Monday, February 25, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Icefall

ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic, 2011)

What it's about: (via Goodreads) 
Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?
Opening Lines: "The fjord is freezing over. I watch it from the edge of our cliff near our hall, and each day the ice claims more of the narrow winding of ocean. It squeezes out the waves and the blue-black water, while it squeezes us in. Just as Father intended it to. Winter is here to wall us up, to bury us in snow and keep us safe."
Why I liked it: As you can see from the opening lines, the SETTING of the novel is a character in itself. The opening manages to convey two apparently contradictory things: they are trapped, and they are safe. As someone who, shall we say, finds setting a challenge when writing, I enjoyed seeing how Matthew Kirby brought the Nordic-like landscape to life.
I adore the COVER on so many levels. Great colors, and you immediately know you are in some mythic past which will be brimming with action.
Solveig, the narrator, is a very interesting CHARACTER, the plain child who is last-placed of her siblings in her kingly father's affections, but who proves she has strength of character as she works to become a skald or storyteller/minstrel.
There is ACTION aplenty, with the arrival of "berserkers" who are there to protect the children, but are scary in their unpredictability. And there is the constant TENSION, as we wonder who is the traitor. This is one of those rare books that kept me up past my bedtime!


Awards: ICEFALL won the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery and the 2012 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children's Literature, among many others.

About the Author, from his website: Matthew J. Kirby was born in Utah, but with a father in the navy lived all over: Rhode Island, Maryland, California (twice), and Hawaii. As an undergraduate at Utah State University, he majored in history. He then went on to earn M.S. and Ed. S degrees in school psychology. he lives in Utah with his wife and works as a school psychologist for a large district.

Other novels: The Clockwork Three (Scholastic 2010). Matthew Kirby is also part of the Infinity Ring Series. His book (#5) will appear in September 2013.
Sidenote: Matthew Kirby's agent is my agent too. (Stephen Fraser at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.) So I am in exalted company!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (G.P. Putnam's Sons 2012)

This was a Cybils' MG finalist, and I completely adored it--although I have to admit that the cover did not immediately draw me in. However, once I was involved in the story, I did not want to put it down!

What It's About: (Via Goodreads) Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

Opening Lines: "I talk a lot. Just not out loud where anyone can hear."

What I Liked: You lovers of historical fiction: this one is for you. I admit I am not well-versed in the history of the Civil Rights movement, beyond knowing Martin Luther King Jr. So this was eye-opening for me, that fact that Governor Faubus of Arkansas in 1957 was willing to close down the high schools rather than integrate them.

I really liked Marlee, and her arc was superb. She went from being incredibly shy to being incredibly brave. Her friendship with the more outgoing Liz was beautifully rendered. Kristin Levine also made Marlee's family very well-rounded, with understandable tensions arising between the parents and the children as they all face the fact of segregation and violence in their own way.

There is also quite a bit of action, including a scene where a character is locked in the trunk of a moving car being driven by the story's villain, and a bombing which narrowly misses being fatal.

The writing itself was beautiful and engrossing, and I found myself emotionally moved numerous times. This would be a great novel to read to a 5-8 grade class, or as part of a unit dealing with the civil rights movement.

About the Author: (From the back cover of The Lions of Little Rock) Kristin Levine, author of the critically acclaimed The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, received her BA in German from Swarthmore College and an MFA in film from American University. She spent a year in Vienna, Austria, working as an au pair and has taught screenwriting at American University. Currently, she lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg, first published 1967)

The Story (from Goodreads): When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere — to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing her younger brother Jamie has money and thus can help her with a serious cash-flow problem, she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at auction for a bargain price of $225. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it? 

Claudia is determined to find out. Her quest leads her to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue, and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

Why I Liked It:  Okay, so this one's a classic, a Newbery winner, and over 40 years old. Yet I hadn't read it until my son and a couple of his friends decided to film their version of the novel for the 90-second Newbery. I decided to read it too, to see if it stood the test of time.

I have to say it did. The characters are intriguingly quirky, there's a lot of wry humor, and it's a total kid fantasy--I mean, who among us kids hasn't dreamed of escaping from having to live with those pesky grown-ups and their constant demands! Claudia and Jamie's intrepid spirits win us over (even while the grown-up me was worrying about why nobody had recognized the runaways. But that's a modern mindset, in these days of ubiquitous media.)

It's a quick read, so if you've been putting it off it won't take you long to speed through it!

About the 90-second Newbery: This appears to be the brainchild of author James Kennedy. It's a video contest in which filmmakers of any age make movies that tell the entire story of a Newbery award-winning book in 90 seconds or less. The results are shown in New York, Chicago, Portland (!!) and Tacoma. Here's the entry in which my son appears (and we've just had word that it is being screened here in a couple of weeks.)

Finally, I had to laugh at the letter published in the appendix of my 35th anniversary edition of the novel. It's from editor Jean Karl and starts "Since you came in with FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E.FRANKWEILER, I have found myself chuckling over it more than once. I have read it only once... I do really want this book. I will be sending you a contract very shortly..." No mention of agents, editorial boards, sales reps not liking it--and all the other stories one hears about in modern publishing. It seems like you could just walk in to a publishing house with your novel and drop it on the editor's desk! (Nowadays, if you tried that, you'd be chased out by security and then made fun of on Twitter.)

Happy Middle Grade Monday, everyone. I look forward to finding out what you've all been reading!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bye Bye Bloggie

Those two of you who have been following my blogging endeavors from the beginning may know that I initially threw myself into the blogosphere with a blog titled "The Year of Writing Dangerously." (It was only when I stumbled onto the Don and his love for middle grade novels that Middle Grade Mafioso was born.)

The Year of Writing Dangerously came online in February 2010. I intended it to chronicle the 12 months of my concerted effort to "put myself out there," both in social media and in actually querying agents instead of just talking about querying (or wishing that a fairy agent would flit through my window and fly me straight to publishing glory.)

12 months passed in a blur. I found myself--much to my surprise--enjoying the whole blogging thang. I got involved in a meme called Microfiction Monday, which was a blast--140 characters to describe a photo--and which I didn't realize at the time was honing my indomitable skill at Twitter. I started reading craft books, and posted what I learned from them. And then, as one does on the internet, I found literary contests and other cool bloggers and before I knew it I was receiving a paycheck from the Don and signing up to be on the crew of the good ship Project Mayhem.

And I was writing bunches too, and sending out queries and doing all that good stuff. And then the "Year Of" blog was two years old, and I had an agent, and I was reviewing books sent to me by publishers and I was judging the Cybils and I was a regular contributor to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and... And I noticed that it was kinda hard to keep up with three blogs. So, taking stock of things at the beginning of this year, I have decided to stop at Three Years of Writing Dangerously and concentrate on my Middle Grade Mafiosoing.

Today and tomorrow, there will be a couple of grand posts over at the mother ship before she heads to dry dock. Loads of the lovely writers I have met over the past three years are sharing their Pearls of Writerly Wisdom. There's a lot of good stuff there, and even the Don approves. So, if you have a moment, pop on over, have a look around, pick up a virtual cappuccino e cornetto, and say "hi." We'd love to welcome you to The Year of Writing Dangerously.