Last Friday, September the 15th, I celebrated the one-year-anniversary of the publication of my first book – ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’, which published with Wales-based publishers Firefly Press. It is illustrated by Adriana Puglisi.
‘It all began when the black cat strolled into Number 32…’
Grace-Ella is thrilled when Mr Whiskins arrives. She’s always wanted a pet. But Mr Whiskins has a secret. On the ninth day of the ninth month of her ninth year, he tells her: Grace-Ella is a witch!
Being a witch is exciting but it isn’t easy. Will Grace-Ella’s best friends still want to be friends with her? Will she be any good at spells? Can she stop the school bully without revealing her magic and breaking the witches’ rules?
Grace-Ella’s adventures are about to begin…
‘Grace-Ella’ is one of Firefly Press’ Dragonfly books, which are stories based in Wales, aimed at 7-10 year olds. You can find out more about these fabulous books here – http://www.fireflypress.co.uk/dragonfly
I have prepared ‘Lesson Ideas’ which accompany each chapter of the book and they can be downloaded from Firefly Press’ website.
It was always my dream to become a children’s author. As a child, I read and read and read – behind the sofa, on the stairs, in my bed, in the garden, in the bath … I was never far away from a book.
There were books piled precariously on a bookcase in my bedroom, a cupboard at the bottom of the stairs filled with books that would spill out when the door was opened and a visit to the library was a never-missed weekly event.
I can remember the first time I bought a book with my own birthday money – Eric Hill’s ‘Where’s Spot?’ I must only have been three or four, but I can remember being in the book shop holding my very own book bought with my very own money and feeling so delightfully happy. I treasured that book for years.
As a mum myself, I’ve read to my boys since they were babies. There are books in their bedrooms and there are shelves of books in the office. We browse around the local Waterstones whenever we go to town, we visit the library and books are always given as Christmas presents.
I’ve shared in their excitement when they read their first words independently. My eldest son raced through books sent home from school, marveling at the way he could read by himself.
Once reading independently, my eldest son began to lose interest in reading (from about the age of 7). It became a battle night after night to get him to read the books sent from school. I couldn’t understand what on earth I had done wrong.
We chatted about it and the simple answer he gave was, ‘I don’t like reading now because the books are too long and take forever to read.’
And it’s as simple as that. He’s learnt to read and can read well. But faced with a lengthy novel, he won’t even get started. He still enjoys listening to me reading stories to him and I’ll often find him on the laptop writing his own stories.
I’ve fretted and puzzled and worried and despaired over his reluctance to read, and have come to the sad conclusion that I haven’t done anything wrong. Since becoming an independent reader, he hasn’t yet found that one book that has grabbed him, pulled him in and left him wanting more.
There are so many amazing middle-grade books out there that I would love for him to read, but he’s just not ready or willing to tackle them. For him, he’s not thinking about the story hidden within the pages, he’s simply taking one look at the book and groaning because it’s going to take him ages to read. So the book gets left and he picks up his football magazine (which is great, of course, as he’s still reading).
So in terms of fiction, he’s at that in-between stage – beyond early readers but not wanting to tackle a full length novel. He still loves and wants a story that’s full of adventure and thrills, but one that he can manage in a short length of time and doesn’t look over-challenging just in terms of its length.
And that is why, for me, books for young middle-grade (7-10 years) are so important. I have often been told that books for this age-group don’t hold the same kudos as older middle-grade. They are not eligible for many of the prestigious awards out there. They’re just kind of in the middle.
That saddens me. When I worked as a Primary School teacher, I saw children, like my own son, lose all interest in reading when they reached this age. And sadly, many of them were boys. I got told daily, ‘Reading’s boring, I hate reading.’ Yet these same pupils were the ones who listened to me reading a story and asked, ‘When can we have the next chapter?’
I strongly believe that young middle-grade stories are the books that can grab the independent reader and develop that love of and excitement for stories so that they transgress naturally to longer length middle-grade. They are the stepping stone to ensuring a child becomes a reader for life.
When I wrote ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’, I didn’t have a target age-group in mind. I wrote the story that was bubbling away in my head, the story that excited me and made me pine to be at the laptop. As it happens, it is a story that is targeted at young middle-grade. And I am thrilled about this. My publishers, Firefly Press state that ‘Dragonfly books are scary, exciting, funny and fantastical adventures.’ And that’s exactly what they are – perfect for the young independent reader who wants a digestible read.
Of course, slotting books into specific age-groups doesn’t and shouldn’t confine them to that particular group. I was thrilled when an early draft of my book was read and I was told that the reader’s 11-year-old daughter loved it. And of course there are children who have a love of reading right from the onset. I loved seeing the pupil in class who sat reading at every opportunity and struggled to put the book away when it was time to work. These are readers who can read a full length middle-grade novel from a young age and that’s fantastic. These readers also pick up slightly shorter books, picture books, any book because they love stories.
But for every one of these readers, there are a couple of reluctant readers. The ones who don’t struggle to read, but simply lose heart at the sight of a long book, yet find ‘simple’ stories ‘boring’. The ones who have turned away from reading and who, unless they’re caught, will lose out on all those amazing books that are there for them. They will lose out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Once they find that golden nugget of a book, which I believe is very often an ‘early middle-grade’ book, they develop their reading wings and soar towards the amazing middle-grade books that are waiting patiently for them.