The Power of Descriptive Language

When it comes to descriptive language in fiction, some authors revel in rich, detailed descriptions, while others prefer a minimalist approach. But most writers agree that well-crafted descriptions, no matter their length, build worlds that come alive in our hearts and minds, creating an immersive experience for the reader.

I love this quote by Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In my mind, this advice reaches beyond the standard catch phrase of “show, don’t tell.” It teaches us to imagine ourselves in our characters’ circumstances, to see what they see, feel what they feel. To draw on personal experience, tune in to every emotion, engage every sense. Then, after sifting through that wealth of data, to capture and re-create those circumstances by putting words to page.

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Think of your favorite novels, the ones where you’re left blinking in surprise at your real-life surroundings when you finally put the book down. Whether the story took place in your own hometown or on an alien world, the author’s skill with building and conveying the setting doubtless played a role in drawing you in.

What types of descriptive language are most effective? What techniques? Are adjectives becoming a thing of the past, or should you use as many as you want? I suspect that every writer will give you a different answer. It can be dangerous to get caught up in the game of what’s “okay” and what isn’t: counting adjectives and adverbs, using words other than “said,” or agonizing over whether you’re allowed to describe what a character is wearing. So much depends on personal taste, style, and instincts.

Don’t ever stop honing your craft. Find critique partners. Always do your research. But please allow yourself some freedom of expression. The debate that’s currently raging in the literary world about what authors are and are not allowed to write about is a sure path to self-doubt and creative stagnation.

Maybe your description of a spaceship’s corridors will be sterile and crisp, with clipped phrases and stark language to convey the coldness and loneliness of space. Or maybe you’re writing an epic space romance where the main character waxes poetic on the infinite beauty of the stars.

At the end of the day, your goal is to create an experience for the reader that is both visceral and vicarious. How you achieve that is the real trick, as any writer well knows.

There is no perfect way to write. But I will close with a favorite passage from one of my absolute favorite books, The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud:

“Long gray hair lay thick and lush across an ivory pillow. It cradled a gaunt white face, the skin flowing like wax beneath our candlelight. It was the face of a woman; an aged, wrinkled woman—bony, with a nose curved thin and sharp like the beak of some bird of prey. The lips were closed tight; the eyes, too.”

In this one short passage I count 13 adjectives (14 if you count curved as an adjective vs. a verb) and two similes. And it’s freaking fantastic.

Enough said.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

 

Looking Back on Published Novel #1

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Here are 10 things, in retrospect, that I think/feel about my first novel, and/or how my first book makes me feel about publishing in general. How’s THAT for a random lead-in for a top 10 list?

  1. When someone tells me that they’ve picked up The Next Door Boys, I cringe a little. I didn’t know how to write. I was given almost no edits. I only HOPE that the reader gives me another chance so they can see that I got better! (Every time I hear “got/get/getting/feel better” I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I don’t see this as a problem, more like a delightful brain-quirk).
  2. There is nothing like getting that first big YES – I don’t care where or who it comes from. SOMEONE LIKES YOUR IDEA ENOUGH TO PUT MONEY AND TIME AND EFFORT BEHIND IT! That yes never gets old, BTW. And if it does, you should probably step back for a reality/gratitude check. (That sounds way more judgy than I mean for it to, but I’m leavin’ it anyway).
  3. Boy, did I have no idea how little most authors make. And by most, I mean about 95% of authors. (I’m going to exclude category romance authors here b/c their sales are distributed slightly, but just slightly, more evenly)
  4. My first royalty check (for ebook pre-sales) was 42.00. I was still thrilled. My second check for about 1250, was actually less thrilling because it made me realize how little an hour I made on those words.
  5. The characters in my first novel will always hold a special place in my heart, even though I wish with the power of a thousand fiery suns that I could re-edit/re-work the language. The lesson I’ve learned the hard way again and again is this: DON’T RUSH YOUR PROJECT.
  6. I’ll be honest and say that I knew nothing about contracts and also that I would have probably signed away my life to see my book on the shelf. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to do that.
  7. My first novel was not the first of my novels I saw on Barnes bookshelves, it was one I co-wrote with Nyrae Dawn. My first novel saw the inside of LDS bookstores, and a few Barnes and Nobles in Utah. I lived in Alaska at the time, so…
  8. The impatience to get a second book of a series out in the world, is a force to be reckoned with.
  9. I wish I’d have stood up for myself more in edits, timelines, etc. I wish I’d have spent more time on my novel BEFORE I submitted it for publication. I wish I’d have gotten an agent before I signed my first contract (Only not my first agent, an agent who knows what they’re doing).
  10. As much as I wish I could tweak the inside of my first novel, I do still love the outside. And the longer I’m in publishing, the more I realize that a good cover is something to be cherished, because authors rarely have much say in the final version that comes out into the world.

