Dream on, dopey

‘So, when are you going to write a real book? You know — for adults.’

How does one respond to such a question?

A knee to the groin? A sharp slap across the cheek? A ninja star to the throat?

No. Of course not. You smile benignly and say, ‘I already write real books. Kids are people too.’

I don’t buy the notion that books for children, particularly those aged nine to twelve — my target readership — are somehow inferior, or don’t meet the standards of a ‘book for adults’.  What does that even mean? Are the characters somehow illegitimate because they’re too young to shave? Are the themes irrelevant because they don’t involve a mid-life crisis?

Some of the wisest people I’ve met have been aged under twelve. Conversely, some of the dopiest people I’ve met have grey hair, wear suits and work in jobs that they hate.

I write books for middle grade kids for the very reason that they don’t wear suits and spend their lives in pointless meetings.

They have the luxury of youth and a lifetime of adventure ahead of them. I want to tap into that sense of, as the French say, joie de vivre.  You know, before they go grey and feel the need to buy a red sports car.

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It’s all about life on the cusp. About transitions. About security in the present and uncertainty in the future. Middle grade is where friendships are first tested, and sometimes found wanting. It’s where the simple things are often the most important things. It’s where a broken arm isn’t a tragedy; it’s part of the adventure. It’s a time of wonder, of first freedoms, of staying up later than you’ve ever been allowed before. It’s about failing. And trying again. It’s the first glimpse through the window of life and knowing with every ounce of spirit in your bones that there’s something amazing on the other side. And you have this one special friend, ready to explore it all with you.

Middle grade is life as a concentrate, distilled into its purest essence. And it is a privilege to write those stories.

So how did I respond to my inquisitor, the one who asked if I was ever going to write a real book? I flung a copy of my latest edition at his head. It bounced off, producing a red welt and a satisfying yelp of pain. ‘That real enough for you?’ I asked.

In my dreams.

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