Monday, September 23, 2013

Meanwhile...Middle Grade! Back to School...

Back-to-school time can be filled with excitement, dread, or some combination of both. Here at The Lucky 13s excitement certainly wins out. We're celebrating THREE great middle grade debut releases this month: A.B. Westrick's BROTHERHOOD, Caroline Carlson's MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, and Peggy Eddleman's SKY JUMPERS.

In honor of back-to-school season, the middle grade Luckies weighed in on the extent to which school does (or doesn't!) play a role in their characters' lives -- and what memories and others sources of inspiration we draw on to portray it:

Elisabeth Dahl

GENIE WISHES runs from September to June of Genie Haddock Kunkle's fifth-grade year. When I wrote it, my son was in fourth grade at the same school I'd once attended, a school where my mother had taught for thirty years, so it was nearly inevitable: that school became the inspiration for the school in GENIE WISHES. I changed a lot of details for the novel, making it truly a fictional school, but the building's layout and fundamental character stayed the same. Between the emotional truths of my own fifth-grade experience and the more contemporary details of my son's, I hope I portrayed the school environment and experience realistically in the book.

Caroline Carlson

In MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, my protagonist, Hilary, is sent to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. (Since she doesn't have any interest in learning to sew or waltz or faint, however, she runs away as soon as she can.) I had lots of fun thinking up imaginary classes for my over-the-top finishing school, and I have to admit that some of them--like archery, embroidery, and water ballet--are classes I wish I could have actually taken in school. I don't think I would have minded life at Miss Pimm's quite as much as Hilary does!

Ari Goelman

THE PATH OF NAMES is set in a summer camp, so there's not much of a role for school in the characters' lives.  During the first chapter or two, the main character still occasionally thinks about school, but once she starts seeing ghosts and experiencing spiritual possession, she pretty much forgets all about school for the remainder of the novel.  

 My next novel takes place in a private school largely catering to the children of super heroes, so school plays a much larger role in that one, albeit an imaginary school which largely represents what I wish middle school had been like for me.

Kit Grindstaff

School? No such thing in The Flame in the Mist; Education would pose too much of a threat to Anglavia's nasty rulers. Knowledge is power, after all, so Mord forbid the unwashed masses had it in their hands! However, main character Jemma does have an education of sorts: in the healing arts, and combating evil forces – including, of course, the Mist. Her training is ongoing, though, so there’s no "back to school" for her. Jemma’s an eager student, but the dark underbelly of her training is knowing that at some point she's going to have to put it to use against some very unpleasant – and scary – adversaries.

Nancy Cavanaugh

My main character Ratchet is homeschooled, and she tells her story through her homeschool language arts journal.  One of her biggest desires is to go to a real school, with a real teacher, and real school friends.  In writing about Ratchet's longing for her own school experience, I went back to my memories of what it felt like to begin a new school year every fall - new school clothes, new school shoes, and lots of new school supplies.  It is one of my fondest memories of school - that "starting fresh" feeling that came with each new school year.  Ratchet has none of that and, as a result, has a strong desire to find her own way to be "normal" like all the other school kids.

Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson

No matter how old you are, the feelings of middle school affect you for life. (“Affect” is a nice way of saying “scar.”)  Some of the details change, but the sense of endless possibilities and endless opportunities for humiliation stays the same. Neither of us has kids, so we rely a lot on Facebook friends to weigh in on specific details we’re worried about. “Do any of your kids have chalkboards in their classes?” “How does block scheduling work?” “Has your kid ever heard of the Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds?’” (He hasn’t? Why not? What kind of parent are you?)  So we think we do okay. Plus our main character is an accidental fairy godmother named Lacey Unger-Ware, so we’re not exactly Ken Burns here. (Your kid hasn’t heard of Ken Burns? Come on!!!)

Jennifer Ann Mann

In the beginning of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY, Masha and Sunny Sweet have just started at a new school. Masha is having trouble making friends and Sunny decides to help by gluing a bunch of plastic flowers into Masha’s hair. At first, Masha can’t think of anything worse than facing her new school with flowers glued to her head, but there is something worse…going to school bald! In my story, school is a scary hurdle that the sisters help each other jump over.

Polly Holyoke

School does play an important role in The Neptune Project. When my main character Nere is at school, the reader sees how uncomfortable she is with her peers. Nere is an outsider because of her weak lungs and eyes, a product of her genetic engineering. She is invisible to her classmates, and I did draw upon my own experiences to depict her situation. In my high school there were cool and un-cool kids. We existed in the same space but rarely interacted.

Once Nere goes through the Neptune transformation, though, there’s no turning back, and the sea becomes her new school. In their dangerous new environment, my Neptune kids don’t have the luxury of hanging out in separate cliques. Instead, they have to rely upon each other in order to survive.

A.B. Westrick

School plays a huge role in BROTHERHOOD, but it's not a school like any we have today. It's 1867, and the school is a one-room shed. 14 year-old Shad arranges to teach tailoring to the African-American children there, in exchange for reading lessons to help him overcome a learning disability. When his KKK buddies target the school, not knowing he's one of the students, Shad is trapped between old loyalties and what he knows is right.

Kristen Kittscher

School is central in The Wig in the Window: not only is it the main battleground of the cat-and-mouse game playing out between the mystery's potential villain Dr. Agford and 12-year old sleuth Sophie Young, but it also is a point of tension between Sophie and her homeschooled friend, Grace Yang who calls all the shots in their spy investigations but bears none of the consequences. In part I relied upon my own school friendships and experiences to portray Luna Vista Middle School; however,  I also soaked up quite a bit from my years of teaching seventh grade English at an all girls' school...

Hope your back-to-school season has gone smoothly! 

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