MAYDAY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new novel except the main character sounded like a w204boy I would like to know more about. So when I received an advanced copy (Thanks Karen!), I sat down and began to read. The story made me laugh, made me tear up, and made me think how much harder it is growing up when the world won’t cooperate.

I closed the book for the last time while sitting on my front porch and sighed. Wayne Kovok was running off and our short time together was over. I looked up at the gray-blue skies and a plane flew overhead, making an approach to a nearby regional airport. 14A landed safely.

True Story.

Wayne has his own story to tell along with his love of facts. It’s necessary so he can process an awful turn of events in his life. Sad yes, but also hopeful that finding your voice, even when you don’t have one, is something we all hopefully discover. It’s the nasty bumps in the road that we have to learn to jump over and that can take some time.

MAYDAY is a distress signal for a boy’s future. I’m glad I spent the time finding out where Wayne is headed.


FULL PLOT (From Karen Harrington’s Website) Seventh-grade Wayne Kovok lives in the world of AFTER. After his uncle was killed overseas while serving in the army. After Wayne and his mom survived a plane crash while coming back from the funeral. And after he lost his ability to speak. Now, how will he stand up to his super patriotic grandfather? And how will he speak the truth of his disappointments and dreams to his deadbeat dad?

It’s not until he loses his voice that Wayne realizes how much he doesn’t say out loud.


  1. Wayne meets another boy, Denny, in the waiting room of a doctor who treats patients with voice problems. For Wayne he can’t speak and for Denny, he’s a stutterer whose  stuttering disappears when he sings. A heartfelt friendship develops between these two.
  2. You want nothing but the best for Wayne. He has a deadbeat father, the girl of his dreams would like to dump him, and his grandpa doesn’t understand his own grandson. Too many negatives for Wayne and you may find yourself mumbling unkind things to these other characters.
  3. Wayne’s quest to find his Uncle’s flag that disappeared in the crash is a believable journey. It’s a long process that helps him grow and understand.
  4. Humor strikes not only from his new friend, Denny, but also from his Mom’s new boyfriend. He’s a lawyer and his commercials appear on the local TV station. Wayne also has a few perceptive zingers to throw out along the way that had me smiling.
  5. DATA: This is my 50th MG book I’ve read this year and one of my favorites. Wayne has plenty of additional DATA to toss out to readers. You just might become hooked like I did.


“Rise and shine and pee. It’s the best part of waking up, honey,” someone said. “It means you’re alive. I’m Nurse Davis. You’re in the hospital. You’ve been in an accident. Your mother is okay. She will be here shortly. You should not try to speak. Your neck suffered a severe blow. Nod your head if you understand.”

I nodded. It was the moment I realized that I would have to learn a new language in the country of AFTER.

I generally like to write 500-1000 words per day. I find that is a comfortable pace for me. Often, I begin a story writing in a notebook. I like to write journal entries from a character’s point of view to learn the sound of his or her voice. I take breaks in my writing day to go for walks. If I’m procrastinating, I sometimes find the need to reorganize my spice cabinet. Sometimes, having a deadline makes a person want to clean out her closets before she can get writing done. Why this is so is a mystery!


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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


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Middle grade books have a loosely set range of word counts from cropped-photo1.jpg30,000 to 50,000 words. Established authors and fantasy books can push the total to over 60,000.

Chapter lengths also vary widely in every genre. With the books I’ve read this year, chapter lengths have fallen in the 800-2,600-word count. I prefer the lower end for these reasons:

  1. If you want your story read out loud in a classroom, shorter is better. Teachers have five, maybe ten minutes of read-aloud space in their busy day. It’s nice to have a chapter’s beginning, middle, and end completed during one reading session.
  2. Reluctant readers rejoice at shorter chapters. They are more apt to read if the end is in sight. I’ve watched as they clutch the remaining pages of a chapter wishing the words would go by quicker.
  3. For writers it forces them to be succinct with their words and move the story forward in just a few pages. The end of a chapter also brings renewed emphasis to propel the reader to keep reading.
  4. For me it’s also nice to turn in at night by reading one or two short chapters rather than slide the bookmark in midway through a lengthy scene.

