Middle Grade Saved My Life: An Article about Hope and Books from Horn Book Magazine

The Horn Book Magazine, May 2013

The Horn Book Magazine, May 2013

Once every few weeks, I find myself skipping away from my mailbox with a little gem peeking out from my pile of bills and junk mail: The Horn Book Magazine. It’s a wonderful journal that features independent articles, editorials and reviews about children’s and young adult literature. Sitting down with it, feels like I’m joining my peers, over coffee and scones, in an intimate book club. I pour over the pages making notes on publications that are thoughtfully recommended that I need to get my hands on, while mentally giving the staff props for acknowledging stories I’ve already fallen in love with. My back copies are dog-eared and pen-marked; I revel in the physicality of these shared spaces, the open dialogues between book lovers.

When I read through the latest May/June 2o13 issue, one article in particular stayed with me, Jeanne Birdsall’s essay on how “Middle Grade Saved My Life.” In it, Birdsall movingly articulates the importance of this range of books and how it is fundamental for children who are not quite ready to dive in to YA, to have their own literary space to explore new worlds and fashion bright identities. Birdsall writes:

Bad things were done to me when I was small. Lacking adequate physical defenses, I escaped into my imagination, where I could be all-powerful and the scariest monster was the witch in my closet. Imagination expands when exercised; mine grew strong and wily, 
and a pleasure to me, too, when the bad things were in abeyance.

It was noticed — my imagination — and praised until I was nine or so, when my mother started rebuking me for having too much of it. Perhaps I’d provoked her, paradoxically, by wandering in my chatter too close to truths that needed to stay secret. Whatever her reason, this was a blow to me — an attack on my best protection, and my joy.

I could have given up right then and withered away, and might have if it hadn’t been for books…I flew through those middle grade books, six or more a week, finding solace and hope.

Her writing reminded me of myself growing up, and the magic and comfort I found in the stacks of my local library. The triumph I felt at reading my first chapter books about strong female characters, opened up a world of possibilities, and I have no doubt those middle grade stories shaped me in to the woman I am today.

To read the rest of Birdsall’s article, as well as other great essays, reviews and profiles, visit hbook.com


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