I write humor for middle graders. It’s a fun job, made doubly so because I have a wealth of information living under the same roof with me – my daughter. Before she arrived at middle school, my son was there. So for six of the past seven years I’ve been living with some of the inspiration for my novels. A parenting perk for sure!
Middle graders are awesome! They haven’t yet lost that joie de vivre, so they still embrace the cute, fun, and funky! Especially girls. I paid attention to this when writing The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy, forthcoming April 29 from Scholastic. My daughter was in seventh grade at the time, and I decided to deliberately populate my novel with things she found appealing. What better way to connect with readers of the same age?
At the time she loved cupcakes. (That hasn’t changed.) She has cupcake socks, t-shirts, wall art, etc. So into the book I poured the ingredients for a cupcake theme – along with lots of cute cupcake images, via words and sketches! She also loved the inexplicably popular mustache trend. For that reason, I found a funny way to create a mustache motif in the book as well. Finally, since Tabbi, the main character, uses predictions to try to figure out who the right guy for her is, I was able to insert some time-tested predicting tools – ever popular with middle graders. 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers (also called fortune tellers).
Note that all of the above: mustaches, cupcakes, 8 balls, fortune cookies, and cootie catchers have popular and very concrete visual images. As an author, you want to think about the visual images you put into your readers’ heads. Sometimes you do this with subtlety, using carefully crafted similes and metaphors. But it is also okay to stick instant images into your books. Ones you know your reader will easily visualize and identify with! If you’re writing for middle graders, I recommend considering this.
My daughter starts high school next year. To be honest, I am a little worried about this. Where will I get my instant-images? Will she have the same enthusiasm for cute, fun, and funky? Probably not! I will need access to that kind of thing when I write my next novel. What will I do? Well… I do have a niece starting middle school in the fall. Hopefully she won’t notice her aunt eavesdropping and checking out her accessories at every family get-together for the next three years!
To read more about the creation of THE BOY PROBLEM and to see the trailer, click HERE.
And you can watch this adorable trailer created by students in Mr. Etkin’s class to find out more about the book! I saw this for the first time today!