Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's So Great About Middle Grade?

I'm PROJECT MAYHEM newbie Caroline Starr Rose! For my first post here, I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about myself and why I’m so passionate about middle grade books. This is a portion of an interview I did in December 2009 at Valerie Geary’s Something To Write About.

What is your favorite part about writing Middle Grade fiction?
I love being able to validate children through story, their experiences, fears, and dreams. Books are a place we get to examine life intentionally, its big events and small. Writing for children allows me to share the profundity of the ordinary, small moments that make up our lives.

What is the hardest part about writing Middle Grade fiction?
It’s really important to make sure my voice is authentic and my tone is respectful. The writing must be super tight. Children’s authors don’t have the luxury of wandering through a story. The approach must be direct, crisp, and streamlined. That doesn’t mean the writing is bare bones, just that every word counts.
What is one thing people misunderstand about Middle Grade fiction?
A lot of people don’t realize mid-grade fiction has literary merit. I love it when I can convince an adult to pick up a mid-grade novel. It’s even better when I find out they love it. I convinced a book club I was once a part of to include a mid-grade title on every yearly list. I remember Holes and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch were particular favorites.
What’s so important about Middle Grade fiction? 
These books are really the first children explore on their own. As independent readers, kids start to develop their interests and preferences in literature while growing into their own personhood. I know Young Adult (YA) fiction is often described as the genre for firsts: first love, first big decisions, etc. But to me, mid-grade is the ultimate genre for the first experiences and emotions that are all a part of growing up. 

What about you? Why are you passionate about middle grade? 


  1. What a SUPERB post! MG - when readers stop reading what is lined up with coloured labels and branch out into the forest of books. You have distilled exactly why I love reading and writing MG :D

  2. Thanks, Elaine. MG is all about being new to the world and wanting to jump in.

  3. Rosanna Stone3/17/11, 11:01 AM

    This is a great post. It seems that YA gets so much attention and middle-grade very little. I know a lot of that's due to younger children not being on-line like teens are, but still, it's wonderful to see such great posts on middle grade books and why they are so needed and superb.

  4. I love when middle grade gets spotlighted. There are so many great mg novels, it just seems that it is overshadowed by great YA.

  5. About 80% of my favorite books ever are middle grade. I think they are more essential to the human experience than YA or adult--and I completely agree about the difficulty of writing and literary merit! (I'm trying to begin one myself, and have never had such a hard time with writing a story!)
    Great post--and I can't wait to read your book!

  6. My top two MG books are THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS and I've got a crush on WITTINGTON by Alan Armstrong. Both of them are classics, old and new! ;) Great first post, Caroline!!!!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  7. "I think they are more essential to the human experience than YA or adult..." Faith, this is exactly how I feel. I love many adult and YA books, but I feel middle grade down to my bones. And thanks. I can't wait for May to meet the world. :)

    Hilary, I've never heard of Wittington. When I take my boys to the library this afternoon, I'll have to look it up!

  8. MG books are the ones that grabbed me as a kid and never let go. They still do that, actually.

    Great first post!!

  9. Glad you've joined Caroline. I agree with you voice is so important in middle grade. I love upper middle grade because it doesn't have all the internal drama of a YA character, but it has the action and character growth like a YA book. And some of the stories, like the Percy Jackson series, Nightshade City, etc., are so creative.

  10. I think MG is so influential. Kids either become readers or not based on their MG experience. I think the greatest honor for a MG writer is to write the book that converts a reluctant reader into a fan of reading. Beverly Cleary converted me. Roald Dahl converted my daughter.

  11. bfav, I love this. Absolutely true.

  12. I agree! I think MG is when readers first start developing their taste for books. Recently I was having lunch with a group of thirty-somethings. None of us had met before, but, soon, we all were talking about MG books we read and how they impacted us. It was a fantastic conversation and, besides being a lot of fun, was a good reminder that the MG years are pivotal in personal formation. So glad you're joining us, Caroline!

