As young readers, we’ve all read stories that showed us glimpses of the injustice or frightening realisations about our world. We traveled with the book’s character and experienced what it was like to face a bully or be frightened by a stranger, or to struggle with secrets, doubts, disfigurement, seeing a cruelty or injustice, and characters who want to fix things but don’t know how.
By watching the characters in those books struggle against challenges and discover frightening things about their life or world, we watched these things unfold at the safe distance the book offered. And when we’d reached our limit for the day, we could slap that book shut and walk away.
I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time and feeling Meg’s fear and sadness about her father, and her frustration at being different and not fitting in. While I read that book, I had the opportunity to learn from Meg as she fought her fears, found her confidence and learned what special things she had to offer. Sometimes I closed the book, but mostly I just couldn’t stop reading.
The other thing I realised later, was that, as that young reader, I wanted more of these kinds of thought-filled, unexpected stories in the world and that influenced me to write and set a bench-mark for the types of stories I strive to create.
Books that explore tough or tricky topics allow the middle grade reader to examine issues in their world and start forming opinions and debating on things that they are likely to face when they become independent young people. Being able to do this through the character’s eyes and senses allows the young reader to explore darker, more challenging themes with the safety of distance that comes from travelling along with the book’s character.
Young readers deserve engaging, thought-filled and thought provoking stories. I am committed to writing books for young people that don’t talk down or dumb down content and issues, but the stories still need to be, first and foremost, surprising, exciting, and maybe hilarious. It is equally important to me that the story be crafted with the nature of the young reader in front of mind.
When I know I’m writing a story that will deal with a ‘tricky’ topic, I am very mindful about how I deliver my message, — i.e. I don’t. As an author, I make a promise on the covers of my books and on my website that I write fantastical tales. It would be very sad to break that promise and offer stories that are ‘preachy’ or instructive. That’s just telling. If I work to craft a good story and I let the character show the way they work through and respond to any issue in the story, then that character will be able to offer insight to the young reader, not me.
Stories are a place where young people can examine touchy, tough and tricky topics, but we need to keep the middle grade audience in mind when we’re writing.
Short stories can be great places to tackle tricky issues. I published ‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’ last year. It is the first anthology in a series of short story collections for middle grade readers. There are two volumes in development now, which will be out in 2019 and 2020. I’ve been a teacher and teacher librarian for … a long time, and many of the ideas for the weird stories came from conversations with student and observations about what’s important to them and the types of challenges they face.
Each short story has accompanying teacher notes. I planned this ahead of time and intentionally planted seeds for thought and discussion in the tales. All young people have an inborn ability to create stories, so my teaching notes encourage students to think like writers.
I worked to ensure that I didn’t lose sight of my original promise to write fantastical tales, so each of the seven short stories in this volume are WEIRD and some of them have tricky issues threaded into the weirdness.
The first tale, ‘Having Writ Moves On’, is about Dylan, who wins a magical pen that writes whatever it wants and gets him into lots of trouble. The issue of words (and images) having consequences is huge in today’s social media world, so I let the story show the young reader the trouble words might cause in a fun way, then offer options for group discussion about social media as part of the teaching guide.
Another story, ‘Just Desserts’, is a sweet twist on the issue of bullying. Where our victim, Jackie, is resilient and tries to make friends by baking treats to give to the not-so-friendly ‘bully-girls’ at her new school. When this fails, a magical baker-woman helps Jackie give the bullies their just desserts. Bullying can be a huge deal in the middle grades and beyond. I think it is vital that young people learn the self-talk and wise mind thinking that will allow them to develop resilience in tough situations. Not all of us have a witchy-baker to help out, but the humour of this story can and does open a comfortable discussion about bullying issues and strategies.
With my first volume, Weird Weirder Weirdest,now out in the middle grade reader-verse, I have kept my promise to write a collection of fantastical tales. The young reader gets a glimpse at the unreal and very weird characters and travels along with them as they face their challenges. If they happen to discover, or learn a little something to help them deal with the trickiness they face in the lives then that is a delightful bonus. Yay!
Martii Macleanlives in a tin shack by the sea, catching sea-gulls which she uses to make delicious pies, and writing weird stories. She likes going for long bicycle rides with her cat, who always wears aviator goggles to stop her whiskers blowing up into her eyes as they speed down to the beach to search for mermaid eggs.Or how about this…
Martii Maclean writes fantastical, adventurous tales for children and teens and sometimes adults. She was born in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Brisbanewith her husband Trevor and her cat Minerva. Her work as an educator and librarian, allows her to share her love of stories and of story-telling with many young people. This inspires Martii to create thought-filled stories that explore the wonderful world of ‘what if’.Find out more about Martii and her stories at www.martiimaclean.com
‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’ - a collection of quirky tales (2017),was the first of a fun middle grade short story series, with two more volumes bubbling away that will be out next year. Free teaching guide and colouring sheets to accompany the book available at author website.
‘The Adventures of Isabelle Necessary’ (out any day now), is the newest book for middle grade readers. It’s all about a gutsy girl, a cool beach town, awesome friends and oodles of adventures. To get at notification when it’s released, join Martii’s list at www.martiimaclean.com
Martii has written three sci-fi/fantasy novels for young adult readers:
‘If I Die Before I Wake’(2016)
Not all tales have the ever-after you might expect. Vreni is sleeping-beauty’s granddaughter and the sleeping curse has controlled every female in the family for centuries.
‘We of the Between’ (2017)
When Trin sees blue people rise from the ocean she is destined to be drawn into the Between.
‘Un-Real Time’ (late- 2018)
Deon thinks his new school is tough, but time travel is even tougher … and awesome.