Category Archives: young adult, middle grade genres

The Next Big Thing

Kathleen Krull is here!

the-next-big-thing-300x234We’re jumping feet first into the summer with a visit from one of the best story-tellers on our planet!

It’s fun to be nosy about Kathy Krull’s latest activities…especially when she responds to Blog Hop questions. Read on. Insert a comment. Better yet, add your 2 cents to the Boston Tea Party discussion at, and Kathy will send you a copy of her latest book on this very subject. And do check out the splendid creators Kathy has blog-tagged at the end. —J.C.]

Photo courtesy of Lili Gonzalez /Yellow Book Road

1.  What is the title of your work-in-progress?

KK:  It’s not in-progress, but piping hot off the press: What Was the Boston Tea Party

2.  Where did the idea come from?
KK:  Without being an expert on the Boston Tea Party, I still had a sense that the current Tea Party movement, which began in 2009, a month after President Barack Obama took office, was not always accurate in its depiction of American history.  So I wanted to know the real story of the event and present it to young readers.

3.  What genre does your book come under?
KK:  Nonfiction chapter book, illustrated with line drawings and 16 pages of photos.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
KK:  150 of Hollywood’s buffest and cutest and youngest–more than a third of the participants that night were under 21.


5. One sentence synopsis for your book?
KK:  What happened on the night of December 16, 1773, placed within a context of what led up to it and what resulted–how it led to the birth of a whole new country.

6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
Published by Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
KK:  At the same time I was thinking Tea Party thoughts, my editor at Penguin, Jane O’Connor, was starting up this new series WHAT WAS, a spin-off of WHO WAS.  The deadline was tight, a matter of months, during which I was drinking tea from morning till night.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Is it conceited to say I hope I’m trying in my way to follow in the footsteps of Jean Fritz?

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
KK:  American history is endlessly fascinating, and I love getting the chance to portray it as accurately and meaningfully as possible, fighting the good fight against cluelessness.


10.What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
KK:  It’s controversial!  Anyone who enters the fray will get sent a free copy of the book.

And now, I am tagging two upstanding children’s book folks: Helen Foster James , co-author of Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America and several other popular books, and Carlyn Beccia, illustrator for one of my newest, Louisa May’s Battle and other beautiful books.

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Writing, editing, parenting, and publishing!

Photo of Deborah Halverson

I’m delighted to have Deborah Halverson visit here as part of the grand blog tour for her latest book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies

After ten years as an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books, she left to raise her triplet sons (yikes!), taught writing at UCSD Extension, and runs the popular writers’ advice site,

She’s written two acclaimed teen novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. Her third book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, chock-full of exercises and tips on the ins-and-outs of writing and the publishing business, is the culmination of her hard-earned experience.

Joy Chu:  Your book deftly identifies the variety of young readers. That is, young adult fiction is an umbrella term for two distinct categories, middle grade fiction (ages 9-14), and young adult fiction (ages 12-17), or teen fiction. Since the primary focus of this blog is on illustrators and their collaborators (authors, editors, and art directors), I’d like to hone in on books that get art treatment.

Would you tell us what distinguishes middle grade texts from chapter books, and books for reluctant readers?

Deborah Halverson:  Distinguishing the book levels that transition young readers from picture book to middle grade novel can be confusing, that’s for sure. Try this breakdown:

Beginning reader: Ages 5 to 8; short text, simple language, usually part of a larger beginning reader series. Example: Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

Early chapter book: Ages 6 to 9; moving away from emphasis on illustration, with longer texts broken into short chapters. Example: Magic Treehouse books (below).

Chapter book: Ages 7 to 10; fully developed characters and longer text (roughly 100 or more pages) broken into chapters; may include decorative ornaments and/or limited black-and-white illustration. Examples: Chet Gecko series.Text spread from  "The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse"

This realm of children’s books is dominated by series. Reluctant readers are more likely to choose and stick with books that feature familiar characters, author style, and themes.

Joy Chu:  Sometimes I run across picture books which I feel probably should have been middle grade illustrated books instead. That is, the books will contain way too much text, and the subject matter is a bit advanced for the target audience. Do editors find themselves in such quandaries when evaluating the target audience for a manuscript with good potential?

Deborah Halverson:  “Older” picture books target kids aged 6 to 9, or 5 to 8, and thus they tend to have a more sophisticated subject matter and approach to illustrations than the general picture book range (ages 3 to 7).

Notice the overlap of the age ranges for these older picture books and chapters books? Yep: same audience.

The organization of the material is different, though, because of the introduction of chapters. Chapter books are for readers who want a longer narrative and plot, with character development across multiple chapters. The illustrations tend to serve more as decorative elements. In picture books, the illustrations tell at least half the story.

Deborah Halverson's mighty triplet sons

Let’s not forget this factor: little peoples’ pride! Some older kids crave the independence of reading their own “big kid books,” and chapter books satisfy that yen.

And then there are those kiddoes who wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a picture book around (baby book!) but can’t wait to show off their new Magic Treehouse book to their BFFs.

As well, the topics of older picture books and beginning readers are usually different, with the picture books often tackling larger concepts or events, while the chapter books are focused heavily on the relationships between characters.

These factors play into an author’s and editor’s decision between “picture book” and “chapter book.”

