Tuesday, October 31, 2017

GUEST POST: "Insights Into Writing for Middle Grade Readers" by Cynthia Reeg

For me, writing middle grade (MG) novels always seemed a good fit. I remember vividly that time in fifth grade: two of my best friends had a falling out and I was caught in the middle. One of the friendships would survive. The other didn’t. It was a very eye-opening episode in my life. I had to decide on the qualities in a friend that were most important to me. I discovered that not everything or everyone was what it appeared to be. I was a child taking small steps into adulthood.

This time period for young readers—between lower elementary and teen years—is an important transitional period. A MG writer needs to keep these issues in mind.

Author Claire Fayers says, “It’s the age at which children are starting to gain a sense of independence and explore their own likes and dislikes. Books they love at this age often stay with them forever…” So true! I still remember the first MG book I read as a child that had such an impact on me: BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates. It is a historical fiction story set during the Dust Bowl era—highlighting poverty, discrimination, and family ties.

As powerful as the message found in Ms. Gates’ MG book was for me, I was also drawn to comical adventure stories like HOMER PRICE by Robert McCloskey. Homer was always getting himself into a new pickle, and I loved to see how he found his way out.

Kids love to laugh. That’s one of the big reasons I enjoy writing MG stories. Author Bridgett Hodder says, “I write for this age group, because in some ways I'm still part of it!‬” I certainly second this statement. I can identify with the overall joy and adventure that life at this age usually means.

Although that’s not to say that things always come easily for MG readers or characters. Author Margaret Dilloway shared a statement from Shannon Messenger explaining that MG “is about finding your place in the world and YA is breaking free of that place you were assigned.” The transitional tugs between childhood and adulthood found in MG stories are what drive the plots, creating realistic tension and situations that –even in a fantasy realm—tween readers can relate to.

Author Patrick Samphire agrees that “MG is much more externally focused” while “YA is more internally focused.” And while that's true, MG characters still grapple with doing what's right or solving a dilemma.

An important component of MG writing means keeping the adults in the background, so—as Ms. Fayers says, “the kids can drive the story.” In my own MG writing, I love to anchor the stories with interesting adults—like evil Principal Snaggle or quirky teacher and swamp monster, Ms. Hagmire. But the kid characters are always front and center on stage. They make the decisions and take the actions that create the plot of the story.

Oftentimes the characters' inexperience shows during critical times. These times bring out their worst and best qualities. How the characters mold these qualities help determine how well they fare in their future encounters. MG readers are eager to see how these book friends approach life. The readers can learn from these literary failures and triumphs.

MG is the time of venturing outside of the family—but not too far. It’s a time of friendship and betrayal. It’s a time of laughter—corny, slapstick, gross, tongue-in-cheek. It’s a time of discovery—the wide world awaits with all its wonders and mysteries.

MG is a magical time, and perhaps that why I love to write for this age group. For I make magic—one word at a time.

I’m a curious librarian who ventured from behind the stacks to become a children’s author. Now I contend with monsters, mayhem, and odd assortments of characters—both real and imagined—on a daily basis. As an advocate for children’s literacy and supreme defender of reluctant readers everywhere, I manipulate words into wondrous kid-friendly creations to be enjoyed over and over again. As one of my poems attests, I’m always reaching for the stars. For more information, visit www.cynthiareeg.com.

In this tale of two monsters, seventh-grade troll Malcolm McNastee is on a mission to rid Uggarland of misfits, especially Frankenstein (Frank) Frightface Gordon. Much to Malcolm’s horror, Frank rescued Malcolm’s disgraced dad from exile. This unspeakable act could tarnish Malcolm’s true-blood troll reputation. On the other claw, Frank—a neat freak who’s never fit the normal monster mode—must quickly reform under a new Uggarland law. If he doesn’t, he could face exile—or worse. 

Malcolm decides to regain his good-monster standing by leading Frank and a band of misfits into the dangerous Shadowlands—where many enter and few emerge unscathed. Frank and Malcolm must brave the Shadowlands’ perils, realizing that even if they make it out alive, their lives will never be the same.

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