Thank to to Sarah Allen for joining us today as a part of the official blog tour for her new book Breathing Underwater. Today, Allen will be discussing the importance of middle grade books and give a few tips to those that write them. Then be sure to stick around to learn more about the book and enter our giveaway. Enjoy and good luck!
Sarah Allen has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University. Like Libby in her novel What Stars are Made Of, Allen was born with Turner Syndrome.
Guest Post – The Importance of Writing Middle Grade Books
Do you remember the book you carried around with when you were a kid? The one you loved so much it started falling apart? The books that made you feel like you had friends, even if you didn’t feel like that in the real world? I’ll bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.
For me, one of those books was Socks by Beverly Cleary. I read it more times than I can remember, and I know Cleary has influenced me to this day. Other books that shaped me and moulded me were The Witches by Roald Dahl, the Narnia books, The Great Brain books, and so many more. In recent years I’ve been impacted by writers like Gary Schmidt, Beth Kephart, and Kathi Appelt.
This is what’s so important about middle grade books—they are the stories that shape us during our most shapeable years. I remember getting teased for wearing hearing aids, and other moments of feeling excluded in school, but the characters I read in books were always there for me. They understood me, even as I figured out how to understand myself. This is the power of middle grade literature.
Authors of middle grade books know what an honor it is to write for such a special audience. If you’re interested in writing middle grade books of your own, the most important thing you should know is this: Voice Is King. In middle grade books, it’s voice that carries the story, shapes the characters, and creates emotional resonance. So how do you craft your own melodious middle grade voice? Here are three places to start:
1: Tell YOUR story. I was finally able to tap into my middle grade voice when I wrote about a girl who had the same genetic disorder that I was born with. This became my book What Stars Are Made Of, my first book that got the attention of agents and editors. I would have given anything to see a story about girls like me when I was young. My latest book, Breathing Underwater, is also a story that came to me at a time when I really needed it. What is that story for you? What book do you wish you’d had when you were eleven and twelve years old? That is exactly the story you should tell.
2. Read the masters. One of the best ways to learn middle grade voice is to read the people who do it brilliantly. Some of my gold standards are writers I’ve mentioned above—Gary Schmidt, Beth Kephart, and Kathi Appelt. Some other favorites are writers like Adam Gidwitz, Erin Entrada Kelly, Kelly Barnhill, Kwame Alexander, and Jason Reynolds. These are writers who I consider masters of middle grade voice, yet none of their voices sound the same. In fact they don’t sound like anyone else. Read widely across the middle grade cannon and find those whose voice resonates with you, then see what tools you can use as you create your own voice, and your own story.
3. Voice is a Chinese finger trap. In other words, the more you force it, the more ineffective and unnatural it’s going to be. In fact I often recommend to new writers that they experiment with speaking scenes they’re working on into a voice recorder and playing it back to themselves to see how it sounds. Very often, I think, something about sitting in front of The Blank Page can feel so intimidating, like we have to put on our Shakespearean collars and produce Great Art. That way lies madness, and stifled voices. Write like You. Start by writing the way you speak, the way you talk to friends. Sure it’s going to be messy, but that’s what revisions are for. In that mess, you’ll find the sparkling diamond of your own individual voice shining through.
I hope these suggestions help you discover your own middle grade voice, and how important it is to tell those stories. Your middle grade audience is ready and waiting! It’s so great to be here while I celebrate the release of Breathing Underwater and I’m honored to share this middle grade story with you.
(Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR))
Publication date: March 31st 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Middle-Grade
Breathing Underwater is a sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.
Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.
All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.
GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a print copy of Breathing Underwater!