THE GIRL IN THE TORCH for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

What a perfect time with Independence Day on Saturday to present this new novel by Robert Sharenow. If you’re a YA reader his name may sound familiar from his two historical novels, MY MOTHER THE CHEERLEADER and THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB. Robert also has an interesting ‘day’ job as the Executive Vice-President and General Manager of Lifetime and A&E network. And here I thought I was busy! WceGgDUNlCA8RPHOz66AbHHs4RI12Vqg+OoBRGBrKx2plCphEkAr3aizNSRpuGHkIoDZcS4gLRs3LNNbucM2tzHjr1b6gOv!JK2gG4iMspVQ5iDKyCBWtzAWMsmQ+7PK

This new title is all MG and it fits like a warm blanket. The journey 12-year-old Sarah as a Russian immigrant takes will have you glued to the surprising end. It’s a marvelous reminder of what The Statue of Liberty means to so many people. Turn of the century New York City comes to life in world building perfection that will surround you in a marvelous heartwarming ride.

I sometimes hear from the MG age group that historical novels are boring. This one couldn’t be further from that notion and will have readers of all ages wrapped up in this superb piece of storytelling.

PUBLICATION DATE:2015   Pages: 304

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):

The Invention of Hugo Cabret meets True Grit in this heartfelt novel of resilience, hope, and discovering a family where you least expect it, from award-winning author Robert Sharenow.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Twelve-year-old Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. In her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.

Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life-or-death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat and swims as hard as she can toward the Lady’s island and a new life.

Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to Manhattan while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to the city, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?


  1. Sarah is a strong, forward thinking young girl. Her presence as a positive female role model is not only welcome but is a main character we can all learn from.
  2. Diversity surrounds the reader especially when Sarah reaches Chinatown. Each of the characters she befriends is a different race and color, but Sarah finds no difference. She only sees them as friends and family.
  3. Her touching friendship with Tommy, an orphan who sells papers on the street. This young newsie is a stark reality to the dancing boys in Disney’s musical.
  4. Short chapters! Teachers are encouraged to read out loud to their students. The problem is finding a book that has chapters short enough to fill the 5-7 minutes of time usually left over for this endeavor. THE GIRL IN THE TORCH has titles for every chapter and each stands on its own, leaving you wanting more.
  5. It’s a humble reminder that on the inside we are all the same, but what we do with our choices on the outside makes us who we really are. Thankfully, the characters here show us what being human is all about.

FAVORITE LINES: Now just a few hundred yards away, the Lady’s face beamed down at them, silent and strong. Sarah’s mother smiled and whispered, “Thank the Lord.”

AUTHOR QUOTE: Ever since I dreamed of becoming a novelist, I’ve wanted to write an immigration story. Both sets of my great-grand parents immigrated to the United States from Czarist Russia, where they lived in segregated Jewish shtetls and were persecuted for their beliefs. For me, their journey to become Americans forms the most powerful and dramatic core of my family history…


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


The Path to Publishing: Become Famous First

There are a growing number of actors, talk show hosts, and anyone else who has had more than the standard 15 minutes of fame showing up as authors on the children’s bookshelf.

I would guess their path is a lot easier than those of us going the more traditional route.

  • I doubt any of these fine people ever reviewed children’s books.
  • I doubt they’ve taken the time to read dozens of books on writing, taken classes, or attended writing conferences.
  • Finally, they probably never had to enter a contest to get their work noticed or tirelessly read blogs.

Yeah, I get it. They’re famous and publishers want to sell books. Having a name that people recognize gives the book a jumpstart, along with a prominent place on a store shelf.

614a2j+UDGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My first interest in a famous person’s children’s book came in the late 1980’s. I was watching reruns of The Munsters. Not sure why. Anyway, a short time later I came across a book authored by Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster). It was amusing so I bought it, and I still have the copy. Mr. Gwynne authored numerous children’s books and his talents as an artist showed through in every title.

So suddenly in the past year we’ve had an onslaught of the famous hoping to strike it rich with their own books (and in some cases co-written). Their names are almost as large as the titles. I wish them the best of luck and would love to add them to my TBR list, but I’ve got rewrites, reviews to finish, and a critique group meeting to attend.


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HALF A WORLD AWAY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I enjoy MG books where there is a definite arc in the growth and change for a character. HALF A WORLD AWAY not only has that, but you 81XhX39uXrLwill most likely find a change in yourself. Jaden is not a very likeable protagonist and I didn’t take to him right from the start. Thankfully by the end of the story I understood and appreciated this young boy.

Adopted from Romania at age 8, Jaden has never felt connected to his new family. He’s still confused why his birth mother gave him up in the first place. Most of the story is set in Russia where Jaden and his parents go to adopt a new baby boy – a brother Jaden does not want. It’s here the transformation begins and a different side of Jaden cracks through.

Told in close third person from Jaden’s view, the story is sad, hopeful, but in the end one you won’t soon forget.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Twelve-year-old Jaden is adopted, and he knows he’s an “epic fail.’ That’s why his family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby—to replace him, he’s sure. And he gets it. He is incapable of stopping his stealing, hoarding, lighting fires, aggressive running, and obsession with electricity. He knows his parents love him, but he feels…nothing.

