When I was in 5th grade, I was skinny as a bean-pole, and short. I had close-cropped dark hair, and long legs that could run faster than any other kid, except maybe Andy Johnson. He beat me sometimes, but only if I had a bad start.
One day at recess, I decided to try football. Usually, I hung out near the tetherball poles, or the bars, but that day I was feeling spunky. I didn't know much about football, but it didn't look too hard. I joined a team, ran around for a few minutes, and was feeling pretty good about my new sport.
Out of the blue, I had the ball in my hands, and a wide open field. I ran. Shouting voices behind me filled the air. I was amazing! No one could catch me! I crossed the goal line at breakneck speed, then turned to find my teammates yelling in shock and anger. I had just scored a touchdown for the other team.
Each year, I tell my 5th grade class about this experience I had. We talk about character descriptions in our writing, and about how to bring the elements of emotion into play. A good writer helps the reader feel the emotions of the character and the character's experiences. The reader wants to feel as if they are there at the recess football game.
I still vividly remember the stab of confusion, which quickly morphed to denial, then slid into humiliation. I don't remember if I ever played football again. We've all been there. How good are we at getting our readers to be there with us?
Middle Grade readers are infinitely picky. If the author doesn't have the perfect blend of character depth, believability, emotion, quirkiness, predictability, spunk, empathy, interests, and just plain realness, a middle grade reader puts the book back on the classroom library shelf after just a few pages. Believe me. I see it every day.
Think back to your own 5th grade emotions. Find that tiny connection for your character to link to. That's how your book will go into the desk at the end of Literature Explore time, instead of back onto the shelf. Score a touchdown for your own team.
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!