Inspired by the Lucky 13′s “Meanwhile… Middle Grade” series, we the MG authors of 2014 have banded together to create an unstoppable league of superheroes… or… erm… we decided to create a similar series. Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE! We’ll be here the first Monday of every month! Stay tuned as we discuss the process of middle grade writing, chat about our favorite middle grade books, introduce our own middle grade titles, interview middle grade professionals, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!
Because middle grade is targeted for 8 to 12 year olds, the way middle grade authors handle some elements/topics is quite different from the way a YA or adult author would handle them. So today, we are here discussing how we as middle grade authors tackle particular elements and make them middle-graderific!
Question: What is your favorite element of middle grade? How did this element take shape in your book?
Bravery is one of my favorite elements in a story. In middle grade fiction, bravery is defending your ship against pirates or singing a solo for an audition or walking into school when you haven’t got a single friend. In my novel, Caminar, bravery is about telling the truth, facing your fears, and growing up in a time of war. My main character spends most of the story feeling like a coward, but I think (and I hope readers will too) that he’s filled with bravery—bravery that’s rooted in humility—and that’s really the best kind of courage there is.
WHAT THE MOON SAID
My favorite element of middle grade fiction is character growth. On page one, the main character is usually naive and only minimally interested in the world beyond his or her family and neighborhood. By the final page they’ve begun to see the imperfections in their parents and the world as a whole. Their wide-eyed trust has disappeared, but hope and confidence have emerged in its place. They have begun to realize they have choices. We see this in my own MG–WHAT THE MOON SAID–as Esther increasingly questions her mother’s behavior, especially her devotion to superstitions, when life sends one harsh reality after another their way. Ultimately, Esther realizes that she can choose to live her life differently than Ma, free of superstitions. But it will take great courage and faith. Does she have enough?
HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL
I think my favorite element is dialogue. I love writing dialogue, and using dialogue to get from one point to another. But writing MG dialogue is different from every other kind of dialogue. After working with kids for six years, I picked up on a lot of the things they said. Sometimes they said exactly what they meant, and other times it was a puzzle. Sometimes they yelled out “TARTAR SAUCE!” when they got angry or frustrated. Sometimes they spun wild stories out of the smallest, most mediocre incidents.
Dialogue is about so much more than words! I tried to give everyone in HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL a very distinct way of talking. Because no two kids talk exactly alike!
THE LOST PLANET
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
One of my favorite elements in MG stories is friendship, a common theme for this age group. Human relationships in general fascinate me with all their wonderful complexities, and in MG the characters can have a lovely purity of intention, removed from the angst and hormones and disenchantment of their older counterparts. In my novel, THE LOST PLANET, the two boys start out as cautious, prickly strangers before trouble strikes, and I really enjoyed writing the way that their bond grew and strengthened as they came to rely on and protect one another.
WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
I’ve always loved reading—and writing—about friends: good ones, bad ones, best-forever ones. (Even imaginary ones!) Many books for young-adult and adult readers focus on love and romance, which is great and understandable (hey, love is a pretty big part of life). But that means that it’s rarer to find books in those categories in which friendship is a larger focus. As a middle-grade writer, I love getting to explore the dynamics and emotions of tumultuous tween friendships. The First Daughters in my novel, When Audrey Met Alice, rely heavily on their friends to help them handle life in the White House–and also to have plenty of fun together.
THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
A middle grade without humor is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter, jelly, and bread. Humor is definitely a hard thing to nail down (see: voice), but when humor is done right, it’s like a Disney movie where the princess is singing, the sun is shining, the flowers are swaying, and the totally-non-rabied animals are frolicking and taking care of all the household chores. (In other words, TOTALLY AWESOME. Where can I find a cottage full of furry forest friends who will dance and clean my apartment for me?)
My funnybone philosophy in THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES was to follow my gut instincts and OWN my kooky sense of humor. I thought that if I cracked myself up when writing, hopefully readers would crack up, too. (And yes, I’m one of those oddballs who laughs at her own jokes… awkward!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
While lots of different elements can make a middle grade book great, it’s hard for me to get past the first page without an awesome voice. Because voice can tell you so much in such few words: is the main character brave? Vulnerable? Funny? Lonely? Bored? Curious? Voice doesn’t just set the tone for the novel – it’s what makes the story, and the character, real.
SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB
Christy Ottaviano Books/Macmillan
When you’re young, the world is magic. Anything could happen, and sometimes it even does. When I was 10 or 11 or 12, I could walk along a path, and when I came around a corner, I really believed the rocks might split open, revealing the entrance to the cave where King Arthur and his knights lay sleeping around a pile of gold. I thought that if I just concentrated hard enough, I could lift things with my mind or take off and soar through the sky. I knew I couldn’t, but I thought I might. I just might.
When I decided to write Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, that’s how I wanted it to feel. I wanted a sense of overwhelming wonder. I wanted you to think that there might — just might — be dragons up there on Mars, and strange clockwork machines, and ancient, mysterious ruins, and pterodactyls and airships and thrilling adventures. I wanted you to go, Wow! Because for me that’s what middle grade is about.
What do you think? Is there anything you particularly love about middle grade? What’s your favorite element as a reader or writer? Let us know in the comments!
Have a lovely transition into autumn, and we’ll see you again on October 7th!
|Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in Summer 2014.|