Kate Messner is a master storyteller. I loved the Marty McGuire book, so I picked up Wake Up Missing with happy anticipation. All I can say is Wow! Wake Up Missing is a middle grade thriller about some very heavy issues. Four young teens find themselves in a remote brain-science center in the Florida Everglades because each of them has suffered a serious concussion. The doctors at this world-renowned center offer cutting-edge treatments that will heal them. What they don’t advertise or reveal to parents or patients is that they are preparing the teens to receive implants of DNA from deceased, brilliant scientists. The patients will never see their families again. They are to be flown to Russia and used to create a new Manhattan Project-like team.
The kids, left in the doctors’ care and unable to freely communicate with anyone else, begin to suspect that their lives and very identities are in danger. Piece by piece, disturbing evidence accumulates, gradually convincing them that they must flee. But how? They’re in the middle of a swamp, surrounded by alligator-infested water, still dealing with headaches, mental confusion, dizziness. The one person who might help disappears. – I couldn’t put this book down!
The middle grade novel I’ve been working on and am ready to submit to agents deals with identity and loss of self in a wholly different way. My main character longs to stand out in a large family, to be recognized for her unique gifts. Her struggles to excel as a baker are compounded by strange symptoms which eventually land her in a hospital with paralysis creeping up her body. What if she loses her ability to speak? What if her mind is trapped inside of a paralyzed body? I’ve wondered if the issues raised might be too heavy for ten-to-twelve-year-olds, but now that I’ve read Kate Messner’s book, I’m reassured that publishers don’t shy away from difficult subjects! Bravo to Walker Books for Young Readers (imprint of Bloomsbury). And thank you, Kate!
Waiting at a doctor’s office recently, an elderly gentleman asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a middle grade novel and explained that I’m writing for children and need to read in the genre. He smiled and said, “I used to read The Lion’s Paw to my fourth graders every year. It was always a favorite.” He told me about it. I was intrigued, so as soon as I could, I checked it out of the library. The book was first printed in 1946 and has been reprinted in 1983-1994, 1996, and 2008. Now that I’ve read the story, I understand why!
Robb White, author of The Lion’s Paw, created a masterpiece with this adventure story. Brother and sister, Nick (9) and Penny (12) conspire to run away from the orphanage they’ve lived in for years. They make their way toward the water Penny could see from her bedroom. There, they meet Ben, a fifteen-year-old waiting for his father to return from war–a father Missing in Action and now declared dead. Ben cares for his father’s sail boat, still believing that his dad is alive and will come home. Ben’s uncle meanwhile, prepares to sell the boat. Desperate, the three kids set sail. The plan is to cross Florida by way of inland waterways and Lake Ocheechobee, to Captiva Island in the Gulf of Mexico where a unique seashell, the lion’s paw, is to be found. Ben’s dad wanted that shell for his collection, and Ben comes to believe that if he finds the shell, his dad will return home. But first, the crew of three have to evade the Coast Guard, bounty hunters, and alligators, while navigating difficult waters and tropical storms. This is a must read for nine to twelve-year-olds!
Sarah Lean, best selling author of A Dog Called Homeless, penned another extraordinary story called A Hundred Horses. Nell’s mom takes her to stay with relatives she doesn’t know, and she’ll be there for the entire two week school vacation. Mom returns home to prepare a conference that is very important. Everything about Aunt Liv and cousins Gem and Alfie is different. Their house is disheveled, they have farm animals, it’s almost impossible to stay neat and clean. It feels terribly awkward to be left in this alien place. As the story progresses, a strange girl named Angel and a frightening horse gallop into Nell’s life. A precious carousel is found, then a key piece goes missing, missing just like Nell’s dad. A neighbor grieves the loss of her husband, another searches for her lost goat, baby pigs are born . . . Nell’s world spins in directions she never anticipated. And all the while, with a touch of mystery–or magic, perhaps, a friendship grows, a family knits together, and Nell discovers her true self. Sarah Lean could easily become a young reader’s favorite author. Don’t miss her other books!
