Posts Tagged ‘middle grade’

The Adventures of Kate Readalong: The Merlin Effect

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the “trilogy.” What I find most interesting about The Adventures of Kate is that, aside from Kate, the books are completely unrelated. There are no overlapping characters or locations. I suppose T.A. Barron could have gone on forever in this vein, though Kate would have probably eventually run out of adult relatives to take her exotic places or show her exotic things.

So, The Merlin Effect. Originally published in 1994. Kate states at the beginning that she’s 13 now; I feel like she’s also 13 in Heartlight. I flipped through the beginning of Heartlight again to check but couldn’t find a mention of her age, but if so it’s been a rather eventful year. Traveling through space on the back of a giant butterfly, traveling back in time to protect an ancient forest, and now hanging out with Merlin at the bottom of the ocean.

I place The Merlin Effect between The Ancient One and Heartlight in terms of my own likes. I felt a little more tired of the whole Arthur legend thing this time around, but I think that’s me being burned out on it in general. Still, this is a very different take on the whole thing.

Right, let’s gather our thoughts. In this book, Kate has accompanied her father to Mexico while he searches for the remains of a legendary shipwreck. Her father is a historian with a particular interest in Arthurian legend and Merlin in particular. (T.A. Barron went on to write several novels about Merlin, so I suppose this was a topic of particular interest for him.) He believes that this shipwreck may contain one of Merlin’s treasures, a horn of great, though unknown, power, and that by finding said treasure he can prove that Merlin really existed.

However, there’s a giant whirlpool in the general area of where the ship–if it ever existed–went down, which complicates things, as does strange volcanic activity that another scientist staying at their camp is studying. A third scientist is studying a type of fish believed to be previously extinct, but which seems to be given eternal life here in the region by the whirlpool.

Merlin and Arthurian legend is prevalent throughout, though it is interesting to see it mixed with new elements with the shipwreck and the whirlpool.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the book, though the last few chapters leapt point of views a ton in completely unnecessary ways, in my opinion, and the question as to whether or not Terry is still alive is never answered. I don’t know if we were getting set up for another book which never happened–though even if there had been more Kate books, it seems like they would have been completely unrelated–or that particular subplot was just deemed too unimportant to bother wrapping up. But it feels weird that it was just left hanging.

Have you read along with me, Squiders? What did you think of The Merlin Effect or the Adventures of Kate in general? I feel like the books have held up pretty decently over the past 20 years, which is, of course, always the danger of revisiting something you enjoyed in your youth.

Most of T.A. Barron’s books are middle grade, mythology-based series, so if that sort of thing floats your boat you might want to check out the rest of his stuff. I read the first few books of his Merlin series before I dropped it, though at this point I can’t remember if I got bored or simply aged out of the intended demographic. It looks like he’s moved on to Atlantis as well.

Thoughts About Orphans

Been reading some children’s books lately, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, parents are a bit scarce, especially in fantasy. Everyone is either an orphan, ala Harry Potter, or something else has happened to remove the parents from the story, whether they’re missing or merely completely irresponsible, absorbed in their own world with no time for their offspring.

The reason for this is simple. If you want a child character to go off and have dangerous adventures, it’s much easier if they don’t have a loving family to care when they disappear. If they’re tied down, it’s hard to get full freedom.

Also, it’s hard to believe that a loving parent wouldn’t do everything in their power to protect or chase after their child.

So storytellers throughout the ages have reacted to this by removing the parents. This is often true for everyone from the very young through teenagers.

I would argue, though, that it’s possible to have a character have parents and still have an adventure. It’s easier the older the character is because people naturally gain more freedom as they age.

To stick with my Harry Potter example, even though Harry’s an orphan, both Ron and Hermione have both their parents. And while Hermione’s are removed from the wizarding world, Ron’s are not, and are often in the thick of things.

In fact, one could argue that the HP world is more believable because adults are involved in the plot. There are very few worlds where children would truly have an adventure on their own. There are usually adults, and especially for something as epic as someone trying to take over the world, they would generally be involved.

But children don’t want to read about adults–they want to read about children, especially about children saving the day on their own.

Still, even then, there can be trusted or sidekick adults. As long as the kids drive the action, adults are welcome to play as well.

Well, enough rambling from me. What’s your feeling on parents in children’s/MG/YA stories? Is it possible for a main character to have their parents and still have adventures?

Trying to Figure Out Middle Grade Versus Young Adult

I have this novel.  I wrote it in 2006, edited and polished until the end of 2009, and began submitting at the beginning of 2010.  My query kept getting me partial requests, but nothing beyond that, so I rewrote the first chapter.  A couple of times.  And sent it out some more.

I had written it as a YA fantasy, but this year I started to get some interesting feedback – first, from my friends, and then confirmed by an agent.  The writing didn’t sound YA; it sounded MG.

Middle Grade is a growing age category, stuffed somewhere in between chapter books and YA novels, and, to be perfectly honest, not something I had spent a lot of time looking into.

Then a reader told me a different project – also supposed to be YA – also read MG.

So here we are.

There’s nothing wrong with MG – if anything, it may actually be a better age range to be focusing on since it’s growing so fast right now.  But the fact that I thought I was writing YA and apparently am not…that bothers me.

I get a little bitter at times.  I wonder if, in order for something to be considered YA these days, it needs to be dark and sexy and full of unnecessary angst.

My friend and writing partner Sarah tells me that it depends on the focus of the book.  Tweens will read adventure, will accept different things as true.  Teenagers want something different. 

The whole thing makes me wary of my perception of age ranges in general.  Do the adult things I’ve written read like YA?  Should I shift everything one age range down?

If I try to write something specifically MG, will it still read too young?

Do you have a tried and true way to tell what age group a story you’ve written is for?  Any good tips for being able to tell the difference between YA and MG?