Today the spotlight shines on Jenny Lundquist, who recently shared with me that she’d been in the audience when I keynoted at an SCBWI conference in Davis, CA. Jenny wrote, “I was so inspired as you talked about your process of writing Hattie, and I went on that weekend to write the first chapter of the book that would become my debut, Seeing Cinderella.” I feel like a proud auntie when I hear that something I’ve said has helped another writer. Today we are celebrating Jenny’s latest title, The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby (Aladdin M!X/Simon & Schuster), released just a few days ago. Yay, Jenny!
Why I Write Middle Grade
Occasionally I’ll find myself someplace outside the writing world—at a dinner party, in the carpool line, at a kid’s athletic game—and someone will find out I’m a published author. What do you write? is the question I usually get and sometimes, once I tell them I write middle grade novels, I’ll see it: The wilting smile and the slight dimming of the eyes suggesting what I’ve said is less impressive than if I wrote novels for adults.
I’ve never understood that reaction. To me, it’s the highest honor to write for middle grade readers.
Middle grade is that tender, scary place between no longer being a small child and yet not quite being a young adult. That place where you begin asserting yourself—but you’re only just starting to figure out who you really are.
It’s a marvelous time fraught with many firsts and lots of contradictions. When you still deeply love your parents (even if there’s NO WAY you’d admit to it in public), but you’ve figured out they’re fallible people who don’t always have the answers. When your parents might be debating one night if they should let you see that PG-13 or R movie that just came out…then the next morning your friend comes to school crying because she found out her older sibling has a drug problem and she’s asking you for advice.
I was reminded of all this last night when my 11-year-old son and I were talking in the car. His friend has just gotten a girlfriend—the first of their bunch to do so. He doesn’t quite know what to do about that; he’s not sure how much he likes girls right now, but he says he definitely wants to marry one someday. Then he busted out with this nugget, “But I’m not going to be like Gaston [from Beauty & the Beast]. I won’t try to kill a girl’s dad just so she’ll be forced to marry me.” (Great plan, Son!)
Then the conversation moved on to how excited he was to finally be in middle school. Changing classes! Dances! Electives! So many new opportunities and he was excited for them all…until a few hours later in the middle of the night when he woke me up. “What if I’m not smart enough for middle school?” he whispered in between quavery breaths. I told him I believed in him and knew he would do great. Then I walked him back to his room and stayed with him until he relaxed enough to fall back to sleep.
That’s the intersection many middle graders find themselves in. Where girlfriends and boyfriends loom on the horizon—but Disney movies still seem like they might hold answers to life’s problems. Where there are so many new opportunities during the day to exercise a little more independence—but encouraging words from a parent might still be needed at night.
The Izzy Malone series is about four lonely girls who discover the best friends of their life via a charm bracelet club (with a lot of fun hijinks thrown in—including a giant pumpkin race). But at its core both books, The Charming Life of Izzy Malone and The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby (release date: September 19, 2017) are about finding your place in this in-between world where relationships with friends, family and the opposite sex become more complex.
It’s for this wonderful, exciting, confusing time in life that I want to write for. Because I believe it’s a privilege to write for these kids, one that I never take for granted.