I love going to school. K to 12 was great, university was super, and art classes are awesome. And then along came Covid and going to class become impossible for me. However, new opportunities arose with new online classes being offered and established online classes going on sale. Hurrah.
Currently I am enrolled in the Children’s Book Academy’s “Middle Grade Mastery” writing and illustration course. One assignment is to think of my favourite middle grade book I read as a kid and what I would want to write. As I am always trying to think of a good article for my blog, I have decided this assignment fits the bill.
What was my favourite middle grade book when I was a kid? I don’t have one. I didn’t have access to middle grade books.
I was in middle grade in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s when middle grade was slotted into the last years of elementary school and first years of junior high school. In fact, I don’t remember the term middle grade being used at this time for classes or books.
I was in the first grade one class at the brand new Park Avenue School. I have fond memories of this little school but looking back, I can see a few things were missing. There wasn’t a gym. There wasn’t any playground equipment. There wasn’t a music program. And there wasn’t a library. No books. There weren’t even any classroom books. There were readers but you weren’t allowed to read them except during lessons. I remember being caught with the grade two reader and told that I would get a spanking if teacher caught me with a reader from next year’s class. After all, what would I read if I read it now?!!
The public library was a rare treat as it was downtown. Since my Dad used the family car to get to work there was no way to get there during the week. When we did go on a rare Saturday, the selection was limited. The library had a small picture book section. Middle grade books such as Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, or The Secret Garden were in the adult section and I was thirteen before I was allowed in that section. So…still no books.
We did have comic books. My godmother worked at the corner store and that store traded comic books. You gave two comic books and got one in return. My godmother would bring me four new comic books to read at least twice a month. These comics were pretty worn as everyone in the neighbourhood traded at the store. My favourite character was Tarzan but not because of the stories. I loved the illustrations and I learned to draw people and animals from those comics.
We moved when I started at junior high school. Now I had a huge school library of……reference books and a few novels. Now I could walk to the public library and I discovered historical novels in the adult section. (Before you cringe about a thirteen year old reading books from the adult section, please remember that adult books in a public library in the early 1970’s did not contain any “adult only” material.) I know I read a lot but I can’ t remember any one of them being noteworthy.
It was as a grade two teacher I found my favourite middle grade book by reading the book aloud to the class. The books still weren’t called that. The middle grade book of today wasn’t yet written. The books were called children’s classics: The Hobbit, The Secret Garden, The Railway Children, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Farmer Boy.
I don’t have a favourite middle grade book from my childhood. But after reading this book to over 20 classes of grade twos or grade threes, I do have a favourite now - The Hobbit. The adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves, the enthralling descriptions, and the magic of Middle Earth have provided hours of pleasure for myself and my classes. It has been worth the wait to finally read this wonderful book.
This long path to discovering middle grade books may also be the path children today might be steered down. Not because they don't have access to middle grade books, but because the older adults in their lives who buy books might not have had access to these books when they were growing up. These adults may bypass the current hot button topics, writing style, and illustrations to look for books in the style of "children's classics" - their favourite middle grade books discovered when they were long past middle grade.