So, this has been fun reminiscing. I wish I’d have gone to conferences and found more writing partners and friends BEFORE I signed that first contract. I wish I’d have dared to have bigger goals before that first book came out. I wished that I had sat down at some point to see where I wanted my writing to go, rather than being so consumed by the story. At the same time? I do miss the days when I could write with reckless abandon, without hope or understanding of  the heartbreak and/or work that would come after. That being said, I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.

Happy Writing!

~ Jolene Perry

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 6.17.25 PMJolene Perry is an author of young adult novels who was recently transplanted from Alaska to Colorado. She now climbs red rocks, rather than cold, grey ones. Her latest novel, ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, is a 2017 Whitney Finalist, and her teenage heart is happy.

You can find Jo on her website at jolenebperry.com. But at this time of year, most of her time goes to her duties as Chair of the Storymakers Writing Conference, held in Utah each May. And for that community, she is grateful.

The Impact of Teachers

I had the same teacher for both fourth and fifth grades. Her name was Mrs. Tapscott. Many details about her are fuzzy after so many years, but I do remember that she had gray, curly hair and a soft, sweet southern accent. But what I remember most is that she read to us every day. She read THE HOBBIT, and A WRINKLE IN TIME, and THE CAY, and MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. We were mesmerized by every chapter of every book, drawn in by her expressive voice.

Even back then I wanted to become a writer, but thanks to Mrs. Tapscott I became a reader, too. I can’t say that I always chose books of the caliber she favored. I read plenty of Choose Your Own Adventure, and Sweet Valley High, and every Trixie Belden book ever written. Of course I believe that any time a child picks up a book voluntarily it’s a Very Good Thing. But Mrs. Tapscott taught me—taught all of her students—to seek out quality and variety in the books we chose.

A WRINKLE IN TIME, in particular, stuck with me. It changed me. It was strange and new and important.

Now that a movie of this iconic story has finally been produced, I decided it was time to reread the book, to see how it held up after more than 30 years.

Here’s what I discovered: it was just as weird and wonderful, just as impactful, when viewed through the lens of age and experience. I could see how brave and groundbreaking it was, and how truly unique. I still pictured the characters and settings in much the same way as I had as a child. But things I saw more clearly this time around included the rich symbolism and the power of a strong female protagonist who broke the mold of expectation and was utterly herself. And I fell in love all over again with Charles Wallace’s ethereal calmness and Calvin’s kindness and loyalty.

I think the point I’m working toward is that my teacher chose material that challenged us, that made us think and dream and expand our narrow worlds.

Teachers come in many guises. Not all are teachers in the traditional sense. Some are neighbors, or coaches, or church leaders—or writers. As writers we’ve been given a rare gift: the chance to influence minds young and old, to advocate for kindness and justice, to encourage a thirst for knowledge and truth.

I’m grateful to Mrs. Tapscott, and to the other teachers in my life who made a difference: Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Keeling, Mr. Jacobus, Mr. Duffer, and Dr. Tunnell. Thank you. I will do all I can to pass on your incredible passion and purpose.
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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Favorite Books of 2017/Anticipated Books of 2018

It’s the end of the year, which means seeing how you did on your Goodreads Challenge! Did you make your goal? I set out to read 72 books, and have read 80 so far! I’m hoping to get in another five at least before the end of the month. Wish me luck!

Even better than seeing that “Congratulations” message in Goodreads, though. Is looking back on all the amazing stories you read in the last year and remembering which were your favorites. I read so many great books this year. Some were old classics, like A WRINKLE IN TIME and MATILDA. But most were released this year and those are the ones I want to focus on for this post. So without further ado, I give you my favorite books of 2017!

Paper Chains by Elaine Vickers.

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I loved Elaine’s debut, Like Magic. And her sophomore novel lived up to the quiet, gentle storytelling she wowed me with in her first novel. I loved the well-developed characters and the loving friendship between the two girls. The authentic feelings and worries around adoption were a welcome addition to MG lit as well.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green.

I read this book with my daughter’s homeschool book club. They all loved it. One girl declared it “the best book [she’d] ever read.” A book with a big heart all about family and the fact that everyone has a story. It also has a delicious cookie recipe at the end that has become my kids’ new favorite.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I listened to this on audio and kept finding excuses to drive to the store or go on walks so I could keep listening. A YA Russian fairytale retelling without a romance (*gasp*). Beautiful voice and this quiet growing tension that slowly builds up until it finally explodes.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

I’ve heard the term “book boyfriend” before, but had never really been able to apply it to any other character besides Gilbert Blythe…until this book. I loved the romance, loved the kick-butt heroine, and the different take on pirates. I absolutely CAN’T wait for the sequel to come out next year!

