Ah, middle grade. The moment in life where the world becomes more…more than home and school, more than the simple emotions of happy or sad, more than doing what they’re told, but to figure out what they want and how the world works for them.
After years of listening to stories, of laughing and sighing over great tales, those ages 8-12, maybe 13, come to the decision to read…or not to read…on their own. And the parents, guardians, and librarians try to figure out how to keep the fire of books alive. The authors try to write words to draw them back to the library shelves.
Only we can’t control what those fabulous middle graders choose.
We want to…a little bit maybe, but let’s be honest, that’s a fight we might not want to start. Forcing kids to read never ends well. Reading should be fun. We want it to be fun…please, be fun!
So as ‘adults’…those who know best or at least try to…what do we do? Well…
It’s about giving the readers the books they want.
What do they want?
EVERYTHING. Humor. Adventure. Fantasy. Mystery. Horror. Contemporary. Science fiction. They want characters they know and ones they don’t. They want escape into other worlds and to explore the one they are coming to know. They want to fight monsters and make friends. They want to see the world through another’s eyes and expand their ideas. The minds of children are the most spectacular places, where anything and everything is possible. Every middle grade author has the book they want to write, we just have to be careful it’s not the book we want them to read, but the book they want. No preaching. Just life. Just fun. And a bit of creepy here and there. When we get to the library or bookstore, let the kids choose. Encourage them to choose. Make suggestions, but, in the end, stay out of the way.
It’s about giving those who might read possibilities. In other words…write all the books, make all the books available. Being shoved in a corner, walled in, isn’t going to grow anyone’s mind or heart. The more choices, the better.
It’s about instilling a love of stories. Read to kids. Allow them to participate in choosing books and in showing all the crazy emotions that accompany the tales. Allow them to see how much you love the words. Show them the magic. Even if they never read another book, they will have touched the power of imagination, they will respect others who read, they will never forget the fun of books. Sometimes that’s all we can do.
It’s about showing them what’s out there. At one point, every person comes home from school with a book in their bag that they HAVE to read, but don’t WANT to read. Is this bad? Does this discourage them from reading when we are forcing old stories down their throats? If they have free reign over what they read for fun…probably not. Think back to all the assigned reading. There are probably a few books in the list that you liked, maybe loved, a book you would never have picked up if it hadn’t been a part of a class. Is it so bad to expose them to different writing? Possibly, they will hate it, we all have those from school days, but our minds didn’t suffer only expanded. However, the world of books is grand and growing, so all the old classics, the go-to reading list, can certainly be mixed with more recent works.
My son is 17, my daughter 16. Our past is full of hours of reading from picture books to chapter books to hefty middle grade tomes. I read to them all the time. How did this translate? My daughter loves to read, has shelves full of books and loves to tell me how I should read all her favorites (I’m working on it). We share the love, and I am very happy. My son is not a reader. He will read, but it’s not one of his passions. Do I try to change that? Nope. Why? He has books on his shelves, books he loved years ago. He keeps them because he remembers the magic. So I did my job.
Middle graders want to step out into the world without a parent stuck to their side. They want to flex their wings, wings they have just discovered. Not quite ready to fly away, but not wanting to stay in the yard. If we show them the magic, they will take it with them into the world. Mission complete.
Today's guest blogger is Kathy Palm, a mom, cat-herder, book-reader, and YA and MG writer.
Follow her blog here and on Twitter here!
Kate and Judy welcome you to Talking Middle Grade, where our intention is to chat about the problems of catering for such a wide audience. If you have something important to say as part of this important discussion, then please use the Contact Us page to get in touch.