Monday, September 2, 2013

Feel this! - Why I write MiddleGrade - by Rob Polk

Can you remember back to the first book that really made you feel? My feel this! book experience occurred back in fifth grade and shook me deeply. 

I was an outdoor loving kid who fidgeted and daydreamed his way through kindergarten, first and second grades in our small town public school. My teachers and parents tried everything to make me “pay attention”, but I couldn’t. My performance in school suffered terribly. In the second grade, I missed almost every morning recess because I could not figure out how to tell time by the hands on the clock. I mean, a ninety degree angle is a ninety degree angle, right? Who cares which numbers the arms point to? I had to spend one-on-one time with Mrs. Chewleski, trying to figure out what the stupid arms pointing in different directions meant, while my classmates went outside to play.

I remember even thinking that (no disrespect meant to any of my classmates), depending on the day of the week, I was the dumbest, second dumbest or third dumbest kid in our class. Carry that around with you sensitive seven year old!

But in the summer between second and third grades, someone put a Tarzan novel in my hands, and I read it. I’m sure the process of my learning to read went painfully slower than I recall, but that summer I enjoyed an epiphany. I devoured Tarzan books mercilessly and when my grandpa Jennings gave me some science fiction anthologies of short stories, my young mind blew up. But none of these was my feel this! book.

Reading became my academic and (self-esteem) savior. In third grade, I began to get 100’s on my spelling tests and my interest in reading soon rivaled my love for outside exploration.

By the summer after fifth grade, I’d become this beef jerky kid who wasn’t playing hard enough if I didn’t incur some injury. But with that pain, I was always able to “walk it off, laugh it away, or rub some dirt on it.” And by that time, I’d read every Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novel (26 of them, if I remember correctly) multiple times, had fallen in love with science fiction, most notably, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, and read a smattering of other genres. So, if I wasn't living an adventure, I was reading one.
Then, someone gave me a new book for my birthday. This book had won some kind of award and it had a kid from a poor, rural family who I identified with. So I read Bridge to Terabithia. And I cried. And I got mad at the world and cried some more. I couldn’t walk off this pain. I couldn’t laugh it away and I sure couldn’t rub some dirt on it. That book was the first piece of literature that really moved me.

I write middle grade literature because it was at that age when I discovered the power of story. I began to recognize the importance of feeling for someone else. The power to empathize exists within us all, and I want to give kids that power.

Do you have a feel this! book in your past? a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. A touching post, Rob. Thanks for sharing.

    My feel this! book was Scott O'Dell's ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. I grew up in a house without many books. I found a tattered copy of this one in an old box in the basement. It opened up a new world for me and I've been an avid reader ever since.

  2. Jean- Thanks for the comments. It's amazing what books can do for us, especially at an impressionable age. ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS touched many lives!

  3. I have been having trouble commenting from mobile, so feel free to delete any duplicates.

    I can't remember a feel this! book from my childhood at the moment, but a recent book that had me in tears was See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles.

  4. I will add that one to my TBR list Megan! Thanks for the comments and good luck in the drawing. Keep writing!