One of the wonderful things about writing for the middle grade audience is the opportunity it provides to explore parent-child relationships. Parents matter a great deal at ages 8 -12, and while a good story requires an independent hero, those parents are there, in the background, informing all of that hero’s opinions and decisions. Even absent parents (of which there are an abundance in middle grade literature) have a strong influence. So it is with great joy that I have embraced the challenge in my own writing. And of course I bring my own particular life experiences to that task.
I had the great fortune of being born to a set of loving parents whose priority was most definitely “the children.” I was loved and read to and nurtured and encouraged in my every endeavor. In fact, my first pieces of writing were actually love poems – to my mother. So it really should come as no surprise that my first novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND is also, at its most basic, a love poem to my mother. It’s about a girl who loves her mama more than anything. She sets out on a grand adventure to save her mother’s life (sick parent=absent parent), and along the way becomes more independent, more of her own person. But Mama is with her always, whispering words of wisdom into her ear. Daddy is there too, but not as powerful a force as Mama.
Things are different in DON’T FEED THE BOY. Whit’s parents are zoo people, passionate about what they do, and they didn’t exactly plan to have a baby. Whit feels this keenly, even though his parents are caring. He feels especially estranged from his mother who is the zoo director and often distracted by her work with exotic animals. Whit feels like he comes last, and it affects his outlook and his journey. The story revolves around this tension between parent and child as Whit tried to find his own place in the world, not the place his parents have set for him. It’s the beginning of the process we all go through as we separate and become our own unique selves.
So, for me, as a writer of middle grade fiction, parental characters are a great tool. I use them to shape my hero and her story. Parents are the main source of motivation for my main characters, and often the primary source of conflict.
Just like in real life.