By Judi Marcin
Exploring Big Ideas With Young Readers
Middle grade is my home. I would rather write and read middle grade than anything else. It is that beautiful age that accepts everything and anything as possible. Middle grade stories from marginalized authors are especially important because of the open-mindedness this age of readers embodies. Reading these authors’ stories during this critical developmental time is a powerful way to expose kids to inclusive experiences and to incorporate empathy into their existence.
One of my favorite podcasts, Narrative Breakdown featured a discussion by Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki storyteller, and Eric Gansworth, a writer and visual artist and member of the Onondaga nation. (As a side note, I highly recommend the Narrative Breakdown podcast collection. It is hosted by Cheryl Klein, children’s/YA editor, and James Monohan, screenwriter. The podcast addresses topics on the craft of creative writing and screen writing with a heavy focus on writing for children and young adults)
[Episode 45 “Authors Eric Gansworth and Joseph Bruchac and their editors, Cheryl Klein and Stacy Whitman, discuss the particular pleasures and challenges of writing, editing, and publishing Native American young adult literature.”]
In listening to the podcast, I realized I was completely ignorant about current Native American writers. My previous exposure had been from two works by a single author, Sherman Alexie, Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I had no one to blame but myself for my lack of depth. As a writer, it is just as important for me to read as it is for me to write. Clearly, I was not doing my job. Wanting to find middle grade stories, I was thrilled to discover Tim Tingle’s How I Became A Ghost and share it here.
This book is also full of great craft elements. In literature we often talk about great openings to books. For me, Tingle’s opening in, How I Became a Ghost, is one of the best:
Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before. I am a ghost. I am not a ghost when this book begins, so you have to pay very close attention. I should tell you something else. I see things before they happen. You are probably thinking, ‘I wish I could see things before they happen.’
WHAM! Talk about drawing the reader in. Talk about making me want to read more. Talk about making me a little scared but not too completely freaked out. As a reader, I am perfectly set up to hear a story. But I know I am also going to experience a story, first person, from a ten-year-old voice who survives, at least for a little while, one of the greatest tragedies of all humanity.
By buying and reading and requesting these stories we are allies supporting other writers, creating space for everyone.