Like all writers worth their print cartridges, I read a lot. While I write primarily for middle-grade readers I read a variety of books: adult fiction, non-fiction, biography, memoir, young adult and, of course, middle-grade fiction. Good writing inspires me, no matter the source.
However, there’s something extra special about finding a middle-grade novel that hits all the right notes; I get a thrill in the presence of greatness. And while there are certainly other books that qualify, here are five novels that inspire me to be a better writer.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo
I was working on a novel for adults when I first read this book, and was frustrated with my progress. I was floundering in the middle, unsure where my story was supposed to go. BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE was like a lungful of clean air, and I decided I’d set aside my work-in-progress to write a children’s novel with a clear beginning, middle, and end. I needed a goal that felt both manageable and worthwhile (neither of which could be said about my project). Opal Buloni’s story gave me permission to try and write a story that mattered to me.
SAHARA SPECIAL by Esmé Raji Codell
This story reinforces the power of writing a book that is both poignant and funny. Fifth-grader Sahara’s school file contains evidence she belongs in special ed but Sahara keeps her own file in the form of her book, “Heart-Wrenching Life Story and Amazing Adventures.” These days I pick up SAHARA SPECIAL for a little fix of all-star teacher Miss Pointy, and to remind myself to write characters who feel deeply and who make the reader care just as deeply.
A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban
This book has short chapters, many one-page in length. It motivates me to use concise language to portray my characters and their lives. Linda Urban creates vivid imagery with so few words it’s downright inspirational (once I get over the feelings of intimidation). Plus, can I just say Wheeler Diggs is one of the best boy characters ever? I have a mad crush on him and wish he’d been my friend in elementary school.
EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL OUT OF A TREE by Lauren Tarshis
Again, another book that tugs at your heartstrings while making you laugh out loud. Emma-Jean is a true original and her socially awkward take on middle school gets the reader rooting for her. This book inspires me because the plot isn’t filled with cliffhangers and sword fights, but is merely, yet powerfully, the story of a girl learning how to form new relationships.
HOW TO STEAL A DOG by Barbara O’Connor
The premise of this book, a destitute family living in a car, could easily drag a story into such a dark place a reader wouldn’t want to follow. But Georgina’s story is told in such a humorously matter-of-fact way, you can’t help but go along for the ride. Especially with an opening like this: The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car. Barbara O’Connor knows how to raise the stakes and increase tension, and I take a peek at this story to help me do the same.
So what about you? Are there books you keep on hand to get you over the rough spots of a draft or revision? Stories you return to because they remind you what it’s like being eleven? What books inspire you as a reader and/or writer?
Tracy Abell continues to read and read in order to soak up inspiration. She also writes and writes, in hopes of someday achieving her own literary greatness.