MG Book Review: Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty

twisted staff

I always consider it a bonus when a sequel is as good as the original. But a sequel that is better than the original is a rare treat. SERAFINA AND THE TWISTED STAFF is that rare treat. In the first book, Serafina and the Black Cloak, we met Serafina who lives with her father in the basement of the Biltmore House in 1899. As a catamount (part human-part cat), Serafina has unique physical abilities that help her solve the mystery of the missing children. Read more about the Black Cloak here.

In the Twisted Staff, Serafina is out hunting in the woods at night when she sees a weird old man with a twisted staff and five wolfhounds. The man sics the dogs on Serafina. Injured and terrified, she manages to escape, but is even more frightened by the evil she senses. Who was that man and why are all of the animals in the forest fleeing? The animals at the Biltmore start acting strangely too. After Braeden Vanderbilt’s dog Gideon attacks Serafina, she wonders if the Vanderbilts will believe that the terrible old man with his twisted staff is controlling the animals or will they blame her. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Toolkit: How The Story Grid Can Make You a Better Writer

Welcome to the game changer.The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne should be required reading for all writers who hope to get their books published. Learn what editors know: the key to good writing is good math!

Shawn Coyne explains how this works in a variety of ways including:

-A bell curve graph of book sales can help you decide what to write. The books in the center of the graph (thrillers) have a better chance of getting published.

– Stories that work always break down into a 25/50/25 formula: The Beginning is one quarter of the story. The Middle is one half of the story. The End is the last quarter of the story.

-Word-count matters. There is an average word count per genre. There’s more. Scenes follow a particular order and have an optimum length.

-Scenes must be balanced. Look at the order of the obligatory scenes of your genre. If you miss any of these the equation won’t work.

– Stories that work can be described on a single page known as the Foolscap Map. (Inciting event, Middle Build, and Resolution) and finally

– Stories that work will have all the components of the Story Grid.

There is plenty of valuable information and insight into the publishing business here. The Story Grid itself however will make most sense when you look at it in conjunction with Coyne’s free resources at Continue reading

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From The Stacks: An Interview with Jennifer Lewis

Jennifer Lewis

Middle Grade Mafia reads a lot of books and we think we have  good taste in children’s literature, but what do we know? We’re adults. Children’s books are supposed to appeal to children. We wanted to know what kids like to read and why .From time to time, MGM will be interviewing the real experts in children’s literature…the media specialists.

Our first “From the Stacks” interview is with Jennifer Lewis, the media specialist at Indian Knoll Elementary in Canton, Georgia.

Middle Grade Mafia: How long have you been a media specialist? Why did you choose that career path?

Jennifer Lewis: This August, I will start my twentieth year of teaching and sixth in the media center.  I enjoyed being a classroom teacher, but I pursued my school library degree because my true calling is in the library.  I love exploring new technology and helping teachers use it in their classrooms, collaborating with teachers to plan engaging lessons, and of course sharing great books with students!  I believe that I have the best job in public education!

 MGM: What are some of the most popular series/authors with your students? And why do you think these books have such appeal?

JL: My students love: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans, Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis, The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, NERDS by Michael Buckley, Warriors by Erin Hunter, The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, and Bone by Jeff Smith.  All of these series are either humorous or full of action.  This is what my students are looking for in a great book series!

 MGM: Is there a series or author that you wish your students would read but they don’t seem interested?

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by | June 15, 2016 · 9:32 am

MG Book Launch: Who the Heck Is Harvey Stingle? by Whitney Dineen

Harvey Stingle ebook

Wilhelmina Snodgrass has it all, a new school, a sworn enemy and adventures galore!

In Wilhelmina and the Willamette Wig Factory, Willy Snodgrass not only moved to a new town, but learned her family’s relocation was orchestrated by three ghosts that are related to her. Her Mission: to help her great aunt Georgie reopen the once famous Willamette Wig Factory.

In Who the Heck is Harvey Stingle?, Willy and her best friend Tomasina Andretti, are hard at work solving a new mystery. Who the heck is Harvey Stingle and why can he see and talk to the ghost from Willy’s family?

Never in their wildest dreams would the friends have guessed the truth. On a quest for clarity, they travel to a year that holds the answer. Will spending time in 1889 Monteith, Oregon, answer their question? Will this new adventure lead to another mystery?

Hang onto your hats and jump into Book 2 of The Wilhelmina Adventures!

Keep your eyes out for the girls’ next adventure…Beware of the Basement will be out in the winter of 2016!

From 6/11-6/15, click here to download a free copy of Book 1 of the Wilhelmina and the Willamette Wig Factory Adventures onto your Kindle! Buy the new book starting today by clicking here. Continue reading

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WRITERS TOOLKIT: Writing Authentic Character Emotions

483915Writing convincing emotions is essential to creating rich, authentic characters and scenes. It’s what adds depth to your story. Showing emotion on the movie screen is easy, but finding the right words to convey emotions in a real way can be a challenge. One resource on my reference shelf is called Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood and was first published in 1998.

The Introduction in the book explains it best. Ann Hood “. . . explores the ranges of dozens of emotions, the pitfalls in writing them and hints to writing them well. We will look at examples—good and bad—of how other writers have accomplished the task.”

The book examines 36 emotions ranging from Anger to Worry with a chapter dedicated to each one. So, when I’m not feeling particularly hostel, jealous or guilty, I can refer to the precise chapter in the book and read examples that help inspire ideas and make sure I’m not being cliche. It also reminds the writer how to move beyond just the physical descriptions but to use tension, dialog and vivid and unique descriptions to enhance the scene.


