The Golden Compass, Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, Dealing with Dragons, Wringer, and the Giver. These were some of my favorite books as I was growing up. And they’re all Middle Grade.
Until about a month ago, whenever I thought ‘Middle Grade Fiction’, I thought of dumbed-down, overly-simplistic YA. Boy was I wrong. Strange how growing up makes you forget some stuff about being a kid. Those stories I list above are the same stories that made me think, ‘I want to make stuff like this!’
In the past couple weeks I’ve read a lot of modern MG, and have become completely enamored. I’m not saying it’s my niche as a writer, but looking back now I think that writing MG is what I intended to do all along, I just wasn’t aware enough to realize it.
This is a quote that really sums up my discoveries on the truth about what MG is: "The author of the true, classic middle grade novel does not worry about vocabulary choices or simple sentence structure; once children are ready for these books they are good readers. Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. While themes range from friendship to school situations to relationships with siblings and peers, characters are learning how they operate within their own world. They are solidifying their own identity, experiencing the physical and psychological changes of puberty, taking on new responsibilities all within the boundaries of their family, friends and neighborhood. Yes, your character needs to grow and change during the course of the book, but these changes are on the inside. Middle grade readers are beginning to learn who they are, what they think. Their books need to mirror their personal experience."
I started working on the steampunk Cinderella before reading some modern MG, and I felt super uncomfortable with it. Was my vocabulary too ‘high’? How did MG deal with descriptions? Family issues? Then I read the following:
- Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
- 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
- The Wide-Awake Princess by E. E. Baker
- Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
These, though mostly Gregor the Overlander, gave me a crash course in MG and what it was all about. If you haven’t read Gregor and you’re interested in MG, I highly recommend it. It’s about a boy trying to keep his sister safe and perhaps reclaim his lost father after tumbling into a world beneath NY through a hole behind his dryer. The themes are family, personal responsibility, and friendship. I think about it every time I want to recapture the ‘feel’ of MG.
I’ve also been reading Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (thanks animewave for the suggestion!) and hoooooly cow is it inspiring. I read with a notebook handy so I can scribble down ideas as I’m going.
Today I thought I’d share some cute steampunk pictures I’ve run across that also remind me of the ‘feel’ of the story I’m working on, including some awesome Cinderella-themed ones (click to see all of them!).