During the Beta Reader stage for Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, J.C. Buchanan one of my beta readers, had a favorite character. That character was Prehna Birchdell, the smart, logical, outspoken friend and complete opposite of Lydia Green.
The fact that Prehna was J.C.’s favorite character caught me completely off guard.
Not because I didn’t like Prehna, I did. But because in the first draft of the story she had absolutely no personality, and I had been struggling to make her character ‘work’ ever since.
Because of this, somehow the thought had never occurred to me that she would be anyone’s favorite character. I had begun to think of her less as a character and more as a piece of the plot – a thread that had grown tangled and I had only just managed to weave back in smoothly.
But J.C. loved her. She loved Prehna a lot more than I did at that moment, and because she really cared, she noticed a lot more than I did. Some of her comments include:
“I really love the the development of Lydia’s character here–however, fit within this scene, the fact that she isn’t more concerned for Prehna makes her a smidge less likable. Just a thought:)”
“I LOVE this whole interaction. Lydia and Prehna both get a chance to be totally real and get everything in the open–Lydia admits she was wrong, Prehna confesses her hesitancy. It makes the characters SO relatable and so likable!!!”
“Is Lydia worried at all for Prehna? Because I’m freaking out here nothing better happen to Prehna”
Obviously… My neglect of Prehna had caused some problems. (They’re fixed now, I promise. XD)
This taught me two valuable lessons.
Write every character as if it’s your reader’s favorite, because they might be. Let them have their moments, don’t shove them to the side as ‘just another character’.
Find good beta readers who care about your characters (sometimes more than you do) and your story and want them to be the best they can be.
So, to recap. Thank you J.C., for helping me create the Prehna Birchdell we all know today.
The first lines of a book can change quite a bit from first draft to final copy. First impressions are important – and hard. Very hard. I was acutely reminded of this fact recently, when I stumbled across an old file full of my early attempts at the opening line for Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen. I read them, and started giggling with no regard for my struggling past self.
I thought I would share these attempts, along with a few others, for you to enjoy. These are pulled directly from my frustratedly typed notes – raw, unfinished sentences full of misspellings.
Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen
Official opening line: “Lydia had once been known to remark that ‘nothing can match the joy of a forest in the morning’, but she now wished that she had not been quite so correct in saying so.”
When Lydia Glacier Green climbed down from her Housetree that morning, the world was ready to greet her.
I’m not sure, if you have ever seen such a thing as a Housetree.
Our story begins with the wistful worries of a young girl, up in the branches of a tree.
It was not a dark and stormy night, but such a description would have better suited Lydia’s mood than the bright morning that lay before her.
In the corner of the Valleylands, in a nook in Mulberry Glen, a girl named Lydia Green climbed down from a tree.
Lydia was already halfway down the branch ladder when resentment began to form.
The morning was bright and splendid, and did not agree with Lydia’s mood in the slightest.
The morning that blossomed in Mulberry Glen that day was bent of rejoicing, and gave no consideration to weather Lydia felt disposed to or not.
The sun will go on rising weather or not
Nature gives very little concern to the tragedies of human beings, or so Lydia felt,
When Lydia decended from her branch ladder that morning, only one thought dared to hold her attention.
There are some mornings in which
Lydia had once been known to remark that ‘nothing can match the joy of a forest in the morning’, she now wished that she had not been quite so correct in saying so. On this morning at least, she would have much perfered to be left alone with her melancholy, but the woods were bent or merriment, weather Lydia complied or not.
The morning that blossomed in Mulberry Glen that day was of the silver kind, flushed with the chill that coaxed color into one’s cheeks, filled with a frivolous new dance between restless branches and whispers of sky, and altogether much too splendid for Lydia’s taste.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a YouTube Video full of middle-grade book recommendations of the high fantasy kind, and you guys loved it! So, I decided to make an easily skim-a-ble blog post version for those who prefer reading to watching. That said, if you missed the video and prefer to watch, you can find it below.
Stay tuned because, this book recommendation thing will be a series, and there are more posts and videos to come. If you want to be notified the moment they come out you can subscribe to my YouTube channel, or if you want something more low key, you can subscribe to my email newsletter for monthly video and post-round-ups.
Now lets get to the books!
What is High Fantasy?
