By Lauren H. Brandenburg
We are the writers for the Marvelous Middles. At writers’ conferences, we don’t quite fit in with the crowd. True, we have characters that we love, worlds that we have delicately designed, and plots that will entertain and excite like everyone else, but we are different. Sessions on social media marketing don’t apply, as most of our readers aren’t allowed to use the internet without adult supervision. We don’t often bother pitching because most of the agents and editors are clear that we are a tricky group that is quickly fading despite our insistence that our readers are hungry for another adventure. Our writing is too long and plot driven for those early readers of picture books, but yet it is not as complex and introspective as the hot young adult novels. It is truly a union of kindred spirits when we encounter one or two other loners who are trying to find their place in the challenging world of middle grade fiction. We know our audience well, and as Christian children’s author’s we are held to a higher standard.
Our readers read voraciously by flashlights under the covers at night, doodle our characters on the back of notebook paper, and use our worlds to create stories of their own. They are usually somewhere between the ages of eight and twelve, however occasionally we learn that some of our biggest fans are a bit older. They are students–not afraid to use their imaginations to create in their own way. They are not yet limited by fear of failure or the desires of the world. They can still be transported to faraway lands where in their mind they remain even after the book is closed.
They are young and influential, and as writers for these young readers, we are not only held to the standard of parents, but those of our Creator. Matthew 18:6 says, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for them to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (NASB).” For this reason, we steer clear of romance, especially kissing and wondering eyes, and we are careful with the distinction between magic and spiritual gifts. We are not typically wordy in our writing for them, and we replace intricately woven descriptive passages with simple story telling so that our message is clear. The review of a critic means little, but the honest unbiased opinion of the marvelous middle and the approval of the parent mean everything!
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say.” As Christian writers for the middle grade audience, we have taken on a task to not only entertain but to show through our writing a glimpse of the Creator . . . His words, His ways, and His love. We may not fit in amongst the vast array of talented conference writers, but we are thankful for those who see our excitement and joyfully cheer us onward. It seems that it would be easy to shift our point of view, increase the age of our protagonist, and add in an element of maturity that might make our quest to find a home in the world of publishing a tad more encouraging, but that is not the point. The point is the audience–the children. Who then would write for the Marvelous Middles?
Lauren H. Brandenburg is the author of The Books of the Gardener. As a former English teacher and now homeschool mom, Lauren combines her love of “the what if” with her spirit of adventure and her faith to delight and encourage readers young and old. She teaches creative writing in her homeschool community and to young writers across the country. Lauren and her husband, Jamie, live in Nashville, Tennessee with their children Kensington and Jackson. Visit Lauren at www.LaurenHBrandenburg.com
Absolutely true! The poor attitude toward MG fiction in Christian circles only reflect the equally attitude toward Children’s Ministry in the church in general.
The Middle Grades are the last effective opportunity to create young readers. If you can’t turn a middle grader on to reading by the seventh grade, studies show that the likelihood of them being an effective adult reader diminishes drastically.
Not all kids like fiction, some like non-fiction which is equally important. Effective reading is a fundamental skill on which Western Civilization is built on.
What a wonderful and thoughtful post! As a middle grade into the young end of YA fantasy writer I appreciate your words and heart. And, yes, I felt my heart leap a little when we met last year at ACFW, and others like Sherry Kyle too, since we share that love for kids, and are trying to feed their yearning for good stories with greater meaning packed inside. I especially love the “art form” thought from CS Lewis, my writing hero, and like painted or sculpted art, it takes a whimsical mind not closed yet by the world’s pain or searching to reconnect with that innocent hope, to experience and appreciate the rich worlds we create. It’s a booming market, especially for things from an uplifting, wholesome world view. Let’s keep lifting that standard high as was for us, with hope on our banner. Bravo, Lauren!!
AAAHHHHH…someone who understands! Yes!
I get so frustrated at marketing advice from authors of adult fiction or, even worse, nonfiction, when it doesn’t even come close to applying to books aimed at young readers, or even teens (who are on social media, but it’s not like we authors can go chasing after them online willy-nilly because stalking). My books pretty much ride the edge between MG and YA and I end up with the challenges of both age groups when it comes to marketing. AND when it comes to pitching, particularly in the Christian market.
Add to that the fact that I write fantasy, and you can imagine how hard it’s been getting anyone in the CBA to take me seriously. I’ve been told repeatedly there is no market for YA, esp YA speculative fiction, among Christian teens — and yet I am literally SURROUNDED by Christian teens and middle-graders who read spec-fic. They just turn to the general market.
There are so many wonderfully true words in this. Now that I have children of my own my attention is quickly turning to the power of writing for the “marvelous middles,” reaching a group with words and messages that linger in the back of their minds for decades. Thank you for writing with thoughtful care to them and creating such an inspiring post!
Thanks, Lauren. I write for middles too. It’s a great blessing and a major challenge.
In response to Tim’s comment, it’s possible that there is a change in the wind. Mount Hermon is offering a major morning in writing for Middles and Teens. I’ve been thinking it might signal a growing industry interest in publishing books for this age group. I hope so. Middles need lots of good books. They are big readers and their minds are fertile ground for truth they can take on their journey to adulthood.