Author / Illustrator Kadir Nelson has created an absolutely stunning picture book, simply titled Baby Bear. It is night, and Baby Bear is lost. Along his way, he asks for help from a lion, a frog, squirrels, a ram . . . always with the utmost courtesy. In return, rather than directions, each animal offers words of wisdom. The moose says, When I am lost, I sit very still and try to listen to my heart. It speaks as softly and as sweetly as a gentle breeze. And it is never wrong. It will lead you home. Baby Bear takes further steps and with each encounter, he gathers more courage to continue his quest.
This is a 2014 publication from Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. I can only imagine the list of awards this book will receive.
marty mcguire digs worms! by Kate Messner, with illustrations by Brian Floca was published by Scholastic Press in 2012. This early chapter book is part of the Marty McGuire series, so I should have started with the first book: marty mcquire. Nonetheless, this book stands on its own very well. In response to a special assignment: Save the Earth! no less, Marty and the other third graders come up with creative ideas. Marty’s grandma helps her set up a large wooden box in the school cafeteria, complete with worms. The worms will eat the cafeteria garbage and turn it into worm poop, um, castings, or um “black gold.” Of course, there are mishaps and adventures before trophies are handed out. I won’t spoil the fun.
Kate Messner is an award-winning writer and I can highly recommend any and all of her books. Do open these pages and let marty mcquire into your life!
I never considered writing an alphabet book because there are so many wonderful ones already out there and then there’s the advice from editors: only submit an A B C manuscript if you have a new approach or twist. I had neither . . . until the other day when I observed a little boy in a common situation and asked myself What if . . . ? And thus the fun began!
I took a break from writing and rewriting my work-in-progress to visit the library. I chose a sampling of alphabet books to see what other authors had done successfully. It’s always good to learn from others further down the road, right? I found three excellent books from different decades:
Each book has its own appeal. Babar goes through the world experiencing situations, animals, people, and things that begin with each letter. Small boxes on many of the pages give us sentences and illustrations to further strengthen the association of letter and sound, for example, on the “Cc” page, we see a circus in full swing, and in small boxes, we have “The cat climbs onto the camel. /Celeste wears her crown when she drives her car. / The crocodile cannot catch the crow.” Each illustration adds to the fun.
In the Bulldozer book, we discover, quite naturally through the illustrations and logical unfolding of the construction jobs depicted, Asphalt, Bulldozer, Crane, Dump truck, Excavator and so on. It’s quite eXciting!
The animal ABC’s not only introduce us to creatures from Alligator to Zebra, but the animal tells us what he looks like, what she can do, or it’s special character traits. Did you know a Raven can dive, roll, and fly upside down?
Okay. I clearly have my work cut out for me!
Author Edwidge Danticat spoke at the SCBWI-FL conference last month. I wasn’t able to attend this year but members of my Royal Palm Critique Group spoke of her moving presentation at our recent meeting. Though Ms. Danticat writes YA frequently, in 2005, she penned the middle-grade story of Anacaona, Golden Flower for A Dear America Book series: The Royal Diaries. The tale begins in 1490 in Haiti (Ms. Danticat’s homeland). Along with her older brother, Anacaona is in line to become a ruler of her people. Through her eyes and her experiences, we hear, see, smell, absorb the stories, myths, culture, foods, and traditions of the Taino people of Haiti. Though the story is fiction, necessarily as these people did not read or write–so their is no actual diary to draw from–Queen Anacaona is an historical personage.
I found the story difficult to follow initially, as the Taino names and words scattered throughout were a challenge. Nonetheless, it was worth persevering. The story takes us through the years of Anacaona’s preparation to become a leader, her betrothal and marriage, the birth of her daughter, the struggles of her people to live peacefully in an island world beset by aggressive neighbors, fierce hurricanes, and lastly, the arrival of gold-lusting Europeans.
Mature students who are good readers will find this book worthwhile. Anacaona makes a lasting impression and is a powerful role model.