All posts by grammy2kiera

The Elusive Middle Grade Voice?

Writing blogs can be entertaining and informative. There is a long list of them that I personally subscribe to, and although I try to limit the time I spend enjoying them, I like to at least scan most of them on a regular basis, especially if I see something that catches my eye right away.

On one such blog recently, I ran across an interview that someone had conducted with a specific literary agent. I can’t recall at the time which agent it was, or even which blog I was perusing at the time, but one comment the agent made caught my attention. I believe the interviewer had asked a question regarding a wish list, and among the items the agent mentioned was the fact that he’d love to find a submission for a novel with that elusive middle grade voice. Over the next several days, I found myself repeatedly thinking about that particular comment, and what it meant for those of us who strive to find that voice, too.

In the process of thinking about that, I couldn’t help but wonder what element it is that makes the middle grade voice so elusive. I know the middle grade spans an age group from as young as eight to the early teens, so that could be part of it. And as any of you know who have children of your own, or are around children much, there is a fairly wide gap in the speech patterns and thought patterns at either end of this age range. But I also know, from reading loads of middle grade books, that a typical middle grade book usually centers around young people with an average age of twelve years. That might be a big clue as to why the middle grade voice is so elusive.

Try to recall what you were like at the age of twelve. Were you totally childish in everything you did? Or did you act and think like an adult? It probably depended largely on your upbringing, your family situation, and even the age you are currently. Thinking back to my twelve-year-old self, I know it was a very weird, wonderful, yet frightening time. I still played with dolls and loved to color, but I also was painfully aware of boys. I still wanted to tussle in the dirt with the guys over a passed football, and then hope the following day that one of them might notice my new hair ribbon. That age is a time of such fluctuation of emotions, an ephemeral time of trying to balance between two different worlds, that I understand why it can be so elusive in trying to have it make sense on paper.

But I also had another thought about this subject. Perhaps when agents read our manuscripts, they are searching for a voice that will carry them back to memories of their own youth. Maybe they are looking for the voice they heard in their own head at that age; one that will bring back all the memories of what youth was for them. That, I fear, is a daunting task, because although we all travel through that time, it is different for each of us.

If anyone has any thoughts on how to make this aspect of writing for a middle grade audience any less stressful, I would love to hear from you. How do you find that inner child that will instill a believable and interesting personality into your middle grade characters?

Thanks so much for your time, and Happy Reading!

 

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

School is finally back in session. The weather is beginning to show indications that it may begin cooling off before too much longer, although we’re still having a few ninety degree days. And I am finally back in writing mode. I enjoy taking the summer off so I can spend time with the kids and get my yard work done, but I am ready to get back into the swing of things with my WIPs. But getting back to the subject of school, do you remember those first assignments from your elementary grade years in which you had to write the essay about what you did over the summer? Man, I hated those!

Summer was fairly busy. At least, it seemed that way. Although now that it’s over, I can’t figure out how we spent the time. Lots of swimming and going to the park, and many, many trips to the library. We’re fortunate to have access to several small libraries within a short driving distance, so the kids can take advantage of all the summer reading programs. And while they’re busy with that, I have free time to work on my own reading. I read some quite good MG books this summer!

We were fortunate, too, to get in a short family vacation right before school reconvened. We chose to drive out to Colorado. I love the mountains, and the cooler temperatures, and the lower humidity. In fact, I can’t think of anything about Colorado that I don’t love. It’s beautiful country.

Our family lived in Colorado Springs years ago. The Army first sent us there, and for eight years it was our home. It’s amazing how many friends and family members want to come and visit you when you live in a place like that. And that just added to the enjoyment.

My girls remember Colorado since we were there until the youngest was five. But our son was born in Kansas, and the last time we had gone back out there to visit, he was only four. So he didn’t remember much about it. It was fun being tourists and showing him all the sights. We rode horses in the Garden of the Gods, shopped and dined in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs, toured a little bit of the Air Force Academy – they don’t allow civilians much access to it any more – hiked through the Florissant Fossil Beds, and participated in several other touristy things. Driving thru the mountains was very enjoyable, and I survived the somewhat nerve wracking ride on the narrow gauge railroad up at Cripple Creek. Needless to say, that wasn’t one of my favorite highlights of the trip, but the kids loved it.

Of course, even though we old folk were exhausted every evening as we headed back to the hotel, the kids were ready for a swim and a late movie. But they also had a great time picking up all those little tourist pamphlets that one finds in every gas station and hotel lobby. And I’m one of those moms that encourages it. I make them read through all the brochures and then let them argue their cases for what activities we should include in our daily forays. Vacations are a great source for developing social skills and having fun, but there are also opportunities to hone those reading skills that often get stuck on a back burner during the summer months.

