Monday, January 30, 2017

Why I Write Middle Grade Fiction

An Age of Discovery
The years between eight and twelve hold a special kind of magic, because this is the age when children can fully articulate their questions about the world. In short, it is an age of wonder. What happens after we die? What does it mean to love someone? Can courage triumph over evil? Middle grade novels delve into the deepest questions of human existence. Their pages teem with mysteries, marvels and new discoveries, because, for these readers, there is an entire world out there yet to be explored.

One of my favorite novels that exemplifies this sense of discovery is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. The main character, Nobody, wanders into a graveyard after his parents are killed, where a host of nocturnal beings emerge to teach him the skills he needs to survive into adulthood. He strays from the path and confronts real danger, but this is all part of the experimentation process that defines childhood.

Why Adults Should Read Middle Grade
How powerful then, as adults, to open our minds once again to wonder. For adults, middle grade fiction has even more to offer than the adventure and romance of young adult. Yes, you will find adventure and friendship and courage in middle grade literature, too, but you will also find an invitation to be young again. To view the world through eyes that look at a dark closet or a sun-streaked blanket of snow and still see possibility. Does a monster lurk in the shadows behind grandma’s box of antique dolls? Does the snow conceal the tracks of a never-before-discovered species? Come along, dear reader, and find out. Give yourself permission to go on a journey of pure imagination, and you might be surprised what you find there.

Harry Potter, of course, is a wonderful example of the ability of great middle grade novels to transport readers of all ages to new and transformative worlds. Try, too, the gentle, heartfelt storytelling of that middle grade titan, Kate DiCamillo. My favorite is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Yes, it is the story of a china rabbit trying to find a forever home, but, if you can open yourself up once again to childlike wonder, I guarantee you will cry ugly tears in the end.

Good Stories, Simply Told
More than anything, the best middle grade novels are good stories, simply told. Simple in the sense of being sublime. It is the task of middle grade authors to cut directly to the heart of the story. To find the perfect moment, the perfect detail, the perfect phrase that will resonate with readers’ emotions. Readers who, far from being limited, are actually, by virtue of being children, that much closer to the divine. Finding a way to communicate directly with them requires the ability to see through extraneous details to the emotional center of a story.

And, oh, do middle grade novels have heart. Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan may be told through the clipped, simplistic phrasing of Ivan the Gorilla, but her words carve out readers’ hearts and invoke their deepest emotions. I said it before, but I’ll say it again…ugly tears. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is another fantastic example of a book so packed full of complex emotions, it transcends any one audience or reading level. Like so much middle grade fiction, it is simply a great story, well told. 

Finally, a Note of Advice
My advice to aspiring middle grade writers is simple. More than anything, middle grade writers, like their readers, need a clear sense of wonder, the ability to see the extraordinary in the everyday, and, of course, a hint of magic.

A Little About Me
I am the author of Skeleton Tree, a middle grade novel coming out with Scholastic Press in September 2017. I'm a fan of whimsy, British mysteries and reading books to my dog (she's partial to Roald Dahl, in case you were wondering). I'm super excited to start writing for Middle Grade Minded and to share the love of middle grade literature with the world.


  1. Great post! I love the section on why adults should read middle grade. I think as we get older we lose that sense of wonder. MG lit is a great way to find it again. Welcome to the blog :)

    1. Thanks Jamie!!! I'm excited to join the blog!

    2. Hi kim , I attempted a go at writing my first MG book last year and would luuuuuuv you to read (even if 3/4 chapters)?? Sending link below where you can get a free copy on your kindle, if you have's called the, The Bizarre and Wonderful World of Eczema Boy.
      (My life in cartoon basically!)

  2. Great post, Kim. Hooray for middle grade!! :D

  3. Such a wonderful post, Kim! And your choices are some kind f my faves!

  4. Good middle grade literature is my favorite reading. Great post.

  5. I love, love, love this. A big YES to the wonder and heart of middle grade. That's why so many MG books are "huggable books" for me (ones you *have* to hug after you finish reading them).
    I love what you said here: "It is the task of middle grade authors to cut directly to the heart of the story." Thank you.