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October 9, 2015

Guest Post by Vanessa Barger


Authors have to do all kinds of research for their books --- maybe they have to travel to faraway places like India or the Netherlands, or maybe they have to go to special library archives to read through primary documents from the Civil War. What’s another helpful tool, though, no matter what authors write about? Reading OTHER middle grade books. Seriously, though --- you can realize what makes a book great (or not-so-great) and use those skills to make your own book even better.

Below, SUPER FREAK author Vanessa Barger takes us through some of her own favorite middle grade novels and series. Be sure to check them out --- as well as her story (which follows a 13-year-old, very non-magical girl in a town full of supernaturals as she tries to figure out the secret behind her very creepy house).

First, thanks for having me! I’m so excited to be able to blog with you today about my favorite MG reads! Some of them are new, and some are classics. All of them have helped shape my view of what an MG book should be, and what I strive for when I write books like SUPER FREAK. As a writer, I firmly believe that reading is a form of research and expanding your skills. If you don’t read, how will you know what your audience wants to see in a book? You may have already read some of these on my list, but if you haven’t, give them a try!

First, I love, LOVE, Neil Gaiman. Seriously. I may or may not have made part of my decision to go to the West Virginia Book Festival this year based on the fact that he’ll be speaking. In addition to all his wonderful adult novels, I think everyone should read THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. It’s a MG book, but it will appeal to everyone (really!). Someday I’d love to be able to write a book with so many different layers of meaning and message. A middle schooler reading the book will get one thing out of it, while as an adult, I may have gotten something totally different. And, of course, it’s got the creep factor I love.

Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson series (I know, I know, EVERYONE loves Percy) is another one that hooked me. His use of Greek mythology, the way he rewrites it and tweaks it to fit into the 21st century and has a good time in the process, is fantastic. You care about Percy and his friends and you want them to succeed. And if you giggle because three women sharing one eye drive a taxi, then all for the better. I also love that he made the character’s ADHD into something useful and gave it a real and important purpose for Percy.

Last is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Ignore that horrible movie that came out a few years ago --- read the books. They’re older, and I remember them taking some concentration, but they were fantastic! She uses Celtic mythology and magic and writes these tales that is both slightly scary and still fantasy and so intricate you can’t help but love them. They are complex, with multiple characters and plots that weave around each other, and while you may not see the pattern at first, when you do, it’s just awesome.

I can only hope that SUPER FREAK manages to entertain and touch my readers as much as these books have done for me. 

Vanessa Barger was born in West Virginia, and through several moves ended up spending the majority of her life in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is a graduate of George Mason University and Old Dominion University, and has degrees in Graphic Design, a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Literature and a Masters in Technology Education. She has had articles published in Altered Arts Magazine, has had some artwork displayed in galleries in Ohio and online, and currently teaches engineering, practical physics, drafting and other technological things to high school students in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), the Virginia Writer's Club and the Hampton Roads Writers. When not writing or teaching, she’s a bookaholic, movie fanatic and loves to travel. She is married to a fabulous man, and has one cat, who believes Vanessa lives only to open cat food cans and can often be found baking when she should be editing.