Mad For Middle Grade: Getting Schooled

Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’re here the first Monday of every month, discussing middle grade writing, chatting about from our favorite middle grade books, introducing our own middle grade titles, sharing middle grade writing advice, 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!

Back to school reads are HERE! Curl up with one of our September releases:


THE DISAPPEARING: The Briny Deep Mysteries #1
by Jennifer Torres
Release date: September 1

by Edith Cohn
Release date: September 9

by Michelle Schusterman
Release date: September 11

by Heidi Schulz
Release date: September 16

by Matt London
Release date: September 16

Three cheers for awesome books from Jennifer, Edith, Michelle, Heidi, and Matt! Give these great reads to the elementary schooler in your life to make him/her very happy… or tuck into a corner and rip through these adventuresome tales yourself while the kids are at school (muahahaha)!

Speaking of back to school…. today our characters are getting schooled! We’re here to talk about how characters learn, grow, and change throughout our novels, both in school and outside it!

Question: How do your characters learn and grow, either inside or outside the classroom? 

Edith Cohn

In SPIRIT’S KEY, Spirit lives on Bald Island and attends school in a one-room classroom with all the island’s kids. Their teacher Mrs. Dialfield tries to keep them all on the same topic but at different levels. Lately Spirit is having trouble learning because she is grieving the loss of her beloved dog Sky. Mrs. Dialfield is kind and understanding and always smiles at Spirit even when she comes in late and doesn’t turn in her assignments. Mrs. Dialfield is also the only one who believes her when Spirit says she sees the ghost of her dog. “Lots of impossible things happen on this island,” Mrs. Dialfield says. Indeed, Spirit and Sky have a book full of adventures to come!


AllFourStarsTara Dairman

School is not exactly Gladys Gatsby’s favorite place–she doesn’t have many friends, and the lunches her parents pack for her are anything but inspiring. That all changes, though, when new teacher Ms. Quincy takes over Gladys’s sixth-grade class. Ms. Quincy convinces Gladys to embrace her passion for cooking and write about it for the statewide sixth-grade essay contest…but even she has no idea how much that one assignment is about to revolutionize Gladys’s life.


Heidi Schulz
HookCover_frontonly_72 HOOK’S REVENGE

Jocelyn, the only daughter of Captain Hook, hates finishing school. What good will lessons in embroidery, dance, French, and manners be to the fierce pirate she intends to become? She wants to be out having adventures now, not decorating pincushions!

When Jocelyn is charged with avenging her father on the Neverland crocodile, she happily says goodbye to a school and all its useless information. It’s not like knowing which fork to use will save her life one day. Or will it?


Jen Malone
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

I don’t have any scenes set in school in At Your Service (well, except for one on the steps outside, where she gets picked up by the hotel limo amid immense jealousy from her classmates!) but I can say that my main character Chloe gets taken to school in a big way by a trio of visiting royals. Chloe is all about following proper protocol (no matter how weird it feels to say “Excuse me, Your Royal Highness Princess Ingrid of Somerstein” to anineyear-old, every time she needs to ask a basic question) but she won’t get the respect or approval of these kids until she figures out how to see past her official role as junior concierge and to recognize the ordinary kids inside the royal trappings. Sometimes a VIP would rather the emphasis on the “P” than the ”VI” and Chloe will take some hard knocks before learning that!


Adriana Brad Schannen
Disney-HyperionQ&H cover from online

New neighbors Quinny and Hopper overcome a disastrous introduction to begin a magical summer friendship. The kind you never forget. It’s a summer full of juggling lessons, accordion playing, the biggest mud puddle ever — and the screwball adventure of reuniting an eccentric homeless chicken with her far-away family.

But then summer ends, and fall brings new haircuts, new schedules — and new anxieties. Quinny is excited to start 3rd grade, but grows unsettled by gossip about all the changes reportedly ahead, especially new “rules” regarding boy-girl friendships. Hopper, too, worries that once they get to school, everything will change. Especially when Quinny finds out the awful secret he’s been hiding all summer. Let’s just say neither of them gets much sleep the night before that first day of school!


