Confession: I read a LOT of middle-grade fiction. It’s true. In fact, I haven’t yet been in the young adult or adult section of my local public library. I see no problem with this, except for one thing: I want to talk about the books I read with my friends.
This is a problem because none of my friends read middle-grade books. Their kids read middle-grade books—lately I’ve had more book conversations with those kids than I’ve had with their parents (sad, but true)–and though my friends and I have plenty of other topics to discuss, I can’t help feeling they are missing out on something by only reading books for adults (and the occasional YA).
Lately I’ve been asking myself why I’ve been concerned about this. Granted, I like middle-grade books because I write them. But the more I read them, the more I realize there is a wealth of knowledge for parents in those stories, too. And that might be part of the reason why I feel like my friends are missing out. It’s a delicious secret I want to share with them, and with any other parent who will listen.
And since I have a captive audience today, I am going to do just that. The following are three parenting tips I learned from reading middle-grade literature. They may not be earth-shattering, or particularly exciting, or even new, but I’m glad for them anyway.
Parenting Tip #1: Kids need family.
In the opening chapters of Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCK, one of the main characters, Ben, has lost his mother and doesn’t know where his father is. As I followed along on his journey to find his dad, I realized how important family is. And I also realized how often I take mine for granted.
As a parent, I need to nurture those connections, especially with my children. I need to carve out time to play with my kids, I need to listen to them as they share their (often random) thoughts with me, I need to encourage them and praise them and just be with them. And I need to help them nurture close relationships with their father and siblings, too. Family is important.
Parenting Tip #2: Kids need choices.
In Ingrid Law’s SCUMBLE, main character Ledger comes from a family where each member inherits a savvy, a magical power. His family line is full of unique and interesting powers, but none are more intriguing to me (as a parent, anyway) than the one Ledger’s mom has been given; she has the power to make people do what she says.
And she does it with a smile.
Now, I don’t know any parent who wouldn’t love to have that kind of power over their children! But as I read Ledger’s story and watched him stew when his mom made him do what she wanted him to, I realized that children are much happier and more likely to succeed when they are given choices. It was a powerful reminder to me that it’s my job to inspire my kids to find their own greatness, not to require them to do what I think would be good for them.
Yes, I still need to guide them in their decisions, and I must set rules for them to follow, but I need to remember that, if possible, I need to let them choose for themselves. And I must allow them to experience the consequences of their actions, no matter how much those consequences may hurt.
Parenting Tip #3: Kids need love.
The middle-grade literature world is full of books about orphans who hope for someone to take them in and love them. One of those kinds of books, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart, introduces Reynie, an incredibly intelligent orphan, and his tutor, Miss Perumal. At the beginning of the book, no other adult loves Reynie except for Miss Perumal, and her love influences Reynie’s decisions later when he is in the most dire of circumstances.
As a parent, it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while that my love for my children can be more influential than I realize. In fact, it’s quite possible that someday my love could save the world.
It might not surprise you to learn that there are plenty of other parenting tips hidden in a middle-grade book near you. Parents, I encourage you to pick up a title and read. You won’t be disappointed. And please share any additional tips you find with us here. I’m still hoping to have this conversation with my friends someday.
Besides, I could use all the parenting help I can get.
Elissa Cruz has lots of children. Five, to be exact. You’d think she’d be a parenting expert with that many running around the house, but she’s not. Unfortunately. She writes middle-grade fiction for her children, but she also writes it for herself, and for anyone else brave enough to read it. You can learn more about her writing journey on her blog, elissacruz.blogspot.com. And if you, too, want to talk about middle-grade books, join her on Twitter every Thursday 9pm Eastern for #MGlitchat.