10 MORE Great Books for the Young Readers (9-12 yrs) on Your List

graphic of book covers described in post

Need book recommendations for the 9 to 12 year old readers on your gift list? Here are the 10 books for this age group I really, really enjoyed in 2017.

This list has heartwarming adventure stories about orphans, the Middle Ages, life in the theater, and adventures at sea. Quite a few of these will make you laugh out loud!

For more about a book, click on the title to read my GoodReads review.

Book cover for EMELIN with boy and girl in monks' robes against a dark snowy monastery1. EMELIN by Jackie Randall is a story of a girl with a rare talent for illustrating books. Her talent is the only thing that stands between her and lifetime of hunger.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the Middle Ages!
  • Readers who love scrappy heroines!
  • Readers who love books about books!

 

2. THE INQUISITOR’S TALE by Adam Gidwitz is an exciting story with entertaining illustrations–arrows shoot across one of the pages–and three very different children and a magical dog.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the Middle Ages + magic!
  • Readers who love funny + true characters + amazing plot twists!
  • Readers of graphic novels/comic books who enjoy fast-paced, illustrated adventures.

3. E. G. Foley’s THE LOST HEIR (Book 1 of The Gryphon Chronicles) is a historical fantasy set in a fantastic Victorian London and is charming all the way through. E.G. Foley–the husband and wife team who author these books–clearly know what young readers will enjoy.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who like to fly!
  • Readers who love unicorns, mermaids, villains, fairies and Queen Victoria!
  • Readers who want every chapter to deliver!

4. Gary L. Blackwood’s THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER is the exciting and twisty story of a scrappy orphan boy called “Widge” who gets the job of stealing Mr. Shakespeare’s newest play.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love theater!
  • Readers who love backstage secrets!
  • Readers who love series!

 

5. Holly Goldberg Sloan’s SHORT is the hilarious story of a girl who is short for her age. She gets a part as a Munchkin in the local production of The Wizard of Oz. Short people are calling the shots and that changes everything!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love theater!
  • Readers who love to fly!
  • Readers who love when kids are in charge!

 

6. Linda Sue Park’s A SINGLE SHARD is about the orphan, Tree-Ear, who wants to “throw” the famous pottery vases that are beautiful enough for royalty. A philosophical, whimsical, and beautiful book!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love the film, THE KARATE KID!
  • Readers who love the Middle Ages + Asia!
  • Readers who want to know what life was like for an orphan in Korea a long time ago!

7. Lauren Wolk’s BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA is a warm adventure story with lots of fascinating angles! I loved this book.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS and sea adventures!
  • Readers who love ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and warm friendships and adoptive families!
  • Readers who love buried treasure!

 

8. Ellen Booraem’s TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD is a wacky story that really shouldn’t work at all and the perfect cure for a gloomy winter day when you need to laugh out loud!

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love to laugh!
  • Readers who love when the underdog wins!
  • Readers who love colorful families!

9. Jessica Day George’s PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL is a re-telling of the fairytale called the twelve dancing princesses in English and die zertanzte Schuhe in German. I actually liked the second book in the series even more: THE PRINCESS OF GLASS.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love fairy tale re-tellings!
  • Readers who love dancing (and knitting heroes!)
  • Readers who love series!

10. Andrew Clement’s FRINDLE

Both of my children really enjoyed this book when they were younger. I finally read it and it’s so much fun! Excellent and funny.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love school stories!
  • Readers who want to make their mark on the world!
  • Readers who love stories about what happens when you don’t follow the “rules”!

BONUS: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer’s THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Young Reader’s Edition) is the true story of a boy who reads about physics in his tiny village library after a famine means he can’t pay school fees any more. He’s determined to build a tower that will keep his family from ever going hungry again.

Who is this for?

  • Readers who love libraries!
  • Readers who love true heroes!
  • Readers who want to be inspired!

WARNING for sensitive readers: there’s a very sad part about William’s dog that could be challenging. I skipped over some parts during the famine times, but the rest of the story is perfect for all readers!