The one activity I encouraged them to participate in was the license plate game. The drive across Kansas isn’t the most thrilling experience for a kid, although we did notice that since our last trip out west a vast number of windmills have been erected out in the Northwestern portions of the state. We tried counting them for awhile, but they were far too numerous. But the license plate game was a huge success. We managed to spot plates from forty-six states! That’s a record for us. Our granddaughter is in first grade, and she couldn’t actually read the plates, but she got very good at recognizing an unfamiliar plate and asking our son if we had that one yet. And this was a game they kept going until we were practically pulling in to our driveway at the end of the week.

I hope your summer was a memorable one in all good ways, and I hope you found time to squeeze a little reading in between all the fun and the chores.

 

READING TO KIDS

How often do you have an opportunity to read to a child, or with a tween? Once a month? Every night? Personally, if I don’t have that one-on-one time often, I feel cheated.

There is so much to enjoy when reading with a young person. Aside from the fun or adventure of a new story, there is the closeness afforded in the sharing of your time. And, if it’s a bedtime story you’re sharing, there may also be lots of giggles and cuddles. Reading with a child is therapeutic to both the reader and the listener.

I’ve been reading to children for over forty years. When I was still a teenager, my parents fostered children for the state of Missouri. They fostered children under the age of two years, and my mother often asked me to read to the little ones. At the time, I felt it was almost a form of punishment to be forced to read picture books. But I soon found that I loved the rhythm and cadence of the words, and saw how they could soothe a fussy little one who had been separated from home and family. I had no idea back then of the impact reading to such young children could make. I did realize that they enjoyed looking at the pictures and hearing the sound of my voice. I’m still not sure who benefited more from the experience, but it didn’t take long for me to get over feeling that it was a chore.

Later, when I had two girls of my own and my husband and I had fostered kids of all ages, we became house parents to teenage girls at a children’s home. It interested me to note which girls enjoyed reading, and what their reading preferences were. It led me to believe there was a correlation between the time the girls had been read to from a young age, and to their reading enjoyment as they grew. It seemed to me that the girls who had come from more stable homes had a higher propensity for reading for pleasure than did the girls whose homes had been more unstable. That may be faulty reasoning on my part, however, because I have always loved reading and my sister rarely picks up a book, and we grew up in the same household.

But I firmly believe that books should be a daily part of a child’s life. It’s hard to beat the nightly ritual of a bedtime story. A quiet book often is the best choice, because it allows the child to relax as they listen to the sound of your quiet reading. Once in a while, however, we like to mix it up and find something lively or just a wee bit frightening to add a bit more fun. I usually reserve these choices for Friday night, although I’ve heard much hilarity going on when Grandpa stands in for me from time to time.

It isn’t just the little ones who benefit from being read to, however. I still read to my son, although he is beginning to think he’s grown too old for that. I tell him he may be outgrowing it, but I still need that time for just the two of us. Sometimes the entire family piles onto our bed and I read to the bunch of them. Those times are the best.

I hope if you aren’t reading aloud to someone on a regular basis, that my post will help you think about doing so. If you have no children of your own, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer your time and talent at a local school or library. I’ve even been known to read aloud on bus trips. It’s surprising how many people will take the time to listen to a picture book if given the opportunity!

HAPPY READING!

Cordelia Dinsmore

 

 

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

Have you ever heard of star lore? You possibly have, but haven’t even considered that star lore is the name for mythical stories about stars and constellations. It’s a fun subject to delve into, and the summer months are a perfect time for it.

You may have stood outside on a hot summer night and gazed up at the myriad of stars shining across the galaxy. It’s difficult to get the full impact of such an activity if you live in the city or a suburban area, with all the competition of man-made lights. But if you live in the country, or ever get the chance to go camping, you’ll be amazed at the awesome sight overhead.

Orion is an easily identifiable constellation, once you locate the three small (from this distance!) stars that make up his belt. They lie at a slight diagonal, so you can hardly miss them. The Dippers, too, are fairly easy to find. But many of the constellations are a bit trickier to the untrained eye. There are books available with star charts that can help if you’re interested in becoming an amateur astronomer.

What made me think of this is the time of year. This time, between early July and mid-August, is known as the Dog Days of Summer. As a child, I didn’t understand the reference, so I asked my parents what it meant. I think my mother made some vague comment about the extreme heat being something only a dog could love, but my dad explained in a bit more detail. According to my dad, it all goes back to the myth of the Dog Star, Sirius.

Sirius is the brightest star in the summer sky, at least here in the northern hemisphere. One reason it appears so bright is because it is so close to earth, whereas many of the other stars are a lot farther away. Sirius, as it happens, is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. To my untrained eye, it appears that Sirius is located right where a collar might encircle the dog’s neck. Others may see it differently.