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell

This book is funny and heartbreaking. At times hilarious and heartwarming and then gut-punching. Really fun characters and a great message about self-acceptance. It definitely lives up to that fantastic blurb from Gary Schmidt.

The Last Namsara by Kristin Ciccarrelli.

A YA fantasy with dragons and stories as a weapon. This book was thoroughly engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading and I absolutely loved the dragons!

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling.

This is one of those books with a fantastic voice and a character you will never forget. A beautiful story about friendship with a positive, yet unflinching, look at disability.

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Words can not express how much I love this book. The poetry is so beautiful. The story is wonderful and lovely. I read it with my 8-12 year old girls at church and they were all obsessed. Creates some great discussions about differences and being kind.

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The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

I’m usually not a straight romance book person, but this one just sucked me right in. The questions it asks about neurodiversity and what makes us who we are was intriguing. I loved the relationship between the two main characters and the humor of Lily.

The Someday Birds by Sally Pla

If it seems like I read a lot of neurodeverse lit this year, that’s because I did! Though I didn’t plan to. This is an #ownvoices books with an autistic MC. It was hilarious and heartwarming. A summer, road trip book. Who doesn’t love those? It also included a sidestory about the Muslim genocide in Bosnia in the nineties.

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As an author with a debut coming out next year, I have had the opportunity to read some amazing books coming out next year. I can’t feature all of them here, but these are four of the ones I’m most excited about. (Some for obvious reasons. 😉 )

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin.

Cindy is my writing twin, Pitch Wars co-mentor, and CP who I try not to feel insanely jealous of. Her writing is lovely and this book will rip your heart in a million tiny pieces and then sew it back together.

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Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen.

This book is so ambitious for a middle-grade novel and it pulls it off beautifully. The story tackles kleptomania, privilege, social justice without ever becoming preachy. It poses deep and interesting questions to the reader and is told in a mixture of prose and lovely verse. I can’t wait to shove it into the hands of everyone I know.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

This is a verse novel about the artist Artemisia Gentileschi and her rape by another artist and the subsequent trial that happens when she takes her charges against him public. It is breathtaking, unflinching, and heart-wrenching. It will haunt you for months, if not years, after reading it.

The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill

Okay, okay. This is my book. I won’t talk it up to you. But I am totally excited about it hitting shelves next year.

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Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves

I’m in the middle of Blood Rose Rebellion right now and already can’t wait for the sequel to come out next year!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

 

Book Giving vs Book Recommending

My cousin messaged me the other day to sheepishly ask an etiquette question. The mother of one of her daycare kids had given her a book to read, and she just couldn’t make herself get into it. She’d tried and failed and tried again. It’d been sitting on her shelf for almost a year, and now it was becoming a daily reproach. What should she do, she wondered. Fake that she read it and pretend to like it? Force herself to finish it and pretend she liked it?

Most of all, she wondered if she could just give it back and admit it wasn’t her thing, but she was afraid it would hurt the mother’s feelings.

My cousin wasn’t rude. The book lender was. What a terribly short-sighted thing she did when she shared a book she loved with her friend.

No, really. I mean it. And ‘tis the season to talk about giving books, so we may as well because the principles go for lending too.

Here’s the thing. Most of us love sharing the things we love with others. And you can feel free to recommend books all day long until you run out of breath or name every book you ever read or both. But that’s very different than putting an actual book in someone’s hand. VERY. DIFFERENT.

Unsolicited “you’ll like this” books shoved at me by well-meaning people are very anxiety-inducing.

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Now . . . it’s possible this is just a function of my overall anxiety. But I suspect that lots of bookish friends feel this way no matter their anxiety baseline.

Here’s the problem: when you say, “You would try This Magnificent Book,” that’s a recommendation. When you hand me This Magnificent Book, that’s an obligation.

I will feel obligated to read it because it came from your personal library or the store. That is where Daycare Mama messed up. She meant to do right. I get it. But she done my cousin so, so wrong.

It’s because she acted with enthusiasm instead of discernment. I can’t fault anyone for trying to convince someone to read a book they love. The book in question was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind.

Um . . . I love that book. Love it. And I recommend it all the time. But putting it into someone’s hands? That’s a demand to read it. And as much as I love that book, I would never, ever have suggested it to my cousin. And that’s because I know what she likes, so I recommend books to her all the time that aren’t always my favorite but I know she’ll love them.

