Classic Middle Grade: The View from Saturday by E.L. Koningsburg

Middle Grade Reads

I’ve been “studying” middle grade fiction, reading both recent releases as well as older, classic titles I didn’t read when I was younger. My first post on classic MG (and YA) was Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family series.

view from saturdayThe View from Saturday is the 1997 Newbery Medal winner by E.L. Koningsburg. Koninsburg was an established writer at the time, publishing regularly since 1967 (her last novel was published in 2007; she died in 2013). One of the two novels she published in 1967, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, won the 1968 Newbery, and from what I can tell, this is pretty much her second most popular book.

I read Frankweiler when I was younger, and you might have too…it’s “the one where the brother and sister run away and live in the Met.” Nevertheless, it’s been so long that I don’t think I can accurately compare the two, and I haven’t read anything else of Koningsburg’s to comment on how her style has changed over time.

1996 doesn’t play a huge role in The View from Saturday, but the passage of time witnessed by Koninsburg is commented upon. Mrs. Olinski, who has returned to teaching after 10 years due to an accident that left her a paraplegic, notes that the idea of “sixth graders have changed” has truth. They’re more outspoken and meaner. Regardless of how explicit this contrast was in Koninsburg’s intention, it’s a fair observation.

The View from Saturday is…kind of a novel? It’s also kind of a short story collection. I feel like it’s something that would be difficult to sell to middle grade publishers today. The central question is of how did Mrs. Olinski chose her winning young Academic Team, but it isn’t a plot-centered mystery. It’s rather character-driven, and the stories unfold in sort of a nesting egg. In between interludes from third person perspective at the academic meet, there are first person stories of how the characters all came to meet each other and Mrs. Olinski and how they formed their bonds. There’s Noah Gershom, an intelligent boy who discovers he really likes calligraphy. Nadia Diamonstein is the product of a “hybrid” family (half-Jewish, and also recently divorced parents) with a dog she loves very much. Ethan Potter is a quiet boy from a family of farmers prominent in the little upstate New York town, in the shower of his successful older brother, and discovers his love for the crew side of theater. And then there’s Julian Singh, an Indian boy with a British accent from his boarding school time in Britain who gets bullied because of his strangeness (and not “this kid is Indian” kind of bullying, the “this kid dresses like a British schoolkid” kind of bullying).

They meet up, they chat and bond, they share amusing anecdotes. They have a good run as the Academic Team (which is much more difficult than when I was in academic team…we were all multiple choice). It’s…charming. The characters seem much too sophisticated for their age, but that goes along with the tone. There’s this sense of magical surrealness throughout. But as you may have guessed by my description and the under-200 page count, there isn’t much to it–as a novel, at least. And yet, it also isn’t quite a short story collection, because it feels like it’s building toward something. I do appreciate the idea that some things just are wonderful and can’t be explained, but something about it just feels incomplete? Truthfully, this review is up late because I don’t have that much to say. It’s an interesting little book, complex for its age level, and well-written, but it didn’t leave much for me when it was over.

When the words just flow…

After struggling on and off this summer, I’ve finally hit a groove and I’m really enjoying and am excited about writing. I also finally hit about 50,000 words on my project**, which makes it an offical “novel,” even though I’m currently adding and rearranging more than writing linerally, which also means that some written scenes will probably be reworked or deleted.

Nevertheless, last night I went to bed thinking about how I was potentially so close to being done with the rough draft, and how I could send it to my friends for a first read (after I just read through it again and insert ir change some things I want to make it consistent, as some of my ideas changed halfway through, and some minor characters don’t have names). It was such an exciting feeling, especially as I’ve poured so much of myself into this story.

My struggle with this book–which I’ve been working on for a year and a half–was that I wasn’t advanced enough for it. It’s middle grade, but that meant I needed to keep it accessible and plot-driven enough to keep my audience reading while also telling a character-driven story. I originally began with some magical realism, but then I began rethinking that. Then I wondered if I needed to reshape what I had written all along a more higher-stakes plot. Whenever I got stuck, I would often put it away and move to another project with more momentum. Sometimes, I stepped away from it because the subject matter was often so personal. But I always returned.

This summer I planned on taking what I had and making a chart from which I could then add or rearrange, still thinking I would have a more dramatic plot. Instead, I found I rather liked what I had, more than I’d thought. I came up with more ideas that I liked much better, and I’ve now been working on adding them, and then using that additional background, I’ll move forward. There were only a couple of chapters left, after all.

