Dear Middle-Grade Me,
You are just about the right amount of weird. I like that you wear the same sweater every day and don’t care how your hair looks. I like the yellow and orange hat you’ve grown attached to and how you still sleep with Teddy, your oldest and most beloved stuffed animal. I like how quirky you are, how imaginative you are, and how happy you are reading a book or being read to.
You are never too old to have someone read to you.
It’s okay to spend time by yourself. It’s also okay not to be “popular.” No one really knows what that means, anyway. Keep those friends who make you feel good about being you, and let go of the ones who don’t have a sense of humor.
Also, your mother is smarter than you think. Remember things she tells you because you’ll want to repeat them when you have your own children.
Make things. Forts. Poorly constructed stuffed animals that have all the insides fluffing out through the seams. Dollhouses and miniatures to fill them. Maps. Tunnels. Fairy villages in the woods. Jewelry. Games. Drawings of castles. Potholders.
Do the little things. Pick up a dropped pencil. Invite someone to sit next to you at lunch. Put the dishes from the sink into the dishwasher without being asked (I guarantee your mom or dad will LOVE this one). Fold a blanket. Pick wildflowers. Look for four-leaf clovers. Lie on your back and look at the clouds. Play in the rain. Write a letter to a grandparent. Let the dog in. Or out. Or back in again. Scratch the cat under the chin. Say a prayer for the man walking along the street. Give someone a dollar and tell her she doesn’t have to pay you back. Get dirty.
Be kind. You never, ever have to regret being kind. Even if someone takes advantage of your kindness, that’s the person who has lost—he has lost the trust of a kind person.
Don’t worry about boys. I know that’s easier said than done, but now that you have both a son and a daughter, you realize boys don’t necessarily like the prettiest girls—they might just prefer the happier one, the funnier one, the one who laughs at their jokes, the one who is comfortable in her own skin and makes him feel comfortable, too. Boys can make for really great friends.
Change is good—don’t try to fight it. Friends will change. Houses will change. People will change. Presidents and principals and weather and schools, health and family and location and what you value will all change. Love where you are and who you’re with. It doesn’t mean you’re giving up on everything else, it means you value the present.
If you can, travel. Don’t ever be afraid of looking stupid. Always laugh at yourself and never laugh at other people. Make mistakes. Make more mistakes. Don’t keep making the same mistakes.
Don’t wait around for other people to recognize how great you are. Just be your awesome self. And if some people are late for that party bus, well, they are just going to have to run to catch up. Because you are worth it.
You are worth every bit of it.
It is 1895. Stan is on a mission to find his long-lost father in the logging camps of Michigan. And he’s embellishing all of it in his stupendous scrapbook.
There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan’s missing dad isn’t “dearly departed” after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan’s fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama’s suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow’s peavey is at risk.
It’s a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, “augmented” with his commentary and doodles.
|Alison DeCamp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, graduated from Michigan State, and used to teach middle school and high school language arts. She lives in Harbor Springs, Michigan with her husband and two children.
Connect with Alison on AlisonDeCamp.com, or on twitter, facebook, and Goodreads.
Eleven, huh? It seemed like eleven was going to feel older than this. Like it would be a bigger deal, more of a transition, maybe even magical. Double digits plus one, the symmetry of how it looks, “11,” two tall proud straight-backed lines.
You don’t feel like that, though. Not tall. Not proud. Not straight-backed. Rather, you hunch forward, shoulders rolled, eyes down, thick glasses slipping down the bridge of your nose. Hoping no one notices you, but at the exact same time wishing desperately that someone might notice after all.
Not a boyfriend. That’s not what you want. What you want—what you need—is a friend. A bosom friend, as Anne of Green Gables would say, a best friend. A second half, the answer to your echo.
At the mall, you gaze wistfully at the display of BEST FRIENDS necklaces, one heart divided into jagged halves, made whole when pressed together. At school, the necklaces seem to follow you, to mock you, swinging from the necks of so many girls—half of them reading BE FRIE, the other halves declaring ST NDS.
You contemplate buying a pair for yourself and the girl Laura around the corner. You imagine presenting it to her—it would be almost like proposing. What if she refused to accept it? What if she said she liked you, but not that much, not enough to declare to you and everyone else that you were a matched pair, linked even when separated by the promise of that necklace set?
There’s another girl, Carly Carson, with whom you would love to share a necklace set. Not because you’re such close friends—actually, you don’t know Carly all that well—but rather because Carly is popular, and if she shared a necklace with you—if she agreed to be the ST NDS to your BE FRIE—then you would be popular, too.
