The Winged Pen – A New Blogging Adventure!

FOWP_logoI am so pleased to announce that my amazing critique partners and I have started a blog all about books called The Winged Pen. Take twenty-four writers of children’s and young adult books, add an obsessive love of reading and dedication to living the creative life, and you have The Winged Pen. I hope you’ll go over and check it out, get to know some amazing emerging voices, and load up your to-be-read pile with some amazing book recommendations!

Diverse Middle Grade Book Recommendations

Algonquin Young Readers is hosting an #ILoveMG week on Twitter this week and of course I couldn’t resist playing along. Today’s theme is diverse middle grade book recommendations. Although I talked about my two-week massive Middle-Grade Reading Holiday last month, I want to focus in on some great diverse reads that you should check out (and share with your children). Only good things can come from the books on library and bookshop shelves representing the diverse people we see outside those bookshops and libraries every day.

Diverse Middle Grade Book Recommendations

So here are just a few of the diverse middle grade book recommendations I’ve accumulated over the past year. These recommendations show us exactly why we need (even more) diverse books:

This breathtaking and magical account of a young girl’s fight to survive Hurricane Katrina should be required reading. It poignantly capture the devastation of the neighborhoods in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, but it does so while maintaining what most middle-grade readers crave in even the scariest stories: Hope.





This is the first book I’ve ever read told from the point of view of a transgender middle-grade girl. Eye-opening, heart-felt, and containing a beautiful hat-tip to one of my all-time favorite books, Charlotte’s Web, this is definitely one to read and then discuss with your children.





A novel in verse with absolutely astonishing voice, PLUS basketball? Yes, please! I particularly enjoyed listening to this one on audiobook because it made Kwame Alexander’s stunning characters come alive even more!





One thing I love about the We Need Diverse Books campaign is that it doesn’t just focus on a  particular race, religion, or ethnicity. It includes those who are neurodiverse as well. Ali Benjamin recounts how one neurodiverse girl deals with the unraveling of a lifelong friendship and a terrible tragedy. The sprinkling of science throughout this stunning book made it one of my favorites last year (and my daughter Lily’s too!).





This story of how a Jewish family deals with chronic illness and death is on the darker side of the middle-grade books I read last year. But the characters are drawn so beautifully that it’s worth letting it break your heart.






I’m currently reading Hoodoo and within the first few pages, Ronald Smith drew me completely into the world of 1930s Alabama. Fans of the creepy and supernatural will love this scary, but beautiful, story.






This award-winning book contains several stories in one as the author recounts a fairy tale based in part on her Mexican grandmother’s experiences in an American labor camp.







There are so many more that I could have listed. What were your favorite diverse reads of 2015? Any you are looking forward to in 2016?

GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck – Cover Reveal & Giveaway!


Today Michelle Hauck and Rockstar Book Tours are revealing the cover for GRUDGING, Birth of Saints Book One series which releases November 17, 2015! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to win a copy if the eBook!

On to the reveal!



GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck

is published by Harper Voyager Impulse and will be released November 17, 2015


Find it: Amazon | Barnes & NobleiBooks | Goodreads


A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.

The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.

On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.

The Women of the Song.

But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power.  And time is running out.

A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.

michelle_hAbout Michelle:

Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.

She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.

Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.

Website | Twitter | Facebook page | Tumblr | Goodreads

And now, for the giveaway!

3 winners will receive an eBook of GRUDGING.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

This Week’s Kidlit Book Recommendations

I am deep into revising Quest for the Kalevala, but I wanted to pop in and tell you about three kid lit books that came out in the past week that I’ve been really looking forward to. There’s something for everyone here, because one’s a spooky picture book, one’s for middle-grade (ages 8-12) readers, and one is for young adults. But who are we kidding? They’re all really for me, me, me (and you, you, you)!


Never Never by Brianna Shrum
Because you can never spend too much time in Neverland…

I love retellings that turn the original story on their head, and Neverland is ripe with possibilities. So I can’t wait to read Never Never by Brianna Shrum, a young-adult novel that tells the story not of Peter, but of Hook.







Hook's Revenge, The Pirate Code by Heidi Schulz
The only thing better than boy pirates is…GIRL PIRATES!

