Whatever your political leaning, you probably agree that it’s been a bruising couple of weeks. So for my last post on this blog, I’d like to share a few things that have made me happy lately.
1- A book club for girls at Forgan Middle School in Forgan, Oklahoma chose to read my latest middle grade novel, TRUTH OR DARE. For the club’s seventh and eighth grade girls, as well as their teachers, to be able to buy their own copies, they needed a sponsor. And you know who sponsored their purchase of 23 hardcover copies? Delbert, the school custodian. The idea that this lovely man stepped up to buy all those copies of TRUTH OR DARE for a group discussing girls’ body issues, self-esteem, and related topics–well, it makes my heart burst.
A lot of folks want to keep kids reading–and they’re not just teachers, librarians, and publishing world insiders. Let’s be sure to celebrate the Delberts of the world. They’re definitely out there.
2-My next middle grade novel, STAR-CROSSED, will be published by Aladdin/S&S in March 2017. It’s about a middle school production of Romeo & Juliet in which the girl playing Romeo realizes she has a crush on the girl playing Juliet. This book is very much a middle grade novel–positive, gentle, and, unlike Shakespeare’s play, a comedy. Despite its lightness and wholesomeness, STAR-CROSSED would surely have been deemed too edgy for mainstream publication just a few years ago. But when I proposed STAR-CROSSED to my publisher, Simon & Schuster, they embraced it immediately–in fact, they recently highlighted it in their Spring 2017 Library/Education newsletter as a book promoting diversity. I’m also delighted to report that Scholastic has just licensed STAR-CROSSED (with a specially designed cover) for sale through book fairs and book clubs.
So yes: #weneeddiversebooks on middle grade shelves. And you know what? We’re getting them. Joining STAR-CROSSED, LILY AND DUNKIN, GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, DRAMA, GEORGE, LUMBERJANES and others, there’s Jen Petro-Roy’s PS, I MISS YOU coming Fall, 2017. For more middle grade titles with LGBTQ characters, click here.
3-A related development in middle grade fiction: tough topics explored with special sensitivity for the age of the reader–for example, Nora Raleigh Baskin’s NINE, TEN, A September 11 Story
and RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE,
and Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH.
My other book launching next year, HALFWAY NORMAL (Aladdin/S&S Dec 2017), deals with a different sort of tough topic. It’s about a girl who, upon returning to middle school after two years away for pediatric cancer treatment, feels as if she can’t communicate her story–until the class begins its study of Greek mythology. Not once did my publisher fret about the subject matter being too dark for middle grade readers; they trusted me to write something age-appropriate and even (yes, really, I promise!!) fun.
Ultimately, what I think HALFWAY NORMAL and STAR-CROSSED are both about is how books give kids a language to express themselves, and connect to others. I’m truly encouraged by the way publishers have embraced stories like these, which promote empathy, inclusiveness, self-expression and self-esteem. We’re expanding the notion of what middle grade books should be–reaching more kids, touching more hearts, and opening more minds. We’re also making kids smile. As we give thanks this week, let’s remember that middle grade books are better, and more important, than ever. Cheers!
BARBARA DEE is the author of six middle grade novels published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, including TRUTH OR DARE, which was published in September. Next year Aladdin/S&S will publish STAR-CROSSED (March 2017) and HALFWAY NORMAL (December 2017).