But when they get to Kazakhstan, it turns out the infant they’ve travelled for has already been adopted, and literally within minutes are faced with having to choose from six other babies. While his parents agonize, Jaden is more interested in the toddlers. One, a little guy named Dimash, spies Jaden and barrels over to him every time he sees him. Jaden finds himself increasingly intrigued by and worried about Dimash. Already three years old and barely able to speak, Dimash will soon age out of the orphanage, and then his life will be as hopeless as Jaden feels now. For the first time in his life, Jaden actually feels something that isn’t pure blinding fury, and there’s no way to control it, or its power.


  1. I was only partially aware of the potential horror stories that can come about with an overseas adoption. The author spares no detail but perhaps young readers will need some clarification. I can see this working wonders as a read-aloud giving a chance for discussion of this emotional topic.
  2. Jaden falls in love for the first time. No, not from a first youthful crush, but by bonding with a 3-year-old toddler nobody wants to adopt.
  3. Sam, the Turkish driver, is the first person to rattle Jaden’s perceptions of his life. He’s a perfect older friend who goes out of his way to help Jaden.
  4. Parents who love unconditionally are often absent from MG books. Not so here as Penni and Steve do their best to help Jaden become the greatest person possible.
  5. The book is like a gray, rainy day, but then the sun reappears and you smile. That’s exactly what I did after reading this beautiful story.

FAVORITE LINES: He figured he knew why they were adopting again: They weren’t satisfied with him. Whenever he thought that, he felt tears welling up. He didn’t know if he was upset for himself, because they weren’t satisfied with him, or for the baby, because if the baby was up for adoption, it meant the mother had abandoned him, and Jaden knew what that was like.

AUTHOR QUOTE: “I’m a road hawg! I love to travel around this amazing country. The beautiful landscape, the highways—I love it. Traveling, seeing the country, is one of the things from which I derive my “writing energy.” Just thinking about the American landscape and focusing on it puts me in touch with what I think of as the real, essential me. I have to be in touch with this real, essential me whenever I sit down to write.” (From Cynthia Kadohata’s website)


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Seven Deadly Sins For Rejection

I was cleaning up a few loose papers from last month’s Big Sur in the Rockies Writer’s Conference and found one more helpful set of notes…

Most of us know the importance of that first page to hook the reader and make them read on. If that occurs, and let’s say an agent or publishing house asks for a full manuscript, what are the top seven reasons for eventually rejecting a story? (These came from a variety of agents, editors, and publishers)

  1. The character shows no change. The MC is the same on page one as they are on the last page. There must be growth or we won’t care.
  2. A climax usually has the MC solving the problem they’ve had for the entire book. You will turn off your readers if an adult swoops down and solves the problem for them, making the entire journey a waste of time. Keep the stakes high and let the kid do the work.
  3. The manuscript is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. Perfection is not expected but proofreading is.
  4. You’ve successfully eluded the first three concerns but alas your story idea is not one that would sell in this market.
  5. Lack of an enduring main character. We should have some attachment with this fictional character we’ve agreed to spend time with.
  6. The writing is lifeless and it’s difficult to keep focus as the plot plods along.
  7. Wrong audience, i.e., you labeled this MG but it reads like YA.

If you get rejected there is a chance the powers to be will ask to see it again after rewrites, but don’t count on it. Get it right from the start and you can watch the interest in your work grow.

Have a great weekend!

THE LEFT BEHINDS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Or rather – THE LEFT BEHINDS: THE iPHONE THAT SAVED GEORGE WASHINGTON. Quite the title for this time travel512-n+uFGVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ adventure. It’s a great way for young and old to discover details about the Revolutionary War, and George’s successful crossing of the Delaware River in horrendous weather.

Narrated by 12-year-old left behind, Mel, he and his two friends are labeled as such since their parents leave them at boarding school during the holidays, too busy in their own lives and careers to share the holidays with their children. Of course things quickly get out of hand and before you know it we’re back in the 1700’s. Both funny and informative, those that love history will adore this book. It’s short chapters (79 total!) would appeal to reluctant readers, but the story becomes a bit too wordy. Fifty thousand words would have been a tighter read.

Anyway, that cover will for sure pull in many readers. Two time periods expertly portrayed. I look forward to the sequel and more history saving adventures from this series.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  On Christmas Day, Mel finds General George Washington lying dead as a doornail in a stable. But Mel knows that George Washington must cross the Delaware River, or the course of American history will be changed forever.

Could Mel’s iPhone have sent him back in time to 1776? And can Mel and his schoolmates, know-it-all Bev and laid-back Brandon, come to the rescue? Perhaps, with a little help from two colonial kids and Benjamin Franklin himself.


  1. The scene where George is told by young Mel a city was named after him is hilarious. George doesn’t appreciate the D.C. added to his name.
  2. Superb integration of today’s technology with the past. Who else would you go to other than Ben Franklin if you need to recharge your phone?
  3. The app on the iPhone known as itime. Plug in a date and time and you are on your way.
  4. No shortcuts were taken in the research to write this historical novel. You’d learn something no matter what you know about this time period.
  5. A nicely done reference section at the back of the book clue you in to other books, websites, and places you can visit to enrich your knowledge.