Lily and I loved Hook’s Revenge, so we were excited to see book two come out this month. A hilariously-wry narrator, a daughter bent on revenging the death of her father, Captain Hook, and the amazing setting of Neverland make this one a hit for ages 8+.







I Want to Eat Your Books by Karin Lefranc and Tyler Parker
Finally a picture book for our littlest zombie-lovers!

Just in time for Halloween comes a book about a zombie that eats books instead of brains. Will the children be able to save the school library before the little zombie goes on a real book binge? A fun and not-too-scary zombie book for young (pre)readers.

Model Undercover: New York, A Middle Grade Book Giveaway

modelundercoverI know it’s been ages since I’ve blogged, but, you know, international move, holidays, new school for the kids. I’ve had my reasons. Life is slowly returning to normal and one sign of that is that I’m back at the writing desk (or actually I don’t have a desk yet, so it’s the writing couch at the moment). Check out my post over at From the Mixed-Up Files before Friday for a chance to win a copy of Model Undercover: New York, a middle grade detective story with a very fashion forward protagonist.

Talking to Kids About Sex

SMirC-embarassedEvery parent I know dreads having “the talk” with their child. It’s tough to decide when to have the talk, what to say, and how to broach such an important subject in a way that won’t be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But talking to kids about sex needs to happen, and probably sooner than you think.

Before this was even on my radar, a friend of my son’s (who had very informative older brothers) told him about the mechanics of sex. He was seven and I was horrified when an adult made a joke about sex in front of him and he replied “I know what that means.” As much as I wanted to freak out, I remained calm enough to talk with him about what he’d learned so that I could figure out what to do next. For better or for worse, the little boy’s brothers had given him a fairly anatomically-correct description of sex, which he’d helpfully passed on to my son and his first grade classmates.

So that’s my first tip: If you want to be the first one to talk to your children about sex, you’re probably going to need to start talking about this earlier than you thought.

My second tip: Do your homework. And make sure you know what your own views are on this topic as you read up. After that first surprising conversation with my son, my best friend directed me to Planned Parenthood’s website, which is full of excellent age-appropriate resources for talking about sex and sexuality with preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and teenagers about sex.

The most comprehensive article I found on talking with kids about sex is this one from US News and World Report. For a slightly less dry first-hand account, this one written by a doctor sharing her own ongoing conversation about sexuality with her daughter, provides a helpful perspective. The University of Washington also did an excellent Ask the Experts on this topic this summer, interviewing two experts in human sexuality. The interview contains not only good tips, but some great books that parents can use to facilitate these difficult conversations.

Third tip: Bring a book or two to “the talk.” Not only does it give you and your child a focal point (especially helpful if one or both of you is embarrassed), but it also gives the child a text they can walk away with and mull over in privacy. These types of issues are hard to take in for the first time and especially if your child needs some time to process, it may take an hour, a few days, or even a few weeks for your child to come up with the questions he or she wants to ask on this topic. It took my son several months to admit to me that his friend had told him about sex, and the conversations that revelation started continue today (he’s now ten, and on the verge of beginning sex education at school).

Narrated by the proverbial bird and bee, this popular series starts with a book for preschoolers called It’s Not the Stork and continues on to It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal for older children.

I wish I had discovered this series when my children were preschool aged so that my son would have had a little more preparation for his enlightening conversation with his classmate. The same author wrote Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From, which is the book I ultimately selected to fill in the gaps in my son’s knowledge and to present to his younger sister when the time came this fall for her to have the talk as well.

There’s some great fiction on this topic too. Judy Blume’s classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t the only choice any more. Stephanie Greene‘s Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life also handles this issue in a more contemporary setting.

We’re just getting in to puberty discussions with our children now (*gulp*), so a follow-up post will be in order when the time comes. What resources did you use when talking with your kids about sex? Have an embarrassingly-hilarious story of your own to share? The more we talk about this as parents, the easier it will be to talk to our kids.

Revisiting Classic Middle-Grade Books

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never get on top of my ever-growing reading list. And yet, I love revisiting a handful of favorites in each genre from time to time. Here are six middle-grade books that are still relevant today. When your middle-grade reader has burned through Harry Potter, the latest Percy Jackson, the fourth Magic Thief, and the last Ranger’s Apprentice, point them to some of these classics.

