Totally Middle SchoolI loved receiving this review for the new middle-grade anthology, Totally Middle School (Delacorte, ed. by Betsy Groban). I hope you’ll discover the wide variety of stories within this book, many of them the right length for a classroom read-aloud, and all of them engrossing for reading on your own.

“Featuring an eclectic mix of short stories from a number of beloved authors, this collection explores three topics—“Family,” “Friends and Fitting In,” and “Finding Yourself”—in a variety of formats, from poems to comic panels. Margarita Engle takes on the “dreaded/ dreadful/ deadline-looming/ first-in-my-lifetime/ Middle School/ Mixer,” while Katherine Paterson and granddaughter Jordan offer advice-laden Facetime and text exchanges between two cousins (“organize, organize, organize”). A David Wiesner comic visualizes finding one’s place in an intimidating new setting, and Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin’s story, told in part from a dog’s perspective, considers cross-species family life. The stories look at eras and cultural differences, as well, from Gary Schmidt’s searing story about a boy’s neighbor heading off to the Vietnam War, to Hena Khan’s present-day tale of a Pakistani immigrant connecting with her new classmates. The collection, “dedicated to middle schoolers everywhere” (“This, too, shall pass”), deals honestly and sensitively with this volatile time.” (Publishers Weekly)

On Fantasy: Linda Sue Park

lsp_72dpi_rgb_200pxFor a few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Linda Sue Park’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: Making the magic consistent. I love reading fantasy novels, but frankly, in a great many of them I simply have to overlook the holes in the logic of the magic. It takes superb writing and strong characters to carry me over those bumps.

Forest of Wonders Wing & ClawAn example: At the very end of the third Lord of the Rings movie, with the terrible mission accomplished, an enormous eagle shows up to carry Frodo and Samwise to safety. Whaaa??? Where were you eleven minutes ago, when we were in far more desperate need of winged transport!?? NO reasonable explanation for why the eagle appears when it does.

It was very important to me that the magic in the Wing & Claw trilogy be logical and consistent. That meant limiting the magic to a very specific set of conditions: There are a few plants with magical capabilities that can only be released when they’re made into concoctions by skilled apothecaries. I believe that this kind of consistency is much fairer to the story and the readers!

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: For me, writing fantasy is quite *similar* to historical fiction. With both, the world building is very important because the setting is unfamiliar to the reader: In fantasy, a world that never existed; in historical fiction, a world that no longer exists. You have to spend time and space on the page dealing with the setting. With contemporary realism, you can use a kind of shorthand because of assumptions you share with the reader. For example, if I write “kitchen” in a contemporary novel, I can be reasonably sure that my readers will picture something close to what I have in mind, or close enough, anyway. For both historical fiction and fantasy, I have to describe the kitchen in more detail—I can’t rely on those shared assumptions.

Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

I didn’t read fantasy specifically before writing Forest of Wonders; it’s just a natural part of all the reading I do. I have an awful lot of favorites. A short list:

The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud

Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne-Jones

Prophecy, by Ellen Oh

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: Well, of course, I’d love to have Echo the bat visit—even knowing that the conversation would be rather limited. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need!

Thank you, Linda Sue, for sharing your thoughts and your book recommendations. I encourage you to read Linda Sue’s new Wing & Claw series, The Long Walk to Water, Keeping Score, and so many others. (She writes terrific picture books, too.) Learn more about Linda Sue Park on her website.


bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. This story about Grayling’s quest to save her mother is a selection of the Junior Library Guild and is recommended by Columbus Parent.

Writing Stories from Real Life

Been There, Done ThatHow do stories spring from real-life events? You can see some examples from the 20 authors (including me) who are part of this collection, Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life, which looks at the process of taking our experiences and turning them into works of engaging fiction. I had a great time writing my pieces—so much easier than a novel. Look for the book in November from Grosset & Dunlap, and let me know what you think of “Millie McGonigal.”

A Terrific Shard

Last night Philip and I went to 12th-century Korea, care of the amazing Seattle Children’s Theater‘s production of A SIngle Shard.  It was an extra special treat to sit next to the books’ author, Linda Sue Park, and watch her face as she watched the play.  I know from experience the awe you feel at seeing your characters and your words live on the stage. Too bad you can’t all get to Seattle to see the play—I would have given you lunch—but you can read the Newbery winning book, the tale of an orphaned boy who achieves his dreams through friendship, persistence, and courage.