by Bryan Patrick Avery
Last month, in honor of picture book month, we covered a few wonderful picture books that we could learn from. This month, I’d like to look at the other genre I’m passionate about: middle grade novels. First up, one of my favorites, Liar and Spy.
Penned by Newberry Medal winner Rebecca Stead, Liar and Spy is spy thriller and part friendship tale. It follows the experience of Georges (the S is silent) who moves into a new apartment building and befriends a boy named Safer, who he meets at a Spy Club meeting. Safer is smart, but dealing with some personal issues. Georges is looking for a friend, and dealing with some issues of his own. As the two boys track Mr. X, a fellow resident Safer is certain is up to new good, Safer becomes more demanding and Georges begins to wonder if this friendship is worth it.
What makes this book particularly satisfying is the ending. As Georges and Safer work through their issues, we learn something about Georges issues that change everything we thought we knew about his life. When I first finished the book, I wanted to start over again from the beginning just to see how the story felt, armed with this new information revealed at the end. Rebecca Stead has created a story that hooks readers with compelling characters, an interesting premise (who can resist a spy club) and an ending the packs a killer punch. It’s a terrific read, and we authors can learn a lot from Liar and Spy.
Speaking of compelling characters, Rita Williams-Garcia has created an amazing protagonist in her National Book Award finalist novel, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. When Clayton’s grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton is forbidden by his mother to play the blues, his one dream is crushed. Clayton had always dreamed of playing with Cool Papa and his band, the Bluesmen. Frustrated, sad, and a little bit angry, Clayton sets out to join the Bluesmen before they leave town.
What follows is a journey that takes Clayton across New York City an into some rather precarious predicaments. He might not find the Bluesmen, but he is able to find himself. Clayton’s journey of self-discovery is an excellent example of character development and of how to build a flawed character who we still want to root for. I highly recommend it.
For many of us, writing humor proves to be quite challenging, Terrible Two, written by Mac Barnett and Jory John provides a useful blueprint for successfully merging comedy and story into an engaging story. When Myles moves with his family to Yawnee Valley, he brings with him the reputation of being his old town’s best prankster. He quickly discovers that he is not the only prankster in Yawnee Valley and struggles to find his place. The new mystery prankster bests Myles at every turn until he reveals himself and the two decide to join forces. When they decide to plan the greatest prank ever, it will take all of their smarts to pull it off.
What’s great about Terrible Two is that the humor doesn’t overtake the story. The book manages to be funny and suspenseful. Readers will not be able to put the book down once Myles and his partner start to execute their plan for the greatest prank ever. But they will laugh as they carry it out. If you haven’t read it, check it out. It’s fun and provides some great examples of mixing humor and story in a productive way.
That’s all for this month. Have a magical month!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.