Monday, February 18, 2013

MEANWHILE...MIDDLE GRADE: Why We Write (and ♥) MG Fiction

Let’s have drums, trumpets, and a cymbal crash to celebrate this month’s release of Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever from Simon & Schuster BFYR. It’s the story of a small-town teen who runs away to crash an audition for E.T. : The Musical. We especially love the author video that Simon & Schuster filmed—an interview with Tim.

It’s the month where everyone’s talking about love, and we Luckies with debut middle-grade titles coming out in 2013 are no exception. Today, we’re sharing thoughts about why we write (and ) middle-grade fiction. So here goes!

Middle-grade is often called “the golden age of reading.” It’s the age kids are becoming independent readers, they have spare time to read, and they still have a sense of wonder. So it’s no wonder to me why it’s such an awesome group to write for! I feel the most uninhibited when writing for this age group, like I’m just coming out to play. I also have that opportunity to turn kids into life-long readers, and that is a magical thing. Liesl Shurtliff, RUMP: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf/Random House, April 9, 2013)

What I love best about writing middle grade is casting myself back to that age. I'm totally in my main characters' heads when I write, seeing the world through their eyes, experiencing it for the first time all over again. But also, it’s the age when I was the most voracious reader. Books I read at 9 to 13 have stayed with me far more than those I read in later teen years. So the idea that something I write could inspire and affect kids in the way I was inspired and affected feels like a huge privilege. —Kit Grindstaff, The Flame in the Mist (Delacorte, April 9, 2013) 

I love writing middle grade for the same reasons I adored teaching 7th grade English: those pre-teen years can be an awkward, confusing time for kids as they figure out where they fit inbut it's also a time of questioning, wonder, and enthusiasm. I can be playful and over-the-top in my writing, but still create complex plots and wrestle with big ideas. What's more fun than that? —Kristen Kittscher, The Wig in the Window (Harper Children's, June 18, 2013)

As a writing team, we’re funnyborderline goofy. The wonderful thing about middle grade books is that they have room for funnyborderline goofy. What other genre would let us write about pooping pigeons, run-away mopeds, and attack bunnies? All this stuff cracks us up. We’re 11-year-olds at heart, and we hope the real 11-year-olds don’t mind us visiting their world. It’s where all the fun is. —James Mattson and Barbara Brauner, Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap (Hyperion, May 14, 2013)

As a weekly volunteer at my son’s elementary school library, I got to see firsthand the charge that seizes a group of kids when a particularly desirable book is returned. There were negotiations, waitlist consultations and reconsultations, cheers, and hurt feelings. Barters were being made behind the stacks. All about books! I wanted to try writing for these ferociously committed readers. —Elisabeth Dahl, Genie Wishes (Amulet Books/ABRAMS, April 2, 2013)

The middle-grade years are the ones that resonate most deeply for me. High school may have been more dramatic, preschool more innocent, but it was during grade school that I found my sea legs in the world. My reading took off like fireworks. The books I read in those years are the ones that stayed with me forever. I read and reread my favorites until they became part of the fabric of my character. Who wouldn’t want to write for such an age? Absolutely anything is possible—in fact, everything is possible. Claire M. Caterer, The Key & the Flame (Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2, 2013)

Being a middle-grade kid is hard. They have real problems, but have very little in their life's arsenal to solve them with. I love to write my middle graders with fire in their bellies, hoping that it will ignite a fire in the belly of my reader. —Jennifer Ann Mann, Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry (Bloomsbury, October 2013)

One of the reasons I’m drawn to those middle years is that they were a time of enormous transformation in my life. Nine year old me was inquisitive and incorrigible—so willing to be transported and inspired and so eager to find friends like Hollis or Lucky or Kek. What bigger challenge is there than to write for such engaged and passionate readers? Truly, I’m honored. —Melanie Crowder, Parched (Harcourt Children’s Books, June 4, 2013)

For years I’ve read MG books to my kids at night—it’s always been one of my favorite things to do. Several years ago, I wrote a novella for two friends, just for fun. (Ohmygosh—I had SO much fun!) Then I read it to my kids. Combining something I loved (reading to my kids) with something that brought me so much joy (writing a book) was unlike anything I had experienced. Right then, I knew I wanted nothing more than to write MG books for the rest of my life. (And, of course, to read them to my kids. :))  —Peggy Eddleman, Sky Jumpers (Random House Children’s, September 24, 2013)

