Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I Write Middle Grade

That kid pedaling the banana seat bike, the metal basket stacked with books from summer reading club?

Yep, that was me.

The girl passing around a well-worn copy of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, to the delight of my giggling friends?

Guilty as charged.

The kid who snuck-read her older sister's copy of THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT and DEENIE?

You guessed it.

But I was hardly a book worm. I was more of a closet reader, sneaking words at night.

During the day I was acting like every other “normal” middle grader—pursuing my dream of becoming a superstar.  

For me, that meant ice skating. My plan? Become the next Dorothy Hamill and make the Olympic team by 1984. (Yep, I even sported Dorothy’s signature wedge haircut.)

I still think about sixth grade me—the honors student who spent every non-school moment gliding around a musty ice rink. So what if my jumps barely left the ice. So what if I constantly placed next-to-last in local competitions. I loved the ice and was determined to practice and make it big.

Sixth grade Stefanie felt invincible one day, then defeated the next. (The cold, hard ice has a way of delivering a wallop of reality.) I missed my older sister, away at college. I yearned to stop the chatter of the “skating moms”, who mistook my 57-year-old father for my grandfather. Unlike most of my friends’ mothers, my mom worked full-time, putting in long hours as an industrial nurse. I was proud of the “RN” next to her name. Yet I also felt different. And let’s face it. In middle school, different isn’t always good.

I’d love to swoop back to 1981 and plop a stack of contemporary middle grade books smack-dab on center ice. I would have devoured the following stories:
SUGAR AND ICE, by Kate Messner

Plus, I would have loved these novels about the many forms of family:
TOUCH BLUE, by Cynthia Lord
ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Novels like ABSOLUTELY ALMOST, WONDER, and A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT would have reminded me that I had strengths and weaknesses, and that it was fine not to have everything figured out by age twelve.

Eventually, I discovered that my strengths involved reading and writing. (Camel spins and axels? Not so much.) After hanging up my skates in high school, I went to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in language arts curriculum and instruction. Seven years of elementary teaching later, I left the classroom to raise a family.

And now, I write.

I write because I remember my sixth grade self: the reader, the skater, the daughter, the little sister.

I write to tell stories of perfectly imperfect families, the importance of striving for dreams, and the strength that comes from facing adversity.

I write because somewhere deep inside, I remember sixth grade Stefanie.

And I want to tell her it’s going to turn out okay.

Stefanie Wass writes middle grade novels from her home in historic Hudson, Ohio. A member of SCBWI and finalist in the 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals Book of the Year Contest, her nonfiction credits include the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, The Writer, Cleveland Magazine, Akron Beacon Journal, This I Believe, Cup of Comfort, and 15 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Catch up with her on Twitter @stefwrites and her website:


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

What a nice post. I read One for the Murphy's a couple of years ago. Wonderful story.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Elizabeth! One for the Murphys is one of my favorite MG books!

Kristin said...

Aww! I wish I'd known sixth-grade Stefanie, but I am SO glad I know Stefanie the writer. She's as wonderful as her work. <3

Unknown said...

Right back atcha, Kristin!

Shari Green said...

Such a lovely post, Stefanie. :) And this -- "I write because somewhere deep inside, I remember sixth grade Stefanie" -- I think that's the key right there: not losing touch with what it's like to be a kid. It allows us to write authentic middle-graders, allows us to find our voice and to put heart in our stories. Thanks for your post! (PS--I've never read ONE FOR THE MURPHYS...must remedy that!)

Unknown said...

I agree, Shari. It's so important to remember what it is like to be a middle grader. And yes, you must read Lynda's stellar novel!!! Love all of her books, but Murphys is my fav. :)

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

What a lovely post! And so true! And Judy Blume changed so many lives!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Wendy!

K. L. Hallam said...

My memories of my middle school years are clearer than memories from a few years ago. That time is pressed in my heart and mind. Fun post!
Gail already knows this, but apparently my mother and father-in-law invented many of the spins in the 50s. (Death Spin) They were even on the Ed Sullivan show! I must find that video and show you. :)

Unknown said...

Wow, Karen! I need to see that video! Is it a pairs spin?