For Middle Grade Writers: 5 Gems from a School Counselor

If you write middle grade fiction, it can be difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of a middle schooler’s daily life if you are not the parent or teacher of kids this age.

I interviewed a middle school guidance counselor (I’ll call her Ms. Counselor) for insights—some granular details ranging from school day schedules to substance use to gender, sexual orientation, and the beginnings of romance.

…Read more here in my blog post on the Project Mayhem Middle Grade blog, a treasure trove of information about writing for this complex and often-misunderstood age group!

And remember: be kind to porcupines.

We Know How to Do This: my Inauguration protest poem

I am thrilled that my poem “We Know How to Do This” is included in the voices of dissent in the anthology If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration. Published by Sibling Rivalry Press, the anthology is available through Amazon, or you can download a pdf of the anthology through the publisher’s website. 

 If You Can Hear This was just reviewed by Out In Print: Queer Book Reviews. The reviewer even gave a shout-out to my poem! Read the review here.

Feel free to share the link to the anthology! From the website: “In order to create the most visibility for this anthology, we’re also offering a free download, no purchase required.” Here is my poem:

We Know How to Do This

 by Mary E. Cronin

We know how to do this—

To breathe in a house with no oxygen

to drive in a township where you run us off the road

to dance in a hall where you leer,

assess

grab.

 

We know how to do this—

To speak in code

as you blunder and bluster,

smashing all the china

as you try to break us.

 

We know how to do this.

We meet eyes

We pass notes

We touch fingers

We laugh.

 

We are smoke.

We swirl around you

fill your eyes,

your nostrils,

your mouth,

as you flail

in vain

to banish us.

We are an idea.

We are timeless.

You can’t kill us.

We know how to do this.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The fact that the anthology is now available gives me added rocket fuel as I head to Washington DC for the Women’s March!

 

Resist!

Searching for My Sidekick, and finding him

Searching for My Sidekick: I wrote that essay three years ago, as I remembered my childhood friend Wilfredo on his October 12 birthday.  I’d recently learned that he had died, and I had an unsettled feeling, wondering about the circumstances of his death at age 34.

Reuniting with Wilfredo at Lincoln Center in 1980
Reuniting with Wilfredo at Lincoln Center in 1980

Many friends and readers responded to my essay, so I have to share this update. This past year I found Wilfredo’s sister, Jeannine. She is ten years younger than Wilfredo and I; she is an educator and a mom. She filled in a lot of missing pieces, about what a great brother Wilfredo was to her, about his career, his partner, his humor, his life in the Village, his battle with AIDS. We’ve shared stories and photographs.

I felt a sense of both sadness and peace, knowing how Wilfredo was loved, cherished, held by his family. Jeannine is now a friend and I’ve had the chance to talk on the phone to her and to their mother—the woman who pierced my ears in her Bronx kitchen so long ago! Oh, and Wilfredo has a handsome young basketball-playing nephew–named Will.

keith-haring-heart

You can read my original essay published at she.com, Searching for My Sidekick, here.

Happy birthday, Wilfredo.

Protecting our Young LGBTQ Athletes

“Thank God I’m gay.”

Cyd Zeigler
Cyd Zeigler

Those are words LGBT advocate Cyd Zeigler and his husband exchange each day. Part affirmation and part words of gratitude, Zeigler’s words electrified the audience of student-athletes, coaches, advocates, and educators. We had gathered in Hyannis, MA for a summit to discuss the intersection of student athletes, LGBTQ diversity, and anti-bullying.

mccz
I was thrilled to meet Cyd Zeigler!

 

Zeigler had returned to his native Cape Cod to share his own story: teased for being gay years before he came to the realization himself, Zeigler didn’t come out until well after his high school years. A lifelong athlete, Zeigler recognized after he came out that there wasn’t much overlap between the realm of sports fans/athletes and the gay community. He set out to do something about it by co-founding OutSports.com. You can read more about OutSports here.

lacrosse-pic
Braeden Lange on the cover of the program

Student-athlete Braeden Lange also presented. Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy holding a conference room in thrall with his positive message and poised responses to questions. A lacrosse player, Braeden spoke about coming out as a sixth grader, how ostracized he felt, and how connecting to Andrew Goldstein, a well-known gay lacrosse athlete who is out, saved his life and gave him hope. Braeden shared that those connections are what keep young LGBTQ students from feelings of despair and isolation. This is one of the goals of the short documentary about him and Andrew, The Courage Game, that was shown at the conference. You can view the ESPN feature here. (13 min.) It’s amazing!