 

If your voracious readers have read EVERYTHING and you need MORE, here are my 2016 top 10 books for Middle Grade readers (9 to 12).

Best wishes for wonderful holidays with your loved ones!

Happy reading and writing!

See you in 2018!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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The Book Club for Kids talks satisfying reads and Gary D. Schmidt’s ORBITING JUPITER

Book cover showing boy walking on snowy road with arms out like an airplane.
Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter is the story of a “troublish” boy with a two-month-old baby named Jupiter.

A recent The Book Club for Kids episode is about Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter

I haven’t read this YA book yet but I’m very interested. The readers’ lively reactions make me want to be “there in the barn with them” and find out what happens to this “troublish” boy with a two-month-old baby named Jupiter.

Gary D. Schmidt gives some fascinating and touching backstory about Orbiting Jupiter, how he writes, and how he became a writer of fiction.

Bonus for writers: Middle grade readers reveal what writers can include to create satisfying books. (At 21:00)

  • catch our feelings
  • make us wonder what happens next
  • a lot of drama
  • surprise at the beginning
  • keep us interested

An interview with Gary D. Schmidt about the setting of Orbiting Jupiter.

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Peace on Earth, Good Will to You All!

Soft dolls in a nativity scene. Mary, Joseph with dreadlocks, angel, felt palm tree, and smiling camel with red saddle. © Laurel Decher, 2016.
I think this camel is pleased about the new saddle. Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and a smiling camel, waiting for the baby Jesus. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A year ago, I wrote about our “rastafarian” Joseph and the challenges of writing about other people’s cultures: Skin-colored Felt: Doing other people’s cultures wrong. It feels like we’ve gone backwards in trying to understand each other this year.

Our rastafarian Joseph still leans to one side. (He still needs that navy bean transfusion.) Our angel has wings, our camel sports a new saddle and Mary looks much fresher without the excess glue. They look hopelessly naive in the face of so much pain. But the camel makes me smile every time I walk by.

Joan Bauer’s HOPE WAS HERE is a middle grade story about how much bigger hope is than we think. She wrote it in an apartment overlooking the smoking remains of the Twin Towers in New York City. When she started it, she had a tiny pillow that said “Hope”, but when she finished, she said that little pillow of hope was as big as a couch.

We can grow more hope.

See you in January!

Peace on Earth, Good will to all!

If you’re looking for gift ideas for young readers, try this list of recommended books on The Winged Pen. These are the middle grade books I’ve read and enjoyed most this year.

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Writing Gratitude Countdown (2) The Gift of Permission

A stone face with a water spout mouth. Pink flowers behind.
Give yourself permission to spout off. Get writing! Rhöndorf, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the second post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. It’s my way of re-discovering the richness of the creative life. You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.

2. The Gift of Permission: the value of allowing yourself to create

Giving yourself permission to write is a way to counteract the doubts that come when we face a blank page:

Is it good? Am I a writer? Should I write more? Have I got a story here?

Permission is a cycle. It starts and ends with you, the writer, and in the middle are all kinds of readers.

a. You: Giving yourself permission to take time to learn, create, and revise.

The people who helped me most with permission are the ones closest to me. My husband takes on childcare so I can go to writing conferences or local writing groups. My children patiently traipse through research museums with me, take photos of settings, listen to garbled explanations, and put up with slapdash meals because the creativity was all used up by the time we got to food.

When other people make sacrifices for your dream, it’s the most tangible kind of permission there is. Thank you darling family!

b. Readers: Friends who read books agree that what you’ve written sounds like a “real” story.

At the beginning of the writing life, it’s hard to find other writers. The closest you can come are people who read a lot of books. They have taste and experience.

Sometimes the most encouraging people won’t be your “target audience” that is, they don’t read the kinds of books you’re trying to write. Don’t forget to value them.

Our dear neighbor Rebecca told me once that she didn’t like novels because she didn’t enjoy reading about the conflict between good and evil. But because she was a reader and valued books of all kinds, she still encouraged me to write. I still miss her.

