Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books

I strongly believe that writers must be voracious readers. Read widely, read critically, read for fun, and definitely read as many books as possible in the genre you’re writing. It’s definitely helpful to read new releases to get a sense of what’s selling (or what was selling a year or two ago), read classics to get a sense of what lasts, and read as a way to connect with your author peers.

Some of the best writing lessons can also come from thoughtfully and analytically reading the very best books in your genre or age group. If you look at the books that have had the greatest impact on you, stop and ask yourself what it was specifically about that book that was done so masterfully.

The best books do many things well, but I find I can often pinpoint one characteristic of favorite books that made each truly memorable and exceptional. Here are the titles I turn to when I want a book to show (rather then tell) me how to get it right.

For a lesson in voice: Ida B by Katherine Hannigan, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
For a lesson in dialogue: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (and its sequel, Finding the Worm)
For a lesson in making the reader fall in love with a character, even when they’re making terrible choices: Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
For a lesson in humor: The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
For a lesson in mystery and suspense: The Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson
For a lesson in just the right amount of scary: Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes; The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox
For a lesson in weaving together multiple threads: Holes by Louis Sachar
For a lesson in just beautiful writing: Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith; Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
For a lesson in writing authentic and caring parents: Loser by Jerry Spinelli; Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
For a lesson in writing unforgettable siblings: The Penderwicks by Jeannie Birdsall; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
For a lesson in establishing a sense of place: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin; Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
For a lesson in how to really write a novel in verse: House Arrest by K.A. Holt; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
For a lesson in packing an emotional punch: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

What about you? What novels have given you your best lessons on writing?

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Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books

  1. I love so many of the books you mentioned, and added the ones I haven't read to my TBR list. I like to study Kate DiCamillo's books, because they have such a variety of approach/style/voice, but they're all so very …I don't know~ DiCamillo-ish, I suppose 🙂 Her books feel both fresh and like an old friend. How does she do that??? 🙂

    Like

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