My wife, school counselor Bonnie Jackman, and Braeden Lange
My wife, school counselor Bonnie Jackman, and Braeden Lange

Zeigler also emphasized the power of connection and coming out: he often hears from athletes who are deeply fearful of being ridiculed and ostracized by their teams. Often it is the opposite that happens, Zeigler recounted: athletes feel the support of teammates and coaches, and the liberation of no longer harboring a secret.

A school counselor, school safety office, and health teacher in attendance
From the Nauset district: school counselor, school safety officer, and health teacher in attendance!

As Braeden said, “living your truth…you don’t have to have that weight on your shoulders.”

State Representative Sarah Peake spoke about her own coming out process, her memories of being a student-athlete, and her appreciation for the positive messages of Zeigler and young Braeden.

Jonathan Peters, a senior at Sturgis Charter School who spearheaded the event, closed with words of gratitude and inspiration. He thanked Cyd Zeigler and Braeden for traveling to the Cape for the event that attracted participants from as far as Rhode Island. He spoke about his own process, saying that rather than using the term “coming out,” he prefers, “invite the world in.”

keynote-speakers

That’s exactly what happened in that conference room. The world was invited in. Student athletes, advocates, principals, coaches, educators, and allies came together. The power of connection was affirmed. And everyone left that room feeling a little braver, more connected, and optimistic about the intersection of LGBTQ diversity and sports.

Braeden Lange, Cyd Zeigler, and Jonathan Peters: rocking the pastels! (Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.)
Braeden Lange, Cyd Zeigler, and Jonathan Peters: rocking the pastels! (Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.)

Final note: book recommendations!

Here is one book for teens that was recommended by a friend, featuring a gay athlete main character. It’s TRUE LETTERS FROM A FICTIONAL LIFE by Kenneth Logan.

