More answers on writing great middle grade!

The masses continue to speak.

Dawn Simon

I think both genres are a challenge because we have to nail everything in only so many pages while competing with all the distractions teens and tweens have these days.


I think YA draws a lot on romantic elements (if not romance outright) and coming of age, which done well, is poignant and heart-breaking. Upper Middle grade seems to be smarter sometimes, to me, because the protags aren’t distracted by hormones.

Susan Kaye Quinn

Part of the challenge of writing MG, IMHO, is that it is pure storytelling – no sex and violence and internal endless monologue and angst to drive the story along.

So having a compelling story, and getting that wide-eyed innocence right in the MC and the tone just right … I think there’s a reason there aren’t a lot of great MG books. They really are difficult to write.

Kerrie Flanagan

I agree with Susan, a good MG book has to focus on the story. And like Andrea said, we can’t let our adult life experiences muddle up the writing. I guess the key is to channel our inner tween and go for it!

And agent Jill Corcoran speaks her mind about middle grade on her blog. Read the comments to see other writers’ favorite middle grade. (And no, we didn’t coordinate posts.)

The book that always pops up in my mind when thinking of original middle grade with great storytelling is Holes by Louis Sachar. Yes, I love all the oldies too . Well, okay, truth time – I’ve never read The Giver. I can’t get past the creepy old guy on the cover.  Or the title. I think I opened and read the first page and still put it back on the shelf. That’s three strikes. But since so many people love it, I’ll eventually read it. Maybe.

So, I’ve been chilling from my first draft and soaking in middle grade. Literally. Not just reading, but reading to learn. And I’m studying great mg mysteries (hard to find), because I got a hankerin’ to write one. So, I have a pretty big to-be-read pile. It’s enormous. Teetering on my dining room table. (Okay, not exactly.)

Oh, and I’m also squeezing in some great YA. (Like The Dust of a Hundred Dogs by A. S. King – which is totally awesome. I love it. In fact, I’m rushing through this post so I can floss my kids’ teeth and finish it tonight. Thanks Ansha for the “word of mouth” recommendation!)

So, I’ll end on a mini-quote from one of my readers. “Channel your inner tween and go for it!”

What’s in your TBR pile?  What books have you read for pleasure that you ended up learning from too?


12 Responses to More answers on writing great middle grade!

  1. Laura July 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    Come on, who else thinks the bearded guy on the cover of The Giver is kinda creepy?

  2. kris July 2, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Love Middle Grade! — I just commented on Jill’s post w/ a few of my faves.

    Am I a bad person if I admit that I appreciate the GIVER as literature and amazingly well written, but that it’s not my favorite story? And the guy on the cover is creepy. 😉

  3. Leah July 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    I love the purity of middle-grade. Those days, before the pre-conceived notions anchored in our brains, were priceless. Creepy cover guy now makes me wonder – why is there a creepy guy on the cover? Does the reader have to overcome prejudice against creepy old guys in the course of reading it? I felt that way about Walt Whitman until I saw a pict of him younger. Now I see him as a lonely old man who once was passionate. Here’s to MG writers! My sons eagerly await your contributions to their growing years.

  4. Laura July 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    I can usually get over a creepy guy in the front but if the title does nothing for me and then the first page doesn’t either – I’d need tremendous word of mouth for me to pick it up and read it. I guess that’s just how im portant titles and covers are. I feel a post coming on next week about this. 🙂

  5. Ansha Kotyk July 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    I’m totally psyched that you love Dust. I LOVED that book. I want more. I will def read more from A.S. King… impatiently waiting for her next book.
    I just got back from the library. Nothing jumped out at me in the YA section… I need suggestions. I did pick up The Graveyard Book by Neil G. So I’ll be reading that this week. I also picked up a book called The Pirates of Pompeii an ancient Greece historical… I’ll let you know how it goes. But I’d love a great historical… I almost picked up The Agency… but put it back… any thoughts?

  6. Laura Marcella July 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    This is one of my favorite quotes on writing for children:

    “Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up.” ~Ursula K. LeGuin

    Love it! I don’t have kids but I was a kid once (and still kind of am!) and have been around lots of kids and they are soooo not easy to handle. Writing MG or YA or picture books is soooo not as easy as they seem!

    I hope you get around to reading The Giver. It’s terrific!

  7. Catherine A. Winn July 2, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    I love middle grade–it’s more simple and the hormones aren’t raging yet so you don’t have to throw in a romance however, it’s okay to throw in an innocent crush.

  8. Anna Staniszewski July 2, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Oh I love what Kris said about upper MG characters not getting distracted by hormones. As much as I enjoy YA, I think that’s why I will always be drawn more to reading and writing MG – romance just doesn’t interest me as much as other types of conflict.

  9. Laura July 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    Ansha – I haven’t read any of those. Let me know. I think we like the same kind of stuff.

    Laura – I might try it some day (grumble, grumble)

    Catherinne – I love the innocent crush. Much more romantic than obsession.

    Anna – I love a great mg. Nothing better.

  10. Sherrie Petersen July 3, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    I love how adventurous MG is, and yes, the lack of romance is a plus 🙂

    As a teen/tween I read a LOT of romance only to find out that true love didn’t usually work out that way. It was much more realistic to pretend I could survive on my own in a hollowed out tree (My Side of the Mountain) or be like Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. That’s why I loved MG then and now–so many possibilities!

  11. Marcia July 3, 2010 at 3:45 am #

    Some writers say they don’t read while they’re writing (that’s sure not me), but I find it really helpful to immerse in MG while writing because there is a “wide-eyed innocence” to it — I like that phrase — despite all the different voices, and it helps me keep that. About the guy on the cover of The Giver, back then I never thought about it. It came out, it was a Lois Lowry book, and I read it. And knew it would win the Newbery (the first of only two times I’ve called it right). I wonder if it could get published with the same cover today?

  12. Karen Lange July 6, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    Good stuff, I am glad you shared it. Sounds like you are in a good place, even if you rush to floss! Okay, so I hurry through flossing a lot…
    Thanks and blessings,
    Karen 🙂

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