You know this is not the spirit behind the BEST FRIENDS necklaces. They are not supposed to be currency that buys admission into popularity. But the more you think about it, the better it sounds: Why wouldn’t this work? Couldn’t you perhaps give Carly Carson your birthday money in exchange for her agreeing to wear a BEST FRIENDS necklace with you? And what if, after wearing the fake pronouncement for a week or two, Carly discovered what a great, fun, special person you were and decided that she really did want to be your best friend, and she insisted you take back the money, and you used it to buy milkshakes and fries for the two of you, and your fake best friendship became the real thing?
A couple of years later, when the movie CAN’T BUY ME LOVE comes out—about a nerdy teen boy who pays a popular cheerleader to act like his girlfriend, thus paving the way to his own popularity—you wonder if they stole the idea straight from your brain, oblivious to the more obvious truth… your fantasy of buying your way into love, of using someone to bridge the social gap, is not unique. It may actually be ubiquitous.
For now, Kid, try not to resent the girls who have successfully paired up. Don’t hate them because of what you do not have. If I could, dear eleven-year-old me, I would time travel back to the eighties and buy one of those necklace sets. I would smile at you and offer you half, whichever half you wanted. I would fasten the clasp for you. Then I would string the other necklace around my own throat, and I would wear it proudly.
Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died.
When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?
|Elana K. Arnold, the author of several young adult novels, earned her master’s in creative writing at the University of California, Davis. She lives in Huntington Beach, CA, with her husband, two kids, and more than a few pets. THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES is her debut for younger readers.
Connect with Elana on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
Photo credit: Melissa Hockenberger
Remember how in kindergarten, you ran into that playground pole? You were running flat out. Then – DING – it was like someone rang a giant bell. The goose egg on your forehead was so big the school called your mom because they were afraid something was seriously, medically wrong with you. Then, in first grade, you were staring at your feet while walking with your class from lunch and – DING – you smacked into that pole that held up the canopy. There was another goose egg. Another call to your mom.
Well, the good news about being eight is you will no longer run into poles.
Okay, yes, there’ll be more goose eggs. There will be the time when you and your older brother are playing. He’s spinning you around like a whirling dervish by holding your arm and leg. (Your little sister is watching – not her turn.) He loses control, you knock your forehead on the tabletop, and you and your siblings panic the babysitter. This is fairly impressive as you only have a babysitter about three times in your entire childhood, and manage a possible medical emergency with one of them.
Even now you sometimes run into things – counter, desk, rocking chair – any type of furniture really. Just the other day you managed to hit your head on the driver’s side door of your Subaru. You’re slightly taller than the car, so you’re not sure how that happened. But despite all that, between eight and thirty-something years of age, I can assure you, you haven’t dinged your head on another pole even once.
The point being, it takes you awhile, but you do get better at looking at where you’re going.
When I decided to write to you, I considered telling you specifics about things that will happen – good and bad, hopeful and depressing – then I realized that at eight you’ve only recently stopped looking at book’s endings before you decide if you want to read them. I don’t want to make you backslide by tempting you with any more life spoilers.
(Although, I do wish you’d be less mortified and more excited when your dad shows up in a gorilla costume to take you to your Diane Fossey report. Yes, that does happen. And, no, he doesn’t warn you beforehand. He wants to surprise you. So try to be happy. The only one who doesn’t realize immediately that gorilla is hilarious is twelve-year-old you.)
Okay. That was one more spoiler. But no more!
Instead, I decided to talk with you about poles, and knocks, and looking at where you’re going and where you’ve been. Know that some of the things that are hard for you now – showing people your writing, talking in front of people, new social situations – will be challenging for some time. In fact, I don’t think they’ll ever be easy.
Lots of things take practice. When you start something, you don’t have to be perfect at it. You don’t even have to be good at it. Not being the best at something doesn’t make you the worst. Failing at something doesn’t make you a failure. And you struggle through. It’s one of your better qualities. I’d tell you not to stress so much about it along the way, but I know you will anyway.
And although sometimes it’s a disaster, most times it’s not. Eventually, many people are shocked these things are challenging for you.
So expect years of comedy (and sadly some tragedy), keep a lookout for poles, and realize if you do get dinged, most times it just hurts for a moment. After the swelling goes down, it’ll become another hilarious tale. Just write it down and make it part of the story.
All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of slaying a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Great Winterlands of Razzon and finds himself in Asheville, North Carolina—a land with no magic and no dragons.
Or so he thinks. The longer Caden spends in Asheville, the more he comes to realize that there is unexpected and dangerous magic in this strange land. There just may be dragons here, too. But what if Caden’s destiny isn’t to slay a dragon, after all?
|Laurie McKay is an author and biology instructor who lives in Durham, NC. When she’s not working, she spends time with her family and her two elderly dogs. Her debut MG fantasy novel, VILLAIN KEEPER (The Last Dragon Charmer #1), is available now!|