Well, there’s my vote for short chapters. How about you? Long or short?

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HATTER MADIGAN: GHOST IN THE H.A.T.B.O.X. for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

If the character’s name looks familiar then you have enjoyed the successful YA Hatter-Madigan-cover-e1433952843629trilogy, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS. Hatter Madigan returns as a 13-year-old in this MG prequel. I don’t recall a YA series that reverses direction and explores a main characters earlier years in a second series. I’m glad to see it happen here.

This will be fun for those familiar with Hatter Madigan, and a good lead-in for many young readers who won’t be ready for the older Hatter for a few years. Regardless, both groups can enjoy the fantasy filled introduction to Wonderland and the Millinery Academy.

It’s like a literary blender where Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, and Alice in Wonderland are thrown in the mix and, no wait, that would be a mess. In this case though it comes out fresh and appealing.

Hatter has inner doubts that often prevail with this age group, but he also has the potential to chase his fears away. And there are many in this fantastic introduction. Smart, exciting, and it will leave you breathless for more.


FULL PLOT (From Automatic Publishing) Swordplay!  Newfound friendships!  School bullies!  Budding love!  Self-serving rivals!  Scheming adults and soulless rebel plotters!  Welcome, to the world of Cadet Hatter Madigan, who has just entered  Wonderland’s Millinery academy as one of the freshmen ‘Caps’. Those born to be Royal Bodyguards are trained at one of the four academies  (Heart, Clubs Diamond, Spade) linked to the royal houses.  Cadets will study the mystic and martial arts, as well as the sometimes more difficult art of successfully dealing with others. Once Hatter begins his training he is thrown into a competitive world of both boys and girls vying to be the best.  Arsenal cubes, blade chasers and Hat blocking 101 are all rites of passage the young milliners first take on together but must eventually perfect, separately.

As readers of The Looking Glass Wars already know, Hatter will grow up to one day serve as bodyguard to two queens and become Wonderland’s most famous traveler.  But in the Young Hatter series—each installment of which chronicles a single year of our hero’s education—readers can live through the experiences that shaped this extraordinary Wonderlander. They will share young Hatter’s joy as he forges new friendships at the Millinery; suffer his frustrations as he strives to maintain these friendships; come, and witness young Hatter struggle with the first stirrings of love; watch him defend himself against rival cadets and contend with the expectations of teachers all too familiar with his infamous older brother … and all while he tries to keep up with his studies.


  1. Students create their own top hat that they’ll eventually learn to use as a weapon. I can just hear the MG audience croon, “Cool.”
  2. The issues and fears that Hatter has are the same you’d find in kids today. Changing friendships, popularity, hurt feelings, family trauma, and making the right choices to please everyone.
  3. There are several tense fight scenes that will have your heart racing. Some are with beasts (see cover), classmates, and holograms. They each serve to keep the pages turning and the plot fulfilled.
  4. Excellent supporting cast of characters, both male and female. Each with distinct personalities including Newton, his blind friend. Yes, there are bullies, but Hatter learns to control their immature behavior.
  5. The relationship Hatter has with his older brother, Dalton, is mysterious. They were both raised at the academy as orphans but seem to be nothing like each other in Hatter’s eyes. By the end of the book we discover the reasons why.

FAVORITE LINES: “You cannot pick and choose,” Orlage continued, “although through experience I know you all likely already have your preference. The decision will be made by the eeries. Remember, cadets at every level fail and leave the institution, but none more than Caps. You are not as smart as you think you are, talented as your parents have led you to believe, or brave as you will need to become if you are to graduate. If you get homesick, I don’t want to hear about it. I am not your mother.”

INTERESTING TIDBITS from Frank Beddor’s WebsiteBeddor, who had been a high-level freestyle skier, broke into the business by producing the 1998 thriller “Wicked,” the first major role for Julia Stiles. He followed that with the comedy “There’s Something About Mary,” which grossed $360 million worldwide and starred Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz.