I’ve still got a lot to figure out, but the idea of working from a draft than from ideas that aren’t on paper is so relieving. I’ve started many projects, but I’ve honestly only finished one book before, and that one was very different (fantasy, 90,000 words) and I was 12. (I did reach 50k on the sequel, but I never go further with other projects because I kept editing that first one, until I realized it just wasn’t what I wanted anymore.) It’s yet another component to this new stage in my life, and like college and being more independent and meeting new friends and finding new opportunities, I’m happy.

**It’s a middle grade realistic novel. It’s broadly about middle schoolers figuring out who they are and who they want to be, perfectionism, mental health, friendship, and how stories and characters as well as the Internet shape our view of the world.

I have acquired more books…

No usual update this week, because I was on vacation and didn’t get much of a chance to read and write. I have, however, acquired more books since my last haul, so this seems like an opportunity to show them off. Once again, many of them are ebooks that were on my TBR list and happened to be on sale…a consequence of finally getting my own a debit card. Well, I’m not complaining.

Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature by Robert Darnton : I went to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. (it was awesome), and they had a lot of books in the gift shop, both fiction and nonfiction, and I really wanted to pick up a nonfiction that interested me to read outside of my comfort zone. I almost picked up a book about spies throughout American history, but then I saw this, and I’m really glad I did because it’s right up my alley and I think I’ll learn a lot. It focuses on the effects on literature of the censorship in Bourbon France, British India, and Soviet East Germany. (Have I mentioned I really like history? I love history.)

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: I’ve wanted to read this for a while, and it was a monthly deal, so I couldn’t resist it. I’ve really only read one Discworld novel so far, but I love the satire, and I’m interested in how this one crosses over with kidlit/YA. (The Kindle edition is still just $5.)

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: This was a Kindle Daily Deal, and I had to pick it up because the book was such a hit last year and it’s historical fiction about women during World War II…did I mention I love history?

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey: I’m not very interested in zombies, but I’ve heard such great things about this that I was curious. I honestly don’t know much else, but I want to go into this one fairly blind. (Unfortunately, it seems that the Kindle deal for this one was limited and has since expired.)

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown:  As I mentioned earlier, I’m looking to expand into more nonfiction, and this was a book that was recommended on the Book Riot podcast and caught my attention because I have a lot of trouble taking risks. Book Riot also alerted me that this book was on a daily ebook sale, so I picked it up and I’m hoping to get to it soon.

Have you read any of these? What books have you acquired recently, bought or library?

Reading and Traveling

At the time this goes up, I’ll be on a vacation. First Washington, D.C. (my first time!) for some touristy things (including the Spy Museum!), and then to stay with my grandma. Naturally, this is a good opportunity to discuss reading while on vacation.

Options vary, of course, based on the nature of your vacation. In most cases, it’s probably beneficial to take something that is fairly portable. It could be a reasonably-sized paperback (or two), a library book, a Kindle…whatever floats your boat.

rory take books everywhere
(Me.)

An e-reader is a great opportunity if you like some freedom . You don’t even need a digital library that’s been built up from e-book deals and sales (like mine…it’s a habit), because many libraries offer ebooks to download, often remotely. My library and many others have Overdrive, which can be used online and in app form. You can then loan ebooks and audiobooks from your library, which can be downloaded to the app or to your e-reader of choice. I’ve used both in the past and ran into no problems.

 

Audiobooks are another travel favorite, especially for car rides. (Personally I’m not driving and I can read in the car without getting sick, so I usually don’t use them in the car on trips.)  Many use Audible.com for audiobooks, but after the first month there’s a subscription fee. I myself use the free Overdrive, even though its selection is smaller and is dependent on what the library ahs purchased. Nevertheless, it likely has plenty of options. Audiobooks don’t always go well with family car rides, of course, so if the whole family can’t decide on a book to listen to, there’s always the option of listening by yourself with headphones.

What am I bringing?

  • Physical books: A Clockwork Orange, Oscar Wilde plays omnibus (I have 3 more to read), George Orwell essay collection (I have 200+ pages left), The View from Saturday, Lemony Snicket’s final book in the All the Wrong Questions series, and Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman (library copy). This may seem like a lot, but I’m leaving myself options to choose from, including…
  • My Kindle: I’m really loving my new Kindle, which I upgraded to a Paperwhite, and I’ve
  • My phone: It has both the Kindle and Overdrive apps, so I never have to be anywhere without something to read! (I’m going to likely read the ebook of this year’s Printz winner Bone Gap.)