According to Wikipedia –
“High fantasy is set in an alternative, fictional (“secondary”) world, rather than the “real” or “primary” world. This secondary world is usually internally consistent, but its rules differ from those of the primary world. By contrast, low fantasy is characterized by being set in the primary or real world, or a rational and familiar fictional world with the inclusion of magical elements.”
Kate DiCamillo is a master of storytelling. She has written a string of award-winning, and award honor books, with The Tale of Despereaux among them.
This book tells the enchanting story of a little mouse with very big ears living in the mouse holes of the king’s castle. Under the playful premise lies a story of love and light, forgiveness, stories, darkness, and belonging, all told through lyrical prose.
On the Only Island in The World, there is a mountain known as Majestic. Mount majestic rises and falls every day, and it always has, no one know why, until one young girl discovers the reason. It’s actually the belly of a sleeping giant – a giant who could wake up at any moment!
Creative, clever, heartwarming, and uproariously funny, it’s everything I love in a middle-grade book. I read it aloud to my siblings and there were parts that I couldn’t read for laughing. This would make an excellent family read aloud as it will keep younger siblings entertained and older siblings challenged and thinking.
This is the enchanting and twisty story of a village that sits by a deep dark forest. Everyone knows there’s a Witch in the forest, so each year they leave a baby for her to find, hoping it will keep her from attacking them. But the witch, Xan, is kind. Each baby she finds she carries across the forest to a loving family on the other side, wondering why on earth the village would abandon such children, to begin with. But one year, the baby she finds swallows a bit of magic, and it’s clear that not just any family can take care of this magical child.
A blend of fantasy and mystery, The Girl who Drank the Moon is filled with unexpected twists and turns. It’s a story about motherhood, childhood, despair, joy, and love.
(I guess I like books that have ‘moon’ in the title.)
Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, takes place in a fantasy version of ancient China, and centers on young Minli, a girl who’s family lives at the base of Fruitless Mountain. Seeing how unhappy her mother is with their poor life, Minli sets off on a journey to find the Old Man of the Moon to ask how to change their fortune. Along the way she meets magic, adventure, and unlikely friendships.
This book explores the question: what is true happiness, and how is it reached? The normal format of the story is often broken up by stories that the characters tell each other, and all the stories told within the book eventually link together for the end realization. The book is a beautiful and magical glimpse into Chinese culture, full of clever ties to Chinese folklore and fairytale style prose. This was my family’s most recent read aloud, and it was a favorite among all.
Vivid, rich, funny, and imaginative, my 9-year-old sister has proclaimed this her favorite book of all time.
Furthermore takes place in a magical world where color represents magic, so, when a young girl is born with “hair and skin as white as milk” everyone assumes that she has no magical talent at all. But the girl, Alice, knows this is not true, and when her father disappears she must use all her magic and the help of her unwanted companion Oliver, to venture into the deadly and unpredictable country of Furthermore, to save him.
It’s a story of family love, unlikely friendships, and loving yourself as you are. Tahereh’s prose is luscious, rich, and experimental. Fans of Alice in Wonderland will appreciate this book, as it was heavily inspired by it.
Nevermoor, the first book in a middle-grade series by British author Jessica Townsend, is what some people are calling ‘the next Harry Potter’. It certainly does have a rapidly growing fanbase and a movie deal, and I don’t think it’s been over-hyped either.
Morrigan Crow is destined to die on her eleventh birthday. But she doesn’t. Instead, she is saved by the eccentric Juniper North and whisked off to the magical city of Nevermoor. She loves it there and wants to stay, but the only way she can do so is if she wins a spot in the Wunderous Society through a series of dangerous, magical trials.
With clever, quirky humor, bright characters, and magical adventures, my whole family loved this book.
My debut fantasy novel, Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen is a story of family, change, and how even in the darkest moments there is always light if you look for it. I think it’s safe to say that I like this book quite a bit. XD
Lydia Green never had reason to worry much before.
She lived in a timeless Glen on the edge of the Valleylands with her mismatched family of fairies, philosophers, and two troublemakers known as the Zs.
But now, at age eleven, her world is turned upside down when rumors reach Mulberry Glen about a mysterious Darkness that dwells in the forest Tenebrae.
Lydia knows it is nothing to be trifled with, but, fiery and headstrong, the Zs have other ideas. A foolish choice puts their lives in danger, and although she is no hero, Lydia realizes that family is something she is willing to fight for.
