A BOOK FOR EVERY KID by Melanie Crowder
I love summer break. As a writer, it is my most prolific time of year. As a reader, it’s pure heaven. But even when I’m on vacation, my students are on my mind. As I’m catching up on the books that have released this year, I’m thinking about which kids will respond to which books.
I teach English Language Acquisition to 3rd-5th grade students. There is no way our three person team can work with all 250+ kids in our program, so I find myself connecting with students in the hallways or at recess, pushing books into their hands and chatting them up when they turn them back in.
One of the great things about my job is that I get to work with students for several years as they grow up right in front of my eyes. I get to witness their reading improve and their tastes shift as they mature, as their understanding of English catches up with their intellect and their interests. It makes me so grateful for the diverse and rich field of middle grade literature. There really is a book for every kid, every step of the way.
I know when I was a middle grader, my reading tastes changed dramatically over the years. I loved the Ramona books, The Great Brain series and The Westing Game. But I also sought out those books that broke my heart and put it back together in a way that made me more empathetic and more open to the world, books like Freedom Train, Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Night and so many more.
Last year, I had a 5th grader walk through my door in August who couldn’t speak a single word of English. By the time she left in June, she was devouring every Beverly Cleary book I could give her. If I’d had her for one more year, I know she would have come to love Kate DiCamillo and Sharon Creech and Katherine Applegate. We were just barely scratching the surface of her potential.
People often ask me who I write for, and I usually say, “for my students.” But that’s a really broad answer, because my students want and need all different kinds of literature. What I mean when I say that I write with my students in mind is that I try to write with honesty and respect for the people they are becoming, regardless of what kind of story I’m telling at the time. But I also write for myself: the ten year old, twelve year old, fourteen year old me. The literature that I absorbed at those ages shaped the person I am today. Some of it was hilarious, some of it was dark. Some of it was adventurous and some of it was sweet. I needed it all. And I’m so grateful for the writers who shared their worlds with me so many years ago.
I hope that as a writer, I get the chance to create all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. Some hilarious, some dark. Some adventurous and some sweet. And how wonderful that in the vast range of middle grade literature, there is a place for every kind of book, and a book for every kind of kid.
Melanie Crowder writes and teaches in the lovely state of Colorado. Her first novel Parched (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2013), was awarded a Silver Medal from the Parents’ Choice Awards and a Junior Library Guild selection. Learn more about Melanie and her upcoming projects at www.melaniecrowder.net.