flower beds?

I know we all have our own process but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it to try to train your way to a different process. I mean wouldn’t it be nice to clean something and have it stay cleaned? To know exactly where the scissors are when you need them? To start a novel knowing the end before you know the beginning? I wonder.

Please don’t take my books. They are helpless.


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Because Carol is gone . . .

I’m not sure if Carol is going to post because she’s out on the road with her girls and her GLIMPSE. Have you read it yet? GLIMPSE?

Read it.

It’s a hard book but it’s a beautiful beautiful book. And it’s fat. But it reads fast. I love fat fast books.

Also, the Pacific Coast Childrens Writing Conference has a few openings left in both the TEEEN (so cool that they have a teen class ) and the MASTER CLASS (for those of you who have a novel ms. and have been to a few conferences or feel ready for an intense first time workshop). It’s this August and it’s three days on the beach full of writing, workshopping, eating and playing. Sounds fun, eh? The organizer is Nancy Sondel and she would love you to email her any questions, concerns, etc.

What else.

Have you been writing?

Have you been eating?

What are you doing for the 3rd, 4th, 5th of July? I’m going here.

Until tomorrow . . . .


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Karen Krueger Guest Book Review: THE OWL KEEPER

While Carol and Kyra and Co. galavant across the states on their way to ALA, we have a wonderful guest reviewer, Ms. Karen Krueger. Thanks so much, Karen!

Karen is a Southern girl, bless her heart, who studied English and editing at BYU. Now she’s a mom of a 5-month-old and can toe type at a whopping 5wpm, hence the name of her blog, Typing with My Toes. She’s also an aspiring YA fantasy writer who somehow hasn’t quit yet. She loves to sing and to eat cereal, and she can’t possibly be a vampire because sunshine is an essential requirement for her happiness.

Book Review: The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones

“You don’t have any deathwatch beetles attached to your coat, do you?” he asked hesitantly. Didn’t she see that spider hanging there? This girl, Max realized, was even more of an outsider than he
Her eyes flashed. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She jutted out her sharp chin. Her coat smelled like wet leaves.

“Deathwatch beetles are bad luck. They foretell death–that’s what my guardian, Mrs. Crumlin, says.”
“Death doesn’t scare me.” The girl pointed to the top of the tree. Despite the cold air, she wasn’t wearing mittens. “What’s up there?” Her eyes traveled to a small silver-feathered owl, sitting in a high branch.
Max froze. No one knew about the owl. Since last winter he had kept her hidden in the owl tree, away from prying eyes. The problem was, silver owls didn’t exist–not officially, at any rate. Silver owls had been declared extinct by the government.

Max grew up hearing stories from his gran about the magical silver owls and the Owl Keeper, who would come in a time of absolute darkness to fight against the dark. After his gran dies, he is diagnosed with a strange allergy to sunlight, forcing him to only go out at night. His only friends are his silver owl and a spunky girl named Rose, who shows up mysteriously one night. As everything Max believed about his life and the government unravels, he and Rose go on a journey to find the Owl Keeper and save themselves from the hopeless dark.

I loved this book and totally recommend it. It’s younger than most books I tend to read. The main characters are  twelve , so the target audience is about nine or ten and up. So it may be a little simplistic for the adult reader, meaning I could figure out a lot of things that were going on before the main characters know, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read.  I think it’s a fantastic introduction to the dystopia genre for the middle grade reader. (And it’s fun because it’s not only a dystopia, but there are magical elements as well.) This book could get the younger readers interested in reading things like Hunger Games, etc., when they get a little older.

Max and Rose are great characters. I liked how they deal with fear and bravery in different ways. Max starts off as a scardey cat but proves to be braver than he knew. Rose puts up a brave front but despite her bravery still feels fear. I loved Rose–she’s tough and spunky and is a great balance to Max. And her character I think enhances the book’s appeal to boys. Already it’s got a boy as a main character, so it’s easier to interest boys, but Rose’s character is a cool, tomboyish personality.

This is definitely the start of a series or at least there will be a sequel. I was satisfied with the ending but still am waiting for more. I’m especially excited because this story is so original. I don’t feel like I’ve read a book quite like it. Like I said before, it’s distopia mixed with fantasy and magic–not something I’ve encountered yet. I recommend it–100%.


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