Current projects include “Hatter Madigan,” which is being developed as an animated children’s show with former Marvel Head of Animation Eric Rollman; “The Looking Glass Wars,” which is in the works as a Broadway musical with composer Ryan Oliver Scott and playwright-TV writer Jon Caren; Eric Laster’s murder mystery “Static” is being developed with “Con Man” producer PJ Haarsma for digital; and “Spectrum,” the fictional TV show at the center of the “Con Man” series, will get its own TV show.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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


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A middle grade television script and a novel look very different, but they do share similar traits. A beginning, middle, and end for sure. There’s also a problem that must be solved in 30-60 minutes on TV and by the last page in a book.

I finish a ton of MG books every year. Well, at least a few hundred pounds worth. On the TV side not so much. So I was curious. Would watching these shows make me a better story teller?

I went right to MG students and asked them what their favorite sitcoms were with kids near their age as the stars. I wasn’t familiar with several of their choices so I tracked them down and watched an episode or two.

If you’re writing a novel, watching these programs can be a real eye opener. Some of the plots are downright dumb, but you can get a sense of facial expressions and movement from the characters. I haven’t found much from the dialog side that I can use, but there are certainly quite a few superb kid actors.

Want to watch? Here are a few clips of shows with MG characters recommended by a class of sixth graders:

HENRY DANGER (Nickelodeon)



Also receiving votes: THE THUNDERMANS  and GIRL MEETS WORLD.

Okay. End of experiment. Watching middle grade problems come to life is making me a bit dizzy.  It’s time to return to the safety of writing books.



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DIEGO’S DRAGON BOOK 4 for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The full title wouldn’t quite fit so here’s the full scoop – DIEGO’S DRAGON BOOK FOUR: MAZES, MONSTERS AND MYTHICAL HEROES


Diego is at his most desperate point in any of the four books. 61BF61TkzbL._AC_UL320_SR214,320_He’s separated from his dragon, Magnifico, while families from his California community, including his own, have disappeared. Diego’s destiny is certain to be a final battle with the Dark Lord, Satadon. History will forever change and the dragon world destroyed if he cannot defeat this menacing enemy.

In my reviews of the previous books I mentioned you could jump right in if you had not read the entire series. I wouldn’t attempt that with Book 4. There is so much going on that relates to the previous stories you will likely be lost without the needed background. Read the first three then enjoy this one. It’s an epic tale told in 100 chapters (though many are only a page long).

If you enjoy intricate plotting with many settings both present and in the past this one is for you. A dragon tale like no other.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2015   Pages: 394

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  For all Diego knows, his dragon has fallen for the last time. All that remains of the Aztec nation hides in the forests and caves beyond Tenochtitlan. If Satadon can find and destroy the Mexica people, Diego, Racquel, and their families will join those who disappeared two years ago. Jenna, Racquel’s conduit, gently touches symbols carved on the walls of her prison. If she can find the right sequence inside the temple, she might open an ancient door unknown even to the Dark Lord. Satadon and the ancients are returning to Tenochtitlan. The Aztec gods are choosing sides for the coming battle. Warriors from another dimension appear in the ancient Mexica lands. Sol soars through the stars on a journey to save his dragon. Misterioso, protecting his lord, becomes weaker every hour. He believes Magnifico is dead, and he will wait and die with him if that is Sol’s wish.


  1. A great tie in to the history of Mexico. Readers will be motivated to learn more about the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. This is the setting for a significant chunk of the action. I was also curious about another location I had not heard of: Popocatépetl.
  2. Five full page illustrations by Benito Gallego are a powerful companion to the written words. You can view them here at the Book 4 Teaser page on the Diego’s Dragon site.
  3. I said in my last review of this series that Conor, the Irish boy with a mysterious background, would play a significant role in Diego’s quest… Oh my, did he ever!
  4. I’m always searching for books that will challenge advanced readers. Diego’s fourth episode fits perfectly into that mold.
  5. Spanish words are thrown in throughout. Most can be figured out in context but a handy 2-page translation guide is present in the last pages of the book. Diversity both in language and characters.

FAVORITE LINES: Every dragon in the assembly lifted their jaws straight up. After inhaling deeply, they blasted a widespread flame from their throats and nostrils, adding it to the fires of the sun. They recharged their bodies by allowing Sol’s fiery spirit to flow through them.

“For our families!” shouted Valiente.

The response nearly shattered the teenagers’ eardrums.

“Now, dragon,” said Lea. “Now is the time.”

