Monday, February 28, 2011

Reading Middle Grade: Two Great Examples

Last year, I noticed that my 100 book challenge was weighted more towards YA than MG, even though I write MG. So this year, I'm making more of an effort to read middle grade books. And I love it. (I also think it's helping me strengthen my writing, but that's a topic for another post).  I recently read two books that strike me as really great examples of MG.

Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve delighted me from the beginning. What kid wouldn't love to live on a farm with jewels in the garden, talking bugs and a treehouse-like room? Eleven-year-old Polly is friends with a plant and has a mystery to solve about her family farm. This is truly a story for children, not a teenaged story masquerading as one for kids. I'd describe it as magical (and not just because there is magic in the story).

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs hooked me and I just had to keep reading. Again, it seemed like a kid's dream come true. Who wouldn't want to live at a zoo adventure park? Having a hippo at the centre of a mystery was unique. I also loved the fact that the main character's parents were in the story and actually part of solving the mystery at times, instead of too busy to notice what their son was up to (or dead).

Reading these books made me think about:

1)  how the setting can really become part of the story and help to bring it alive

2) the importance of having a really good story

Of course, good writing is important, but it was really the story that first captured my attention for both of these books. The authors made me curious about what would happen in the story, and what life was like for characters living in these settings.


  1. I've been reading a lot of YA, and just hearing your descriptions of these MG books really brings home the difference in readership. MG kids are young! I think I need to follow your example and read some MG to help me decide which way to go with a couple of my stories - MG or YA :)

  2. Depending on your story, setting can be very important in MG. I haven't read either of those books, but I've heard of Drizzle. And yes, it's important to read what we write and read outside of what we write -both.

  3. Thanks for the two recommendations--I haven't read either of these, but they're going on my list!

  4. These both sound excellent! I'm really struck by what you said about a book for children instead of a teen book masquerading as a kids' book.

  5. Susanna and Marcia, my reading has helped me get a stronger feel for the voice and problems in books for middle grade readers.

    Laura, it's so interesting how the setting can play such a role in shsping the story sometimes.

    Jess, my 11-year-old read both of these books too. Drizzle evoked a lot of emotion from her; she got really angry at one point, and then had to keep reading. And Belly Up she loved, because she loves all kinds of animals and living in a zoo would like a dream come true.

  6. Two books I haven't read yet! Thanks for pointing them out. I love middle grade novels and I agree, it's all about the story for me.
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