Tweens are Terrific!
You ask: Why write for middle graders? My answer: Why not?
The middle grade years are wondrous years. These are the years when anything can happen and quite often, do. Middle graders have a thirst for knowledge that must be quenched. From the practical like: How do I fix my bike? To the Academic: How do I divide 3 into 17? To the Social: Will anybody ask me to sit by them at lunch?
The middle grade years are busy years developmentally—and the rules change overnight. Issues, perspectives, and relationships are no longer straightforward. Kids are constantly exposed to new ideas, odd behaviors, peer pressure, and greater expectations. Any of these can be good or bad, and sometimes they aren’t either, they are just different.
Tweens are expected to adapt quickly with each changing scenario. How better to understand our world than to read and explore it from the safety of a good book?
Books can transport even the shyest child into a safe place to explore their feelings and emotions within a new world that may—or may not—share the same fears, values, rules that they are familiar with.
I write realistic contemporary fiction. In other words, my series is told in a present day setting with kids learning about the world with today’s technology. That may seem boring without flashy story elements such as wizards, dragons, or talking flowers, but it’s not.
I find everyday life is full of wonder and in need of exploration. I try to share that in my Ginnie West Adventures series. My main character, Ginnie, is a fun, spirited, half-orphaned, 12 year-old girl. She isn’t afraid to try new things and is very protective of the people she cares about.
Her best friend, Tillie, is a sweet girl who was abused—and then abandoned—by her birth father six years before. Tillie is a little timid, but grows in courage and determination in each book. She lives with her happily divorced mom in an apartment, but prefers to spend her days with Ginnie’s extended family on their farm, riding Ginnie’s horse, and helping to care for the assortment of animals that live there.
Neither girl lives in a traditional family with just a mom, dad, and siblings—nor do many of today’s youth. Realistic fiction can show how other kids survive and excel in the “the real world” without having to experience the pitfalls firsthand. It can also encourage kids to try new things.
Never rode a dirt bike or gone go-carting? Ever caught a real fish or nursed a sick puppy back to health? Milked a cow or ate a tomato fresh from the garden? Real kids do these things every day, but not every kid has done them or knew they could. Reading stories about kids in different phases of life, in different parts of the world, opens up all kinds of possibilities.
One goal of my books is to empower kids when they deal with difficult situations or help them empower other people having a rough time. When I was 12, I knew two girls who lived in abusive situations. I knew they needed help, but I simply didn’t know how to help them.
I reconnected with one of them when I was finishing up my third book: Simply West of Heaven. The following conversation influenced how I handled a few chapters in that book.
She asked me why the kids in our class picked on her. I asked her if I was one of them (I didn’t think I was, but I wanted to make sure.) She said I hadn’t, and told me that as a 5th grader, I had stood up to a bully for her (I didn’t remember this right away), but that act made a huge difference to her. She didn’t feel safe at home, but school was bearable because she had two friends there. I’m sorry to admit that I had no idea until I spoke with her that I was one of those two friends. I remember being friendly to her, just not being her friend, per se.
I would love to say we were best friends like Ginnie and Tillie, but I can’t. I never saw her outside of school. We lived on different ends of town. I didn’t always spend much time with her in school … and now I truly wish I had. I’ve worried and wondered about her for years. I am grateful to know I did something to help at the time, even if I didn’t remember … SHE did.
Kids see ugly behavior every day. Some kids observe it from afar, in strangers, and some kids have to live with it—up close and personal—in the very homes where they should feel safest … but don’t. Every human being, child or adult, needs to choose whether they will embrace ugly behavior, run from it, or learn how to deal with it, and rise above it.
As a former foster parent of many, I want to help kids feel empowered when they are powerless to change bad situations through no fault of their own.
In my books, kids don’t fight ogres with magic wands, but they do get a glimpse of how powerful it can be to have or be a good friend. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy stories as much as the next person, I just happen to believe that everyday life can be magical—especially when shared with a buddy.
Tweens are all about peers and friends. During the tween years especially, kids explore values and situations that may very well impact the rest of their lives. These are the years that most kids decide if they will embrace, adjust, or reject the values their families hold.
Real life can be messy and confusing, as well as fun, meaningful, whimsical, trying, uplifting, and satisfying. My books touch on all of the above.
My first book: The Secret Sisters Club: has been described as “Parent Trap meets American Girl.” I like the fun of “The Parent Trap” combined with the courage of “The American Girl” series. Tillie wants what Ginnie has: a nice dad who doesn’t hurt her. Although Ginnie thinks her dad is kinda lame, she’s onboard when Tillie suggests they hook him up with Tillie’s mom. After all, what tween girl wouldn’t like to have ‘round-the-clock’ girl talk and slumber parties galore with their BFF? Ginnie and Tillie enjoy plotting ways to get their folks interested in one another. Then Ginnie stumbles across her deceased mom’s journals and things get complicated. She realizes that getting a sister is one thing, but replacing the mom she hardly remembers, is another issue altogether.
Real kids lose people they love. Parents get divorced or remarried. Sometimes it helps to read about other kids going through the same thing.
Learning to choose good friends and disregard unhealthy alliances can often make the difference between a rewarding life and an unbearable one. And sometimes you need to reach out to someone you would rather not, just because it’s the right thing to do.
In my second book: Trouble Blows West, Ginnie gets on the wrong side of Pierce, the biggest bully in 6th grade. Ginnie doesn’t let it affect her too much, but the run-in dredges up memories Tillie would prefer to keep buried deep inside her. Things change when Ginnie witnesses Pierce’s live-in bully—his dad—flatten him during a prank gone wrong. The girls are determined to be Pierce’s ally, even if he won’t let them be his friend.
Although my books deal with hard subjects, they also embrace the wonder and hope that young and old need to survive and thrive. Mixed with humor and a tween’s perspective, Ginnie and Tillie do their best to keep their heads above water, as they try to figure out this thing called life.
In my third book: Simply West of Heaven, a blast from Ginnie’s mom’s past threatens to upset Ginnie and Tillie’s matchmaking success. The girls learn a lot about themselves, as well as each other, when Tillie decides the ghost of Ginnie’s mom won’t make a good addition to their new family tree. I like to have my readers laugh and cry along (with more laughter than tears) with Ginnie and Tillie as they sort out the new obstacles and adventures in their lives.
As a youth, I enjoyed such fun series as The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. Judy Blume’s many books helped me deal with the changes that tweens experience. Anne of Green Gable, Tom Sawyer, and Pippi Longstocking (not realistic fiction—but definitely a fun read) are characters you can’t help but love. Ginnie and my series have been compared to all of these and I am honored by the comparison. I spent many hours reading these kinds of books and encourage others to do the same.
If you haven’t tried realistic fiction, please give it a shot. If you have, you know it can be just as funny, endearing, uplifting, and magical as other kinds of fiction.
Laugh lots, love much, write on! 🙂
The Secret Sisters Club is on special right now: $.99
When Monique Bucheger isn’t writing, you can find her playing taxi driver to one or more of her 12 children, plotting her next novel, scrapbooking, or being the “Mamarazzi” at any number of child-oriented events. Even though she realizes there will never be enough hours in any given day, Monique tries very hard to enjoy the journey that is her life. She shares it with a terrific husband, her dozen children, an adorable granddaughter, two cats, and many real and imaginary friends. She is the author of several books and plans to write plenty more.