Friday, May 28, 2010

Sara: I love Middle grade

A while back I promised to talk about what middle grade novels appeal to me and what I look for in middle grade. I do work with less middle grade than YA, but not because I have any less love for it.

What I want to find when I begin a middle grade submission is not so different at all from what I want in a YA submission. I still want to find good prose, voice, plot, emotion, authenticity. In middle grade, though, I am mostly looking for contemporary stories. Not as a rule-- I did just take on a middle grade fantasy, but for the most part the books I love in the category are contemporary.

What I love about great middle grade is its ability to reveal the inner world of the protagonist and to be internal where YA is external. There are so many exceptions to any rule in fiction, and so many exceptions among books I love, but YA usually has an immediacy that middle grade does not always have because the character is still focused or even newly focused on who they are within their world and not yet as much on finding their place in the greater world. Where YA is driven so much by the protagonist and how they see the outside world, middle grade protagonists usually still see authority figures as the center of their worlds, and so their conflict is often coming to terms with and finding their place in that world. MG characters are often just discovering that authority figures are flawed, that their parents, their teachers, their older siblings are not always dependable. And, more simply, that they have opinions and wants separate from their family and some of their friends. They are figuring out what family means, and finding their unique place within their family or their group of friends.

They are questioning authority -- but authority figures still rule their world. What might be considered MGs limitations can actually allow for more complexities. Often they have adult characters who are just as compelling, and can show us a family in a more complete way than YA can. Where YA can be all about me, me, me, middle grade can show us the big picture of a small world.

I don't like it when I see that a plot has been oversimplified for the audience. Middle grade plots can be just as complex as YA plots, even if they are not always as dark. But often, they are dark. Lisa Schroeder's IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES is not something I would describe as dark, but the main character Isabel's mother is depressed, and its something that Isabel can feel and see, and that complicates her world and that also helps her to see things in her own way. In Kristen Tracy's CAMILLE MCPHEE FELL UNDER THE BUS, there is so much humor (another thing I adore in middle grade) but her parents are having problems in their marriage, and their issues are affecting everything else in Camille's life.

I am still suffering from a tired BEA trodden brain, and this list changes often, but if I had to give my favorite middle grade that is not a book I worked with right now, it would be THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY by E.L. Konigsburg. Please do write and then send me a book like this one. There is so much in this book- humor, mystery, family, secrets, baby turtles, a wedding, a tea party, and an Academic Bowl team called the Souls. But notice too that the teacher, Mrs. Olinski is a character as important to the story as the children.

19 comments:

  1. Love this post. So great seeing you at BEA, Sara. Thanks for coming to Author Carnival too. See you soon!

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  2. Excellent post full of good information. Thanks for finding the time to share your thoughts.

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  3. Insightful post! It's welcome news that adults are indeed "allowed" in MG, especially when so much of preteen conflict stems from them. This is a great age to write for and was the age I really began to explore my own world views through literature.

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  4. Love reading your thoughts on middle grade. Thanks for the insight!

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  5. Yes, thanks so much for your thoughts on middle grade, Sara! Very, very insightful!

    Enjoy your weekend! :)

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  6. Thanks for finding the time for this, Sara. You must be a tired kitty, though I am jealous of your time at the BEA. Enjoy this long weekend and may you find time for pleasure reading.

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  7. What a helpful post, Sara. Often, it is difficult to fathom what would appeal to a certain agent. Your overview of middle grade novels as well as this specific example really brings your taste into focus. Thanks!

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  8. Never really thought about it but, yeah, YA is a little more me me, where in MG the family can be a bigger issue. Thanks.

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  9. I've been considering trying my hand at MG because I love the MG stories my CPs write, but I've been worried whether or not I could pull it off. This was very helpful info.

    And for the record, baby turtles and a tea party sounds fabulous.

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  10. This post is right on target. I agree with your points about MG and what makes it different. When I was reading the parts about authority figures in the main character's life I immediately thought of my own work. Maybe I'm doing something right after all.

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