“Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” by Rita Williams-Garcia: A Discussion Guide for Writers

In Rita Williams-Garcia’s middle grade novel Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, the sudden loss of a beloved grandfather, a disconnect between mother and son, and the young protagonist’s desire to become a Blues musician collide. By studying Williams-Garcia’s novel, writers can examine how to write sound and musical imagery, how to weave adult relationships and points of view into a middle grade novel, and how to use secondary or ancillary characters to create conflict, mood, tension and setting.

Picture1Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Williams-Garcia’s methods.

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“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sanchez: A Discussion Guide for Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

Erika L. Sanchez’s novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a first-person narrative of a teenage girl struggling with her sister’s death, her parents’ disapproval, and ultimately with depression and attempted suicide. By studying Sanchez’s novel, writers can explore managing a depressed and potentially unlikeable main character, the balance of dialogue to narrative text, and the tools writers use to create tone in their novels. Continue reading

Send Yourself A Letter

by Kelly Carey

(Note: a version of this article appeared previously on Kelly’s blog, 24 Carrot Writing).

Give your writing self the gift of encouragement.

This summer, I took a class at The Writers’ Loft taught by Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss. At the end of class, Karen asked us to write ourselves letters. The letters were an opportunity to chat about our writing hopes, dreams, and goals. Karen collected the letters and tucked them away. Five months later my letter appeared in my mailbox, and it was the most wonderful gift. Continue reading

“Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

cd.pngNeal Shusterman’s novel Challenger Deep is a reality-bending study of one teenage boy’s struggle with mental illness. By studying Shusterman’s novel, writers can explore the use of an unreliable narrator, consider the complexity of managing two different plot lines, and examine the methods Shusterman employs to write accurately and sensitively about mental health.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Challenger Deep. As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Shusterman’s methods. Continue reading

“Well, That Was Awkward” by Rachel Vail: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

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Rachel Vail puts a modern middle-grade twist on the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac in Well, That Was Awkward. Using text messages, Vail’s protagonist helps her best friend respond to a new love. Vail adds tension by giving her protagonist budding feelings for her friend’s new love interest, including a classic nasty mean girl antagonist, and providing parent drama. By studying Vail’s novel, writers can explore the opportunities presented by updating classic tales, the use of text messaging in middle grade novels, the effect of setting on story, and the balance of plot and subplot. Continue reading

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas: A Discussion Guide For Writers

discussion questions prepared by Kelly Carey

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Angie Thomas’s YA novel The Hate U Give is a stark and raw platform for discussions on racism, prejudice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also, just as simply, a wonderfully crafted novel rich in character, setting, and excellent story telling. Through Starr, Thomas offers a voice to readers living the reality of violence, drugs, and racism while simultaneously offering a window into that life for readers whose experiences are very different. Thomas blends the harshest moments of her main character’s reality—the police shooting of her friend, intimidation by a local drug lord, and gang violence—seamlessly with the universal teenage experiences of friendship drama, first loves, and the push/pull of independence from home and parents. This juxtaposition paints a picture often not represented, or sometimes misrepresented, on book shelves. Continue reading

“Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan: A Discussion Guide for Writers

by Kelly Carey

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Pam Muñoz Ryan’s middle-grade novel Echo weaves three historical fiction stories together with a flick of fairy tale magic. A witch’s curse and a magic harmonica travel from Nazi Germany to Depression-era Pennsylvania and to Southern California amidst World War II before colliding in New York City. Writers can use Ryan’s novel as a mentor text for exploring the tools and pacing needed to bring different story threads together, evaluating the balance between story and history in a historical fiction novel, and examining how endings affect a reader’s experience.

Use the discussion questions on your own or with a book group to investigate Echo.  As you consider each question, take note of how your own manuscripts apply Ryan’s methods. Continue reading