Other friends have promised me that they will read or buy my book when it comes out even though their personal and professional interests are in totally different areas. It’s a special vote of confidence.

Librarians and teachers are a special category of experienced readers. I hope you have many special ones in your writing life!

c. Writers: Other people who write make it all seem normal.

My husband’s cousin is a talented furniture maker. He knows all kinds of people who makes things with their hands. (He put in our kitchen–Thanks, Matthias! We enjoy it!)

I’ve been writing for a while and I have so many writer friends I can’t list you all! It’s natural and wonderful. Thank you writer friends!

It’s fun to “talk shop” when you’re learning a new skill. Comparing tools, asking for opinions, and practicing getting the words down together can be a blast. An afternoon of writing prompts at a local coffee-shop, a day-long local workshop, or book festival can re-charge the writer batteries.

Watch your local newspaper and library bulletin boards to see what writers in your neighborhood are up to. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re still looking for your own set of writers, you might enjoy: Six Tips to Find Your Online Writing Community and my round-up of middle grade writing communities: Writers Working Together: 8 Things We Can Do Better Together.

(More about my current critique partners is coming in a later post, so stay tuned!)

d. Authors: Published writers (or any writers ahead of us on the path) share insight into the whole writing and publishing path. Secret handshakes are also a kind of permission.

It’s always an honor when someone who does something well treats your early attempts with respect. Susan Gilbert-Collins is a published novelist (Starting from Scratch) and much more experienced writer than I am. I’m so very grateful for her generosity. She read my “trunk novel” graciously and I’ve lost count of the number of times she has read and praised my middle grade work-in-progress. Thanks a million, Susan! I’m looking forward to your next novel!!

Tracy Barrett is the author of 22 books, including Anna of Byzantium. and a brand-new The Song of Orpheus: the Greatest Greek Myths You’ve Never Heard. She’s also an active and generous member of SCBWI. (If you write children’s books and want to find like-minded people, visit the SCBWI website and extensive discussion forums.) Tracy gave me a personal critique at an SCBWI Germany & Austria workshop and I’m still referring to her notes. Thanks, Tracy!

PitchWars is a classic example of authors giving back to the writing community. Author mentors coach mentees through an extensive 3-month revision and then help them connect to a stunning list of literary agents. The generous Brenda Drake (Thief of Lies) has been organizing this amazing growth opportunity for writers since 2012. Thank you Brenda Drake!

Author Michelle Hauck (Grudging) runs several contests, including the New Agent Contest. I won the chance for a mentor to get my query and first 250 words in good shape. My mentor was the wickedly smart and amazingly tactful author, Wade Albert White (The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes). Thanks Michelle Hauck! Thanks Wade White!

e. Agents and Editors: People who can assess writing for its qualities and marketability.

The first time a real live agent or editor seriously listens to your pitch or reads your query while you’re sitting there is amazing. I’ll never forget watching the classy Meredith Bernstein consider my written pitch at a conference years ago or her hand-written comment on my manuscript: “You deserve time and attention.” Now maybe she writes that on other people’s manuscripts–I have no idea. She gave me written permission to write and to persevere. Thank you Meredith Bernstein!

f. Reviewers: People who assess published work for its qualities and marketability.

Here we’re back to experienced readers. I don’t have any reviewers (Yet ;)) but I review books I enjoy and try to nudge them towards friends who’ll also enjoy them.

g. Readers: People who want to read the next thing we write.

Seth Godin coined the term permission marketing and explains it better than I can. People who voluntarily give their e-mail addresses in exchange for finding out when your next book is coming out give you the ultimate permission.

They want to read things you haven’t even written yet. They are inviting you to write something new. Thank you so much to all my e-mail subscribers! It’s an honor to have each and every one of you!

h. You: Giving yourself permission to try something new.

And that brings you back to the blank page where you need to give yourself permission all over again.

Happy writing!

