Monday, February 27, 2012

Books for the precocious child reader

Every so often I get a request from someone for book recommendations. They have a first grader who's done with short chapter books and whose skill is on a 4th-5th grade level. Or their fourth grader has exhausted their classroom library, has the ability to read anything, but is too young to be interested in YA books that are big on romance or Teen Problems. They're still kids--but they are dying for a good story they can spend a long time in. So I've made this list for those kids. No, it doesn't include some of my favorite books, because they have themes more of interest to older readers. But hopefully it's a starting place. (And feel free to add suggestions in the comments--I'll try to remember to add to this as I run across books that fit this in the future.)

Books with magic:

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Stewart
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and also James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, JK Rowling (this one is clearly middle grade, but be aware that they age up quite a bit, and later books may be too much for young kids)
Tuesdays at the Castle, and others by Jessica Day George
Princess Academy and others by Shannon Hale
Whales on Stilts! and others in the Pals in Peril series by MT Anderson (helpful to have read other kids’ series, as it’s sort of a parody)
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians (series), Brandon Sanderson
Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (series), RJ Anderson
Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (for girls who like Austen and magic)
The Magic Thief, Sarah Prineas
Half Magic and others by Edward Eager
The Enchanted Castle and others by E. Nesbit (old, but the inspiration for the Edward Eager books)
Fortune’s Folly and also Circus Galacticus, Deva Fagan
Princess for Hire (series), Lindsey Leavitt
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
Small Persons with Wings, Ellen Booraem
Entwined, Heather Dixon
The Ghosts, Antonia Barber
Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine
Beauty, Robin McKinley
Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate, Donna St. Cyr
The Diamond in the Window, Jane Langton
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities, Mike Jung
Princess for Hire, Lindsey Leavitt

Books without magic:

The Penderwicks series, Jeanne Birdsall. Four sisters, a dog, and a very interesting boy next door.
Flipped, Wendelin van Draanen
Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Lisa Yee
Journey to the River Sea and also The Star of Kazan, or The Dragonfly Pool, Eva Ibbotson
Rules, Cynthia Lord
Daddy Long-Legs, Jean Webster
Schooled, Gordon Korman
The London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd
Winnie’s War, Jenny Moss
Palace Beautiful, Sarah DeFord Williams
The Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Suzanna Snow: The Midnight Tunnel, Angie Frazier
Al Capone Does My Shirts and sequel, Gennifer Choldenko
As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Lynne Rae Perkins
The Lion’s Paw, Robb White
Saffy’s Angel, Hilary McKay
Hoot, Carl Hiassen
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Star of Kazan and also Journey to the River Sea, Eva Ibbotson

Books with very slight magic (magical realism/mostly real except for one small thing—generally appeal to both the magic and non magic readers):

Savvy and also Scumble, Ingrid Law
Things Not Seen, Andrew Clements
The Magician’s Elephant, Kate DiCamillo
The Secret of Zoom, Lynne Jonell
Mudville or The Tanglewood Terror, Kurtis Scaletta
The Healing Spell, Kimberly Griffiths Little
Babe, the Gallant Pig, Dick King-Smith
Lionboy (series), Zizou Corder
Holes, Louis Sacher

SF (aliens, scientific time travel):

The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex
The Doom Machine, Mark Teague
Dark Life, Kat Falls
Cosmic, Frank Cottrell Boyce
Circus Galacticus, Deva Fagan

Graphic novels:

The Arrival, and other books by Shaun Tan
Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack, Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale
Ellie McDoodle, Have Pen, Will Travel, Ruth McNally Barshaw
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
The Storm in the Barn, Matt Phelan
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Piltdown Man and the Revision

Even though I keep writing new books, there’s one manuscript that I pull out every so often and stare at again. There’s something I really love about it, and something that’s wrong that I just can’t put my finger on. People used to tell me that my character doesn’t have enough feeeeeeeelings, but now I think I’m making progress, because now people say she has feeeeeeelings, she just doesn’t have a personality. Eep. Anyway. I’ve recently started going to a local in person writers’ group, and was looking around for something good to bring this time. We do all the reading on the spot, which is time consuming, and which means that really, everyone can only bring a snippet. It’s not the sort of setting for feedback on your complete novel, whether all at once or broken up—it would take years to read the whole thing that way. So I thought that maybe I could bring a bit of this problem novel and see if they have any new insights on the character.

What I noticed while reading over my opening was that after so many revisions and critiques, it now resembles Piltdown Man. If you remember anything about anthropology, you’ll know this was a famous hoax in which someone stuck together a bunch of different bones from different species and tried to pass the lot of them off as Man’s Early Ancestor, when in fact, it wasn’t anything but a mess. Alas, my novel (especially the opening) looks like that.

What was she like before the story starts?
A bone the shape of school activities.
What is her Big, Personal Problem? Another bone with guilt over something she neglected to do.
This book is supposed to have magic in it. WHERE IS THE MAGIC? Show it to me on page 1! I’ve crammed a bone of magic in there.
I don’t understand why she’s here. It’s too confusing. So now I’ve got stuff about her mother and her brother and her aunt and her uncle and even her broken-hipped grandmother glomming up the place.


I’m not saying they’re wrong in feeling there’s a problem. But I think that you have to be careful when you listen to critiques. Critiquers are usually right when they put their finger on a problem. But they’re not always right about the solution. And you can make yourself crazy (and make your own little Piltdown Man) if you try to incorporate every single change anyone suggests.

Take a deep breath. What is the story YOU want to tell? Maybe that critique gave you a good idea. But maybe you know that what you need to say is more than that. Listen to that little voice inside you. Don’t let your internal editor—or anyone else’s—crowd out the core of your story.

I still don’t know exactly how to fix the book. But I might just start by weeding.