Here’s a secret:
Although Middle-Grade books are technically written for middle-grade readers (ages 11–13, approximately), they are excellent study tools for writers of all ages.
- Middle-Grade readers generally have lower reading levels than your average college-educated adult, which means MG writers have to create a whole story at a literacy level that the vast majority of readers can easily absorb. (Which is also a great skill to have if you’re writing on the internet)
- Also, middle-graders tend to be more easily distracted than adults, so MG writers need to learn how to write exciting, page-turning stories that will grab and hold that attention. (Again, a skill that can be applied to just about any type of writing)
- And finally, the best MG writers know how to explore important, deep topics with a light touch, by wrapping them in hope, and humor, without preachy-ness (They are writing for children, after all!). Again, a very transferable writing skill.
So, if you need a breath of fresh air after reading all those gritty/dark/tragic/cynical adult books, and want to learn from storytelling masters, try these funny MG novels:
1. Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
“There’s something about sports. You can be setting fire to cats and burying them in your backyard, but as long as you’re playing team sports, people think you’re okay.” — Everything on a Waffle
Everything on a Waffle kicks off when 11-year-old Primrose Squarp’s parents get lost at sea during a storm. When they don’t return, they are declared dead and Primrose is foisted on her chagrined Uncle Jack, an aspiring real estate agent who has come to Primrose’s small town to care for his orphaned niece.
Primrose is the only one who believes her parents are still alive, albeit shipwrecked far away, and has to learn to get along with her Uncle Jack and deal with the pity of Coal Harbor’s oddball citizens.
She also sets a hamster on fire (accidentally), gets a puppy, learns recipes from her friend (a restaurateur who serves every single dish on a waffle), and gets bumped from home to ever-more-eccentric home as she waits for her parents to come home (if they ever do).
Everything on a Waffle deals with tough concepts like death, loss, family, and foster care in an age-appropriate yet sometimes snarky manner. It reminds readers not to take life too seriously, even in tough situations, and that sometimes the remotest hopes may not be so crazy, after all.
2. The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris
“So he tried to kill milord, like I said, but he couldn’t because milord kept hitting him with the stew pot…” — The Squire’s Tale
The Squire’s Tale and subsequent novels in the series follow Terence the Squire as he goes on adventures with his knight, Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur.
Yes, that King Arthur.
Of Roundtable fame.
With his signature wit and humor, Gerald Morris has created a retelling of Arthurian legend with a mix of original and legendary characters. It all begins with The Squire’s tale, following an orphan boy named Terence who becomes Arthur’s nephew Gawain’s squire.
Terence lived So Gawain and Terence go on a quest to earn Gawain’s knighthood, Terence encounters hilarious characters and ever-funnier situations as he learns more about his mysterious parentage, and discovers powers he never knew he had.
3. Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer
“I never tell anyone exactly how clever I am. They would be too scared.” — Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code
Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code was the first book I remember literally rolling on the floor laughing. Granted, that was when I first read it as a middle grader myself. But even today, even when I know what’s coming, re-reading the hilarious shenanigans in this book still brings a smile to my face.
Summary: Boy genius Artemis Fowl is in big trouble — he’s stolen advanced technology from the fairies and created a cubic mini-computer that’s 50 years ahead of its time. But then an unsavory businessman (Jon Spiro) steals the cube from him, and now Artemis and the fairies he stole from must team up to get the technology back before Spiro unleashes its power on the world and dooms the hidden fairy civilization.
Yes, there are two books in the series before this one (and quite a few after), and you probably will enjoy the book more if you are familiar with the world and characters. But even if you just read this book, the funny heist situations, clever dialogue, and will be a treat for readers of all ages 😉
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
“Everything in this room is edible. Even I’m edible. But, that would be called cannibalism. It is looked down upon in most societies.” — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
If you haven’t yet read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you’ve missed out, big time! This classic story by zany MG writer Roald Dahl features a poor orphan named Charlie who gets the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour a mysterious chocolate factory, run by the eccentric and reclusive Mr. Willy Wonka.
When Charlie wins one of only five golden tickets, he and four other children (with their guardians) are invited into Wonka’s factory, which has heretofore been completely closed to the public. Once inside, Charlie discovers he’s entered another world, where everything is made of delectable candies.
But why has Charlie been invited into the mysterious chocolate factory? Why did Wonka invite this small group of visitors now, after all these years? And why do all the children keep disappearing along the tour? That’s up to you to find out, when you read this book 😉
5. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
“Harrison wrote a two-page poem about his deep feelings of loss when his dog Filbert died, and Mrs. Minerva, the creative writing teacher, gave it a B-minus. Do you know what that does to a person to get a B-minus in Grief?” — Hope Was Here
Unlike the selections above, Hope Was Here is not so much a laugh-out-loud, haha-funny book, but it will make you smile. And warm the cockles of your heart.
In Hope Was Here, 17-year-old Hope Yancey and her aunt Addie are forced to move to a small town in Wisconsin to start their lives over — Addie as a cook, Hope as a waitress.
But all is not well in Mulhoney, Wisconsin: The local (corrupt) mayor of the town is running for re-election, backed by the powerful dairy company that’s been bribing him for years. And GT Stoop, Hope and Addie’s kindly boss, is planning to run for office himself and save the town.
Hope is about to get embroiled in the biggest small-town political struggle of her life.
…And that’s a wrap for March 2021!
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