I’d love to hear more recommendations for middle grade and young adult books featuring  LGBTQ-athlete characters!

~~~~~

Writing Buzz: Autumn may be the best season for writing!

There is nothing like that clean-page feeling of fall! I have been energetically contributing to blogs, writing articles, and revising my middle grade novel ever since I turned that page to September.

september

A few links:

My article “Coming Out to My College Students–Again” sparked some great conversation on Twitter and other venues. Read it here.

Indulging my passion for New York City history, I published “Happy Land: Death of an Arsonist” on Medium.

I had the chance to merge my newest TV favorite, Stranger Things, through the lens of middle grade fiction on the Project Mayhem Middle Grade blog.

There’s more to come! I’ll soon be writing about my participation in the amazing Write to Change the World seminar by the OpEd Project.

Stay tuned.

Rainbow Flags & Children’s Books: Ireland

After a summer off from blog writing and teaching, I have that fresh and exciting September feeling!

A few insights from my summer travels in Ireland:

The bookstores of Ireland were a feast, both the independent ones as well as the chains. There was a wide variety of titles from Irish authors as well as authors from the States and other countries.

book shop Dublin

I also loved seeing familiar titles in Irish. Kids in Ireland study the Irish language all the way through secondary school, so the language is alive and well.

A familiar title, in Irish!
A familiar title, in Irish

I had tea with Irish author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, author of two books I love: The Apple Tart of Hope (which I reviewed here) and Back to Blackbrick (with her third book coming soon). We had an energetic conversation about the book business in Ireland and the U.S., her books, time travel, and more.

Having tea with author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Having tea with author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

I was intrigued to find that the U.S. classic by Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,  is an oft-used book in classrooms and in the leaving cert. exam in Ireland. It was in every bookstore I visited! I even found a dog-eared copy on my nephew’s bookshelf in Galway. I am amazed and delighted that such an iconic American book is so widely read by students in Ireland!

Roll of thunder

Ireland continues to delight and surprise in terms of its political climate and LGBT rights. If you haven’t seen the Noble Call speech on homophobia by “accidental activist” and drag queen Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill), you’re in for a treat. I had the chance to visit Panti Bar, iconic LGBT hotspot and gathering place in Dublin. So much fun!

Rainbow flags in Dublin
Rainbow flags in Dublin

I also had wonderful conversations with a gay teacher and others about how much has changed in Ireland over the last decade (including last year’s successful landmark marriage referendum).

equality

My trip to Ireland was food for the soul and the mind. I spent time with family, with my sister, cousins, and more. I made new friends, immersed myself in the book scene, and brushed away a tear as I promised myself I’d return–soon!writers tears

 

 

Talking about summer reading on NPR!

Getting an invitation to talk about children’s books and summer? No way I’d turn that down!

WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA
WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA

I had the chance to join host Mindy Todd and Falmouth librarian Jill Erickson at WCAI-FM (Cape and Islands NPR station) recently, and we talked about so. many. books!

guests 1

The topic was kids and summer reading.

Some highlights:

**the importance of letting kids make their own choices in the summer, to read exactly what they want to read

**the library is a parent and child’s best friend… a no-cost, community-oriented way to grow a reader

**taking on the Reading Without Walls Challenge is a great way to add some spice and excitement to your summer reading, either for a kid or an adult! The Reading Without Walls Challenge is brought to us by Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Reading without walls

You can listen to the show by clicking here (it’s about an hour).

Here is a list of books I mentioned on the program:

Summer Reading Recommendations for WCAI- The Point

PIcture Books

  • SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander
  • FRED STAYS WITH ME by Nancy Coffelt… divorce/separation story
  • LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña
  • WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES (Poems for All Seasons) by Julie Fogliano
  • Deborah Ruddell’s TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ (bird poem, including the cardinal poem I read)
  • THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle Pitman (Gay Pride)
  • POEM RUNS by Douglas Florian (baseball poems, including the first base poem I read)

Middle Grade book (for ages 8 to about 12)

  • DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier… (graphic novel, theater kids)
  • Donna Gephardt’s LILY AND DUNKIN…transgender character, “outsiders”
  • Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST… main character is Jackson Greene (a smooth operator), a middle school caper reminiscent of Oceans 11. Sequel is TO CATCH A CHEAT. Varian visited Falmouth library and schools this past fall.
  • PAX by Sara Pennypacker… an animal story… a boy main character…. local author.
  • DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Barnes… baseball, girl athlete main character, will appeal to fans of Cape Cod Baseball League
  • Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL…. a story about popularity, loyalty, friendship, middle school
  • Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE… a girl battles with reading difficulties, adopting a trouble-making personality as a smoke screen, until a teacher makes a difference
  • ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia…Three African American sisters go to visit the mother who left them, in 1968 Oakland, California….the first book in a trilogy.

 

Young Adult– teen books

  • Ellen Wittlinger’s LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY… a juicy Provincetown story… a story of four friends, one of whom gets swept away in stormy weather…. a mystery unravels.
  • K. A. Barson’s CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT… two girls who are juniors in a cosmetology arts program enter a competition, and Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that she’ll win…her mom wants her to give up cosmetology for college.
  • SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli… Simon struggles to come out to himself and his wonderfully quirky family, approaches a new romance and unravels the mystery behind some secret messages.

There are some other books that I was prepared to talk about on The Point, but we ran out of time!

They are:

A few more picture books:

  • SLICKETY QUICK: POEMS ABOUT SHARKS by Skila Brown
  • DRUM GIRL DREAMS by Margarita Engle…the main character is told that girls cannot be drummers…but she dreams and practices and becomes a star drummer in this colorful picture book set in Cuba.

More middle grade titles:

  • RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo…a friendship story set in the South… three girls,  baton twirling and pageants, and more
  • GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead… perfect for parent and kid to read together; captures the complexity of middle school so well
  • Mike Jung’s UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT…Chloe Cho, a Korean-American 7th grader, wants to get in touch with her family history…they are the only Asian family in town… funny, touching, great twist!
  • Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY… 18 kids try to rescue their school from the wrecking ball… a novel in verse.
  • Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH… 12-year-old Charlie  catches a magical wishing fish and tries to use her wishes to solve some challenges, but her wishes go awry. Charlie is an Irish step dancer and wishes for a new dress for competition. On a more serious note, she longs for a solution when it’s discovered that her older sister has become addicted to heroin; Charlie grapples with the limits of magical thinking. This subplot is handled sensitively and may resonate with a lot of middle grade readers.

One more YA novel…

Sona Charaipotra’s SHINY PRETTY THINGS…Juicy ballet story, with three characters, it has been likened to  “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars”…. it has a sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES. Diverse cast of characters and lots of drama for those who love ballet!

Mindy Todd, host of The Point
Mindy Todd, host of The Point

Thank you, Mindy Todd and WCAI-FM, for hosting this fun conversation about reading!