Monday, July 01, 2013

Why I Love Middle-Grade Books And You Should Too

In the shadow of a calling I found myself . . .

                            Learning the importance of listening to my own advice.     

Musical Moment ~ “Hide and Seek” Ani Difranco

I love middle-grade books.  To me, middle-grade books hit the sweet spot of a child’s transformation. The power of books is incredible.  They take the reader from any place, any situation and any outside emotion or difficulties they are facing and pull them into a world of fiction where the unreal becomes real to a reader.

It is the time after parents have to completely do all for their young progeny and where their bookshelves are filled with colorful Picture Books and delightful Chapter Books. 

The middle-grade age (ages 8-12) is the time before the full power of peer pressure begins. The time before kids become cynical and jaded.  It is the time before the great migration of loving sweetness is overrun with hormones, changing bodies, new attitudes and secretiveness. 

Middle-grade books can be fun or sometimes reflect what a child is feeling or thinking.  At this age, kids are learning who they are, maneuvering within friendships, dealing with school, siblings, learning about competition or perhaps they are dealing with issues happening at home where they either need to pitch in or things are going on with the adults in their lives and they can do nothing but feel helpless and wishing they knew how to help or make a change. 

Middle-grade books deal with these subjects, and more, and are there to help, teach, and heal, but mostly to entertain.  There is power in writing fiction, especially for the young.

But, there is a funny thing in storytelling - a phrase that most writers hate to hear of their writing (especially in the form of a rejection letter from an agent, publisher or in a review) and that is “the story is didactic”, which means a story comes off too preachy or lessons are told in a manner that “teaches in excess” of entertainment. 

No kid wants to read a book that preaches.  They get enough of that from the adults in their lives.  And quite honestly, if you strictly want to learn something, then non-fiction is the type of books you should gravitate toward.  But here’s the awesome thing about writing fiction - a writer can entertain while subtly pulling the reader into figuring out the salient points (teachings), of a story especially if it’s a story about divorce, gaining step-siblings, losing best friends, being bullied, or feeling like an odd duck amongst peers.
Writing middle-grade fiction is an incredibly important genre when writing for kids.  Have you noticed the news in recent months?  Have you seen all of the heinous acts that children or young adults are getting into?  For example, the teenagers in Ohio, where a girl was allegedly violated at a party by two boys she knew and was victimized again by her peers.  No one thinks these things will happen or if they do, they may not know what to do and that it is okay to leave a party or your friends if you feel uncomfortable or have a bad feeling about something.  How do you learn how to do this?  Well, sometimes you learn it by reading. 

What about those who are victims or found guilty of horrible crimes due to being in the wrong place, with the wrong people or who are just too naïve or stupid to know better?  I wonder if being a little didactic is such a terrible thing.  If you consider the young adult age range (13–16) as being too late to try to consciously or subconsciously teach something because it gets harder to keep these kids focused on adults and adult wisdom when the lure of their friends, text, or the latest bad-ass teen focused show is on. It makes me think the middle-grade age may be the perfect spot for a little creative wisdom sharing. 

Perhaps using literature as a way to help our children grow into responsible people ­– who will think for themselves even amidst the strongest peer pressure or who listen to their gut instinct when they’re in a situation they need not be in ­– is an option writers and parents should think about and maybe incorporate in the growing up of children. These books may even help adult readers open a dialogue with their kids or even help them in their own lives. You never know.

What do you think about the power of middle-grade books?  Do you think they can help prepare children for the coming years and experiences? Do you think these books should?

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