Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dianne: The Unbridled Enthusiasm of MG Readers

In April of 2014, I look forward to making my debut as a middle grade author. As much as I love being a YA author, there’s something special about MG readers. I should know. I’ve been teaching fifth graders to love reading for over twenty years.

YA readers also love their books, of course, and invest themselves in the character relationships (especially the romances), but MG readers are different. They get sucked into the world of the book. They want to live the adventure. They want the book to be real.

The best review I’ve ever received came from one of my own students while I was reading aloud to the class from an early manuscript of The Eighth Day. He said:

“I could totally play this at recess.”

Middle grade readers still engage in imaginative play. They immerse themselves in fantasy worlds, and yes, sometimes they do act out their adventures at recess.

When my students heard the premise of my book – a secret day hidden between Wednesday and Thursday – they begged me to read it to them. At first, I felt a little embarrassed about using my manuscript as a class read-aloud. Shouldn’t the time be given to a more deserving author? Gordon Korman? Jerry Spinelli? And I’ll admit it. The stage fright of reading my own book in the classroom rivaled that of reading my book on stage at a steampunk ball.

But pretty soon, I was addicted to what amounted to crack for authors:  watching a fifth grade audience totally buy into my world-building. The secret day premise was a hit. The world I invented became their shared world. “See you on Grunsday!” my students called to each other as they left school on Wednesdays. Some of them penciled an extra day into their weekly agendas.

As for the temporary tattoos I ordered as swag and handed out to the class – I didn’t anticipate how much of a success they’d be! Students applied them on the spot and ran around the room, flashing their tattoos at each other and testing to see if they’d developed any special talents. Two weeks later, when one boy proudly showed me that he still had his tattoo, I was flattered and grossed out. (Because, you know, soap and water takes them off.)

There are many things about YA that I’ve missed while working on this book and the sequels – like the fun of writing a romance. But when it comes to sheer jumping-up-and-down, bubbling-over-enthusiasm from the actual target audience, I don’t think you can beat middle grade!


  1. I can completely picture their reaction -- and it is so sweet! And unfashionable as it may be to even use that word, I think that's another fun thing about writing for that audience: when they like something (or someone, obviously they adore you), they REALLY like it. And show it.

    If you capture what it's like to be nine or ten or eleven as well in your book as you do in this post, they won't just play it at recess. They'll remember it and think about it for a long time.

    And after reading this post, *I* can't wait to read it.


    1. Thanks, Libby! It's one of the best things about teaching fifth grade. I've seen them do this with other books, but I know this was also a special experience for them because it was mine.

  2. My daughter is of this age group. She isn't into the romance yet, but she really gets into the plots and characters. I thought of her when I read this.

    1. Fourth and fifth graders love getting into plot and setting and characters. I have seen them take events and lines of dialogue from books they love and "borrow" them for their own writing.

  3. What a great experience to have a live audience for your work. Amazing!

    1. Megan, it was pretty cool, I admit. They are my own little focus group! :)

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