Sunday, November 24, 2013

Books for Gifted Middle-Grade Readers

Fiction for gifted middle-grade readers can be difficult to find. Many novels written for that age group are too easy. Venturing into YA fiction yields a lot of kissing fantasy that parents find distasteful and the kids don't quite understand yet. I'm compiling a list of books that have the best of both worlds. Challenging, respectful, and fun-to read, many of these books are part of the middle-grade canon already. I've tried to include plenty of modern books to supplement the classics. These are all appropriate for grades four through seven. I wrote the Olivia Brophie series to appeal to gifted readers. The Pearl of Tagelus is very popular with advanced readers for many of the same reasons the books in this list are. I hope that the Sky Island continues this tradition.
Of course, it is important to allow any young readers to roam freely among the stacks, to follow their own reading interests.

A Wrinkle in Time series (The Time Quintet) by Madeleine L'Engle

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

Feed by M.T. Anderson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

My Side of the Mountain by J.C. George

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

Friday, November 22, 2013

Writing a book for the gifted and children who love to read

When I took a U-turn with my poetry career and started writing Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus, I had many ideas about the content that I wanted to write about, but I only had one goal for the style. I wanted to write a book for the person I was as a middle grader. I was a seriously addicted reader to put it mildly. My singular desire was to read the entire library. I did pretty well too; making it somewhere into the J's.
I knew that this approach wasn't exactly positioning my book for the bulk of the market. I didn't want to write a book for kids who hate reading, however noble that goal is. In fact, the thought of spending years of my life writing for someone who would rather not read was quite a downer.  Many parents have told me however, that middle-grade readers are in a weird purgatory. Books meant for their age group are often way too easy to hold their attention. Conversely, they aren't interested in dating yet so YA fiction is very limited. Adult books are an option, but it is difficult to find books that they can relate to.
I am happy to say that I have been successful in my goal. So what is the secret sauce for writing a book for gifted children?
1) A robust and creative vocabulary. Children can handle an incredible range of vocabulary words, especially if you write enough context that they can figure out the meaning. I loved vocabulary words when I read as a child because they represented miniature puzzles within the story. As a writer, I'm sure you have a great vocabulary at your disposal. Use it! I'm not suggesting every sentence becomes a string of obscure words because that will bog your story down. Some of the cool vocab I used in my book: tombolo, coontie, gingham, operculum. Those are juicy words for any reader!
2) Diversity of subject matter. Math, science, history. Mix it all in. Put some real thought and depth into it. Range free in the breadth of your knowledge and give it all. Kids love this. If you have a nerdy character, make her or him actually nerdy. Don't express their nerdiness through awkward social interactions or a love of Star Trek. That's too easy and quite frankly, lazy. Write them as highly intelligent children who have pursued their intellectual whims. Think of the young boy who can name every dinosaur ever discovered, or the girl who is seriously into seeing how far she can memorize a Fibonacci sequence. Your readers may not know what a Fibonacci sequence is when they start the book, but they should know when they are done. In the Pearl of Tagelus, I wrote Doug as a budding biologist attempting to discover a new species. He spends an inordinate time memorizing Linnaean systemics. So yes, there are Latin names in Pearl of Tagelus. There's even one in the title.
3) Don't ever, EVER talk down to your readers. No reader wants that. Stop worrying if you are writing above your readers heads. You should be able to tackle any level of complexity in your book. If you aren't reaching readers with it, it's because you didn't write it correctly, not because readers aren't capable.
4) A fun story.  Everyone wants that, right?

Deciding to write a book for gifted readers is an exciting moment for a writer. It is a decision to unchain your own limiting behaviors and put all of your capacities into your writing. Stretch yourself and enjoy it!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wild Florida Aster

I was surprised to see this wild Florida aster blooming today in an ignored part of the yard. For a look at another aster, check out this Climbing Aster

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Egmont Key, Florida

My favorite photo of Egmont Key, Florida taken ten years ago. You can go to Egmont Key by ferry from the pier at Fort Desoto.

Egmont Key, Florida