Westing Game
A classic whodunit, The Westing Game tells the story of sixteen people brought together for the reading of Sam Westing’s will. When they’re challenged to find out who murdered him to inherit a share of his vast fortune, a series of slap-stick adventures ensue.

The Book of Three

One of the books that inspired the fantasy genre as it exists today, The Book of Three is the first in the Chronicles of Prydain series that tells the story of Taran, an assistant pig-keeper with a much larger destiny.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

If I had to credit one book with my desire to write children’s books, it would be this one. Any book that can capture a child’s imagination so thoroughly that she’ll venture into every coat closet in her small midwestern sphere hoping against reason and logic to end up in Narnia is worth revisiting a century after it was originally published.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Recent news gave me reason to pick this book off of my daughter’s shelves this weekend. The story of a brother and sister who decide to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, they become obsessed with a mysterious marble statue of an angel they believe was carved by Michelangelo. The details of their life in the museum (living off of money scavenged from their “bathtub”–the museum’s fountain, sleeping in an ancient bed that’s part of an exhibit, hiding in a bathroom stall each evening at closing time) are as interesting as the mystery itself, which brings them in touch with the reclusive elderly benefactor and the mixed-up files that will answer their questions about the Angel.

Harriet the Spy

As the mother of an eight-year-old who writes everything down in her notebook, I appreciate this cautionary tale of Harriet, who goes through great misadventures when her friends read what she’s written about them in her own secret book.

A Wrinkle in Time

The first in a series of fantasy books called the Time Quintet, A Wrinkle in Time introduces readers to Charles Wallace and his big sister, Meg. When their father goes missing, a magical stranger comes to take the children and their friend Calvin to another world where they have to overcome their own fears and insecurities to save him.

What books have stuck with you over the years? Are there ones that you can’t wait to introduce to your children?

Spooky Middle-Grade Books for Halloween

My eight year old is on a spooky book kick just in time for Halloween, so I thought I’d continue my children’s book recommendations with a Halloween-inspired list of middle-grade books. I have to be honest that scary isn’t really my thing. I was never a die-hard Goosebumps fan, and I’m the girl who peed her pants screamed her head off the one time her high school boyfriend convinced her to watch Halloween. But regardless of my own preferences, these books are almost sure to be a hit with the middle grade (8-12 year old) crowd.

Coraline & The Graveyard Book

OK, I don’t typically like spooky, but I make exceptions for Neil Gaiman. Coraline, the story of a little girl who moves into a spooky house and uncovers a rather diabolical ghost who wants to trap her in an alternate world, is spine-tinglingly creepy. For more sensitive readers, Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is equally good and while still involving ghosts, monsters, and bad guys, seemed a little milder to me. Still, these two are more for the upper middle grade (10+) age group.

Cinderskella & Little Dead Riding Hood

I just recently discovered Amie Borst’s amazing dark reimagined fairy tales. And my daughter can’t get enough of them. If the creepy-factor of tween girls who are trying to live a “normal” life under very abnormal circumstances (Cinderskella turns into a skeleton by night and Scarlet from Little Dead Riding Hood is a vampire), these books are co-written by Borst’s middle-school aged daughter. I would read them for that alone, but they’re also hilariously dark and gripping stories.

Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, & Howliday Inn

Some classics are more timeless than others. These suspense-laden tales about a vampire bunny and his other furry pals still get a giggle from my kids just like they did from my brother and I thirty years ago. Oh, and in case you missed it, there are SEVEN books now instead of just three.


I may not have appreciated R.L. Stine when I was 10, but I sure do now. A prolific and abundantly spooky writer, Stine knows not only how to create a scary scene, but to connect with what middle grade readers will find interesting. With a good mix of male and female protagonists, Goosebumps has something for everyone.

Studying the first 250 words

Boise State MSS 122 2 crop

It’s contest time here in writing land and that means there’s a lot of pulling of hair and rending of garments great work going on with the first 250 words of each of our middle-grade books. Right? Right! Despite the fact that I’ve been polishing my first 250 for six months, that it’s been through rounds and rounds of edits, WriteOnCon, agent feedback and a serious line edit, I still submitted it to #PitchSlam, got feedback, and proceeded to gut it yet again. Ugh.

