Saturday, August 30, 2014

Within the Pages: From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson

I'm happy to review this middle-grade book, From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson, by author Nikki Bennett. Authentic, funny characters and a magical setting provide a one-of-a-kind story perfect for intermediate readers.

From Amazon:
Every house has a history. This House has a mystery. When the orphaned Munsen kids move with their aunt to The House, Mindy Munsen discovers strange creatures living there already. Ghosts. Dragons. Leprechauns. And a scary Thing lurking in the basement. Mindy’s older sister Susie is determined to find out where these creatures came from and why they’re living in the Munsen’s house. With the help of the next-door neighbors and an old lady named Mrs. Wemberley, Susie, Mindy and their brothers unravel The House’s amazing secrets. And along the way, they discover some incredible secrets about themselves.
My review:
     Author Nikki Bennett has built a wonderfully-intricate setting that young readers will love in her middle-grade book, From the Magical Mind of Mindy Munson. Main character Susie has a very authentic, engaging voice, and readers are treated to her first-person account of how she and her siblings adjust to living in a large, rundown estate with their guardian, Aunt Julie. Through the imaginations of the younger kids, Tucker and Mindy, various make-believe characters such as The Thing in the basement, the Mulberry Dragon, the Leprechaun, and a purple fuzzy spider ‘inhabit’ the house, and cause a little tension for the Munson kids.
    In addition to the story, I especially loved the charming illustrations throughout the chapters. Also, Aunt Julie isn’t just a cardboard adult character in a kid’s book. Her indifference at the beginning of the book develops into genuine concern as we get deeper into the story, and the kids work through their grief surrounding their parents’ deaths. Though the dialogue between the younger Munson kids, Tucker and Mindy, sounds natural for their age, too, it was a bit distracting to read. Other than that minor point, The Magical Mind of Mindy Munson, is an enjoyable read for the middle-grade audience, and would make an ideal selection for a young reader’s book club. 

Visit author Nikki Bennett at The World of Nikki

Amazon  Also available at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Scribd

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Using Real-Life Role Models to Develop Middle-Grade Characters

     Her windup was fluid, almost effortless. She faced batter after batter, striking them out with her 70-mile-an-hour fastball. But when she walked off the pitcher's mound at inning's end, what amazed me wasn't her athletic ability as much as her poise and humility, even as the crowds chanted her name and reporters clamored for interviews. Then her story showed up in Sports Illustrated, which isn't exactly the same as a one-column story in the hometown newspaper. Again I admired that cool, unaffected demeanor that you don't usually see in junior high kids, much less from one that just landed on the cover of the world's most popular sports news magazine.
     Mo'ne Davis, the now-famous pitcher and infielder of the Taney Little League team of Philadelphia is exactly the kind of character I like to write about. She's a kid doing extraordinary things, but more importantly, she's someone who shows strength of character by who she is, not what she does. Yet those two ideas are intricately tied. Mo'ne excels on the field because of who she is off of the field.
     When I started developing main character, Summer Haas, for my middle-grade novel, BINGO SUMMER, I wanted a mentally-tough character who wouldn't be beaten down by the rapid changes happening in her young life. Her parents are divorced, she moves to a new community, she leaves her best friend behind. Through it all, she's determined to be a great softball player, but how did she get there? She focused on the goal, being the best she could be, yet kept her ego in check even when she beat an established player out of the coveted starting position.
     Creating three-dimensional characters, especially heroic main characters, is hard work. They have to be admirable yet not without fault, tough yet vulnerable. I wish Mo'ne Davis was playing ball when I wrote BINGO SUMMER. Using real-life role models like her to inspire characters makes the writing process a whole lot easier.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Back-to-School with BINGO SUMMER: An Excerpt and a Sale

     BINGO SUMMER, a funny, heart-felt middle-grade novel, follows 13-year-old Summer Haas after her family wins the lottery, and moves to a new town when the media attention gets too crazy. Summer finds that making new friends, keeping the lottery win a secret, and staying true to herself is the biggest challenge of all. 

"In my room, I found a half-empty notebook in my desk drawer and flipped to the first blank page. I got halfway through writing a letter to Dana, but then I reread it, and I got a headache from all the complaining I did. I didn’t want to give a headache to my best friend, too.
My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Bertram, once told us to write our troubles down on paper, to make a Worry List, and then get rid of those worries by throwing the list in the garbage.  I’d done that before, when Mom and Frank were divorcing and she was too distracted to pay much attention to J.C. and me. I’d felt like I was J.C.’s mom, that my own mom had gone missing. Every day, I came home and listed my worries. Then I tore out the page, crumpled it, and banked the shot off the wall and into the garbage can. Sometimes writing stuff down worked. So I flipped to a new page in the notebook and tore it out. Instead of complaining to Dana, I’d make a Worry List." - from Bingo Summer

"I found I couldn't put the book down all weekend until I knew how it ended. I am adding this author to my "must read" list!" - Goodreads review

Get 'tween' novel Bingo Summer for 99 cents
on your Kindle or Nook
Now through August 17th

Kindle  *  NOOK

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bingo Summer Back-to-School 99 cent E-Book Sale

Get 'tween' novel Bingo Summer for 99 cents
on your Kindle or Nook
Now through August 17th
during these last few weeks before school starts!

Kindle  *  NOOK

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Winning Over a Reluctant Writer

What does a giant chicken sculpture draped
 with Christmas lights have to do
 with reluctant writers? Absolutely nothing!
     Last week I spent five days in a community education classroom helping fifth- through eighth-graders with their creative writing skills. I taught a three-hour class before lunch, and the same class to another group in the afternoon. 'Tentatively hopeful' was the operative word for me before the first Monday morning session. I had spent weeks writing lessons plans, collecting supplies, and fretting that I hadn't enough variety of activities to keep their restless minds and bodies interested.
     Two kids readily admitted to me on the first day that their parents 'forced' them to take the class. One of them spent much of the first day sighing very loudly each time we tried a new writing exercise. When he hit a new level of frustration - a sigh AND an eye roll - after I asked for a volunteer to share his or her work, I silently vowed to help him see that writing could be tolerable, even fun (gasp!) by the end of the week.
     A quote - "Reluctant writers aren't born, they're made" - came to mind. Had he been frustrated by writing assignments that kept him from expressing what he really wanted to write? Had he been overwhelmed by the 'rules' of good writing? I told the class early that there were no rules for the week, other than the general 'no cell phones/no-talking-when-I'm-talking/be-respectful-to-your-classmates' variety. Creative writing should not be restricted by rules.
     The week moved along at a quick, energetic pace, and I'm a little biased, but they seemed to enjoy it. Everyone plotted an incident stemming from a time when they got in trouble. They made a character collage, filled out a bio sheet, then 'talked' to another character in the class when we studied dialogue. They had a tasting party, and used ALL of their senses to describe the foods. For ten minutes half-way through each class, they used a beach ball to play a word association game. They had so much fun with the game, we also opened and closed each of the following sessions that way. I let them take turns picking music on Spotify to listen to while we did our timed writing spurts. I was determined to show them the fun in creating characters, settings, and stories.
     By the end of the day on Tuesday, I counted only a handful of sighs from the reluctant writer.
     On Wednesday, he surprised himself by coming up with some pretty amazing observations when we did character exercises.
     On Thursday, he volunteered to read his work FIRST during share time.
     Before he left class on Friday, as his mother signed him out, I asked him what he had thought of the class.
     He smiled. "It wasn't so bad," he said.
     "What was your favorite part?" I asked.
     He didn't hestitate. "That I could write what I wanted."
     Mission accomplished? Yeah, I can live with that.


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