It's been said that the middle grade reader is right at the age where they are straddling childhood and young adulthood. That's what I love about reading this genre. There's so much honesty and truth. I think these stories resonate with the 12-year-old in every one of us. I’m so fortunate because as my children are becoming middle grade readers, I get to watch them discover many of my past and current favorite stories. There’s a certain thrill to seeing a young reader fall in love with a book and knowing that story will have a special place in their hearts forever. —Karen Harrington, Sure Signs of Crazy (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Summer 2013)

I choose to write middle grade for the very same reasons that I love middle grade. My fondest reading memories are those of being curled up with a well-worn paperback book (likely Judy Blume or M.M. Kaye or Marguerite Henry) between the ages of nine and twelve. After that, as I approached high school, my time spent reading slacked off greatly. Still, I carried with me bits of wisdom gleaned from those beloved novels. It would thrill me to no end for a kid to get that same warm and fuzzy feeling from a book I have written. —Laura Golden, Every Day After (Delacorte, June 11, 2013)

I love middle grade because this genre embraces the old saying of “hope springs eternal.”  Middle grade characters find themselves or get themselves in horrible situations, but in the end they almost always end up smiling, and so do I.  That “feeling” I get when I finish a really good middle grade novel is pure satisfaction! —Nancy J. Cavanaugh, This Journal Belongs to Rachet (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, April 2013)

I love the creative freedom that comes with writing for younger readers. When I write a middle grade novel, I feel absolutely free to blend genres or defy them altogether. I can be solemn or silly or both, and I don't have to write any embarrassing kissing scenes unless I want to. (Note to kissing-averse readers: I never want to.) I think middle grade audiences are particularly receptive to a great story, no matter what form it takes, and I have a blast trying to write books that will be worthy of my readers’ affection. —Caroline Carlson, Magic Marks the Spot (HarperCollins, September 9, 2013)

I love writing for middlegrade readers because they aren’t cynical. They believe wholeheartedly, they want to go along for the ride. When I’m teaching them, I’m always impressed at how sophisticated their thinking can be. They’re also at that very cool stage where they are starting to develop their own values. Best of all, they aren’t too worried about being cool. If I ask them to give me their best shark or dolphin imitations, they’ll do it with enthusiasm. Middleschoolers are still open to the possibilities. What more could you ask for in a reader? —Polly Holyoke, The Neptune Project (Disney/Hyperion Books, May 21, 2013, and Puffin Books UK, June 6, 2013)

I love middle grade fiction and its readers for their vibrancy and transformative nature. Much like the main characters in middle grade stories, children of this age are in one spot in life and are quickly on their way to another. The rose-colored glasses are still on, but, through middle grade fiction, from time to time the real and fictional wearers have a chance to peek beyond and glimpse the realities of an untinted world in a reassuring way. —Tamera Will Wissinger, Gone Fishing: A Novel In Verse (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, March 5, 2013)

Elisabeth Dahl writes for children and adults from her home in Baltimore, Maryland. Genie Wishes (Amulet Books/ABRAMS, April 2, 2013) is her first book. She has a website, a Facebook author page, a Twitter account (@Elisabeth Dahl), and a closet that she’d like to hide in sometimes when the first three seem like too much.


  1. Loved reading why you all love middle grade like me. It is a time when kids love to read and have the time to do so. Can't wait to read your books.

  2. Loved waking up to all this inspiration! Thanks for this post, Elisabeth.

  3. Hi Elisabeth,
    Thanks so much for putting this together. I'm feeling inspired, too!

  4. It seems that middle-grade writers, just like their audience, are fiercely committed to their craft. I'm honored to be in their company.

  5. MG is great! Some of my favorite stories are MG. This was a fun collection of opinions.

  6. I loved reading all of your reasons why you write MG! Thanks for posting!

  7. I agree with the reasons listed as to why everyone loves to read and write middle grade books. The age of transformation is something to really touch with regards to what is written in the books. It's a great way to teach kids about life while appealing to their sense of exploration. This is a great post, Elisabeth. Thanks for sharing! -Shelley@Yall Twins