Friday, April 8, 2011

Why I Write Middle Grade Fiction

I remember a time when I was teaching elementary school and my class had just finished reading Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. We were closing out the unit by watching the movie, and one of my students (who had loved the novel) wasn’t watching the movie but instead was reading a book. Now I’ve had students read under their desks during math lessons, but during a movie… I whispered to him, “Why are you reading? I thought you’d enjoy watching this.”

“I know,” he said, holding up the cover of what I think I recall was one of the Lemony Snicket series, “but it’s really good right now.”

That’s reason #1 why I write middle-grade fiction. Kids at this age get engrossed, absorbed, down right obsessed with a good book like no other group of readers.

My second reason for writing MG is because these are the books I enjoy reading. Always have. From A Wrinkle In Time and Julie of the Wolves when I was younger to Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book more recently, MG novels are the most entertaining and riveting books around. No filler! No pompous literary fluff. MG books are all about unforgettable characters and satisfying plots. MG writers have to be strong storytellers, and I approach my writing the same way I approached the classroom: hook them with exciting material and then lure them into deep self-discovery. I want the adventures in my Clockwork Dark books to make readers curious about American folklore, history, and how young people find success in the world.

This leads me to reason #3. These sorts of books can have an enormous impact on young readers’ lives. I’ve seen it first-hand in the classroom! It was true for me. Children’s fiction is the most important fiction written. Childhood is a transition from complete dependence when you’re a baby to (hopefully) independence as an adult. Middle Grade readers are …well, smack dab in the middle. They’re becoming aware of how the world operates— both the joys and difficulties. They’re wondering how others confront dreams, desires, and fears, and MG fiction provides strong protagonists who help readers imagine possible paths or ways of navigating difficult choices.

As writers of MG fiction, we have a wonderful and powerful responsibility to inspire young people who are in this process of growing up. I know when I was that age, I looked with wonder and admiration at Meg Murry, Will Stanton, and Sam Gribley. I hope my readers discover the heroes of The Nine Pound Hammer and the subsequent books with same wonder and admiration. I hope they hear the call to adventure I heard (and still hear) in all the magnificent MG novels out there.

4 comments:

  1. Whenever I see a young reader, nose buried deep in a book, I'm taken back to that feeling, that in-between world, where you are both sitting on the library steps and also fighting "It" on Camazotz. If you close the book, It might just win. So you keep peeking between the covers, even for just a minute at a time between homework and washing the dishes and brushing your teeth, because Camazotz and Meg need you. It is truly a feeling like no other.

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  2. You're so right about MG readers being obsessed with books, John. I'm looking forward to checking out your Clockwork Dark series.

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  4. Thanks, Joan!
    Naomi, I love the way you put that!

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