But among the shifting library shelves and lonely stone towers of her quest, Lydia is chased with more questions than answers. The Darkness of the forest lurks within her own mind, and how can you fight something which is all in your head?
In her second novel, Millie Florence weaves a tapestry of passion, heart, and magic. Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen is a pure, hopeful fantasy for both parents and children alike.
Pick up your copy today to experience this fervent and uplifting tale.
That’s all I have for you today! I hope you enjoyed it and that you consider checking out some of the books mentioned. If you have high fantasy middle-grade recommendations of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments below, because I am always looking for more books to read, and you may help out some other readers as well.
Some years ago, I was 11 years old and attending the Illinois Young Authors Conference. After the opening Q and A panel the students had the opportunity to get their books signed and speak with the authors.
Leanne Ellis, one of the authors, had interested me particularly during the panel. When answering questions she was lively and warm and imaginative. So I picked up and copy of her book and took it over to be signed.
I trembled with excitement all the way up the signing line, I had only met authors (The people who make magic happen) a couple times before, and I could still hardly believe it.
After a ‘hello’ once I reached the front of the line I said right away “I’m a writer too!”
“Well of course you are!” Leanne said. “This is the young authors conference after all!”
I nodded and then launched into a (rather long winded) explanation of my work in progress at the time. Leanne looked straight at me, and nodded and listened – really listened! – even though I was holding up the line.
During my explanation her daughter came over and tried to ask her a question.
“Hold on a minute.” Leanne said to her daughter, putting up a hand. “This is interesting.”
This. Is. Interesting.
A really truly author thought my story was interesting. She was really listening to, and prioritizing, what I had so say, as if it was really truly important and serious and not just some childish fantasy.
I finished my explanation. She signed my book, and she made some comment about my story, I don’t remember what exactly, something like “that reminds my of so-and-so book. Have you ever read that?” Something that made it clear she had listened and thought about what I had said. Then she handed me the book back and said.
“It was great to meet you! When you publish that book, let me know.”
I nodded, smiled, and left.
Inside the book she had written “To Millie, a fellow author who is AWESOME! Keep writing!”
Well of course you are! Hold on a minute, this is interesting. When you publish that book, let me know. A fellow author. Keep writing!
It’s funny how such simple words can make your heart sing. Someday I hope I can do the same as Leanne Ellis. I can look straight at a child who is bursting with dreams, and listen, really truly listen, and really truly care. And if anyone tries to interrupt, I’ll put up my hand and I’ll say:
Ever since I published Lydia Green there’s been a new sort of pressure on me. The month of its publication my book sales quadrupled. I was, of course, over the moon about this. I must have done something right.
But then I had to write again. I HAD to, I felt. My readership was only growing, I HAD to write another book, it HAD to be as good as Lydia Green! What had I done right in Lydia Green? I HAD to do it again.
Do you see my mistake dear Reader?
No self-respecting story wants to be forced out or compared to another book, even if it is by the same author.
Nevertheless, I pushed through. The words came very slowly. Slower than I had ever written them before. I crossed the 50,000-word mark before Christmas. I took a break. I tried to start writing again. I thought I was nearing the end of the first draft and that I would soon be celebrating it. But I realized my mistake.
I was trying to make it too much like Lydia Green, but I couldn’t reclaim the past. The story had never stirred me to any emotion other than frustration. I had no true passion for the vision of what it was to be. I was writing for the sake of publishing, not for writing.
I don’t know why this didn’t happen when I was writing Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, after all that was right after I had published my first book, Honey Butter, and you would think that would be a similar shock. But I think Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen was just so DIFFERENT from Honey Butter that I couldn’t compare it in even the smallest way. It was twice as long and it was essentially the opposite genre.
So I’m going to learn from my mistakes. I’m going to start over. I’m going to write a completely different story in a different genre. I’m going to try hard not to put pressure on myself. Not to force it.
I don’t know what it’s going to be about, I don’t know what it’s going to look like or when I’m going to start it.
But I do know that it’s going to be better. It’s going to be real. And I am going to write it because I have something beautiful to say.
And those 50,000 words now cast away? I don’t believe they are wasted. I’ve learned an important lesson from them, and therefore they have moved me forward in my life and my career more than anything else could have done. After all, isn’t that the point of a story? To impact people? To teach them a Truth? This story has certainly done that for me, and I am stronger and better because of it.