FAVORITE LINES: I’d like to start at the beginning–believe me–but the problem is I don’t know when it began and I don’t know when it will end. I only know the middle, which is now, or more specifically ten minutes ago, when someone shot General George Washington stone-cold dead.

AUTHOR QUOTE:”Once in a while I would submit something, and once in a while something was published or a literary agent would work with me, but never much success. Eventually I reconciled myself to my fate. I gave it my best shot, but not everyone gets to play short for the Yanks, dance on Broadway, or get a book published. What are you going to do? Well, I did the only thing to do, which is to keep writing…” (Author’s web site)


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


Who is our audience?

I write and read Middle Grade books… a lot. When I finish reading a book my thoughts focus on who should be its next reader. A student? A neighborhood boy or girl? Sometimes neither when I take a stack to the local school’s library and let them decide. I love sharing and hope my first read follows with many more connections.

The past year I’ve heard from parents, teachers, and librarians who all basically make the same comment:

“I loved that MG book you gave or recommended to us… but my child (or student) said it was boring.”

It seems as adults we have a different idea of what makes a great MG story. Are we writing our stories for kids or for our peers who will hear about them first?

I looked back at the nearly 80 titles I’ve read the past year and can confidently say there were only a handful that I would have read when I was 8-12 years old. That statement is made despite each book having an excellent plot, multi-layered characters, and generally superb writing.

So what’s going on here? My follow-up question shed some light.

What do they like then? Answer: Funny books and those with an adventurous story. But also with characters that are like me.

Adult authors of MG books have experienced life and can see the big picture of what it takes to become successful and happy. Age brings a lifetime of experiences and understanding to human interactions. We so want our young people to reach that point that it seeps into our story telling.

That’s okay as long as you have a compelling protagonist, and a great engrossing tale to surround readers with. Humor is also a must.

Yes, there are those youngsters who devour every written word put in front, but with a few exceptions the books of today will have to wait until they can appreciate them more. Middle grade books may be best enjoyed after middle grade years are long over. They sure have been that way for me.


THE TURTLE OF OMAN for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Muscat, Oman is an unusual setting for an MG book. A bustling city of 3.6 million, its situated on the shores of the ArabianWceGgDUNlCA8RPHOz66AbHHs4RI12Vqg+OoBRGBrKx2plCphEkAr3aizNSRpuGHkIoDZcS4gLRs3LNNbucM2t1tKmKf8mathkf0cW+Vjk6NQ5iDKyCBWtzAWMsmQ+7PK Sea. The country of Oman borders United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. THE TURTLE OF OMAN is a quiet story with a hopeful message about a boy who is relocating to Michigan for three years with his parents. He is hurt by the thought of leaving behind his cat and beloved grandfather and fearful he will not like his new community or school.

A sequel would be welcome as this story covers only the time leading up to young Aref’s flight to the U.S. Like another recent book about moving, MY LIFE IN DIORAMAS, this one explores what a child does to makes sense of a potential move. With short chapters and text that is spaced for easy reading, the page count is not to be feared. It’s a quick read.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Pages: 299

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Aref Al-Amri does not want to leave Oman. He does not want to leave his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Siddi. He does not want to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his parents will go to graduate school. His mother is desperate for him to pack his suitcase, but he refuses. Finally, she calls Siddi for help. But rather than pack, Aref and Siddi go on a series of adventures. They visit the camp of a thousand stars deep in the desert, they sleep on Siddi’s roof, they fish in the Gulf of Oman and dream about going to India, and they travel to the nature reserve to watch the sea turtles. At each stop, Siddi finds a small stone that he later slips into Aref’s suitcase—mementos of home.


  1. The relationship Aref has with his grandfather is touching. It is Sidi who helps Aref say good-bye to his native land. Boat trips, camping, and enjoying their final days together provides the perfect sendoff.
  2. Aref writes in his notebook so he won’t forget. He writes about the wildlife he adores and any other topic that moves him. His writing pieces are done in a font to reflect his own penmanship.
  3. It doesn’t matter what country you live in – you will recognize the themes of fear, family, and the anxiety of starting over. Aref has feelings similar to young people in our own culture and is a boy who’d be a joy to have in any neighbohood.
  4. It takes the entire book for Aref to pack his suitcase. What he finally takes with him is the basis for this touching story.
  5. Perhaps best as a read-aloud, this tale would be great in a discussion about our perceptions of different cultures.

FAVORITE LINES: Sometimes, even though he was old, Aref walked backwards swinging his arms, making a back-up beep, like a bulldozer or truck would make. You saw differently when you walked backwards… Would he feel backwards in Michigan or just the same as he felt in Oman?

AUTHOR QUOTE: “It is really hard to be lonely very long in a world of words. Even if you don’t have friends somewhere, you still have language, and it will find you and wrap its little syllables around you and suddenly there will be a story to live in.”  Source


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.