On the flip side, showing some of the non-verbal communication can also be a great way to add emotion to scenes. Describing body language has a place in the story as long as it’s unique and insightful. Kind of like adding a clue here and there about how the character is really feeling.  The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease describes the hidden meaning behind our non-verbal gestures. Sometimes our body language is involuntary, such as crossing our arms, holding your hands behind your back or rubbing your eye. One of the best sections describes the most common gestures of liars.

So once you’re done plotting and writing the first draft, it’s time to dig deeper into the emotional truth of your characters. These two books can help writers come up with original, meaningful ways to add emotion to your story.

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#MG Book Launch: Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb


Congratulations on another book birthday for our Mafia friend, Tricia Springstubb. Her latest MG novel, Every Single Second, (Blazer & Bray, HarperCollins) launches today.

“Every Single Second” is the story of two girls whose friendship has dwindled but whose ties remain deep. When one of their brothers is involved in a tragic shooting, the world changes overnight. A noel about the impact of class and racial divides, it explores the shifting bonds of friendship, the deep need for family, and the power we all have to make a difference. (Blazer & Bray, HarperCollins).

To buy now, click here!

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Building your Platform – The Blog


Platform, platform, platform! That’s all we hear about, but how do we do it! Blogging is a great way to begin building your platform. It’s low cost, it’s not limited by a number of characters, and it’s a great way to show off your writing skills. So, how do you get started?

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MG Book Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

The Only Thing Worse Than Witches by Lauren Magaziner

There are witches in eleven-year-old Rupert’s modern world, real witches with cauldrons and spells. They are all dangerous, according to his mother. She warns him to stay away, so of course, he ignores her. What else is the poor boy to do? He is desperate for an adventure to take his mind off his terrible teacher, Mrs. Frabbleknacker. She could put any witch to shame. But then perhaps that might be because she is a witch or is she?

When Rupert answers an ad looking for a witch’s assistant he gets the job helping a witch in training prepare for her witch-qualifying exam. She’s about his age and needs all the help she can get. Her spells go horribly wrong. But mostly she needs a friend. Alone neither of the children have what it takes to solve their problems, but together they can do almost anything, including uncover some deep dark secrets about why the witches came to town, who Mrs. Frabbleknacker really is and why Rupert’s mother is so desperate for him to stay away from witches.

Charming and whimsical, The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is a fun, timeless story of the magic of friendship. It is a must-read.

To buy now, click here!

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The Writer’s Toolkit: Twitter Tags All MG Writers Should Keep in Mind


So you’ve started writing your book, attended a conference and met lots of other writers. You are energetic and inspired. What’s next? What do MG writers do every day other than write or revise that work in progress? Answer: they look at hashtags.

What is a hashtag? A hashtag is a group of twitter posts about the same topic. There are literally hundreds of useful hashtags for writers and potentially an unlimited number since more hashtags are being created every day.

Why do you need to look them? All writers know how important it is to plot, write or revise that work in progress. It’s also important to continue to learn about the craft of writing and the process of getting published. So what is a busy writer to do? You could buy books on writing or research various topics on your own or you could follow certain hashtags on twitter.

Think of hashtags as your continuing education on the subjects of writing, technique, querying, publishing tips, marketing and inspiration.

Many articles about hashtags will give you 10, 40 or 100 options writers should follow, but let’s be real. Time is limited. You need to get back to that work in progress. So, follow the number of hashtags you are likely to look at every day. Try a different combination until you get the top five that works for you. Here is my top five list as a middle grade writer.

#SCBWI- best for the big picture and to remind you of important things like conferences.

#MGLit- best to see what other MG writers are up to, connect, learn, and be inspired. Good references to interviews and blogs.

#Pubtip- best for advice from agents, editors, and writers about what to do and not to do.

#Querytip- best for specific advice about what to put in a query or # Writetip- depending on what stage of the process you are at.

#MSWL- best if you want to search for agent, editors or publishers.

What hashtags do you find most useful?

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Book Launch: Mayday by Karen Harrington

Happy book birthday to Karen Harrington on her latest MG release Mayday. I was lucky to get an ARC of this book which is now one of my all time favorites. Wayne Kovok must face some unusual challenges (a plane crash, facial scaring, lost treasures) in addition to some of the more usual ones (loser father, grumpy grandpa and girl problems). The story is wonderfully written with authentic voice and characters. It’s a perfect MG book that blends heart and humor.



After surviving a plane crash, Wayne has plenty to cope with.

He’s lost his voice from an injury, his face is badly scarred, his drill-sergeant Grandpa has moved in, he’s lost the flag that draped his uncle’s coffin, the only reason his girlfriend hasn’t dumped him is because she’s sorry for him, and his father is an abusive loser. In sum, the white seventh-grader has to find a way to cope with the sudden disintegration of his world. In the past, he’s been a veritable encyclopedia of random trivia, useful for “sealing up the cracks of awkward silences.” Without a voice, the trivia doesn’t work. Friends could help, but he has none until he discovers Denny, who’s facing his bar mitzvah but suffers from a dreadful stutter—except when he sings—and, surprisingly, Grandpa, who, Wayne discovers, is slowly dying of cancer. Grandpa starts out as a near caricature of a ramrod-stiff career military man but gradually emerges to readers through Wayne’s developing understanding as sensitive and deeply in tune with the boy’s struggles. Wayne’s convincing narration perceptively captures the tribulations of young teens, and even though his problems aren’t commonplace, surprisingly, the resolutions are. Perhaps best of these is Grandpa’s advice: “Before you go taking the bull by the horns, make sure it’s your bull.”

A fine character-driven tale that slowly grows to a crescendo of satisfaction.

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