November 26, 2012

Stories: The Middle Grade Version

This week I'm taking some time to think and write about what makes good stories. I hope you enjoy.


Before I started writing, I had no idea what Middle Grade fiction was. I didn't know the books which made up my early childhood were primarily Middle Grade; I surely didn't know the original Harry Potter was, too.

Then once I learned, I promptly forgot how much I loved those books. This is terrible, but I almost turned up my nose at Middle Grade fiction, thinking I was better because I was writing for grown-ups (though my 13-year-old cousin has read Zombie Days and loved it).

Luckily, I pulled my head out of my arse, and in the past year did some Middle Grade reading as an adult, and you know what I found out? The books I loved as a kid, I STILL love (A Wrinkle In Time ranks up there as one of my All Time Favorite Books)...and there are some AWESOME new books being written for this age group.

Here are three I've read this year that have stuck with me.


Flawed Dogs: Berkeley Breathed

My niece handed me this book last March, when Zoe and I were visiting my brother for a long weekend. I was dubious - the cover showed a goofy-looking dog with a soup ladle for a leg. But I picked it up that night, after Zoe'd awoken with a raging fever and there was no way I'd find sleep  anyway...

...and three days later, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as I read the final chapters.

Actually, in all honesty, the tears started on the first page (it has to be one of the most heart-rending openings of a book I've ever read), but at the time I blamed those tears on being far from home with an alarmingly ill child.

The story follows the life of a Dachshund once destined for a life of glory, but through circumstances outside his control (and the doings of an evil poodle), he lives a tragic life of barely-requited love and affection.

Sound trite? Maybe. But not if you love dogs.  I dare you - pick it up. Let me know if you get through without crying. 

And to me? That tells me a Middle Grade novel can evoke real emotions from kids and grown-ups alike.


The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman

Ok, well, it's Neil Gaiman. That should equal "enough said," that I should just shut my face about any lingering Middle Grade doubts, but still...I had to read it to understand.

Gaiman's book is scary. Terrifying in parts, actually. It follows the tale of Bod, a young boy whose family is brutally murdered and who is brought to live in a graveyard to be raised by ghosts and among goblins and all kinds of other creepy-crawlies.

He's a marked boy, that Bod, with an ancient network of bad guys looking to destroy him...and his adventures through various pieces of the underworld are nothing short of breathtaking. Seriously - Gaiman is, I think, at his best when writing for children. He doesn't talk down to them. He doesn't pull punches.

And to me? That's inspirational.


Professor Gargoyle: Tales from Lovecraft Middle School: Charles Gilman

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Quirk Books will never steer me wrong. This is the publisher's first Middle Grade release, and I'm not lying when I say that once I picked it up Saturday night, I didn't put it down until it was finished.

Because....when a story's written for kids, but includes barely-veiled references to Poltergeist (one of my All Time Favorite Scary Movies) and has an utterly adorable two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak...well, it becomes so loveable and fun that you have to keep reading.

The story follows Robert as he learns his brand new middle school has a ton of dirty, supernatural secrets....and all the students around him are in danger.  It's creepy without being over-the-top scary, it maintains a great sense of humor, and seriously - I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the second in the series: The Slither Sisters.  (Great title, right??)

And to me? That's all just plain fun and I love it and want to be a part of it.


So. Middle Grade. Apparently I adore it. Because in Middle Grade fiction, what's important, more than anything...more than fancy writing or literary allusions or similes and metaphors....what's important is the story. And the story can be whatever you want it to be.

I'm actually working on a Middle Grade horror novel in my spare time...and it's been one of the most fun things I've written thus far. So....stay tuned for further info on that as things hopefully develop.

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