A big part of becoming a better writer is to become a better reader. This involves reading a lot, and reading with writing in mind, so you can learn from each book you read. Since I'm trying to write a Middle Grade novel, I'm trying to read books recently published for that market, both to learn the market and to be inspired by and to learn from the techniques used by these authors.
I plan to post about what I read on this blog, with thoughts about what I liked about the books, and what I learned from them as it might apply to my own novel.
This week's books:
Magyk (Septimus Heap, Book 1), by Angie Sage
Overall impression: A creative and intricate story that I enjoyed very much. However I found it a bit slow in parts, and worry that my eight year old daughter would not have the patience to stick with it. It read a bit like an introduction to a longer series, which of course it is. There are a lot of characters, and this book is a bit of an investment in getting to know them and the story's setting and premise. By the end I felt well introduced to this series, I was entertained by the storytelling, and I am looking forward to Book Two.
What I liked: I loved how the mysterious Boy 412 was introduced and developed. It is a good example of the power of strategic withholding. We don't know (though we suspect) until much later who Boy 412 really is. So much fun!
What I learned: While the advice of Mary Kole (author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit) suggests we should jump right into the action and minimize backstory, I am curious here to find that there is much time devoted to introducing and developing the story, setting, and characters. It is encouraging, in a way, to see a recently published book that has a somewhat slower pace than many kids novels of today. It encourages me to not be afraid to try a draft of my own novel that spends more time laying groundwork for the story, (whether or not all of it ends up in the final draft.) I also was reminded by this novel of the power of having a full and complex cast of characters. My fledgling novel is light on secondary characters and I would do well to consider adding some additional personalities to the mix for added interest.
Here is a link to the StorySnoops review of Magyk.
Find Magyk on Amazon.
Flight of the Phoenix (Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist, Book One), by R.L. LaFevers
Overall impression: A light, fun read for younger readers. It's an adventure story about 10 year old Nate who finds out he is part of an ancient family of beastologists, charged with the care of mythical creatures who are actually real. It would be a nice next step for a kid who enjoyed the Magic Treehouse series but is ready for something just a little more.
What I liked: I liked the characterization of Nate as a quiet sort of boy interested in sketching, not adventures. We see him confronted with adventure and find that he can rise to the occasion. I also liked the thread of mystery throughout the book about Nate's parents. It made me want to keep reading the series to find out what really happened to them and how it connects to Nate's adventures.
What I learned: Compared with most of the middle grade novels I have been reading, and the novel I am trying to write, this book was much shorter and simpler in it's writing style. It is a good reminder that I don't necessarily need lots of complexity, deep emotions, and detailed descriptions. Sometimes simpler works well, particularly for the younger end of the "middle grade" market. It makes me want to take a step back and make sure I know where, within the Middle Grade span, I'm targeting my story, and to make sure that I am carefully and intentionally tailoring the level of complexity and writing style in my own work.
Here is a review (more of a plot synopsis, really) at KidReads.
Find Flight of the Phoenix on Amazon.
Final note and comparison: While both books are listed as appropriate for kids ages 8-9 and up, my impression was that Flight of the Phoenix was geared much younger. The writing was much simpler and the plot much less complex. The book itself is quite a bit shorter as well. It felt more like a step up from Magic Treehouse, whereas Magyk reads much more like one of the early Harry Potters. It's a good reminder that even within Middle Grade novels, there is a huge range of styles and reading levels.
On my nightstand to be read next:
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
Bigger than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder