Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Me and Middle School Have This Thing Going On

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Me and Middle School Have This Thing Going On

Article excerpt

I've been writing for a living for most of my adult life--as a broadcast journalist, in public relations and in my own business. But in recent years, if I can be said to specialise in anything, it's in writing novels for 11 to 14 year olds. Henry Hoey Hobson is widely studied in Years 5 to 7 and stars a 12 year old boy who is drowning in the treacherous waters of Year 7. Dust, a coming-of-age drama set in 1970s rural Queensland, has some mature themes that make it more accessible for Years 8 and 9. My latest novel Intruder has much of the action taking place in the lead-up to protagonist Kat Jones' 15th birthday and is being set for Years 8 and 9. My current work-in-progress How to destroy earth (Part One) features 13 year old male and female protagonists and is aimed at lower middle school (Years 5-7).

Clearly there is a pattern here. So what is it about writing for middle school that I find so appealing? To be honest, I love the age group. I've had adolescents at home for more than a decade--stepchildren, children and their entourage of friends--and have always been fascinated by their endearing mix of humour, enthusiasm, courage and uncertainty in the face of change. Everything I have observed and absorbed from them, and from my own vivid recollections of adolescence, I have poured it into my novels.

How do I go about engaging older readers? I write about the things that they care about--family, friends, fitting in, finding their tribe--and the things that I care about--applying yourself, accepting diversity, building resilience, being true to yourself and to others. But I'm far from a didactic writer. I don't believe in joining all the dots. I respect my readers and allow them to draw their own conclusions about what the story means to them.

What is my favourite strategy to engage readers? I inject a lot of humour and wit into my characters (kids love to laugh and if you want them to hang in for a novel-length work, you need to make it entertaining). I use playful language and emotionally charged scenes and every tool in my writers' toolbox to draw readers into my fictional world so that they can identify with my characters and empathise with their struggles. …

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