I came across a beautiful blog post by author Kate Messner (The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., Marty McQuire), Why You’re Never Too Old For a Read-Aloud, and it made me smile. My son is eight, reads a full grade level ahead, and I still read aloud to him as often as I can. We make an evening out of it, curling up on cold nights with tea (mine hot and minty, his luke warm and fruity with just a bit of honey) or out in the tent in the summer, with a flashlight and big bowl of popcorn and the sounds of the night to help set the mood. Sometimes he draws while I read, sometimes he reads along over my shoulder, but always we explore some new world together.
A few days ago at dinner my son announced that his teacher was no longer reading aloud to them during morning snack and this made me very sad. Reading to kids, or better yet reading with kids, has value at any age, in our schools, in our libraries or in our homes.
-editor of Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ The Unlikely Best-Seller: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Turns 50
“A Wrinkle in Timealso asks these huge questions, really, about the universe, and good and evil, and the power of love, and all of this crazy science and complex ideas. It assumes that kids are able to think about all that stuff. I think that a lot of people forget that, or never realize it, but a children’s book is really the best place to ask big questions. Our worlds get smaller as we get older,” [author Rebecca] Stead says.
One of my favorite books, and one of my favorite authors ever.
Agent Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich and editor Molly O’Neill of HarperCollins Children’s have launched an on-line dialogue about writing middle grade fiction in, Everything you ever wanted to know about middle grade and were willing to ask. I particularly enjoyed Ms. O’Neill’s musings on “Who is the middle grade reader and what is he/she looking for in a book?”
I think that a middle grade reader is often (and note, I’m speaking BROADLY, here) reading for one of two reasons: to understand, or to escape. Middle grade readers who read to understand look for stories that help them piece together the truths that seem to be opening up all around them, about the world and their place in it, and the connections between themselves and their family, their community, their friends, etc. Or they’re reading to understand about a different time/ place and what it was/would be like to be a kid then. Or they’re reading to just understand how stuff works, period—from the everyday mundane stuff to big concepts like justice and honesty and friendship and happiness and love.
The middle grade reader who reads to escape is the kid who is commonly BORED—like middle-of-summer-vacation-bored!—with his/her ordinary life, yet has no means for alleviating that boredom, or even escaping his/her house or classroom. Or maybe he/she is craving excitement or adventure or entertainment or a sense of power and autonomy that family and school simply don’t offer. So that reader dives into an epic story, or something quirky or witty or fantastical or humorous, in order to escape and live in someone else’s world for a while.
It was always about escape for me as a young reader. It was Meg and Charles Wallace and Lucy and that extraordinary wardrobe that freed me from my day to day life. As a writer, it is still about escape I suppose, but the reason I’m drawn to write middle grade is that it challenges me to be better. This age group demands a level of authenticity that forces you to know your storyworld inside and out, and that goes for your characters too, because a middle grade reader can smell a fake from a mile away.
How about you? Do you write middle grade? If so, why?