Rooted in the World of Middle Grade Fiction


I’ve been interviewing a number of middle grade authors on my other blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, and I thought I’d provide a sampling of what they had to say about how their novels are rooted in a particular place.


First up, Liz Montague. Her new middle grade novel, School for Unusual Magic: The Equinox Test, features a magic school based in Brooklyn. Why Brooklyn, I asked?


Montague said: “My parents met and went to school in Brooklyn (my dad’s a born and raised New Yorker) so I grew up visiting a lot and additionally my mom was an architect for NYC School Construction Authority (they build/design NYC public schools) for her entire career!”


She added, “She commuted to the city everyday from NJ and a lot of her projects were in Brooklyn so I grew up hearing very detailed stories about Brooklyn schools. Additionally, I always wanted to be a city kid but grew up in a rural New Jersey suburb instead so this was my chance to live my fantasy.”


Next up is Toni Buzzeo, the author of the middle grade novel Light Comes to Shadow Mountain. It’s set in 1930s Kentucky. She said of the setting: “It was essential to me that I capture the truth of the hardscrabble but worthy life of the isolated mountain people of Eastern Kentucky, both their challenges and their blessings in living where they did in the first half of the 20th century.”


She continued, “I wanted to share with readers the startling fact that in 1937 those mountains were still dark at a time when America, as a whole, existed in a very modern brightly lit age, thus offering a fresh perspective on the history of the period.”


Last, we have Tara Mesalik MacMahon. She and her brother, Mark Ukra, wrote the middle grade novel Closet of Dreams, which was based on a specific location in their childhood home.


MacMahon said: “On what inspired the book, that’s an easy one—we had a Closet of Dreams (an empty closet) in our childhood home in Los Angeles. In that closet, years and years of fantastical adventures came to life, where Mark was ‘Child,’ a 9-year old orphan boy, and I was his grandmother, ‘Gamma,’ with whom Child lived.


She added: “Our dog Hilda held a key role, as did our imaginary animal friends: a hippo, a bear, and an elephant. And so became the book’s tag line, ‘A True Story About a Pretend World.’”


What roots your own stories to a particular place? It’s interesting to contemplate.


--Deborah Kalb


  1. My MG book, Duck and Cover, takes place in rural West Virginia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I placed it in this time and place because when I was a young child in West Virginia I had a memory of going to my aunts house and everyone being scared and saying the world was coming to an end. So this story tells about the characters fears and how I thought these 12 year old country kids would cope with the situation.

  2. I so love stories with settings integral to the plot.


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