Writers conferences, writing magazines, and literary blogs are long on advice for the aspiring writer, and one the things I hear fairly frequently is the admonition to remember that kids don’t have the attention span they used to what with the giddy spin of the internet forever at their finger tips. Kids want fast-paced, gobble them up reads! Or so we hear.
And yet, time and time again the market has proved them wrong. Some of the most popular books in recent memory have been long, including the last four tomes in the Harry Potter series, all the books in the Eragon series, the Wildwood series, the Game of Thrones juggernaut, and many of the Percy Jackson titles. Classics like The Lord of the Rings and the works of Jane Austin have held up rather well in spite of their length.
What’s up with that!? Here are five things that I think make long books particularly appealing to middle grade kids.
1. Middle grade readers have time. Too young to have a job and not allowed to roam the neighborhood alone while their folks are at work, the MG reader has hours of time, especially in the summer to dive into a book that really rewards a long stretch of attention.
2. Most long books are long because they carry a reader off into a richly detailed and lavishly described world whether it’s Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or the Hispanola of Treasure Island. Kids who can’t drive, didn’t pick their hometown, their house, or even the sibling they share a room with, love to be swept away.
3. Many long books are fantasy, science fiction, or magical realism, perennial favorites among MG readers.
4. There’s plenty of praise from grownups to be gained from reading a book of weight and substance and there’s plenty of pride in the accomplishment of reading a long story all the way through to the end.
5. Among traditionally published books there is pressure from editors to tighten up the story and tell it as economically and gracefully as possible. I tend to have confidence that a traditionally published book that goes on at some length has something worthwhile to say, something that could not be said in a more compact tale. There are masters of the short form who have made a career of writing lean and lovely tales like a long string of pearls, each one a tiny perfection. But many authors at the height of their powers, even if they have written other short books, write a marvelous long story and if they are lucky it stands the test of time.
I am very much hoping Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book Echo is one of these. I reviewed it on my website.
Here are a few other books kids have liked that approach Moby Dick in length.
Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Fire by JK Rowling
Brisigner by Christopher Paolini
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
How about you? Do you have a favorite tome? Can you remember the feeling of accomplishment from the first long book you read? Please share in the comments.