Monday, April 4, 2011

RATED "E" FOR EVERYONE

Irene Latham here to answer the question, "Why write Middle Grade?"

One of the great things about middle grade fiction is that anyone can read it. Whatever your age, and whether the story is humorous or mysterious or dramatic, there is something there for everyone. I think of them as “family stories.” And when I began to dig deeper to answer the question about why I write middle grade fiction, my mind was bombarded with images from movies and tv. This isn’t unusual -- like many writers, I often think visually. And I am often inspired by other creative forms, such as visual art, poetry, film, nature, etc. Here are the three that my psyche seems most attached to:

1. The Age Of Innocence
This is one of my most favorite books EVER. And the movie version did not disappoint. There’s Archer, who’s engaged, and Countess Olenska, whom he cannot resist. The movie is about a time when one didn’t just dump the fiancĂ© and pursue the next relationship. It’s about a more “innocent” time. And it’s about love.

So what does this have to do with writing for the middle grade audience? Well, ages 8-12 are pretty darn innocent. It’s the time when we first learn about love, through those most primary relationships: parents, siblings, peers, pets. Before things get all complicated. When love is simply love, no qualifiers necessary. And I as a writer, I delight in exploring those innocent relationships.

2. The Wonder Years
I wasn’t alive in the 1960s, but that didn’t stop me from forming a deep attachment to Kevin and Winnie in this long-running tv show. Ages 8-12 is a time of discovery, when the world is this magical place that opens its arms to you and everything, everything can be marveled over.

There is something about the way a young protagonist approaches the world without all the burdens and cynicism of older folks that allows for a true-r portrait. This is especially appealing when the situation one is writing about is emotionally charged (such as race relations in Depression-era Alabama, which is the setting of my novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND). What fun and freedom for a writer, to not be weighed down by an adult’s perspective, to simply charge forward with wonder.

3. Adventures in Babysitting Remember Elisabeth Shue in this 1987 unexpected comedy? As a girl who did a whole lot of babysitting, I dreamed of this kind of Friday night adventure. I’ve longed for adventure my entire life. And there is something about those years, ages 8-12, that allows for fantastic adventure. At this age, we don’t yet know our limitations, we’re trying on all sorts of interests and lifestyles to see if they fit, we’re learning by doing. And to be able to revisit that sense of daring, to recapture that willingness to risk, is not only exciting but enriching as well.

Writing for this age group is never about falling asleep on the couch in front of the television. It’s about jumping into the television.

So. Innocence, wonder and adventure. That’s why I write (and read!) middle grade novels. And I’m curious about all of you. What movies and tv shows pop into your heads when you think about the qualities that draw you to this age group?

4 comments:

  1. Ahh...THE WONDER YEARS! One of my faves when I was younger, too...And I know exactly what you mean about being influenced by movies. I don't often re-read novels, but have watched some movies so often, they've become a part of me. Pretty sure I can recite all the dialogue in HAROLD AND MAUDE and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL...

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  2. Great post, Irene! And an interesting way of thinking about MG by considering movies and TV. I instantly think of how much Star Wars and Indiana Jones meant to me at that age. Definitely lots of adventure and wonder, and, yes, a level of innocence too.

    It's also interesting to think about how different media work. You'd never have an adult protagonist (like Indiana or Luke) in MG fiction, but kids somehow still identify with these heroes on screen in a way they might not on the page.

    Cheers and keep up the great writing!

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  3. I hadn't thought about writing for kids quite like that, but it's true that it's wonderful to write without carrying the excess baggage that we lug around as adults.

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  4. Great post, Irene. I WAS alive in the sixties, and the fifties, too. I even remember the switch from b & w to color TV! I remember these shows, though I'm not sure they've had any influence on what I write: the Ed Sullivan show, Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, That Girl (Marlo Thomas), The Monkees!

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