Joy Chu:  How does an editor decide if a middle grade book or chapter book requires illustration? And would the text feature different traits if it were for a picture book?

Deborah Halverson:  Middle grade novels and older chapter books, which can range from 75-100 or more pages, have different illustrative needs.

MG novels may have no illustrations at all, or “spot” illustrations (maybe one per chapter). This art complements the text, giving the young reader something extra for interest’s sake.

In contrast, the illustrations in a chapter book play a bigger role in the storytelling, assisting young readers as they work to decipher the sentences and making the spreads less intimidating.

Some chapter books even spice up the text itself with graphic elements—funky fonts, colored words, that sort of thing. The Geronimo Stilton series is a perfect example of this technique . . . which may account for my three sons’ instant love of that spunky mouse. I was sitting in a lawn chair flipping through The Phantom of the Subway (Geronimo Stilton #13) one day while my then-five-year-olds played in the garden. One boy peeked over my shoulder and never looked away. The other two boys soon peeked over my other shoulder, and then the four of us sat there, on the driveway, and read all 128 pages of the book. They stayed tight at my side the whole time, as mesmerized by the pages themselves as by the story.

Joy Chu:  You’ve worked with a wide variety of illustrators, authors, and target audiences. You were the editor of Searching for Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt), the sequel to The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. Tell us about working with Joe Cepeda.


Deborah Halverson: My knee-jerk response: dream illustrator.

I absolutely adore Joe’s palette, his imagination is off the chart, and he is a master at visual storytelling—moving the “camera” around as we turn the pages, creating a palpable sense of movement with his viewpoint changes.

Sample spread from "The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman"

He’s also a total professional, working well with deadlines and seeing editorial feedback as “collaboration” rather than “interloping.” Believe me, editors love that. Plus, Joe’s just the sweetest person. Can you tell I’m a fan?

My favorite example of Joe’s visual storytelling prowess occurs in The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman. In that book, Oliver is a wooden man who is conveyed city-by-city across the U.S. by kind travelers.

The original manuscript contained only the text that appears on the postcards sent by the kind travelers to update Oliver’s creator of his progress. Joe decided that Oliver’s travel scenes would be wordless art-only spreads, and he filled those spreads with amazing American landscapes. Green skies, pink skies, blue skies… these wordless spreads are breathtaking and energetic.

[You can read more about Joe Cepeda’s work process here — JC]

Joy Chu:   What led you to the creation of four life-size wooden Olivers?

Deborah Halverson:  First, it’s important to know that Joe is a hobbyist woodworker as well as an illustrator. Thus, Joe drew Oliver as if someone might actually build him. All the joints, angles, what-have-you were easily created with real wood.

Marking Oliver's feet

Marking Oliver's feet

It’s also important to know that my husband is also a hobbyist woodworker, and that I had enough interest to take some woodworking classes myself.

So when Harcourt Children’s Books publisher Lori Benton brainstormed the idea to send a real Oliver on a book tour, I volunteered the Halversons as his creators.

Sawing Oliver's foot

We ended up making four Olivers, and a member of the marketing team sewed four brown bookbags to travel with him. Here are some photos of us at work on Oliver, and the final “product.”

The best part in all this was the moment when, shortly after I’d arranged a finished Oliver in a sitting position on my living room couch, I accidentally bumped the wooden man’s foot while walking past and told him, “Oh, excuse me.” He’d become very real to me.

Oliver and Deborah

Those four Olivers traveled the country—bookstores, classrooms, libraries—collecting postcards and souvenirs from kids along the way. It was outstanding.

And now readers are getting into the act, using wood or paper to make their own Olivers. They take their little Olivers to wonderful places and photograph him there. My boys took a paper Oliver around Europe a few summers ago.

For a free downloadable Oliver pattern, click here.

Win a FREE COPY of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies!  Here’s how:

1. Download the free cheat sheet for Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies here. Yes, it’s a gift!

2. Post a comment below. Make sure to include your email address (it won’t appear on this page). Two winners will be drawn at random from all comments posted on this page by Friday, August 5th.

Good luck!

Deborah with the "Dummies" mascot, gifted by the Blue Slip Media folks

Debbie with Wiley, the "Dummies" mascot

   Late-breaking NEWS:

Click here for the names of the winners!

Wait, wait . . . there’s more!

Want to meet Deborah live? Pre-register for her Webinar with Katie Davis here. It’s happening Wednesday, July 27, 2011, from 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM (ET).

And bookmark the following link for future advice about authoring:

Deborah Halverson visits tomorrow!

Deborah Halverson's triplet sons, displaying her latest bookCheck it out!  After ten years as editor at Harcourt, Deborah Halverson left to raise triplet sons (left) while authoring two teen novels, and teaching creative writing at UCSD Extension. She runs the popular writer’s advice website, Dear Editor.  Deborah will share nuggets of wisdom from her latest book, Writing Young Adult Novels for Dummies —plus a remarkable picture book adventure — with us.

Join us! Post a comment tomorrow, and you might win a book!

We are part of her fabulous blog tour! Check out the itinerary, complete with links, here. A terrific review appears here.

And finally, renown author Kathi Appelt gets inspired by her wise cat below. . . .

Hoss (one of author Kathi Appelt's cats), gives a paw's up for WYAFD

'Hoss' Appelt gives a "paw's up" for Deborah Halverson's latest!