Identifying with Middle Grade Readers

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: November 15, 2013
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Today, I went on a field trip with my eight-year-old son’s third grade class to the Oregon Children’s Theatre in downtown Portland.  We had a fabulous time watching “The Magic Tree House” come to life, but more importantly, I had a great time simply watching all of these third graders interact with each other.  Before my son was born, I taught third grade for four years, and it has always been my favorite age, which may be one of the reasons why I am so often drawn to middle grade fiction.  But I’ve been away from third grade for quite some time and am in need of a refresher when it comes to identifying with that age.  Since October, I’ve been able to volunteer a few times in my son’s class, but still felt a bit out of touch with third grade. (It’s hard to identify with third graders when you are making photocopies in the teacher’s work room– though I know that is an important job!)

On the bus today on the way to the theatre, I was able to really take all of the third graders in, and I jotted down some notes about the positives of life in third grade, beginning with this phrase:

Life should be like a day in Third Grade…

It was a great exercise in seeing life through a middle grade readers’ eyes, and I think writing about life in the grade (relatively speaking) you are writing about can help any children’s writer identify more with their readers and their time of life.  I focused on the positives here, but the exercise can be done with the negatives of a grade (as there are always negatives and conflict in life) to balance things out.

Here is how my exercise turned out:

 

Life should be like a day in Third Grade…

Where being kind, caring, and considerate is expected of you– and earns you stickers and/or marbles in a marble jar, which then leads to parties.

Where you can still travel to Mars when you grow up.

Where you can become anything you want to be when you grow up.  Especially a spy, an artist, a computer game maker, a rock star, and a veterinarian.  And after that, you can still travel to Mars.

Where traveling on the bus to a field trip is as exciting as winning the lottery.

Where being placed in the same group as your best friend on the field trip is even better than the field trip itself.

Where extra recess is the ultimate happiness.

Where Santa Claus may or may not be real, but you hope beyond hope that he is.

Where magic may or may not be real, but you hope beyond hope that it is.

Where snack time is as important as breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  Okay, maybe not dessert…

Where playing “Bubblegum, Bubblegum, in a Dish…How Many Pieces Do You Wish?” is like an Olympic Sport.

Where a hug from your favorite teacher makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.

Where being caught in a sudden rainstorm during recess is cause for cheering and applause.

Where friends bring each other to the nurse’s office.

Where teamwork and working well with others is not only encouraged, but revered.

Where watching salmon eggs hatch causes gasps of disbelief.

Where the many tricks for multiplying factors by nine also cause gasps of disbelief.

Where you can go home and still want to cuddle your favorite stuffed animal at bedtime, without your friends knowing about it.

Where reading still rules.

 

After rereading my list (which I had to stop for time’s sake), I now feel much closer to a third grader’s time of life again and I can visualize this list helping me when I next work on my middle grade fiction.  Any exercise that can help us identify with our readers will only make our writing stronger, and I felt like this got me into a third grader’s mindset again. Maybe an exercise like this can help you with your work, too.

If anyone tries out this exercise, let me know! I’d love to read your lists!

Happy Writing!

 

-Nicole Marie Schreiber

 

 

 

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  1. ScrivaRuth says:

    Ah, this makes me want to write for third graders. The list for ninth graders is not nearly so optimistic. Thanks, Nicole.

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