Look, don’t freak out. You can and should feel free to recommend anything you want. But you MUST be judicious about which books you actually GIVE. Do you see? You must see this. You must never, ever curse another soul with the burden of a book not chosen with them in mind.

So. How do you choose a book for someone? First, it’s a sixth sense and you kind of have to be born with it, like I am. I am super good at matching people to books they’ll love. My streak isn’t perfect, but it’s close. I know exactly who I would give Rothfuss to, but it ain’t my cousin. In addition to nearly perfect book-matching, I also have excellent parking spot karma, but that’s a story for another day.

If you have only regular mortal level book matching skills, but you’d still like to try, here are a few things to consider: personality.

Actually, that’s it. You just have to think about their personality. Sometimes people with determinedly sunny worldviews will resist heavy nonfiction that examines the ugly underbelly of humanity even if you found it compelling. Sometimes, hardened cynics will not enjoy the delicious confection of a YA romance even though it gave you a perfect escape.

You see where I’m going with this? Anyone who knows my cousin should have guessed that Rothfuss was never going to be her thing. Austen? Now you’re talking. So a Mary Robinette Kowal recommendation would have made more sense.

It’s natural to want people you love to love the books you love. For example, any person who wants to understand me as a person just needs to read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. If that person loves it, we are meant to be soul mates. If they only appreciate it, we are certainly meant to be friends. If they dislike it or don’t get it, there’s no hope for us at all.

Honestly, it comes down to this: as much as you may want to share the books you love, if you love the person you’re sharing them with, you have to think about if they’ll love it too. And that takes consideration, reflection, and a pretty good understanding of their personality.

Now that I’ve scared you all from trying, I offer this as a place to start: a list of books BUNCHES of people have loved which give them broad enough appeal to be safe bets for most people.

Probably.

Maybe?

Give me some time with your friend. I’ll figure it out.

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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and shoe addict. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Her seventh novel, Southern Charmed, released in October. Melanie is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin..

Thoughts on Reading

So far this year, I’ve read 94 books (no idea if that’s a lot—many people read lots more a year), 28 of which happened in the last month and a half. I’m in the middle of three more right now.

I always think I like one particular genre, but based on my selections, that’s not really true. I read nonfiction—inspirational, motivational, memoir, and religious. Fiction reads vary from middle grade to contemporary romance, women’s fiction to paranormal, thriller/suspense to contemporary and fantasy young adult.

Some of these I’ve read for reviews, some just because, and some for research. Some of the books are hardcopies, some are eBooks, and many of them have been audio books (because I can get dishes done, fold laundry, clean the kitchen, and grocery shop all while listening to a fab book—and indulging my introverted parts of me by being completely antisocial).

I read when I need an escape from anxiety, stress, or too much life things. I also read when I’m stuck in my current writing project or when I need to find inspiration to keep the words flowing.

Currently, I have a women’s fiction I’m in the midst of drafting, an inspirational/self-help nonfiction in the middle of another revise and resubmit, and two children’s books percolating—soon to be tackled. Shifting gears from fiction to nonfiction to fiction is tricky when writing, but that’s apparently exactly how I read books. So perhaps it’s my own fault I can’t decide what to write.

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Things I’ve noticed while reading all these books:

  • Every book has a unique voice—fiction or nonfiction.
  • Some stories I enjoy more than others, despite how well-written they may be.
  • I click better with some styles better than others.
  • In some stories, the characters are so distinct I can tell who is saying what without reading the dialogue tag, while others the characters are more interchangeable.
  • Despite how well an author describes settings or characters, I’m going to picture it all however I want to. My brain is rebellious like that.
  • I tend to enjoy books that have a deeper meaning or purpose in them. Or books where there is some form of healing.
  • After reading lots of heavier books (or dealing with harder life things), I really need something more fun and light, with no darker plots.
  • No form of writing is better or worse than another. They’re all needed.

I’m hoping all this reading is leaking into my psyche, filling my consciousness with good ways to structure plots and craft characters and ultimately create what I have envisioned. I’m hoping I can somehow glean lessons from far more seasoned writers than myself.

Some days I doubt that I’ll ever be able to write something as masterful as so many of the books I’ve read, but I’m only meant to write like me. So I keep reading, increasing this literary fountain of others’ experiences to draw from when my creativity runs low.

I read for many different reasons: to escape, to learn, to be entertained, to study, to grow, to understand, and to experience.

