Monday, June 17, 2013

MEANWHILE ... MIDDLEGRADE: Schools, Visitations and Readings

Today -- on 'Meanwhile ... Middle Grade' Monday. Consider this. You finally get your middle grade book published.  At some point you (hopefully) find yourself at the front of a classroom, or maybe even in front of a whole auditorium of middle grade students.  What happens next?  

Gone Fishing
Reading and talking with students is one of my new favorite parts of being an author. The children are careful listeners, give thoughtful responses to my questions, and ask great questions of their own. At the end of one school visit, the school gave away a copy of GONE FISHING. The young boy who won stood up with a huge grin and started jumping up and down cheering. I love being around that kind of enthusiasm!        

            Tamera Wissinger, GONE FISHING

Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinPresenting and reading to MG kids has been one of the highlights of releasing RUMP! The kids are so enthusiastic and bright and I've learned that presenting to middle-grade students is all about the surprises. They want to hear something they've never heard before, something their teachers and parents aren't telling them every day, and they want to feel like you're sharing something special with them that not everyone gets. That's why I think my favorite part is when I tell the kids the Hans Christian Andersen version of "The Little Mermaid" (Very different from the Disney version) and their jaws flop to the floor! Then they start cheering. The kids always have such insightful questions like, "When will I know my destiny?" or "Why did you name King Barf, King Barf?" To which I have equally insightful answers. Promise. 

Genie WishesEvery time I've presented a middle-grade audience with the option of (1) me reading more from my book, or (2) us switching to Q&A/discussion mode, they've always opted for (1). I find this both surprising and endearing. I didn't realize that weens, in general, were still so happy to be read to.  
Elisabeth Dahl, GENIE WISHES 

Oh My Godmother: The Glitter TrapSince Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson haven’t done any school readings yet, they’ve asked Katarina, the cantankerous fairy godmother from “O.M.G.: The Glitter Trap,” to comment: “I’ve been working with children since the Middle Ages, and I'm happy to share a few tips. They respond well to in-class demonstrations; turn a couple of them into toads, and the rest really pay attention. Constructive criticism is very helpful. Try something along the lines of, ‘Have you always been an idiot, or is this something new?’ And, finally, tell the little dears that making their dreams come true is the most important thing of all. Otherwise, I don’t get paid.”
    Barbara Brauner & James Iver Mattson,  O.M.G.: THE GLITTER TRAP

BrotherhoodI've done writing workshops with middle school groups as small as ten students, and as large as twenty-five, and one technique that worked well was to begin by asking them to read a scene from my book out loud. We went around the room, with each kid reading one line, then talked about what happened in that scene. After that, I asked the students to write their own scenes, and I required all of them to begin by titling the page, "Bad Writing." They thought I was crazy. But of course, I was trying to get them to appreciate what "the writing life" is like for professional writers. Beautiful, inspired prose rarely flows in the first draft! It's a process. So they wrote badly for me, and later we talked about polishing and revising. I've posted audio recordings of students reading their own writing on this page of my website:
My favorite question was: Are you famous? And of course, I had to laugh because my book isn't out yet. They were reading from the ARC. "I'm only famous in this classroom," I told them.
            A.B. Westrick, Brotherhood'

This Journal Belongs to RatchetI  love presenting for middle grade audiences!  I think my favorite thing to share with them is how long I had to be persistent (almost 20 years) to become the author of a children's book.  They can't believe it, and my hope is that it will inspire each of them to persevere in working toward their own dreams. 

The Path of NamesTalking to middle-grade audiences has been awesome.  I've been blown away by how curious and insightful the middle grade students who I've met have been. I keep encountering questions I've not only never heard before, but haven't even considered.   


  1. Such a happy post. I love the "are you famous" question! I haven't presented yet, although after reading this post, I can't wait!!

  2. How incredible would that be? I remember loving those kind of presentations and author readings as a kid...oh wait, I still do. :)