Matt London

One of the most important elements of drama is Change, and learning is one of the primary ways storytellers like us have our characters change. Each main character in THE 8TH CONTINENT gets schooled in a different way. Rick may be a super-genius, and Evie may be street smart (but hate school), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have much to learn from each other, and from the world around them. Teachers are key here. Their father teaches them. So does their father’s old research partner, Doctor Grant. For Rick and Evie, these teachers are even more important than their instructors at the International School for Exceptional Students. Sure, at school Rick and Evie may skydive into social studies, eat sushi in the cafeteria, and enjoy video game design classes, but that doesn’t mean school can’t be a drag, too.


Gayle Rosengren

The main character must learn and change in the course of any successful story. In What the Moon Said, Esther learns academics in the two-room schoolhouse but also, by virtue of the much smaller class and school size, she learns much more about her fellow students’ families and personal circumstances than she ever did at her large Chicago school. At home, Ma is constantly “schooling” Esther in superstitions and signs. And throughout the story Esther is learning from her experiences and observations, so that her desperate need early in the book to hear “I love you” from Ma is far less urgent by the story’s end, because Esther has learned that it is actions, not words, that matter most.


Louise GalvestonBytheGraceofTodd_slsconf copy

Todd and his even dorkier best friend, Duddy, are dreading the first day of middle school where the bullies are sure to only get bigger and meaner than the ones they’ve left behind. But when man-child and mega bully, Max, befriends Todd, it looks like his loser days are behind him…and so is his friendship with Duddy. Todd learns the hard way that life is a lot rougher on the other side of puberty, and in the end, the coolest person you can be is yourself.


Robin Herrera
Amulet Books

Pepperwood Elementary is not for the light-hearted.

In her first three months at school, Star Mackie learns that blue mullets make you stand out, that sometimes the way you hear a name isn’t how it’s spelled, and that teachers can be just as mean as students. But Star also learns about the Mayflower, something like 70 new words, and everything about Emily Dickinson. She also learns that Emily Dickinson is not the only poet worth reading, and that The Trailer Park Club is a terrible name for a club.
Pepperwood Elementary is a pretty tough school, as it turns out, but Star’s getting the hang of it.


When Audrey Met Alice final coverRebecca Behrens

First Daughter Audrey is rather lonely at Friends School—the fancy private academy she attends in Washington, DC. (You might be lonely, too, if Secret Service agents followed you around the campus!) She finds friendship and understanding from an unexpected source: Alice Roosevelt’s long-hidden diary. It’s through reading about Alice’s hijinks, struggles, and heartbreak that Audrey learns how to be herself—no matter what House she’s living in.


Lauren Magaziner

What Rupert learns in the classroom:
1. Never make eye contact with Mrs. Frabbleknacker, or she will most certainly call on you. And if she calls on you, she will make you stand upside down for an hour . . . or something equally awful.
2. He is very, very unlucky to be placed in Class B with dreadful Mrs. Frabbleknacker.

What Rupert learns outside the classroom:
1. With a great friend, he can get through anything, even Mrs. Frabbleknacker’s class.
2. Being a witchling’s apprentice was not at ALL what he expected. (Like brewing egg salad potion? Really??)


Dana Alison Levy
Delacorte/Random House

THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER starts in September, and follows the four Fletcher boys through the school year. While each boy learns a lot in school, the real lessons they learn are about themselves. Sam learns that it’s okay to have more than one passion; Eli learns that being smart doesn’t always mean being right; Jax learns that people are not always what they seem, or what you hope or fear; and Frog…? Well, Frog learns that real and imaginary worlds can sometimes overlap, causing utter mayhem! Hopefully, the lesson all the Fletchers learn is that they can count on their family to make them laugh, even when there’s cat barf to clean up.


With only three segments left, are there any middle grade topics you want to hear about? Let us know in the comments!

We’ll be back on Monday October 6th. In a while, crocodile!

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 available now from Dial/Penguin.

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