Archives: Middle Grade Novels

NerdCampJR: Choreographing an Action Scene

I’m on the road today, heading back to Maryland from NerdCampMI. One of the best parts of NerdCamp happens on Day 2 in the afternoon, nErDCampJr. That’s when the kids arrive and have mini-sessions with authors.

Because my new book, TAKEDOWN, is about a boy and a girl on a competitive wrestling team, it is full of action. Unlike my first middle grade novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, I had to create believable action scenes.

What a challenge that was! I had to relearn the lingo of the sport, study moves a middle school athlete would know, watch wrestlers in competition, and think about how the characters’ bodies move in space and interact with each other. In other words, I had to choreograph action scenes!

This year, the focus of my session with 6th grade NerdCampers was how to create an action scene with words.

The materials for this mini writing workshop are: A pair of Nerf swords, two willing volunteer actors, writing notebooks, and our imaginations.

One important rule we followed as we tried out these scenes comes from the sport of fencing: All practice blows with the sword had to fall between the shoulders and the hips. No swiping at people’s heads or below the belt — not even for play.

Before we got started composing our scene, the kids and I talked about how an author helps a reader picture action in their imagination.

We agreed on: action verbs, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, naming specific body parts as they move, and using the five senses. Oh, and dialogue was a key element in each group’s scene.

Each set of kids was about 20 people. We broke into groups for the initial writing — about six kids in charge of the scene’s beginning, six in charge of the middle, and six writing the end. The actors and one or two additional 6th graders wrote the dialogue. If they needed information, groups were allowed to send “spies” (really, emissaries) to ask what the other groups were coming up with.

This group exercise was a lot of fun. A surprise to me — it turned out to be a good lesson in revision! First, we wrote down ideas. Next, we tested those ideas out on our sword-wielding actors. Then we realized we had to make a few changes, use more specific language, or move a line of dialogue. We rewrote and ran through the scene with two new actors, to see how well it was working.

Here are the fight scenes that my three groups of sixth graders choreographed, wrote, and enthusiastically acted out in just 20 minutes!

Group 1: MM (5:30-5:55 pm)

Felicia:  “You may be rich but you cannot buy skill!  You will never defeat me!”

Skylar lunges at Felicia with her sword, but it’s a fake out. When Felicia goes to block the sword, Skylar punches her in the shoulder.  Felicia falls to the ground.

Skylar:  “I may not have skill, but I am much smarter!”

Skylar lunges at Felicia, but as she does so, Felicia does a roundhouse-kick to Skylar’s sword. The sword goes flying.

“What am I supposed to do?  Fight with my feet?” yells Skylar as she kicks Felicia in the stomach.

Felicia stabs Skylar in the stomach. Skylar falls over and dies.

***

Group 2: LL (6:00-6:25 pm)

There  is a brother and sister on the roof of Knight School.

Brother: “Why are we up here?”

Sister: “I’m through with all this nonsense of boys are better than girls.”

Brother: “That still doesn’t answer my question why are we on the roof.”

Sister: “Enough talking. En garde!”

The girl lunges, slips, and falls to the ground. The sword falls.

Sister: “Oh no! My sword.”

Brother: “Not all boys may be better than girls. But I know I am better than you!”

The brother stabs her in her foot and she dies.

***

Group 3: KK (7:30-8 pm)

There is a fencing tournament at Medieval Times. When Brent steals Macy’s lucky cape, she challenges him to a duel.

Macy: “You stole my cape, give it back!”

Brent (holding the lucky cape behind his back): “You’re not getting it back!”

Macy tries to bribe Brent with a fake cape.  She holds it out and as he goes to get it from her, she reaches around to grab her cape.  She holds it up in the air, then lunges and stabs Brent in the shoulder.

Brent fake lunges at Macy. She tries to block the blow and he punches her in the belly.

Macy falls. Brent stands over her with an evil laugh but she pops up in surprise and stabs him in the collarbone.

He falls to the ground and breaks his back.

Brent: “You cannot hurt me, I’m a god!”

