How do master storytellers develop empathy, resilience, and emotional maturity in their middle grade readers? Sometimes it’s by being tough. These authors aren’t afraid to go emotionally deep in their writing. They tell stories outside what’s considered age-appropriate, write against type, or make readers laugh in the darkest of times. The five Do’s and one Don’t below represent the wisdom of writers who have touched the hearts of young readers. Each is paired with a book that is a both a great story and a master class in how to go deeper into your writing. Dare to be profound!
- Don’t Limit Subject Matter Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
A thirteen-year-old boy becomes a father, showing us that subject matter, if handled with honesty and sensitivity, shouldn’t have borders. This gorgeously written story of love and loss leaves readers wiser and more compassionate.
- Do Break Hearts! Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Part angel, part grifter-in-training, twelve-year-old Louisiana is forced by her inscrutable ‘granny’ to move away from the town she’s come to love and the only friends she’s ever had. They quickly run out of gas, food, and shelter. Readers share Louisiana’s heartbreak, but they also share her resilience, goodness, and ability to love and forgive. We could all learn something from Louisiana.
- Do Let Humor Lighten Up the Dark One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia
Three girls, ages eleven, nine, and seven, who’ve never been out of Brooklyn, fly to Oakland, California to meet the mother who abandoned them. It’s 1968 and instead of seeing Disneyland, they end up in a day camp run by the Blank Panthers. The novel is moving, eye-opening—and funny. Williams’s masterful use of humor makes the sadness bearable while showing readers the girls’ growing awareness of injustice.
- Do Create an Unexpected Hero The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
Mason Buttle is an oversized boy who has difficulty reading or writing. In other words, he’s a perfect target for bullying. Yet he’s the kind of guy who’d make a perfect friend, if only kids could look past his disabilities and see his kind heart and brave spirit. As author Leslie Connor says, “I aim to present academic underdogs as multifaceted humans,” and in this book, she lights the way for us all.
5. Do Dare to Face the Worst! Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles; Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson; The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin; The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Sometimes the ones we love die. These books handle death with love, sensitivity, and great respect for young readers. Enough said.
If you’d like to add a Do or Don’t to this list, I’d love to read it! Please write it in the comment section below, along with the title and author of a book that illustrates how it’s done.