“It can’t get any worse for Amy Finawitz. Her best friend, Callie, has abandoned their life in New York City to stay with relatives in Kansas for the year, leaving Amy to cope with eighth grade alone. Thankfully—or not—God sends Amy a replacement friend in the form of Miss Sophia, the little old lady who lives down the hall. Miss Sophia hooks Amy into solving a decades old mystery left in a very old journal. The dynamic duo soon becomes a Terrific Triumvirate when Miss Sophia also asks her fifteen-year-old nephew, Beryl, a Lubavitch Jew, to join their little investigative team.
And if Amy thought her year couldn’t get anymore random, she can add the following items to her list: Houdini’s grave, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, cross-dressing magicians, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, crochet circles, Abraham Lincoln, a raucous rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, and a secret treasure.
To get through it all, Amy’s going to need a serious Chanukah miracle.”
First off let me begin by saying that I’m not Jewish. You might think that might make me less interested in a book of this nature or make me even slightly “lost” in my reading but it didn’t, I felt like I was learning something new…walking in someone else’s shoes through the city of modern and old New York. How appropriate that is for this book about the adventure of learning about another person’s life and learning to accept that everyone’s life and life choices are different and that they may not fall according to plan you might have made for them. The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz is a terrific upper middle grade work that will keep tweens and their parents reading until the very last page.
In Amy Finawitz, Laura Toffler-Corrie has created a hilariously sarcastic and witty tween who somehow manages to win your heart from the very first desperately written e-mail. Written in a combination of e-mails to Amy’s M.I.A best friend Callie and her hilariously creative selection of self composed plays depicting the scenes of her life in Callie’s absence, the book manages to snag reader’s with it’s unique form and unforgettable characters. With New York City as a backdrop Amy takes us on a journey of mystery, middle grade angst and ultimately maybe even a few life lessons along the way. A great book for reluctant tween girl readers, the cover will attract the eye and the humor will grab their interest.
When asking Laura to guest post on Stiletto Storytime I thought it would be interesting to get an author’s point of view on the process of writing for middle grade fiction. It can be a challenging audience and an extremely important time in the their life for the act of reading. It can also be an adventure for a writer as I am learning at this time for myself. So without further ado please welcome author Laura Toffler-Corrie:
THE MIDDLE AGES
The release of my debut upper middle grade book, THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ has got me thinking about what defines MG and how to write for this complicated age.
If you’re a child of the 60/70’s like I am, it’s hard to think of the word middle without recalling that iconic episode of The Brady Bunch where middle child Jan undergoes an emotional crisis. Baby sister, Cindy was all lisps, pig tails and Kitty carry all doll (yes, I was a fan) and older sister, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia was popular and fab in knee socks and plaid mini skirts. Jan’s life, however, was pathetically betwixt: all braces, glasses, awkwardness and uncertainty, beyond baby, but not yet teen.
Eventually, of course, she learned that, by embracing her murky uniqueness, middleness was next to awesomeness, at least that’s how the episode was resolved, but I think that those wacky Brady bunch writers sort of got it right.
The middle grade years are distinctive primarily because of their indistinctness. These kids are all over the place, emotionally, psychological, physiological and cognitively. Even the way they use language and vernacular morphs dynamically as they develop, as does their desire for independence and their chaste curiosity about sex.
Moreover, reading ability can vary dramatically during these years, both chronologically and from kid to kid.
Yikes. It’s a tricky group to write for, but it shouldn’t be disheartening. When you get it right, the rewards can be great. Just consider the variety of works by classic children’s books authors such as Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L’engle, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Sydney Taylor to name a few.
So, here are some tips to consider when writing for this group:
MG can be broken roughly into three age categories. Lower: eight, nine. Middle: ten eleven and Upper: twelve, even early thirteen. Determine your target audience before you begin.
Upward and Onward
Middle graders love to ’read up.‘ So keep that in mind when developing your characters. An eight year old kid might love a book called, Junie B. Ten Year Old, But from the ten year old, you will most likely get,
“Pulease!” (insert eye roll) That book?! That’s for babies!”
Moreover, yearning 12 year old fingers love to reach for YA books, the ones with provocative covers and subject matter that boldly goes where no middle grader has gone (or should go) before. (Think the book, Breaking Dawn: the honeymoon scenes). You can touch upon situations that involve romance and danger but keep it on the down low.
Truth, Justice and…ya know, whatever dude…
Language and tone has to ring true. I consider my book to be upper MG and my protagonist does say damn, hell and crap at times. There might be some adults who have a problem with this, but older kids know when they’re being condescended to. Most 12 year olds just don’t say, “Oh darnsies.” Humor is also a big element in my book. What makes your targeted aged group laugh?
A New Attitude
Where is your protagonist emotionally? What’s his perspective on the world? An year 8 old will react differently to a parent’s divorce, for example, than a 12 year old. Credibility lies in getting that right.
Guts and Glory
Write from your heart. Reconnect with your own memories. Be true to your voice. You’ll be an MG author in no time.
Thanks Laura! So much of that rings true just as The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz. Congrats on a great book and a wonderful protagonist that I hope we will see more of in the future!