***

Thanks to volunteers Pernille Ripp and Brittney Bones for helping everything run smoothly with my groups. Couldn’t have done it without you!

nErDCampMI 2018

It’s my second year at nErDCampMI and I’ve been having a blast! My favorite thing about this event is that authors and educators are learning together — sharing our best practices, concerns, and experiences with connecting students and books.

As promised, I am posting the slide presentations for both Day 1 panels I participated in.

 

Nine of the 12 members of #BookExpedition led the panel. Top row left to right: Mike Grosso, Brooks Benjamin, Katie Reilly, Amy Wiggins, Cara Newman, Cheryl Mizerny. Bottom row: Laura Shovan, Lorie Barber, Erin Varley. Members not pictured: Susan Sullivan, Patrick Andrus, Alexa McKenrick.

NerdCamp DAY 1: July 9, 2018

Coast to Coast Reading with #BookExpedition

In this session, author/educators Brooks Benjamin (MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS), Mike Grosso (I AM DRUMS), and I — along with several other members of our ARC reading group — talked about how to start up your own reading circle and how reading together has positively impacted our teaching. The title of the panel recognizes the fact that our group stretches from New York to Tennessee on the East Coast, has several Midwest representatives, and one member from California. This gives us all a broader view of what’s going on in education across the country.

Breaking Down Stereotypes and Stigmas 1 Day at a Time

Stereotypes silence and shame our most vulnerable population—children. As authors, librarians, and educators, how can we create an inclusive environment where every student’s voice is valued? Children’s authors, Elly Swartz (FINDING PERFECT, SMART COOKIE), Laura Shovan, and Karina Glaser (THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141st STREET, THE VANDERBEEKERS AND THE HIDDEN GARDEN) discuss using books to breakdown stereotypes, battle stigmas, celebrate differences, build compassionate communities, and create change. You’ll find the recommended reading list session attendees generated at the end of the slides. Huge thanks to educator Lorie Barber for taking notes when we were sharing all of these great book titles.

NerdCamp DAY 2: July 10, 2018

Fractured Fairy Tales with Bridget Hodder (THE RAT PRINCE) and Laura Shovan.

Find the session notes and handouts here!

Poetry Friday: Takedown Launch

Michelle Kogan is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Stop by Michelle’s blog to join the poetry party.

Greetings and salutations, friends. Happy Poetry Friday!

This week, I’m celebrating the launch of my second book for children, TAKEDOWN. (Read a review at the Nerdy Book Club.)

I think of this novel as a friendship story set in the world of youth wrestling.It’s told by two sixth graders: Mikayla, who wants to be a wrestler like her older brothers — until their coach says a girl won’t cut it on his team; and Lev, who is determined to beat his nemesis and make it to the state wrestling championship. Neither one of them is happy when they end up on the same team … as training partners.

The book covers the story of their season, how Mickey and Lev learn to work together.

Though this book is written in prose, its genesis began with poetic sketches.

Wrestling sketches from 2010!

I used to sit with my notebook at my son’s wrestling practices and tournaments, writing down what I observed. I couldn’t *not* include some poetry, so I gave my wrestling notebook to Lev. When he needs some downtime between matches, you’ll find him sitting at the top of the bleachers with a notebook in his lap and a pen in his hand, writing.

Lev has a handful of poems in the book. Here is one that came out of those early poetic sketches. Wrestling season is in the winter. Athletes often spend one or both days of their weekend at tournaments, arriving for weigh-ins before first light, and leaving (if they wrestle well) as the sun sets. This is Lev’s draft of a poem he’s working on for school.

Wrestlers Are Vampires
By Laura Shovan, from TAKEDOWN

Wrestlers are vampires.
Gyms are their caves.
They shut the doors,
stay locked inside,
and don’t come out
until day submits to night.
Wrestlers are vampires.
They never see the sun.
They push your face
into the mat until
your nose oozes blood.
They crush you flat,
break you down, bury you.
***

If you’re local to the Baltimore/DC area, I hope to see you at the book launch event this Sunday, 12 pm. The Ivy Bookshop is hosting.  Launch details and the address are here. We’ve got something really special planned.

10% off both books if you buy one, donate one.