Unlike previous years, this time I haven’t brought a set amount of books to read and really want to make picking up a book to be more fun and less of something to cross off my summer TBR.

Currently Reading and Updates: 6/20/16

Currently Reading

Aaaand another week has flown by. Definitely “flown by” from my perspective, because I had my two day college orientation (finally signed up for classes!!) and also had some preparing to do for our upcoming vacation  (which included bowling 9 no-tap games). Oh, and I also finally got Photoshop and Illustrator and have been playing around with that.

Is this an excuse? A little, maybe, but this week was exciting for me. I have made some progress in A Clockwork Orange, which requires a lot of concentration because there’s so much made-up slang that it’s kind of like reading a book in a second language that you aren’t fluent enough in to know every word.

I also realized something important about my writing: At this stage at least…I need to plan more in-depth. Right now I’m writing specific scenes, and while I know what generally will happen, it isn’t very specific. This has caused me to get stuck a lot because I’m not sure how to transition or where the dialogue should league. So, I think I need to plan a little bit more before I set myself any word count goals. I’m not usually a “planner” because my ideas flow more as I write, but in this case I’ve already got the idea and I just need something more specific (that may change anyway) to keep me focused.

This week is another busy one as I depart for a trip for Washington, D.C.–but I at least will have time to read in the car. I’ll probably finish A Clockwork Orange and move on to something else…though I’m not sure what yet. And then after D.C., when I’m at my grandma’s house, I’m going to really try to set aside time each day to write only. (And plan. That includes the planning.)

What are you guys reading right now? What works best for moving forward with your writing?

Review: George by Alex Gino

Middle Grade Reads

George by Alex Gino

Publisher: Scholastic

Publication Date: August 25, 2015

Genre: children’s/low middle grade, contemporary, LGBT

georgeBE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Anyone active in the middle grade and even YA community last year probably heard about George by Alex Gino, the story of a ten-year-old transgender girl written by a genderfluid author (#ownvoices), a major step forward for the industry. At the time, I didn’t want to splurge on a hardcover and so I waited, but recently I took advantage of a Kindle deal (that is still active!), read a little bit of it, and couldn’t stop reading.

Designed for the younger end of middle grade, George is short (just under 200 pages) and has a fairly simple plot (George wants to play Charlotte in a school play of Charlotte’s Web to show everyone she’s a girl). The story is written in third person limited, which is important because this means that she/her pronouns refer to George from the beginning. Pronouns are important to trans people, but I’ve noticed that many outsiders are not sure what pronouns to use and when. Gino uses female pronouns from the first page, before George begins going by Melissa and despite what she has “between her legs,” an important statement about identity subtley slipped in through the language used.

While the storyline is simple and George is sure of her identity, that doesn’t mean that George portrays a simplistic view of being trans. There are a lot of little touches and facets of everyday life that affects George, like the gendered terms used by others, bullying, and bathing. The book is overall positive and hopeful, but it’s clear that there are many struggles, too. It’s realistic without being gritty, perfect for the target audience–and anyone, for that matter, as there seem to be so many LGBT tragedies. I have no doubt it will offer hope to many and will hopefully be taught in the future by schools as a classic and important teaching moment. (I say “in the future” because I can just imagine the parent complaints if this were introduced in an elementary school today. **Sigh**)

And George isn’t just an important book–it’s also an incredibly well-written one.  Frankly, I’m utterly envious of Alex Gino’s eloquent and delightful turns of phrases. There’s a scene where George and her brother play Mario Kart, which could have been a bit dull, but it’s described in such n entertaining way. I also loved that George and Kelly found information on the Internet, because in this age, that’s what kids do.

Overall? This is a charming, hopeful, and well-written little story with an important message highlighting an important issue. In the age of Caitlyn Jenner and bathroom bills, we need to acknowledge that these topics and issues aren’t “mature content”–they affect kids too! And like all good diverse books, it provides a solace to young kids grappling with the topic (in this case, being trans) and alerts them that they are not alone, while others build empathy and a better understanding of those who are different.

george tagline

 

Currently Reading and Updates 6/13/16

Currently Reading

So last week, I had some goals:

  1. Write 2,000 words this week (since I rarely track my wordcount except for specific events, I actually slack quite a bit. This seems like a good goal to start out with.)
  2. Finish/read at least 2 Orwell essays
  3. Read See You at Harry’s

I was…somewhat successful. I didn’t get to the Orwell essays, but I did read See You at Harry’s as well as George by Alex Gino, so I think I read more pages overall.

