I AM Working

Monday, April 18, 2016

In On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I totally agree. I also believe that you must read what you write, and this is equally true for those of us who write for children. I write middle grade fiction, so I read middle grade fiction. And even though it’s a lot of fun, it is also an integral part of my work. How’s that for a job perk?

I write historical fiction, but my reading covers a broader range. Although I enjoy classics such as the Little House on the Prairie series, reading recent books and following current trends helps me understand today’s readers. These trends include fractured fairy tales and what I call cipher books. I’m not sure if that latter category has an actual name, but it covers stories where the characters have to solve a puzzle by figuring out clues. The clues are often given in code, and the best books give readers enough information to figure out the puzzle alongside the characters.

So how many middle grade novels have I read in recent months? I can’t remember them all, but here is a partial list.*

Historical Fiction

  • The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley—I absolutely love this book, which is my top pick of all the books I have read in the last year or so;
  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz;
  • The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan—this could also be classified as a cipher book, but the historical elements predominate;
  • Rescuing Ivy by Karen Kulinski;
  • Ruby Lee & Me by Shannon Hitchcock;
  • The Truth About Sparrows by Marion Hale; and
  • The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone.

Cipher Books

  • The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman;
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; and
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.


  • Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller;
  • A Tale Dark & Grimm by Adam Gidwitz—this is a fractured fairy tale in the Lemony Snicket style;
  • Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; and
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.


  • The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler;
  • Homesick by Kate Klise; and
  • At Your Service by Jen Malone.

Then there are the books I own but haven’t read yet:

  • Murder is Bad Business by Robin Stevens (a historical mystery);
  • Hold Fast by Blue Balliett (contemporary);
  • May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (a historical in verse);
  • The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby (fantasy); and
  • Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison (a fractured fairy tale).

So don’t call me lazy when you see me reading children’s books. I AM working.

It’s such a hard life.


* This list does not include the many historical middle grade novels I read about the events that are the subjects of my own manuscripts.

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