I’ve been playing hooky
And seeking out beauty
That comes this time of year
While running after cuties
In celebration of attending my first SCBWI conference this weekend, I’d like to share my love of literature with you. I’ve been reading middle grade novels since I was of age—I never grew out of the genre. Even though I thought I was writing a young adult novel, on the sixth draft I discovered it was actually MG. It makes sense because my absolute FAVORITE novels are all categorized as MG, and more often than not, they are marked with “Ages 10 and up” or “10-14” for the reading level.
There are MG books marketed for eight to twelve year olds. Those novels are typically set in upper elementary school grades and are slightly longer than chapter books (think Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and How to Eat Fried Worms.) But what I’m focusing on today are those magical coming-of-age novels that have universal themes that related to everyone from tweens to adults.
Well beyond the first three Harry Potter books—which did make it socially acceptable for adults to venture into the children’s section—there is a plethora of life-changing literature to be found in the fiction section for younger readers. These books are deep and rich with truths of life and death.
The following list is my challenge books. I dare friends and family who “don’t read kids books” to read one and no one has been disappointed. Most of these titles are award winners and the majority won the Newbery Medal. Trust that honor—the children’s librarians at ALA know what they’re doing! I’ve divided my list of the TOP TEN MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS into three sub-genres to make it easier to find what might interest you the most.
- Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (This book captures the emotions of slavery in New England during the American Revolution. It is cross-merchandized in the YA section because of its heavy subject matter, but is listed as ages 10 and up.)
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (An awesome sea adventure set in the 1830s.)
- Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (A novel in verse about the dust bowl in Oklahoma beginning in 1934.)
- Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Haven’t you always wanted to know what it was like to live on Alcatraz? A son of a guardsman in 1935 shares his story.)
- A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Spend 1937 in the middle of nowhere Illinois with a hillbilly granny. Hilariously funny. You could cheat and listen to the audio—it’s brilliant.)
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Classic. Enough said.)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (Futuristic/dystopian—before it was trendy—and deeply moving.)
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (My favorite novel of all time.)
- Holes by Louis Sachar (Amazingly crafted, and supports a historical story within the present-day plot. Double bonus points!)
- Listen by Stephanie S. Tolan (I just found this one about a year ago. Deceptively quiet, but so very tender. Great for dog lovers.)
Have you read any of these? If not, I dare you to read one!
What would you put on your list of favorite middle grade novels?
On a side note, if you put both an orange and a vanilla flavored Tootsie Fruit Roll in your mouth at the same time it tastes like an orange creamsicle.
Autumn on the Gulf Coast came and went and came and… I hope it sticks around this time! The crisp weather of fall (if we’re lucky enough to receive typical seasonal weather) is invigorating. I usually get inspirational writing boosts this time of year but it hasn’t happened yet. So, I’m sitting at my desk with the table top fan blowing on my face, praying for the courage to step forward with my WIP. I haven’t made major progress on Corroded (because of other projects—and laziness) in at least two months. This blog is my jumping point to get back into the swing of things. I need to face the climax of the novel and conquer!
Even growing up in the also sporadic climate of coastal California, inspiration happened this time of year. I believe I began each of my novel length stories in the fall, starting at fifteen years old. The bulk of my poetry was written in autumn, with a generous helping of winter and some spring sprinkled in. Flipping through my poetry notebook I can count on one hand the poems written during the summer months. And speaking of poetry, I haven’t written a cataloged poem since I was pregnant with my oldest in 1998. Question to self: What’s up with that?!
But for now, I’ve got a terrifically awful poem to share. Remember, these poems are two decades old in some cases. Don’t hold it against me! This one happens to be from the autumn I started college, at seventeen years old.
Breath of Life
Days do ever pass Leaves turn golden and fall Attending our last class Is a walk down an endless hall
Sometimes it will seem Like it’s you against the rest But your light will forever beam You know you’re one of the best
So keep in touch With that strong sensation It will give you much Over-powering elation
Yawn. It’s close to bedtime but I haven’t written anything more than a few e-mails and a FaceBook status today. The need to put thoughts into words, to feel the letters and spaces flow effortlessly through my finger tips, was too difficult to ignore.
Sometimes I feel the need to write on paper. The mesh of print/cursive—that I was always corrected by the students for using when substituting in elementary school—is therapeutic some days. Especially when using one of my favorite Profile Paper Mate pens. The act of moving the pen over paper is art itself.
But other times, like tonight, I need the soft music of the keyboard—the gentle sound created is just enough to fill the void on a finally quiet night. Seeing the words fill the screen allows me to feel that I’m accomplishing something, even though I cheat and use a size 14 font.
It’s been a long day. From standing in line at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter for 30 minutes because their debit/check/credit card server was down to having to rush to a pediatrician appointment for the princess (no worries, it was her two year check-up) to dealing with the oldest child’s meltdown (and not backing down on the repercussions.) Yes, it’s been a long day!
