When thinking of middle-grade readers, we’ve established that they’re not in middle grades. These are kids in 2nd to 7th grade, and the group requires diverse information. The younger ones like silly funny, while the older ones like a little more intelligent funny, though bathroom humor still makes them laugh. They want characters they can relate to and situations that are absurd or situations that are tense but that can be overcome. They want to relate to your character, and it’s important for your character to win in some fashion.
I have many favorite middle-grade authors. One of them was my instructor when I started working for the Institute of Children’s literature, way back in 1997. His name isn’t a household word, but he’s done some solid work for this group of kids — Mel Boring.
At the time I started at the Institute, I’d written several short stories and magazine articles for kids, mainly middle-grade literature. It’s only in the latter years of my author period (which is merely on pause, not forgotten) that I began writing for the older kids. I knew them best because of my own daughter. As she grew, I did too — as a writer, because whatever group of kids she was among, I knew them best. So, I’ve done middle-grade, young adult, and teen. All totally fun and completely different.
Anyway, Mel has a great way of presenting information so that it’s easy to understand and interesting to read. I loved his books Clowns and Caterpillars, Bugs, and Butterflies. I remember talking to him about Wovoka: The Story of an American Indian at the time because I’ve always been into Native Amercian Cultural and Religious studies and was very heavily into it at that time. My own book, The Navajo, came from that interest, and I have to say that Mel was an influence in what I did, though I’m sure he doesn’t have a clue. But I do remember the people at ICL asking me to fill the role of instructor for newbies and I was proud to have come full-circle at the time.
He’s just one of my middle-grade writer heroes, though. Richard Peck is another. I love his style. He writes for the older group of middle-graders and some of his topics are rather adult. I remember meeting him at a Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s conferences in Pittsburgh. It think it was 1998, shortly after my book , Diana, the Life of a Princess was published. We talked about that a little. But what I remember most is his incredibly dry sense of humor that carries over into his writing. I loved The Ghost Belonged to Me and Lost in Cyberspace! I’d only been online 2 years then, so it was quite entertaining.
Jean Fritz is another author that I admire for her proliferation. She’s written so many fascinating biographies in her time that I think she’s totally amazing. These books are both easy to read and understand and they give you a real sense of actually knowing the person she wrote about. Some of her books are Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt, The Double Life of Pocahontas, and George Washington’s Breakfast. I have to admit that before I started writing biographies, I read several of hers. They’re absolutely charming. She’s a very charming woman, too. I actually have an autographed copy of her Pocahontas book, which I was eager to buy for my daughter, who was in 2nd grade at the time.
Each of these writers have the ability to teach and entertain, which I feel is so important for kids this age. You have to keep them reading! If you can infuse what you’re writing for them with some interesting information and something they can laugh about, you’ve got it made.