Middle Middle d ground ground n Writers discuss their work for preteens
THE JOHN NEWBERY MEDAL is given each year
“to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In addition, several books are designated as Newbery
In anticipation of the announcement, on
February 2, of this year’s winners, The Connection
asked a few middle-grade writers—authors who
write for kids between the ages of 8 and 12—about
their careers, sources of inspiration and more. Here’s
what Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Lisa Graff, Sheila
Turnage and Jacqueline Woodson had to say.
—Stephanie E. Ponder
The Costco Connection: What is it about books
for this age group that tend to stick with readers?
Sheila Turnage: The book needs characters kids
connect with and enough action to keep the pages
turning. Middle-grade readers read creatively and
experience a story as it unfolds. That style of creative
reading helps those stories stick with [them].
Jacqueline Woodson: These are such formative
years for so many, a time of so many firsts. As adults,
we just keep plowing through and moving on. Young
people hold on, stay in a moment longer.
CC: How do you pick your subjects?
Laura Marx Fitzgerald: I don’t pick them—I steal
them! That is to say, I love reading history and discovering real-life, stranger-than-fiction stories of
the past. Whenever I read about one, my mind starts
racing, and the seed for a novel is planted.
Lisa Graff: I read a ton of children’s books, for one
thing, and visit elementary schools fairly often to
talk about writing, so that helps. But most of it is just
a matter of remembering. I’m pretty lucky in that I
kept a diary for most of my growing-up years, so
now it’s easy to go back and see what a hilarious
weirdo I was as a child.
CC: What’s the best bit of feedback or letter you’ve
ever received from a young fan?
JW: “I didn’t like to read until I found your books.”
I’ve heard this a lot, and every time I hear it or read
it, I feel this huge smile coming on.
LMF: I recently received a letter from a dad that
read, “Our daughter walked around with your book
in her hand yesterday, reading it wherever she could,
devouring the last 100 pages. We could have driven
a train through the room, played Taylor Swift or
dangled ice cream in front of her—nothing would
have torn her away.”
CC:What do you think is the biggest misconception
about writing for middle-grade readers?
ST: I think it’s always a mistake to write down to
your readers, and that’s easy to do when you write
for kids. [Kids] don’t read my books because they
want me to teach them a life lesson. They want to
have fun. … The joy of reading will take kids farther
in life than anything I could try to teach them.
LMF: That the stories told should be childish. Even
as a kid, my favorite middle-grade books were complex in their plotting, characters, themes and vocabulary. They just happened to be about kids.
CC: What’s your favorite aspect of writing for this age
JW: I think young people are amazing and can teach
adults so much. I love that my books help them
move through everyday life by showing them just
how amazing they are.
LMF: I love a good mystery. And what is the greatest
mystery of childhood but the adult world, with its
inconsistencies and incomprehensible rituals? Even
my favorite adult reads are about young people who
must abandon their childhood assumptions to learn
the deeper lessons of adulthood. C
Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff;
Under the Egg, by Laura Marx
Fitzgerald; Brown Girl Dreaming,
by Jacqueline Woodson; and The
Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, by
Sheila Turnage, are available in
all warehouses, along with several other middle-grade books.
(Item #969371, available 1/26)
arts & entertainment
In our digital editions
Click here for a video of Jacqueline
Woodson reading from Brown Girl
Dreaming. (See page 12 for details.)