Last month fellow MUFer Sarah Aronson and I were happy to learn that a panel we proposed for this year’s National Council of Teachers of English (aka NCTE) was accepted. The topic is “Our Mighty Girls”, and we’ll be talking about how young middle grade series featuring strong female heroes can help build empathy and demonstrate peaceful problem-solving to all readers. Unless the conference’s organizers decide to give us a half a day or so, I’m afraid we’ll be hard pressed to say all we want!
Our two fellow panelists are:
Kate Hannigan, author of
Cousins Willow and Delia lead a diverse cast of characters who solve their challenges with smarts, humor, compassion and yes, sweets!
And Crystal Allen, author of
Mya, a true free spirit, longs to be a cowgirl. She meets issues of bullying, name-calling and miscommunication with enough spirit for ten kids and a heart big enough to both learn and forgive.
debuts this month, and features a main character who knows what it’s like to work hard, be patient and never give up if you want to reach your goal.
The third book of my CODY series
is just out (more about that at the end of this post!)
Writing our proposal got us thinking about how many wonderful series there are for young middle graders, and how they pave the way for longer, more complex books without skimping on character development or rich themes. Readers become long-term friends with these characters, and grow along with them. Two of my current-and-all-time-favorites are hilarious, heart-tugging “Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee, and droll, outside the box “Ivy and Bean” by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall.
And, to give away my age once and for all, here are three I loved when I was eight or nine:
Best friends forever and ever!
Who didn’t want to be Pippi? Or at least her friend?
Need I say more? That name has become synonymous with childhood.
Which are your favorites, old or new?
I started writing my CODY books as a sort of antidote to my heavier-duty middle grade novels. I wanted to write funny. Simple. I wanted to stay in the light, away from the dark. But as I got to know Cody, a girl who feels empathy for everyone and everything (including skunks and Madagascar hissing cockroaches), I realized it was going to be more complicated than I thought. Children feel things through and through. They feel joy in their toes, sorrow in their bellies, confusion prickling their skin. This might be truest of all for the younger middle grade reader.
So even when I’m writing about things that seems simple on the surface–a lost cat, a mean teacher, a first sleep-over, a big brother who’s sad–I try to honor how large they loom in Cody’s budding life. Funny and happy as she mostly is, Cody puzzles her way through all sorts of dilemmas. In the newest book, she learns what it means to wrestle with a conscience. Whew. It’s mighty hard. But then, Cody is a mighty girl.
To celebrate all the Mighty Girls, I’m giving away a copy of the new CODY as well as the first two books, “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness” and “Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe”. Leave a comment below to enter. (U.S. readers only, please).