The joys of writing for the middle grade ages
I love the challenge of writing for the middle grade audience. At this age, children are not only learning skills that they will need for their lifetime ahead, but they are also making memories that they will carry with them into adulthood. This is the time in their lives when they will move beyond simple storybooks, and be drawn into more complex plots and concepts.
I remember my middle school years, although, back then it was called “junior high.” Even though some of my energy was spent focusing on things popular at the time—words fail me in describing how badly I wanted a pair of go-go boots— there were also always books to read, with storylines that fascinated me. When I was reading, I was anywhere the story took me. I might have been living in the Age of Aquarius, but, immersed in a book, I could also be in medieval times, or right there alongside Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe being transported through the universe by means of tesseract (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle).
The late sixties may not have been a time of innocence for pre-teens, but there was plenty of fuel for imagination. The ongoing Cold War only peripherally affected my life. Although we practiced air raid drills in school, and knew that some families went as far as to build bomb shelters, as a child nearing my teen years, in my perception, the Cold War mainly provided the backdrop for many television shows. Whether it was I Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible, or even Get Smart, spying was portrayed as exciting and decidedly cool.
Given the era I grew up in, when I first embarked on a novel for middle school aged readers, an espionage theme was one that still interested me. My goal was to create situations for the main characters that children in this age group could imagine themselves being part of. I wanted it to be a believable escapade.
As I wrote, I became increasingly aware of the responsibility I had taken on. I found it wasn’t enough to just develop an intriguing plot, and characters the reader would grow to care about. Especially due to the age bracket of the intended readers, it was vital that the “good guys” acted ethically.
When I scrutinized what I had written, even seemingly minor parts of the story needed to be written keeping in mind how easily a child’s thinking can be influenced. For example, as the adventure wraps up, the family makes plans to get a new dog. Rather than simply say that they’re going to get a puppy in the near future, it seemed preferable to have them opt to go to a shelter to adopt one. Would it be wrong to get a puppy from another source? No, of course not, but, it was a small way to infuse the concept of humanitarian values.
Times have changed… How often have we heard that, or stated it ourselves? Yes, children’s lives are different from generation to generation. What’s more, their home life and socio economic circumstances vary greatly. But, what hasn’t changed is their need to be enriched, to be challenged, have their imaginations’ encouraged, and to know the enjoyment of being captivated by a great story.
Alexander, Spy Catcher
Book Blurb: A seemingly normal October turns into an exciting and terrifying adventure for Alexander and his brother, Ben, when they discover that their uncle Charlie may be in danger because of a secret government project he is working on.
The boys notice strange happenings around their family's home; for example, why is there a clandestine protected Wi-Fi network on their forest covered property?
When Alexander and Ben suspect that their uncle is being spied upon, they agree to warn him about what they've discovered. But on the same night that they tell him about their ﬁndings, he disappears without a trace.
Now, it's up to Alexander, Ben, and their family to solve the mystery about what happened to their uncle and bring him home safely. Although they are determined to rescue Charlie, they don't realize the dangers that lie ahead for them to accomplish this mission.
"It became important to finish the story I had begun writing several years before," remembers Stormer. "I wanted to make my contribution to enrich children's imagination." And contribute she did. In Alexander, Spy Catcher, Stormer weaves a story jam-packed with mystery, suspense and life lessons sure to capture readers 8-12.
Stormer originally began this story back in 1989, when her own children were ages 7, 9, and 11. In fact, the main characters of this book are loosely based on their personalities. Over the years she took the manuscript out of storage, and worked on it for a while. But, it wasn't until this last autumn, mainly because her brother was urging her to, that she decided to finish it up once and for all!
Because so much time had passed since she first thought of the idea, lots of things in the story had to be updated. When she began it, technology was not nearly to the place it is now, especially when it comes to things we take for granted such as cell phones. Since cell phones--especially "smart" cell phones didn't even exist back in 1989--play a big part in the plot, it turned out for the best that she delayed finishing the story until she did.
Stormer has two sons and a daughter, and lives in Germantown, Maryland. Alexander, Spy Catcher is her first novel. But she says she has already begun a new book, where Alexander and Ben stumble upon another adventure.