In the spirit of learning from the masters, here are the first 250 words from three of my favorite Middle Grade books. I may do some YA/adult books later as well, but I’m writing MG right now, so I’ll stick to that age group for my own sanity. Enjoy!

In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with melt-water splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below.

The woods were full of sound: the stream between the rocks, the wind among the needles of the pine branches, the chitter of insects and the cries of small arboreal mammals, as well as the bird-song; and from time to time a stronger gust of wind would make one of the branches of a cedar or a fir move against another and groan like a cello.

It was a place of brilliant sunlight, never undappled; shafts of lemon-gold brilliance lanced down to the forest floor between bars and pools of brown-green shade; and the light was never still, never constant, because drifting mist would often float among the tree-tops, filtering all the sunlight to a pearly sheen and brushing every pine-cone with moisture that glistened when the mist lifted. Sometimes the wetness in the clouds condensed into tiny drops half-mist and half-rain, that floated downwards rather than fell, making a soft rustling pattern amongst the millions of needles.

There was a narrow path beside the stream, which led from a village—little more than a cluster of herdsmen’s dwellings – at the foot of the valley, to a half-ruined shrine near the glacier at its head, a places where faded silken flags streamed out in the perpetual winds from the high mountains, and offerings of barley-cakes and dried tea were placed by pious villagers. — The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I love the rich, evocative description and would like to point out that this works as a beginning even though we neither meet the main character no see any action more titillating than the leaves blowing in the wind.

Ethan said, “I hate baseball.”

He said it as he followed his father out of the house, in his uniform and spikes. His jersey read ROOSTERS in curvy red script. On the back it said Ruth’s Fluff’n’Fold.

“I hate it,” he said again, knowing it was cruel. His father was a great lover of baseball.

But Mr. Feld didn’t say anything in reply. He just locked the door, tried the knob, and then put his arm around Ethan’s shoulders. They walked down the muddy path to the driveway and got into Mr. Feld’s Saab station wagon. The car’s name was Skidbladnir, but usually they just called her Skid. She was oranger than anything else within a five-hundred-mile radius of Clam Island, including traffic cones, U-Haul trailers, and a fair number of actual oranges. She was so old that, as she went along, she made squeaking and rattling noises that sounded more like the sounds of a horse buggy than of an automobile. Her gauges and knobs were all labelled in Swedish, which was not a language that either Mr. Feld or Ethan, or for that matter anyone in Ethan’s family, going back twenty generations on both sides, could speak. They rolled, squeaking and rattling, down from the little pink house where they lived, atop a small barren hill at the centre of the island, and headed west, towards Summerland.

“I made three errors in the last game,” Ethan reminded his father, as they drove to pick up Jennifer T. Rideout.–Summerland by Michael Chabon

This one has action and a major helping of Ethan’s voice, which is so full of that great middle-grade annoyance with his father, embarrassment over their weird car, and disdain for baseball. His description gives us a great feel for the setting as well.

It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.

Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly. She said they’d come here across the ocean from the old country.

Her mother said that Lettie didn’t remember properly, and it was a long time ago, and anyway, the old country had sunk.

Old Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie’s grandmother, said they were both wrong, and that the place that had sunk wasn’t the really old country. She said she could remember the really old country.

She said the really old country had blown up.

I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished an shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult. Today they gave me comfort of a kind. I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day.

I had done my duty in the morning, spoken the words I was meant ot speak, and I meant them as I spoke them, and then, when the service was done, I got in my car and I drove, randomly, without a plan, with an hour or so to kill before I met more people I had not seen for years and shook more hands and drank too many cups of tea from the best china. I drove along winding Sussex country roads I only half-remembered… —Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I’ve already argued with more than one person about whether this is even a middle grade book because the narrator is an adult reflecting back. But my son, who was nine when he read it, flew through it, and that makes it middle grade in my estimation, even if it did compete in both grace and beauty with the best adult books I read last year. Gaiman blurs the line between the real world and his fantasy world so well that you can’t pinpoint the exact point where the story departs into fantasy.

What do you think of these “first 250” excerpts? Do they make you want to read more? Because that is the ultimate goal of your first page.