Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why I write middle grade: It started with an apple

Down the block from where I grew up, there was an old house with a beautiful garden. Unlike the other homes in Massapequa, this one had a chain link fence surrounding the front lawn. I'm not sure exactly how high it was but when you're in third grade and about 4 feet tall, the fence appeared insurmountable.
On each side of the walkway leading up to the house, there was an apple tree.
Now my memory could be playing tricks on me, but that year, there was this apple that appeared fully grown the moment the tree blossomed and stayed on that tree until it dropped its leaves in late fall.
Every afternoon, my friend and I would walk by that apple.  (For privacy reasons, I'm changing my friend's name and calling her Eve).
"It's going to be gone. It's too perfect not to pick," Eve would say when we rounded the corner before we reached the house.
But the apple was still there.
"They don't want it. Otherwise they would have eaten it by now." 
Eve agreed. "If someone doesn't pick it soon, it will fall to the ground and rot".
But it never did.
Oh sure, there were other apples on that tree. But none of them captured our attention like this perfectly formed, brilliant red, amazingly round thing of beauty. 
"Maybe we could knock on the door and ask them if they'd give it to us," Eve suggested. But the gate was always locked. So we'd slow down, stop to tie our shoes and linger, hoping to find someone outside. There was never anyone around (which is a funny thing since gardens like this don't happen by themselves. Somebody had to be tending to it).
We talked about what that apple would taste like.  We even talked about hopping the fence, climbing that tree and picking it.
"It would have to be me," I'd say. "I'm a better climber." But that fence was high and that tree wasn't an easy one to climb.
Every day we'd come up with a new scheme, but we never picked that apple. Eve wasn't the type of girl to do it, and I was too afraid I'd get caught.
Looking back, I wish I had.
Yes, I know. I'm talking about trespassing and theft so I'm not exactly proud of my wishful thinking. 
Here's the thing: If my friend and I were book characters, the story would have ended differently.
Those two girls would have gotten to that apple, and whatever the consequences, it would have been an adventure.
That's one of the wonderful things about middle grade novels. It allows readers to go exploring and do things they normally wouldn't do.
If you ask me why I write middle grade,  I'd tell you how important books are to people that age and how important they were to me when I was young. I'd also wax poetic about how so many MG books are beautifully written, talk about character arcs and themes, and ramble on and on about my favorites.
But maybe there's another answer.  Maybe the real reason I write middle grade stories is because someplace deep inside me, there's a third grade girl reaching for an apple.


Ruth Donnelly said...

What a lovely story and metaphor! I expect that inside most middle grade writers there is a third grader reaching for an apple.

nanmarino said...

Thanks, Ruth. I wonder if it's like that for all writers.

Pam Vickers said...

I love your story! Maybe that's why I write YA, I was always that naughty girl that would have snuck out after midnight to get to that apple (or strawberries in my case).

Vonna said...

Compared to most suburban kids today, my childhood was like the Wild, Wild, West. But compared to many of my friends at the time, I was quite over-protected. My biggest adventures took place in a tree where I was reading a book. I could be a thief, a magician or a wild animal and no one ever had to know my docile behavior was just a disguise. So I guess that's one more reason I write MG.

nanmarino said...

Pam, Sneaking out after midnight? Your story sounds MUCH more interesting than mine.
Vonna, Me too. Some of my favorite childhood memories were those times I spent in trees or on top of garage roofs.

Mike Jung said...

I didn't do trees or garage roofs, but I have many fond childhood memories of being tucked away in a corner with a book as my brothers and cousins rambled around the rest of the house. Seemed like the best of both worlds. Lovely post (as usual), Nan.

nanmarino said...

Mike, I think this proves that you're a more social being than I am. You had your book and yet still were around people while I climbed to great heights to try to get away. :)

Mike Jung said...

Well, I don't know about that, Nan - as time goes by I've continued to gravitate closer to the book in the corner and farther from the people in the rest of the house. :)

nanmarino said...

Could this be an occupational hazard, Mike? Writers spend so much time looking inward.

Lisa Schroeder said...

I love this post. Some of my fondest memories are during those middle grade years - so many adventures to be had, both in books and outside of them too.

nanmarino said...

Mine too, Lisa. Thanks for your comment. Btw, I'm looking forward to reading "It's Raining Cupcakes" :)

Anne M Leone said...

A beautiful post, a beautiful explanation of why MG writing is so important. Thanks so much for sharing this.

nanmarino said...

Thanks, Anne!

cleemckenzie said...

I know I posted a comment here last week and by golly it's gone missing! I also know I had some really insightful to say and that I'll never be able to duplicate it. As I recall I compared your thoughts to Keates. Maybe that's why it disappeared to become something forever out of reach. :-)

Guess I'll let it suffice to say I loved the story and I can taste that apple which will always be a perfect flavor since it's still on a tree somewhere in Massapequa, waiting.

Anonymous said...

This story is beautiful. I wouldn't have taken the apple, but I would have daydreamed about acquiring it through heroism, magic, or physical prowess.

nanmarino said...

Thanks for posting again, Lee. I've had posts disappear on me, too. You're right. There will never be a better apple anywhere. And if we did get our hands on it, I wonder if I would have even remembered it.

Thanks Medeia, It's odd how an apple hanging from a tree could create so much fodder for daydreams.

Karla Ivarson said...

Indeed, perhaps the owner of the tree did leave that one perfect apple out there in the hopes that someone would stop and ask about it...but what intentions were behind that?

nanmarino said...

I'd like to think you're right and there was some deep philosophical reason for them leaving it on the tree. But I still can't figure out why they never picked that apple.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Nan! Thanks for taking us on tyour journey. the two girls would have gotten the apple in your story? If I were writing the story I don't think I'd let them reach the apple, maybe get to the tree, yes, but the apple would always remain out of reach.