Tag Archives: tween literature

Tweens are all little monsters, right?

When I hear the words “middle school”, a certain part of me shudders. Amidst the vague recollections of science labs or choir concerts is the overriding memory that kids in middle school are just plain awful to each other. The pecking order, the mockery, the sneering looks, the constant mood swings and drama … the fear that if you do one thing wrong you’ll be branded as a loser for the year.

photo credit: gurl.com
photo credit: gurl.com

Was it really that bad?


My daughter, who I’ve home schooled since kindergarten, will now be entering the local public middle school, and she does so with some trepidation because of what she’s heard from neighborhood kids about how mean some kids can be. She’s afraid of being bullied even as her own response to the slightest criticism is to retaliate in forces times ten.


Much of the middle grade literature I’ve read in the last few years deals with this kid cruelty. In every single book, there is at least one jerk or jerkette who seems to make it a daily goal to antagonize the main character.


Why is this what sticks out? Are middle schoolers all complete monsters? Really?

photo credit: vulture.com
photo credit: vulture.com

The hugely popular series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is brilliant on many levels for humor and relatability, but one thing author Jeff Kinney does is pure genius. He makes a jerk the protagonist. Greg Heffley is (in the words of his own best friend) “not a good friend”. The kid is completely self-absorbed and relates to the entire world with the intent of getting what he wants out of life—comfort, popularity, etc. The beauty of the “diary” format, is that we see how completely oblivious he is about the fact that he’s a jerk. We see his motivations (at least those of us readers who are not middle schoolers) as selfish, but ultimately very  human.


And so we root for Greg (except when he’s mean to Rowley—the rare face of the genuinely nice kid). Why? Because we can see both sides of the story. We see where he feels oppressed and where he shows ambition. We see where he feels embarrassed and where he finds triumph. We see where he feels longing and where he experiences fulfillment. These are emotions all of us can understand.


Yes, he fails to see the needs of others much, but that’ll come with age. In the meantime, we would do well to remember that tweens aren’t beasties. They’re just like you and me. Just … immature and self-centered about it. Developmental psychologists will tell you that’s pretty much par for the course.


What else is the norm? Idealism and a budding sense of justice. Competition and the desire to improve. Friendship and the need to connect with others. Independence and an emerging capacity to take on responsibility. Creativity and a seemingly limitless appetite for humor.


All-in-all, it’s an intriguing balance. One that makes for fun books and interesting kids. The future looks bright … as long as they can survive the 8th grade!


A shot B&WLia London’s books Magian High and The Gypsy Pearl both address bullying and the whole “mean kid” syndrome and how to rise above it by changing the way you look at people.

Keeping it Tween

A few months ago, I released my first sequel, The Gypsy Pearl 2: Craggy.  Writing something that readers were actually anticipating changed the way I looked at the writing process.  I had to be consistent.  I had to build on what the readers had come to expect after reading book 1.

 Craggy cover

One of my avid fans after book one actually offered to beta read book 2, and that’s when I learned a valuable lesson.  In my draft, I had included some darker scenes, including a scene in which sexual violence was threatened.  The reader wrote to me saying she was disappointed that I’d chosen to write such a scene because she would not feel comfortable sharing it with her middle grade children who had so enjoyed the first book.  She admitted her standards might be conservative and apologized.

I, on the other hand, did some soul-searching.  Did I want other young readers to have to put the series down and never know the ending just because I got too edgy?  While the scene was mild by most standards, not graphic at all, it was still not appropriate for tweens.  This was when I realized that tween/middle grade and young adult are not always interchangeable.  Some stuff is better left for the bigger kids and adults. Ironically, once I’d revamped the scene to take out any innuendo or reference to sexual assault, I saw that the story would still be just fine for older readers.  The younger kids don’t need that stuff—but perhaps neither do the big kids or grown-ups!