So that’s my second installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.) More to come! If you’d like to share about people who gave you permission to write, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your story!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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Round-up: Self-publishing and Children’s Books

Steel automat vending machine with tiny windows and coin slot. It says "Stockings" across the top, in German.
“Strümpfe.” An old vending machine for stockings is conveniently located right on the street in Altenahr, Germany. Stockings (and books) are sold differently these days. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Self-publishing gurus abound these days, but many of them don’t mention children’s books. Since it’s worth learning self-publishing skills no matter how we publish, I’ve collected the best resources I can find for children’s authors. If I’ve missed good ones, please feel free to mention them in the comments. Thanks!

  • Does self-publishing children’s books make any sen$e?

U.S. sales and strategies from Daniel Kenney on Amazon’s kboards. “My latest milestone and what I’ve learned about Middle Grade Fiction.” (June 11, 2015) and the follow-up post “6 Weeks, 4,000 Print Books: What I’ve Learned” (December 13, 2015). More details are in his funny and inspiring post on Hugh Howey’s blog. He’s had better success with lower Middle Grade.

Sales in Germany. “Middle Grade Fiction Sales in Germany in 2015” by bilingual German writer and translator, Anja Bauermeister. (January 12, 2016) She’s also on Episode 136 of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast: “Self-Publishing in the German Market with Anja Bauermeister.”

Sales in the UK. UK author, Karen Inglis reports her sales numbers on her Self-Publishing Adventures blog. Here’s her post on marketing tips. She has lots of tips about formatting e-books in Word if that’s your thing. Scrivener’s done a great job for me creating e-book files, so I don’t do the Word conversion for Smashwords.

Or if it’s not all about the money, read this warm fuzzy story about a picture book published in Sri Lanka“Why I Write and Self-Publish Children’s Books”. I love the cover.

  • Where can I find a simple plan to see what’s involved?

Susan Kaye Quinn’s free e-book Quick-Start Guide to Self-publishing and the blog version of her Indie Author Survival Guide. She’s updating the Guide (3rd edition) on her blog. The first chapter is here. You can get her free e-book, Quick-Start Guide to Self-publishing, at the same link and sign up for her For Love or Money Facebook group.

Both Susan Kaye Quinn and Anja Bauermeister have rocket-science backgrounds. Self-publishing children’s books is an experimental world, so maybe that helps.

  • How can I get involved in a community of self-published children’s book authors?

Sign up for Darcy Pattison’s Indie Kids Book Listserv (Yahoo discussion group) about self-publishing children’s books. The same page links to more posts about self-publishing children’s books and marketing picture books with Pinterest. Or listen to Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast’s Episode 48: Making a Living with Children’s Books with Darcy Pattison (May 22, 2014).

The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has a new moderated discussion forum on self-publishing on their Blueboard. You need to register(free) for the Blueboard or login as an SCBWI member to see the discussion forum.

Have you self-published a children’s book? What challenges did you face? Do you have tips to reach older middle grade readers? Please comment below.

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Writers Working Together Online: 8 Things We Can Do Better Together

House with lit up windows as night falls in winter. Bare trees, green grass, pale blue sky.
12, Rue Cortot, Montmartre, Paris. This house in Montmartre housed a community of Impressionist painters and writers and is now a museum. © Laurel Decher, 2013.

Have you noticed all the different kinds of group writing blogs on the internet? They range from #pitchwars mentors and debut authors with books coming out in the same year to industry gurus.

It’s easy to see the advantages for mutual support. (If you need to brush up, read Twyla Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit about the power of creative collaboration.)

  1. Authors target readers. These blogs focus on the world of middle grade books:

From the Mixed-Up Files “In the spring of 2010, a group of nearly thirty authors banded together to form a website and blog like no other in the history of the internet. As writers and readers of middle-grade books, our goal is to bring awareness and enthusiasm and celebration to books for 8-12 year olds, creating a *home* for anyone and everyone who loves books for this Golden Age of Reading.”

