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
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
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
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
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
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.