Don’t know anything about wrestling? We’ve got you covered! Young athletes from Beat the Streets Baltimore will be on-hand to give a wrestling demonstration. We’re running a “Buy a Book/Donate a Book to Beat the Streets” program, so kids at Beat the Streets summer camps will receive a copy of the book.

Because food is very important to wrestlers, we’re going to have Lev and Mickey’s favorite tournament day treats: Twizzlers and donuts. ASL interpretation will be provided.

Thanks for all of your support during this book’s progress, Poetry Friday friends. It’s been two years since I first shared a poem from TAKEDOWN, which was not even a complete draft! You can read “Tournament Rap” here.

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Frame-up

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Jone at Check It Out. She’s got big news about the Cybil Award for Poetry!

Happy Poetry Friday! Thanks for visiting the Poe House with me last week. I pulled a random name from the comments and Jama Rattigan is the winner of the Poe Keepsake Journal. Congratulations, Jama!

Before I get to this week’s post, I want to thank Arnold Adoff and the Virginia Hamilton Conference. Last week, I learned that my debut novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was named the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices honor book. “Surprised” is an understatement! It is a huge honor and I’m so grateful for the recognition. Please do visit the full list of award-winners. There are some phenomenal books among the 2018 awardees.

It’s been over a year since I started keeping a personal bullet journal. (If you’re not familiar with bullet journals, start with this post.)

Inspired by my educator friends, one of the new things I’m trying with my 2018 journal is tracking my reading. I’ve kept track via Goodreads before, but charting books is allowing me to take a close look at my genre preferences and how many children’s novels I read, versus YA or adult.

So far, it looks like this:

I am very excited about my most recent read.

Wendy McLeod MacKnight’s The Frame-up is about  boy who — spending the summer with his art-gallery-director father — discovers a great secret. Paintings are alive!

Let’s say you are a portrait. You keep all of the memories of your living person (the subject of the portrait) until the moment the painting is finished.

From that point on, you become your own entity, keeping quiet and still during the day, so museum goers won’t guess the truth. At night, you visit friends and neighbors in other paintings. And by visit, I mean going into a painting of a pub to drink and dance with your buddies or, if you’re a child, hopping into a seascape with a soothing pier for you to walk around. If that seascape is so soothing that you fall asleep in the painting — the wrong painting — no worries … as long as you’re back in your own picture by the time the museum opens.

But let’s say the gallery director’s son, Sargent Singer, happens to come along to the gallery one night and notice that your portrait frame is empty. And then what if he spots you, fast asleep on a pier, in the wrong painting?

This middle grade contemporary fantasy will be available in June. Pre-order now from Indiebound.

This is how The Frame-up opens. The painting that Sargent catches is that of a girl about his age, Mona Dunn. (You can view William Orpen’s Mona Dunn here.) The two of them spark a secret friendship, chock-full of adventures and mishaps.

How serendipitous that I’d have a chance to read the ARC right now, when our February Poetry Project is in the midst of writing in response to art! I know that members of this group are going to love how vividly MacKnight imagines the personalities of several paintings — all found at the real-life Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada.

It’s also a super fun book. The climax (involving nefarious goings-on at the gallery) is exciting, both in our world, and in the world of the paintings. And the resolution? It totally tugged at my art-strings. (Get it?)

I went back to the first February Poetry Project, looking for a poem to pair with Wendy’s book. The theme that year was vintage post cards.

Many of those poems were portraits of the people pictured on the cards, but only one imagined that the people in the image are awake, thinking beings.

Luckily, this poem is a good fit for Valentine’s Week.

Cartoon Boy Meets Cartoon Girl
By Laura Shovan

You have no lips to kiss or speak.
I have no ears to listen.
Let me lean on this picket fence,
watch you hover
over a loop of jump rope,
your braids drawn up
by bat-winged ribbons.
You cannot see my baseball cap
or read my cautious expression.
Your lashes fell a moment before
the cartoonist imagined us.
But I will wait. The next panel,
with your fluttering lids, must come.
The artist — would he leave us
forever like this?

Sadly, these two are frozen in their art, unable to move or communicate. They’d much prefer being in the wonderful world of The Frame-up. Find the original post with this postcard and poem at Author Amok.