As for writing…I really only wrote about 500 words, because I only concentrated on it for brief times on two days. This week ended up being a little crazier than I thought it would be; I ran several errands and when I was computer, I was preoccupied with college things, as I found out my dorm/LLC assignment and created a group chat where we all excitedly met each other and talked about classes, so of course I had to go look over all the possible schedules again. The point? I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but I need to devote time to it.

So, this week: definitely more writing. I have college orientation that takes up most of 2 days, but I still really want to try to hit 2,000 words if I can…

As for reading, I’m still in a bit of a strange pattern. I really want to make headway on the Orwell essays, and I think I’m going to start/continue listening to the audiobook of The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, which I had abandoned because I was reading a little too much at once. Plus, I have more opportunities to listen to audiobooks now. I’m also considering starting A Clockwork Orange soon.

I hope you all have a great week!

Mini Book Haul, ft. Ebooks

I’ve acquired some books and a new Kindle recently, so I thought I would share!

Persuasion by Jane Austen: I’ve been meaning to read more Austen and I’ve heard such great things about this one. I got the Penguin Deluxe Edition because it seemed both thorough and pretty, and while it is an even nicer product than I expected (it had deckled edges and French flaps), there aren’t footnotes…though there is an introduction.

And now for the ebooks, which were all bought on deals:

George by Alex Gino: This is still $2.99, by the way! This has been a really breakout middle grade debut about a fourth-grade trans girl and I’ve been meaning to read it but wasn’t sure what format to read it in. Ultimately, this deal means I’ll read it sooner rather than georgelater…and I actually started reading it and I’m enjoying it! (Actually, because it’s so short, I’m almost a quarter of the way in.)

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber: This has been on my list because Jen Campbell on YouTube loves it so much, and I’ve been wanting to read more contemporary literary fiction. So when I saw the deal, I couldn’t ignore it. It’s about a man who travels to another planet (I think) as a missionary, so it sounds like there should be plenty of interesting discussions in there.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld: This was a deal as well, and while this wasn’t one of the YA series I was most interested in, I do love history and I do particularly love World War One (and everything that led up to it).So upon reading the summary again, I decided I’ll definitely give it a shot for the historical references!

What books have you acquired recently?

Review: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Publisher: Dial Books

Publication: Date: May 10, 2016

Genre: Young adult contemporary

highly illogical behaviorSixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Solomon.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

I first heard about Highly Illogical Behavior in a piece that connected its upcoming release with John Corey Whaley’s personal experience with anxiety, and so I was inevitably interested in a YA story concerning mental health written with a personal perspective. It wasn’t among my most anticipated titles, though, and I ended up picking it up from the library because I was interested in reviewing it because, honestly, the premise isn’t that great. The idea of “fixing” someone with a mental illness isn’t okay, but the back of the book seemed to suggest that this would be subverted, and I like myself some satire. But…well, days after finishing it, I’m still conflicted. In general, I just feel like this book wasn’t for me on multiple levels.

Continue reading “Review: Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley”

Currently Reading and Updates: 6/6/16

Currently Reading

Another week, more books! This update is going to be briefer because I can’t say I’ve been reading or writing a whole lot, because I’ve been working on getting things together for college. So I challenge myself to do MORE this week!

I finished Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley recently, and I’ll be reviewing it this week, though my thoughts are still quite conflicted. I also picked up See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles on a whim at the library, and I think I’m going to get to that soon. I’m still reading Orwell’s essays on and off, but I’m going to save the Wilde plays for some other time, because I really don’t want to marathon them.

I came up with new ideas I’m excited about for my novel, so my revision work became more drafting. But it’s been slow-going, so this week, so TIME TO MAKE GOALS:

  1. Write 2,000 words this week (since I rarely track my wordcount except for specific events, I actually slack quite a bit. This seems like a good goal to start out with.)
  2. Finish/read at least 2 Orwell essays
  3. Read See You at Harry’s

Despite my tendency to plan out my life, I’m actually really bad at accomplishing anything that isn’t schoolwork. And since I don’t even have schoolwork as an excuse to push back my writing and reading work (and it is work, I want it to be my career!), it’s time to get into the habit of scheduling writing around my life. Time to get to work!

jenna smile at computer