There are many myths surrounding the constellation Canis Major. Some ancient civilizations thought the constellation resembled a hunting bow with an arrow – aimed roughly at Orion. Some of them refer to this constellation, which resembles the shape of a dog, as being one of Orion’s hunting dogs. Others also saw it as a dog, possibly one that belonged to other gods or goddesses, or that it was the fastest dog in the world and a god sent him up to the heavens as a reward for his great speed. Whatever the beliefs, people have, in the past, recognized that when Sirius appears shortly after sunrise, the hot, dry days of summer are upon us. Some even offered red dog sacrifices to appease the gods during this time. Yuck!

I’ve read several middle grade books lately that integrate the stars and even some of the myths surrounding them. One is Winter Sky, by Patricia Reilly Giff. Another one that I just finished is The Same Stuff as Stars, by Katherine Paterson. Wish You Weren’t, by Sherrie Petersen, a fellow indie author, also deals in star lore, and you might want to check out Cyclesby Lois Decker Brown, and The Candle Star, by Michelle Athearn Isenhoff. You can find those last two FREE on Amazon. And if you’re into picture books, look for The Little Moon Princess, by Y. J. Lee. All of these books feature astronomical bodies and are lovely reads.

I hope you all have an opportunity to observe the bright lights up in the heavens, and possibly learn more about them, along with all the other constellations that are out there. If you’ve already explored these distant bodies, I’d love to hear of your experiences. Sharing our knowledge and life experiences is a great way to open doors of friendship and expand our minds and hearts.

HAPPY READING!

Cordelia Dinsmore

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring the Possibilities

My brother taught me to write my name when I was four years old. Even then I was a people pleaser, and I looked up to my big brother and knew he would steer me in the right direction, but what drove me the most to learn that skill was his assurance that one day people would want my autograph, so I needed to be prepared.

Of course, when my mother discovered my name scribbled along the edge of the back screen door, she wasn’t impressed in the least. I remember being crestfallen that she wasn’t proud of my new-found accomplishment, so I lied and said the boy next door had done it. After she washed my mouth out with soap for being untruthful, I decided to find less conspicuous places to leave my mark.

I often wondered, in later years, if that one small comment from my brother served as a subliminal message for me. It was years later before I discovered that I had a love for writing, and more years before I worked up the courage to submit anything for others to critique. But perhaps my brother’s encouragement planted a seed in my brain that simply waited for the right time to sprout. To date, I’ve not had a large number of people request my autograph, but it has happened a few times.

My point in relating this little story is to suggest that it is never too early to offer possibilities for our children to consider. It may seem silly to talk with very young children about career choices, but I think it is wise to let them explore as many outlets as we can in an effort to pique their interests. It doesn’t have to involve a lot of money or fancy equipment. Sometimes a box of craft supplies and a bit of our time is a great start. By letting our children express themselves with writing and drawing, and then talking with them about their creations, gives us some insight into their interests and hidden talents.

A case in point: My son takes piano lessons. It delights me to watch him read the music and then create the sound on the keyboard. My family is, for the most part, musically talented. But many of us play and sing by ear, and cannot read the music. At least, not well enough to count. But my son is adopted, so he did not inherit that particular skill from my line. What he does have is the ability to hit the right notes and maintain the correct beat. Neither of my girls took any interest in music lessons, and sometimes it’s a battle to enforce practice times with my son, but I know he enjoys the fact that he is learning to play, and I hope someday he has children of his own to encourage.

But I didn’t realize how his playing is affecting my granddaughter. She’s usually playing in the other room while he practices since he doesn’t care for an audience, but he’s still influencing her. Every once in a while she will ask if she can play the piano, so I pull the bench out for her, and she quietly plinks away for twenty minutes or so. She’s four years old, and the type who would much rather dance than play, but the other night, after half an hour or so of playing, she came to me and said, “I finished my song, Nana.”

She handed me a spiral notebook I had bought for her when I got my son’s school supplies. She had filled one entire page with scribbles, top to bottom, margin to margin. This was the ‘song’ she had been composing over the last several weeks. I let her know how proud I was of her for creating such a masterpiece, and hopefully hid my disappointment that it wasn’t a novel.

So if you have young children, please give them opportunities to explore and develop their intellect and motor skills. Any time they are using their hands, whether it’s holding a pencil, a paintbrush, or digging in the sand, they are growing and honing skills. And if you are a young person, don’t fear trying new ways to express yourself and explore new skills. Even if you find it’s something that doesn’t interest you currently, it may serve as the beginning of something that will grow inside of you and eventually bloom into an amazing talent.