Mourning the Middle Grade Years and Finding Them Again

It struck me recently that I couldn’t remember the very last time I read a goodnight book to my son, Joshua. I asked him if he knew. As a teenager now, he couldn’t remember either.

“There was probably a night where you couldn’t read to me, Mom, because you were busy,” he said. “And then the next night we forgot about it. And the next.”

“So, it just faded away?”

“Yup.” *Mom choke-up*

Since then, I’ve been bothered by the fact that:
1. I desperately want to remember when and what that last goodnight book was.
2. If I’d known it was the last time, I would have cherished it.
3. Bedtime reading to my son is forever gone and I’m just realizing the significance of this now.

I mourn something now long disappeared that I had not even known was gone.

Along with bedtime reading gone of current children’s books with my son, so has the reading of books to him that I received as a child over 40 years ago. My mother wrote my name in mine, the year I received it, and who gave me the book. The Tooth Fairy brought me books from Beatrix Potter to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Roald Dahl. These books have now long been collecting dust on my son’s shelves.

“Mom, can we pack these books up now?” he asked, pointing to his bookshelf of old and new.

“Never!” I protested and gently dusted of books, taking them to my office where children’s books will never die.

These included my son’s best-loved books like Wonder, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Warriors, Flat Stanley, Goosebumps, Genius Files, Joshua Dread, Captain Underpants (the lunch signs are the BEST!), and Charlie Bone (Mom, this is THE best series EVER! You have to read it). And I’ll never forget my son’s excitement when he found out that the Charlie Bone series author, Jenny Nimmo, was blurbing my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road.

All too soon for me, my son left the middle grade world. He moved on to reading dark, dystopian young adult novels.

And I realized, sadly, he also moved on from all of our kid shows: iCarly, Big Time Rush, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, Drake and Josh, Sponge Bob Square Pants. Watching them with him made me nostalgic for my own shows I grew up with like Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Benson, Greatest American Hero, and re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show and Leave it to Beaver.

Occasionally, I bring up our shared favorite episodes to him of middle grade shows buried in tv-land dust.

“Can’t we just watch a Sponge Bob episode tonight? How about the Frankendoodle one or Pizza Delivery or Best Day Ever?” I asked.

“No, Mom,” he laughed. “That’s kid stuff.”

“What about iCarly where Spencer pranks everyone and does the prank song?” I started bopping around.

“No, Mom.” He gave me an eye roll.

“Okay,” I said with a sigh.

It’s true that I’ve grown with my son as he’s grown, but in doing so I’ve also relived many of my own childhood paths through his middle grade books and shows – and I don’t want them to end. I’ve returned home to a place where I will always be young, laughing myself silly, on magical adventures, and experiencing so many wondrous ‘firsts’.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s there weren’t books categorized “middle grade” and so I downed Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Jack London, Paul Zindel, and V.C. Andrews (all soooo not kid-friendly). They were my “middle grade” then, but now I have my son’s books, too (and age-appropriate!). And someday, I hope he’ll come back around to them just like I did. Maybe with his own children. He doesn’t need to relive his childhood now. He’s living it. And I realized, my son and his book world set me on my own journey as a middle grade author. What a wonderful legacy he gave me, even though he’s moved on.

He also doesn’t need me to be home anymore after school. He has his own business and drives to his restaurant job. He doesn’t need me to read him bedtime stories or cut up his meat. He doesn’t need me to do his laundry. He can do that simply fine (good!).

Don’t misunderstand me; I am enjoying the new phase of things. Watching him go to work, open a bank account, clean his room because he wants to (faint!), and calm his frazzled mom down when writing deadlines loom.

“It’ll be okay Mom,” he now says. “You’ll get it done. You always do.” He even helped me years ago in writing my first book when I got stuck on plot and character.

He may have said goodbye to middle grade for now, but I love sharing in the continued new wonders with him. I just won’t ever stop loving middle grade, not since I fell in love with it again through my son. I’ll keep writing it and reading it—and waiting for the day he comes back to it. *fingers crossed*

Have you ever mourned moving on from a phase in your child’s middle grade life? What were some of your favorite books as a child? What are some new favorite children’s books now?