Why do you read? What drives you to pick up book after book?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Reading Recs for Classics

I have a pet peeve. You know those articles that list great children’s books or quotes from children’s books? They are all over the place. And you know what they all have in common? The books they quote and feature are super old! Like decades old. It sort of feels like children’s publishing began and ended with Winnie the Pooh. Oh, and then E.B. White and Roald Dahl showed up and that was nice, but that’s basically it.

It’s a real shame because children’s publishing is putting out AMAZING books. Every year. Kids books today are more diverse and move relevant. They come in all sorts of formats and deal with big themes and ideas. They are works of art. Children’s books don’t play it safe all the time. The open up the world to their readers and more and more are addressing timely topics. Why are people still sitting here only talking about Judy Blume and Anne of Green Gables?

When I took my gripe to Facebook, I had several people ask for more recent books to replace the old books they’d been using. And thus began a group research effort. I crowdsourced on Twitter some of the most commonly read classics in the classroom and then asked for recommendations of books that could stand in for them, whether that be the same subject matter, or tone, or style.

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It was really fun and the list we came up with is below. While there is something to be said with having students read books that they will be expected to know, we also need to continue to expand that list of books and bring it into the 21st century with relevant topics and diverse authors and characters. You don’t have to replace every single “classic” with something new and modern, but it would be great if you could exchange out at least a few. Hopefully this list gives you a good place to start.

*Note* I have not read all these books myself. They were crowdsourced. You may disagree with some of them. That’s okay. Some might not match up age wise with what they are being recommended to replace. Use your judgement. But please try something new!

 

Instead of Johnny Tremaine, try some of these historical fictions:

SEEDS OF AMERICA and FEVER 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee

THE BLOODY JACK series (1700’s) by L.A. Meyer

THE CURE FOR DREAMING (1900’s women’s suffrage) by Cat Winters

STELLA BY STARLIGHT (1939 Segregated South) by Sharon Draper

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON (1950’s Mississippi) by Linda W Jackson

Instead of Roald Dahl:

FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne M Valente

THE LAND OF YESTERDAY by Kristin Reynolds (releases July 2018)

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE by Jennifer Maschari

THE AMULET series by Kazu Kibuishi

anything by Neil Gaiman

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket

ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY by Chris Grabenstein

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart

THE UNICORN IN THE BARN by Jacqueline Ogburn and Rebecca Green

A DASH OF DRAGON by Heidi Lang and Kate Bartkowski

THE INQUISITOR’S TALE by Adam Gidwitz

THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL by Megan Shepherd

THE BOOK OF ELSEWHERE by Jacqueline West

THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS by Claire Legrand

THE STRANGE AND DEADLY PORTRAITS OF BRYONY GRAY by Erin Latimer (releases in 2018).

Instead of Island of the Blue Dolphins:

anything by Joseph Bruchac

BIRCHBARK HOUSE series by Louise Erdrich

RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME and JINGLE DANCER by Cynthia Leitich-Smith

ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

Instead of Charlotte’s Web:

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate

THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY by Jodi Kendall

ZINNIA AND THE BEES by Danielle Davis

THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown

Instead of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS and OLD YELLER:

LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech

BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo

MY DOG SKIP by Willie Morris

Terry Lynn Johnson’s Sled Dog books,

PARCHED by Melanie Crowder,

WISH by Barbara O’Connor

RACING IN THE RAIN: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein

WHIPPOORWILL by Joseph Moninger

THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness

CHASING AUGUSTUS by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Instead of Catcher in the Rye:

GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard

Anything by John Green and Rainbow Rowell.

Instead of some Steinbeck:

OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse

ESPERANZA RISING by Pam Munoz Ryan

AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi,

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

A SEMI-DEFINITIVE LISTOF WORST NIGHTMARES by Krystal Sutherland

I’LL MEET YOU THERE by Heather Demetrios

JUNIPER LEMON’S HAPPINESS INDEX by Julie Israel

Instead of THE SCARLETT LETTER or TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES:

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Adriana Mather

EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR by E.K. Johnston

MOXIE by Jennifer Mathieu

Instead of the same ol’ American Lit Masterpieces by dead white guys:

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Really, anything by Jason Reynolds

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

INFANDOUS and WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K Arnold

Instead of Dystopian like A Brave New World, 1984, or The Giver:

FEED by M.T. Anderson

THE CITY OF EMBER series by Jeanne Duprau

FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead

LEGEND by Marie Lu,

THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson

YORK by Laura Ruby

UNWIND by Neal Shusterman

Instead of Lord of the Flies:

THE CASTAWAYS by Jessica Fleck

THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS by Charlotte Wood

What contemporary title would you suggest swapping for a classic? 

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.