Kevin Gerard lives in San Diego, California, with his two feline buddies, Jesse the WonderCat and Little Man. He teaches statistics at Cal State San Marcos. When not writing or teaching, he enjoys walking the grounds at the San Diego Zoo, hitting the waves at Cardiff State Beach, and hanging with his brother, nieces and nephews at the local Pizza Port. He also enjoys playing Halo on the internet; look for him in the rocket games as one of the characters from the Diego’s Dragon or Conor and the Crossworlds fantasy adventure series.


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

Comments are always welcome! Just click on the comment link below.



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That is… besides my own who still lives in the same house where I grew up. The moms I’m referring to are the fictional moms in middle grade books. With Mother’s Day this weekend, I’m here to give recognition to the best moms in the hundreds of MG books I’ve read.mom_heart

Even though an MG protagonist is usually 9-13 years-old, they don’t always have a supportive mom nearby. Moms are often absent because of death, divorce, or abandonment. There are also plots in which the moms are present, but the way they act is more of a detriment to their child.

The mom I enjoy having in a story isn’t one that hovers. She cares deeply about her child but lets him or her learn from their mistakes. This mom is there when their emerging teen needs help. I’d go so far to recommend these moms as case studies for potential moms. They really know how to make a difference in a kids life.

Here now are the books where you can find my six favorite fictional moms:

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Middle grade books with animals often have humans sharing the pages. Not so here. 27220549With this new story it’s all about the animals and specifically ones that choose nighttime to roam. The main characters are a fox, a sugar glider, and a pangolin. Wolves, bats, alligators and many more creatures of the night are also a part of this adventuresome undertaking.

THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS is the first release of a planned series (Book two, THE OMINOUS EYE, is scheduled for September, 2016). What you will find tucked away on these pages is a huge mystery about animals vanishing, lots of humor, and a plot that zips its way to a satisfying conclusion. The short chapters (33 in all) would make a great read-aloud.

If you have an animal loving reader searching for a fun story, they won’t be disappointed by this unique tale.


FULL PLOT (From THE NOCTURNALS WEBSITE ) The Nocturnals features three unlikely friends: Dawn, a serious fox, Tobin, a sweet pangolin and Bismark, the loud mouthed, pint sized sugar glider. The stories all play out in their nighttime world with teamwork, friendship and humor in every adventure.

In The Mysterious Abductions, the animals form a brigade of the night after a random encounter with a blood-thirsty snake, and just in time because something is threatening their night realm. Animals are disappearing without a trace. Together with the help of a wombat, a band of coyotes and many others, Dawn, Tobin and Bismark journey to the depths of the earth in a wacky, high stakes game that will determine all of their survival.


  1. After reading the tale you will have learned many characteristics of animals and their unique behavior. It’s not a listing of facts but instead are woven into the story. I now feel like an expert on animal behavior.
  2. The importance of friendship and family is a super theme evident throughout.
  3. A strong core group of characters, each with distinct personalities, should keep this series interesting especially for the intended audience.
  4. The book jacket hides the cover with only ‘The’ carried over. An extra bit of fun that had me smiling at the creativity.
  5. Surprises pop up at unexpected times. You’ll find a nocturnal brigade and a life or death hockey match as an example. There’s also a fun twist when the animals speak short foreign phrases.

FAVORITE LINES: “Since I am the bravest soul of us all,” said the sugar glider, “I shall gallantly remain in this tree – in its precarious limbs, at its most perilous pinnacle – while the two of you resolve that, um, teensy trouble down below.” He cleared his throat and stood tall. “Farethewell!”


Tracey Hecht Photo Credit Bailey Carr PhotographyTracey Hecht is a writer and entrepreneur who has written, directed and produced for film. Tracey currently splits her time between New York City and Oquossoc, Maine with her husband, four children and three pets—none of which are a sugar glider. This is her first middle grade series.

Illustrator KateLiebmanKate Liebman is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She graduated from Yale University, contributes to the Brooklyn Rail, and has shown her work at multiple galleries. She grew up in Santa Monica,  California. This is her first children’s book.

See more at THE NOCTURNALS website including some great resources for teachers.




Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word below.

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


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