An Interview by Deborah L. Brewer
What’s not to love about middle-grade books, so full of curiosity and can-do spirit? Writing for middle-grade readers is a great way to introduce children to a lifelong love of reading and a great market for book sales, too. In the United States, in 2023, total children’s book sales are projected to reach $2.62 billion, with Middle-grade books likely accounting for about 30%. Librarians and teachers influence many MG book purchasing decisions.
Middle-grade fiction is not a genre, but an age-based category. Middle-grade readers are aged 8- 12, while their protagonists skew a little older, aged 9-13. The prime word lengths for MG novels are fairly short, running about 30-45K for a realistic MG novel and 45-70k for a fantasy. MG novels generally focus on the protagonists’ personal growth and their relationships with their community, friends, and family. Middle-grade fiction does not contain graphic sex or violence.
An engaging writer’s voice, often written in the third person, is key.
Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, including the recent Daybreak on Raven Island and Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award, and the Colorado Book Award. A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many rescue animals.
Debby: Welcome, Fleur. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on middle-grade fiction with Writing from the Peak.
What led you to write for middle-grade readers?
Fleur: If you would’ve told me early in my career that I’d end up writing for kids, I wouldn’t have believed you… I got my start writing short mystery/crime fiction (decidedly not for kids) and shifted to novel-length YA mysteries. I queried and queried until an agent suggested I write middle-grade based on the voice. So I did. The Double Vision trilogy, a spy adventure book series for reluctant readers published by HarperCollins Children’s, was my debut.
I love writing for kids. The school visits, their honesty… The kid readers keep me on my toes. You really have to bring your A-game when you write MG.
Debby: How is writing for kids different from writing for adults?
Fleur: You have to get to the point, and not just because of the word count. Kids are smart, sharp, and see right through any nonsense. I love that about writing MG.
Debby: Can you share a little bit about your work as a literacy advocate?
Fleur: I fell into that too, just like writing for kids. I was working on the Double Vision trilogy and wanted to connect to librarians and educators in a meaningful way—basically, I wanted to be helpful. I was homeschooling my kids at the time and learned a lot about kids with reading disabilities or just reluctant readers. I’ve since done dozens of presentations and literacy conferences on reaching reluctant readers. It’s so rewarding and has really brought more meaning to my work.
Debby: Do you have a couple of tips for tailoring books to the needs of reluctant readers?
Fleur: Dialog, white space, books with illustrations, and ones that aren’t too long really work. In fact, there’s a real need for shorter MG books voiced by teachers, librarians, and parents. MG books have gotten longer and longer, inching their way into YA territory. That’s great for middle-schoolers, but I hope we’ll start to see more books for those kids who have outgrown chapter books but aren’t ready for those really long MG books yet.
You don’t want to give kids who might struggle with reading a big fat MG fantasy, as beautifully written as it may be. If you want to get kids reading, you need to give them stepping stones. No one runs a marathon when they first start running, right?
Debby: What is your latest or next project coming out?
Fleur: My latest MG, Daybreak on Raven Island, is out in paperback in August, so I’m busy planning launch events. I have an MG mystery out on submission right now (fingers crossed!), I’m editing a YA mystery, and I’m outlining a new MG mystery for younger readers. I’m having lots of fun.
Debby: Can you offer encouragement for writers aspiring to publish children’s books?
Fleur: Remember what it was like to be twelve years old. What were your worries, your joys? It’s important to step in your reader’s shoes, so you don’t end up talking at them, like an adult. Have fun. Writing for kids is a blast.
Learn more here:
An interview with Fleur Bradley from MG Book Village
Find Fleur at http://www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology, Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.