And why am I blabbing about nothing? I suppose it’s about writing and life, as usual, but there is a deeper meaning behind this blog.
Plain and simple. I’m avoiding my W.I.P. because I’ve spent over a month working on a short story. And this past week I’ve added a non-fiction magazine article to the mix so Corroded has been wilting in the heat of the southern summer. Well, hopefully its smoldering, but I feel so removed from it that I can’t help but think it’s less than it was… that I’m not able to return to the hundred plus pages without the storyline falling into the abyss of flatly written mush.
So, instead I choose to write a squishy blog. At least I’ve filled up a page in my document file. Any writing counts, right?
And to go along with this soggy puddle, here’s the first poem I have record of writing, way back at eleven years old.
Trees grow, very slow. By the sea and by me. They grow in lawns and by ponds. Very slow do they grow.
My somber previous post has scared me away from blogging. But there’s now a (leaky) cap on the gushing BP oil well, so that’s a bit of an improvement. Enough said, there isn’t much Pollyanna in me about that issue. But here is a link to a haunting song by Mithril, inspired by the oil spill. The images on the video are all from better days gone by on local beaches. (My three kids each have a picture included.)
This week marks my first attempt at homeschooling my twelve-year-old son. He has a Neuro Immune Dysfunction, which causes autistic behaviors and has been receiving special services through the public school system since he was three. But there is no way I am going to send my sweet, innocent boy into the whirlwind of middle school. I’ve known I was going to homeschool him for the past year—and have been studying all I can on the subject and networking as much as possible for this socially awkward mother—but I spent most of my free time (amid numerous events and sick children) last week charting out an actual weekly planning page—a hybrid of a dozen I’ve looked at—and choosing the first week’s goals. And, I must admit, I also zoned out on Free Cell several times. I wrote absolutely nothing on my WIP and barely logged one journal entry in my notebook.
There is a time and a season for everything, and right now I need to restructure my day to fit it all in. I need to decide if I’ll write in the morning before the kids wake, which has been my exercise time, or attempt writing at night, when my mind is mostly mush, since quiet time might need to be used for one-on-one with the eldest. It’s a good thing Laurie Halse Anderson’s WFMAD is next month—I need some motivation!
Back to the homeschooling experience. Day One=Field trip! Community experiences at the post office, pediatrician’s office, pharmacy, and mall. Walking the mall was the fitness time for the day, too. At home, we took turns reading two books about farmers and pigs, and I let him flip through a third. Our unit study/theme is farms, which is something he loves. He copied twelve spelling words (taken from the farm books) three times and did thirty-five addition problems as part of a math review. And there were no meltdowns—success!
I praised him throughout the day and before bed I asked him if he liked doing work at home. He said yes and smiled. A warm fuzzy!
On a personal note, I’ve finally gotten around to some lighter–but deep–reading.
Still many more books on my library list and on my own shelves to read.
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee I’m closing with one of a series of five poems I wrote for a freshman high school report. Each poem had to be from a different character’s perspective. Give me a break, I was only fourteen….
Watching you grow up, that’s what it’s all about. Teaching you, watching you learn. No matter what you do, I’ll always be here for you.
I was put on Earth to guide you. So come, little children, stay close to my side. It’s a wicked world and I don’t want to lose you to its powerful influence.
But don’t be afraid, I’ll help you.. If there is any doubt in your mind, just stay close, my child. That’s what I’m ere for; a parent is a guide.
Since my WIP is a teen novel, I felt the urge to reconnect to my younger, emotional self. Pictures from the era provide an opening but it’s my poetry that drags all the emotions back—kicking and screaming. And, wow, was I in touch with my inner angst! Check out my brooding self in Pebble Beach, 1992…. Oh, I miss my hair!
I thought it’d be fun to start adding a few poems to each post—providing a flash-portrait of some of the imaginings of my former self. I’ll even put the desperately awful ones up.
I’ll start things off with a poem which I turned in to my Creative Writing teacher and he wrote a “please see me” note on the bottom of it. I was too embarrassed to confront him, thinking he might be suspecting abuse or something. But he never followed up on it, not sure if that’s good or bad… hmm.
The poem, written by my sixteen year old self, was inspired by the movie ___________.
Wait, you tell me! (Hint: 80′s fantasy. No, the movie title is NOT in the poem/title.)
Illusions surround my every move Walking through the corridor of eternity I feel tampered with and used
Down the path I see someone I know look again it isn’t who it seems to be A face turned and twisted in my mind to become fantasy
But after all what is a face environment or a smile? They are things we hide behind truths we run from for miles.
What movie do you think it is? Comment!
The first correct person might win an autographed copy of the poem.
And don’t forget to vote.