I was really late to the party when it comes to middle-grade fiction.
I mean, really late. So late that the last middle-grade book I read was THE GIVER and I was probably twelve at the time. So, why, you probably ask, did I decide to write a middle-grade book? That was kind of dumb. (I’d agree with you.) But I’d also explain that some stories just have to be told. And this particular story, well, its two heroes were eleven- and twelve-years-old respectively. It wasn’t a story that was going to just bugger off anytime soon. I had to write it. There really wasn’t anything I could do about that total-lack-of-market-knowledge thing at the time. So I went with it and wrote it as best as I possibly could. Because that’s what writing has always been for me–an adventure into the wide unknown. I decided I would learn as I went, and revise as necessary.
Bahahaha, current me says to past me. You fool. You know nothing, Jon Snow.
But my name isn’t Jon.
You know nothing, Kiersi Snow.
That’s not funny.
So here I am, playing catch-up, reading books like the one featured in this here blog post, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente.
Seriously, THIS BOOK. I still can’t get over it. I adored it. It showed me so many things about writing for the middle-grade audience that I couldn’t have learned otherwise. It’s like Alice in Wonderland but more fun, more clever, and quite a bit less creepy. It simply delighted me in every way a book with a very young heroine can hope to delight. And the plot twists!
I read this book with my book club, and they had a few complaints. And I think I can explain away those complaints.
– It moves too fast, and changes too quickly. Well, yes! It’s a book that’s written to engage; where each sentence holds a mystery and a surprise. In that way, I found it completely brilliant. I realized how often I skip ahead when I read, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland chastises you gently for that.
– It feels like a mash-up of Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland! Heck yes it does! Our heroine, September, is aware of these other books’ existence, and is not afraid of telling us how much different and better her adventure is (though, in some ways, being able to click your red heels together would have been a lot simpler).
– It’s too ridiculous! Mwahahaha. Of course it is. MY FAVORITE KIND.
Yes. This book is silly. It embraces silly. It has whole adventures around silly. Also, there is a wyvern (see: almost a dragon but not quite) called A-Through-L because he was raised in a library (and supposedly his father was a library, but that is debatable, in a way that a girl September’s age interprets rather accurately) and his siblings were responsible for other parts of the alphabet.
And the ending. So much is said in this book about adult life, as understood by children, than you can possibly imagine. There’s frustration with adults’ seemingly arbitrary rules, which even as an adult I can’t help but sympathize with, and a really hilarious interpretation of bureaucracy. I mean, it discusses bureaucracy from a child’s perspective and it is totally hilarious.
That said, if you’re looking to pick up a book that is fun, and short, and totally full of life, check out The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.