  13. I don't think any books have a bigger impact than those we read from ages 8-14. They're easily the ones that stay with us the longest. They teach us about life at a crucial time.

    Also, dragons and pirates and genies :D Grown-up books are just way less fun.

  14. Great post, Caroline! Thanks for introducing me to this blog.

    And, bfav, I couldn't agree more. As a middle school teacher, it could be such a struggle to match up a reluctant reader with the right book, but when it worked, you knew that experience of reading a book and loving it was going to stay with them forever.

  15. When I was teaching middle school, I had a student who was flirting with gangs, erroneously believing this was a way to identify with Hispanic culture. He was a bright kid, and it broke my heart. I introduced him to Gary Soto, hoping he'd see there are many ways to celebrate the Hispanic culture. He really got into Soto's books.

    Unfortunately, he left school early and was enrolled in a boot camp- type setting. I sent him on his way with a copy of Roots he'd checked out of my classroom library. When I ran into him several years later, he gushed about that book and told me he'd rented every video in the Roots mini-series. Here was another book -- an adult title, at that -- that spoke to cultural pride and richness.

    I've thought about him often through the years, especially now I'm back in Albuquerque, where I taught his class. He would be in his late twenties now. I hope his sense of cultural identity has been molded by the books he read and not by a handful of inaccurate, destructive outside forces.

  16. I absolutely agree that middle-grade can have literary merit. Some of the most beautiful books are middle-grade and they remain among my favorites to this day.

    Wonderful post!

  17. Wow - I'm so happy that I was directed to this blog by a fellow @kidlit writer. What a great post about writing MG. I write MG because I want to turn that reluctant reader into a life-long reader. YA gets all the glory these days, but I believe that MG is the heart and soul of writing for young kids.

  18. Great post, Caroline! I was already a follower of this awesome blog, but I'm so happy you're now part of it.

    You always seem to love the books I love. Carry On Mr. Bowditch was my absolute favorite in fifth grade. And Holes is easily in my top ten all time favorites, along with The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte's Web and others.

    YAY for Middle Grade!! Linda Sue Park said at SCBWI LA in 2010 that middle readers are reading to find out about the world, while young adults are reading to find out about themselves.

  19. Rich, rich discussion here. Kris, I love this: "I believe that MG is the heart and soul of writing for young kids." And Linda Sue Park's quote via Joanne: "middle readers are reading to find out about the world, while young adults are reading to find out about themselves."

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing.

  20. So true! These are the books that stay with us when we reach adulthood and read to our own children. MG are the most special of all for that very reason. They hold a piece of our own childhood in them.

  21. Hi there, I came here for inspiration for my nearly 9 year old son who reads voraciously. I was also hopelessly addicted to books at his age and I do so agree that the thrill of discovering books at that age is such a formative experience. I was recently very happy because my son read (and loved, and re-read) Harriet the Spy, one of my all-time favourites! He has tastes which are more boy-ish, in terms of adventure, action, that sort of thing, and there are some fab books out there which cater for this but are also thought-provoking (The Mysterious Benedict Society series has been devoured multiple times). I had to nag him quite a bit to just try Harriet the Spy, and am so glad he persevered. Then I nagged him into reading Framed, which is my favourite kids book I've read as an adult. He loved it and has been reading out snippets. I'm wondering what to try next... I think I may do a book swap with him: he reads one of my favourites and I read one of his.

  22. Anon,
    I have two boys who love to read but often need to be pushed to try new things. My older guy has just started The Mysterious Benedict Society. I thought it so clever, and I'm hoping he'll love it, too. (That same son, I'll have you know, is not impressed with my girly historical debut novel. He thinks it's dull because it's not funny).

    Has your son read the Redwall series? When I was teaching, my avid reader boys devoured those books. I was also partial to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles as a girl (fantasy and very boy friendly).

    Hooray for parents who both read what's out there for kids and share books with their children.


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