Middle Grade Mafia “The mission of the Middle Grade Mafia is to provide a refuge, a klatch, for established and aspiring middle grade authors. The purpose of the site is to share knowledge, inspire each other, and celebrate good news. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but when you are part of a family, you are never alone.”

Smack Dab in the Middle “a middle grade authors’ blog”

Notes from the Slushpile “a team blog maintained by seven friends who also happen to be children’s authors at different stages of the publishing journey.”

2. Contest collaborators talk behind the scenes. Author mentors, literary agency interns and editors who donated time to PitchWars “behind the scenes” continue their collaboration.

Writing with the Mentors “Tips, tricks, and techniques, from Agented/Published Authors, Interns, and Editors.”

3. Debut authors band together.

The Sweet Sixteens 2016 Young Adult and Middle Grade Debut Authors. I love their “Find an Author Near You” option.

4. Industry experts weigh in.

Writer Unboxed  “about the craft and business of fiction.”

5. Indie publishers show us how its done.

Alli Alliance of Independent Authors blog about self-publishing.

Group blogs on writing are probably only a small part of the internet, but they signal something important. We need each other to navigate this vast virtual sea of interesting stuff. This shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does.

Getting the words down is easier alone. But finding readers, giving critique, releasing books, interpreting the publishing industry, querying, editing, revising, and self-publishing all look a heck of a lot easier in a group.

The Museum of Montmartre is a lovely example of writers and artists working together, but the internet means we need each other more than ever.

What are you still trying to do all on your own? Should you be collaborating with someone?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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The Reverse Backstory Tool Brings Your Characters to Life

Guilded and white marble Roman Emperor with ermine cloak looks lighthearted.
This character is ready to walk right off the building. Statue of L’Empereur Romain on the front of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Reverse Backstory Tool – Becca Puglisi

Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s Reverse Backstory Tool in THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS is the perfect way to jumpstart a new story or re-animate a faded character.

It’s not an eye-color checklist. It’s a way to discover the inside workings of your character that drive your story.

Take ten minutes to see what I mean. (Download it here.)

  1. Fill in:
    • the character’s inner and outer motivations Hint: what the character wants (outer) links to why (inner) he or she wants it. In a middle grade story, maybe Penelope wants to buy school lunch (outer motivation) instead of bringing it from home. She wants to stand in line with her friends instead of sitting alone at a table waiting for them. (inner motivation)
    • the positive trait(s) that will help the character achieve his or her goal. Penelope is CREATIVE and her creative problem-solving will help her reach her goal once she thinks of using her creativity in this way.
    • the negative trait(s) that will get in the way. Penelope can be INATTENTIVE, especially by lunchtime, because there are so many things to think about.
  2. Add the character’s:
    • wound–that painful happening in the past that made them who they are today. Penelope lost her lunch money twice and once a bully took it. Now her parents won’t send her to school with lunch money.
    • lie–that automatic belief that gets in his or her way. The character must overcome this lie to grow into the hero who will triumph. Penelope believes she’s not good with money.
    • Appendix A of THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS suggests needs and the lies characters tell about them.
  3. Feel the tension. It sounds hokey, but once you’ve filled this out, your character is fleshed out because you’ve found the inner conflict. Once you have a “want” and a “need” pushing against each other, the character is kicking and struggling to get out of your imagination and into action.
  4. THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS are fun and inspiring ways to find your raw ingredients. You can also find traits that will lead to built-in conflict in sidekick characters and villains. With characters like these, the story energy keeps building.

Does this sound too cookbook-y to you?

At first I also thought, “Oh, no, if all writers use these tools, we’ll all be writing exactly the same stories.”

Of course that isn’t true. If you’ve ever written from a prompt in a large group, you know 30 writers will come up with 30 totally different stories based on one writing prompt. If you’ve never done it, try it. It’s eye-opening.

Actually, these writerly catalogs free up my writer’s brain and let me riff at a much deeper level. They also make it a lot more fun.

Want another example? Read Becca Puglisi’s post for 7 more ways to use these excellent tools during drafting and revision.

Have you used any of these tools before? How did they work for you?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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