Joyce Magnin

Joyce Magnin is the author of the popular and quirky Bright’s Pond novels. She is a frequent conference speaker and writing instructor. When she’s not writing or reading Joyce enjoys baseball, needle arts, video games and cream soda but not elevators—especially glass ones. She listens to many kinds of music, shamelessly confesses to enjoying American Idol, has never eaten a scallop or sky dived. Joyce has three children, Rebekah, Emily and Adam and three grandsons, Lemuel, Cedar and Soren and one son-in-law, Joshua. Joyce lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania with her son, Adam and their crazy cat, Mango, where she cares for an eighty-year-old onion plant. You can also visit her blog at: joycemagnin.blogspot.com.

Joyce Magnin

Why I Love Middle-Grade Literature

I love middle-grade literature, and I am thrilled to be able to write this new column for CFOM. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading and writing grown-up books also, but there is something special about middle-grade literature. Middle-grade books are for nine- to twelve-year-olds (third to sixth grade). But like so many things in life and literature, these parameters are not etched in the Everlasting Gobstopper of children’s literature rulebook.

In the coming months I’ll be writing about some of my favorite middle-grade authors and offering tips and techniques for writing for this age group. I invite your comments and questions as we explore the art and pitfalls of writing for children.

But for this month I’d like to tell you a few reasons why I love MG literature.

The middle-grade years, or the Wonder Years, are a time in a child’s life that is full of wide-eyed innocence yet sometimes profound wisdom. There are many children whose innocence has been lost because of some kind of abuse or life circumstance. What better way to help a child know she or he is not alone than through story. Not agenda—story.

Anything is possible in middle-grade books. Dreams come true. Monsters are slain, antidotes are discovered. Children are important and have voice. Remember how important Anne of Green Gablesbecame to her, or Emily of New Moon, or even the Boxcar Children? These books have endured and will continue to do so.

I enjoy the sense of community in children’s literature. I’ve said often that community is important, perhaps that’s why I write about them and why I so appreciate book clubs. Books, although read alone, are made for discussion. Children love and talk about their favorite books and authors. Books are often read together as part of a class assignment. Children write book reports. Middle-grade books are meant to be shared.

A quality of magic and wonder are in these books and should never be feared. Children know that monsters aren’t real, that goldfish don’t suddenly appear in lemonade, yet, there is a sense of maybe. Maybe it could happen. I think children have an understanding of metaphor that adults often lose.

Honesty, courage, hope, and resilience are overarching themes in most middle-grade books, qualities I believe we all wish we had in great quantity.

Comedy. Middle-grade books are often full of charm and laughter. Children love to laugh. These books provide laughter.

They’re short—although this is changing and that’s okay. Children enjoy long books and come away with a sense of accomplishment. I can read several shorter middle-grade books in a week’s time and come away just as satisfied if not more as if I had read a 400-page tome. Fewer words means tighter writing. Each word must be carefully, specifically chosen. Less is more. As a writer of middle-grade books, I endeavor to write only the sentences that are necessary.

As a writer of middle-grade literature I enjoy all of the above and using it all to tell a story—because story matters. Story first. It’s kind of like the Hippocratic Corpus concept: do no harm. For authors I think we should all take what I call the Tolkien Oath: First—Tell a Good Story. Kids know good writing. You cannot fool them. Writing for kids keeps me on my toes.

I love the audience. Kids of this age are voracious readers. They keep coming back for more and will read anything from a literary to a fantasy. They just want a good story.

If you haven’t read much middle-grade fiction, I suggest you give it a try. Some of my favorite authors are Jonathan Friesen, Nancy Rue, Kimberly Willis Holt, Katherine Patterson, Kathi Appelt, Gary Schmidt, Joan Bauer Polly Horvath, Alice Hoffman, and the list goes on and on.

Now go forth and read, you’ll be glad you did.


Carrying Mason