Monday, December 19, 2011

From a middle-grader's perspective

source for this lovely photograph HERE.
There are so many things a twelve-year-old notices that an adult doesn't, don't you think?

The sky changing colours to a shade named on the spot, like Crayola orange or sun white. The new birdcall that's joined the morning chorus. The NHL flag on the car next door, thereby making the neighbours fellow hockey fans.

To me, this innate curiousity built into youth is an extraordinary thing. It's the plucking of specific details from their surroundings, the blindness to the dog doo-doo they're just about to step in but the complete awareness of the homeless person crouched in the gutter. And the fact that this -- this super power fades, weakens as you grow older adds another layer to the idea.

This is really key, I think, in writing middle-grade. There's an awe, a genuine appreciation of the way things are without the constant worry that grown-ups carry around with them; even I, a not-yet-full-adult, experience gray days where nothing around me seems to give off the slightest bit of light. That's not to say that middle-graders never worry; it's just that they notice things. Things that adults would otherwise miss.

So look for that light. The river: it looks solid enough to stand on, if ice were black. The bus: it just gave off a sound like the fart the geo teacher always lets loose. The clock bells: they ring out the tune of "Yankee Doodle"; the building should probably get that fixed.

So tell me: what's one small, special thing you noticed today?



  1. Yeah, it's funny the kinds of things kids notice that an adult wouldn't, and vice versa. Sometimes things can happen but kids don't see it, because they're in their own little world. Great post!

  2. I wonder whether it has to do with being closer to the ground.

  3. Andrea -- you're right, kids really are caught up in their own world. Almost like blinders.

    Matt -- I was totally going to say that... but it doesn't explain the dog doo-doo. ;)

  4. I love the light bulb moments we have when were kids, not so much what we see, but what we figure out. I remember when I realized that parents are far more than just Mom and Dad, they are real people with names and feelings and ideas. It's one of those moments I'll never forget. :)

    Great post, Yahong!

  5. Great post. The key for MG writers is to never lose this curiosity and appreciation for all things, even as you grow up and take on your adult responsibilities. It's not easy to do. But it can be done.

  6. Yahong, great post! Keeping the child-like awareness and wonder alive; that is the key not only to writing, but to living. :-) :-) :-)

  7. Ooh, I needed this post! I've been struggling with how much detail is too much, but the little things really do matter to a middle grader.

    Maybe part of me never grew up, but I still notice the little things. Today it was the little black spots that cover our yard where the squirrels have cached their food. Looks like our yard caught a serious case of the chicken pox!

  8. I don't know. I have three kids who can be some of the most oblivious people ever -haha!

    I agree that they latch on to the things that interest them - and they have a superb curiosity for certain things. So I resonate with this in one sense - kids to appreciate the newness of their surroundings - but I want to push back a bit, because I wonder if sometimes this is our take (as adults looking back) on that stage of life. Thoughts?

  9. Hilary -- YES, those light bulb moments. It's like, your world has just shifted into another hue.

    Stephen -- that's it. Retaining that curiousity... :)

    Paul -- definitely! You can apply that to living, too. :)

    Alison -- ooh, love the "yard caught a serious case of the chicken pox". Awesome mental image!

    Marissa -- that's a good point; maybe it's just the way adults think of it. However, I do remember not too long ago pointing out to my father various scenery on a road trip and him being too buried in his laptop to respond effectively. So perhaps there's a middle ground?

  10. Such a strong truth for writing MG. My classroom is cold today, like down in the gulley at the start of fishing season. :-)

  11. What I noticed today goes along perfectly with what you posted about. Today, in my 8th grade class, I noticed a student looking around nervously--but wantingly--when I asked a question. She then--slow as molasses--raised her hand and answered the question...correctly. What does that tell you? For me, as a writer and a teacher, it tells me so much. Great post, Yahong.

  12. I have to shut off my momness when I'm writing, and remind myself what a 12-year-old notices is not the same as me. I have a silent contest going on in my house (meaning I'm the only one keeping track) to see which child finally notices the milk needs to be put away after they finish breakfast.

    Basically, they don't. They do, however, recognize a person's funny expression or a way someone says something, which I hardly ever notice. I don't pay attention to other people as well as they do. I'm worried about spoiled milk!

  13. Shannon -- ooohhhh, love it. "Down in the gulley at the start of fishing season" -- you just know what details to pick out, don't you? :)

    Mike -- the shy ones are the smart ones, eh? :) Thank you!

    Dee -- love that example! You're so right; that instinctive momness could definitely create some problems. But knowing how to turn that off is definitely a skill. ;)

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  15. Really this is a new information for me. You have described very well. I like this article very much. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Almost every student who gets glasses for the first time in middle school notices that the trees have individual leaves. Funny thing is, when I got glasses in 7th grade, that was the first thing that I noticed, too.

  17. Ms. Yingling - YES! I remember that sensation. And seeing the blades of grass. It was magical.


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