 

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Donna Galanti
Donna Galanti is the author of the middle grade adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road, which the Midwest Book Review called, “A heart-pounding thrill ride full of unexpected twists and turns from start to finish”. She’s also the author of the follow up, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, the bestselling paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and writes the popular Unicorn Island series for Epic, the leading digital platform for kids 12 and under. Donna is a writing contest judge at nycmidnight.com, a member of From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors blog, regularly presents as a guest author at schools. She also loves teaching at writing conferences on marketing and craft. When she’s not writing you can find her on Twitter or Facebook where she loves to share all things about her outdoor adventures and children’s books. Donna has lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer, and has had a long career in corporate marketing. Visit her at donnagalanti.com. She is represented by Liza Fleissig with the Liza Royce Agency in NYC.
13 Comments
  1. I loved this post so much. I remember vividly when I asked my editor of my first MG novel if we could make sure its release date came before my twins left fifth grade. The two of them, their friends, and their teachers were so super-duper supportive of me on that whole journey!

    Reading MG out loud with the two of them before bed is one of the absolute best memories of motherhood for me, *especially* those childhood favorites of mine, like THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. I miss those days–even my son will bring up that he misses them too. On the bright side, I’m now working full-time in the youth services department of my local public library, leading book clubs, so now I can share my fave reads with many more MG readers. I’m currently crazy about everything Polly Horvath writes and Frank Boyce Cottrell’s COSMIC. I just started Elizabeth Bunce’s new MG mystery series, PREMEDITATED MYRTLE, and it seems hilarious and charming.

    • Christina, I love your stories shared here! And I still have my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth on my shelf from the 1970s! How wonderful you are still immersed in the MG world with sharing fave books to young readers. I completely understand about your book coming out before your twins left 5th grade. My first MG novel came out a month before my son graduated 6th grade to go on to Junior High and I was able to do my first school visit with his class–literally a week before he graduated. 🙂

  2. What a thoughtful and poignant post, Donna. Yes, it’s difficult to watch our kids grow up! The middle years are a sweet spot, which is why I write for them!

  3. This is so lovely! Unlike many of the other commenters here, I am at the beginning of this journey, writing MG and wondering what it will be like when my toddler is ready to read this category that I love, how it will change for me as I experience it through her eyes. I already cherish all of the things you mention missing, but am grateful for the reminder to hold on tightly to the memories we are making now, especially on days when that can get buried beneath the trials of Two!

    • Nicole, thanks for sharing! Starting a new journey to write MG is like being a middle-schooler in a way, with everything being new and you’re experiencing so many firsts with writing MG. Wishing you a fun and illuminating journey!

  4. I can totally relate. I picked up my daughter and let my daughter sit on my lap as long as I could. And now she’s an adult living with her boyfriend and just starting her adult life. While I’m glad she’s doing so well, it’s hard as her mom not having her around all the time.

    • Natalie, oh yes, that is hard! I vividly remember the last time I could carry my son upstairs at 6 and now he’s turning 18. I guess it’s hard for them to grow up at times–and harder for us to grow with them. 🙂

  5. Your post spoke to me! My son is now 38, and you can bet all of his books(and his sister’s) still sit on my shelf. I started to write nonfiction for middle grade readers once my kids were grown and out of college. In my mind, I think of my readers as sixth graders, as I focus on what my inner sixth grader wanted to discover.

    • Kerrie, thanks for sharing! I love knowing that at 38 their books still live on in you and your writing. Sixth graders are adorable as they are on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood and still hold wonder for so much in life. 5th and 6th graders are super fun in school visits, too!

  6. Have you ever seen Barbara Holland’s Mother’s Day (1980)? There is a line in it about her 8 year old daughter, who is now grown, being as gone as if she had walked into the woods and never returned. High school is hard, and a lot of parents have trouble sending children to college. I found it hard when my daughter graduated from college, because then I realized she really wasn’t going to come home. But both of my children have jobs and their own insurance, and that’s what we want. Really. But it’s hard.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Yingling! I haven’t seen that movie but I am right on the cusp of the events in it so am sure it would be an emotional watch for me. My son graduates H.S. this June so I am about to experience just how hard this moving on can be. Especially, as my son is planning to move to Hawaii for a Gap year with a friend and then go to college there. I lived there there 30 years ago as a photographer in the U.S. Navy but never thought my son would go there at the same age–and be 5,000 miles away! Even though it’s hard to see them move on, I am trying to keep in my heart that he is always my son and will always come back to me at some point from wherever he is. 🙂 I guess it’s why this post called to me to write it. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and challenges with this!

    • Hello Mrs. Yingling!

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