Tween fiction is targeted to kids in those middle school years. While they may have been exposed to hormonal and/or violent interactions, it’s usually not a norm in their daily lives. Themes that dwell on such things run the risk of flying over their heads at best, or upsetting them at worst. Given that a good book draws a reader into the world of the main character, we need to ask ourselves, “Would I drag my 12-year-old into this?” If the answer is yes, we’re probably not writing for tweens. We’re writing for an older audience who will be able to distance themselves sufficiently not to be traumatized. It’s one of those tricks writers need to have: not only must we be able to get inside the head of our main characters to bring them to life, we must get inside the head of our target audience and consider how they will respond.

Call it a craft, call it a balancing act, or call it magic. It’s a wonder when it works.

What themes do you think are best left for older audiences?

Emblazon headshot

Learn more about Lia London and her writing (some tween, some young adult, some adult) at LiaLondonBooks.com or follow her on Twitter at @LiaLondon1

Anyone Wanna Win a Kindle?

banner for contest

Attention teachers, librarians, tweens, and parents of tweens! Announcing a contest just for you…

To celebrate our first year and to treat you, our readers, we, the Emblazon authors, are giving away a brand new touch screen Kindle loaded with over 50 of our books. That’s a $300 value and hours of reading entertainment!

The Rafflecopter contest runs November 3 through November 17 and is open to anyone who loves tween literature.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Signing up for our annual catalog is required for entry. Current subscribers are also eligible. Winners must reside in the United States or Canada. 

What it Means to be “Tween”

I have twin boys who are almost thirteen years old. They’re counting down the days (38 days from today) until they turn thirteen.


Charlie & Xander
12 1/2 years old

When they get to call themselves teenagers. They get to play in the teen basketball league.

They get to join Facebook.

They’ve been living in this “in-between” for the last year. This almost-old-enough-for-teen-books, this have-to-have-mom-and-dad-preview-movies place and they are so done with it.

Thing is, I’m not sure they’re going to find thirteen much different from twelve.

Sure, they’ll still have that basketball league, they’ll have “teen” in their age, and they’ll have Facebook–but books and movies? Maybe not quite what they’re envisioning.

Because there’s such a wide range of young adult books and PG-13 movies. The “Middle Grade” or PG/G genres pretty much ensure a clean read–one free of explicit language and sex. Whereas there are no such assurances in YA books or PG-13 movies. Nowadays it seems like anything goes!

I’d like to see more books (and movies) like Fablehaven, Harry Potter, The Beyonders, etc. Books that have more mature language (not swear-words, but obviously written for a more mature audience) and situations, but that are still clean and “fun”. Because my tweens are still into “clean and fun”. They just need more.

I have only released one middle grade book so far (Jump Boys: SOS), and while it has more grown-up situations in it, it’s sill not very long so someone like my son Xander might not want to bother with it because it’s just not long enough to be “worth it” for him. On the other hand, my son Charlie, who gets intimidated by big books, is the perfect candidate for a shorter, more mature book. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like to read science fiction so . . . I can’t win!

This age group is picky–and rightly so. They’re trying to find themselves and I think it’s a super important time for us, as parents, authors, teachers and librarians, to provide “older” content for a variety of readers.

The world is in a hurry to make our kids grow up but . . . is there really anything wrong with holding onto childhood a little bit longer?

I for one am not in a rush to push my guys into young adult literature and movies. They’re still kids, even if they are almost thirteen, and I want to help them experience life (and stories) with the innocence of childhood for as long as I can.

This post is part of Tween the Weekends, a monthly theme here at Emblazon. To participate, visit our TTW page and join in!

alexshoesAlex Banks doesn’t live on Planet Earth. Alex lives on the Prime Colony Ship orbiting Jupiter or on a pirate ship off the Nova Scotia coast, or on a world called Insulunda where the land masses shift and move like clouds in the sky. Wherever there are dreams to be charted like stars, or fun to be had just down the street . . . that’s where you’ll find Alex Banks.
(Alex Banks is a pen name for YA/NA author, Ali Cross)
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