Friday, September 6, 2013

Why I Write Middle Grade - by Daniel Kenney

My sixth grade teacher told me to clean out my desk. As usual, I didn't listen. Ten minutes later, she checked, gave me a disgusted look, then picked up my desk, flipped it upside down and dumped its contents onto the floor. Thirty two stunned sets of eyeballs watched as I melted into the green industrial carpet. She grabbed a black Hefty trash bag, handed it over and ordered me to fill the bag. I did so quickly. Then, she picked up the overflowing trash bag and walked it out into the hallway where she made me sit among the contents of my filth for the next hour.

Not my greatest moment.

A few days later, she told me she'd be checking my desk in ten minutes and it better be clean. I may be dumb but I'm not stupid. It was clean, I made sure it was clean, and I even asked the opinion of a couple clean girls who sat near me. All clean, all good.

My teacher walked over, looked into my desk, looked at me, then she gave me an odd little smirk. She picked up my desk, flipped it upside down and we did the whole thing all over again.

I think she was making some kind of a point.

Thirty minutes later, the school librarian walked by me in the hallway, glanced at me and my trash bag for the second time in less than a week, and she laughed. I laughed too.

Ahhhh, Middle School, I remember you well. Not fondly, but well.

Middle School was the time of my life where I got into plenty of trouble at school, lost one set of friends, gained some new ones, and my parents got divorced. But amid all of this chaos of being twelve years old, the one thing I could always do to get away from it all was read.

At night next to the light of the hallway, inside a closet, or with a flashlight in my bed, I would read. We weren't a "go to the library" family so mostly I read the same books and comics over and over again. Some of my favorites were the Richie Rich Comics, The Mad Scientist Club books, Black Beauty, Where the Red Fern Grows (really every book about dogs and horses ever written) Tom Sawyer, the Henry Reed books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Frankenstein, and anything about carpentry and woodcarving.

Fast forward years later and I had children of my own. Lots of them. Like 'Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe' quantity. At night I would tell them stories and I guess you'd say they were middle grade stories. It happened to be at a time in my life where I was doing a job that made me miserable. My whole family knew it. One night after a particularly rousing story, the kids said "wouldn't it be cool if you could write your stories into books?"

I think they were making some kind of a point.

I've been writing Middle Grade fiction ever since. My first is The Beef Jerky Gang, a silly, goofy adventure book about a gang of twelve year old boys living in a world completely controlled by girls. When it comes out, I hope you'll consider giving it a try.

For my giveaway, you get your choice. I will either read the first half of your manuscript and give you a big picture story critique (what works, what doesn't, what could be done to improve it etc...) or I can bake you some amazing white chocolate sheet cake bars and send them to you.

I'm a good writer. I'm an amazing baker. It's your choice.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I remember the desk-tipping thing! It seems unnecessarily sadistic to me now, but it happened to some of my friends in 7th Grade. I was also a huge reader during Middle School. One of my favorite books during those years was The Hobbit - I think I read it three times!

  2. See, I would have laughed at my disgustingness if I had my desk turned over (never did, but if there was anyone that it should have happened to...) The second time though.. would not have neen fun. Teacher would have gotten evil eyes at the very least. I probably would have refused to clean it up, honestly.

    Nice post :)

  3. "I'm a good writer. I'm an amazing baker. It's your choice." I cracked up at this. Very much enjoyed reading this whole post Daniel. I look forward to picking up a copy of The Beef Jerky Gang!

  4. I was just discussing with another children's author whether or not the dumping of desks actually happens. Not often, but I think every middle schooler has seen it once. Funny in retrospect but SO embarrassing at the time.

  5. Thanks! This is great news. I'm so excited to win the giveaway.