Today on notes from New York, I want to talk about a category of book that I don’t see often, but wish I did, because of how visceral and charming it can be: quiet middle grade. Because middle grade novels are aimed at kids turning teenagers, a lot of books in this category are fast paced and action packed, or filled to the brim with humor. Sometimes both! That’s all great. I love a fun middle grade like Percy Jackson. But quiet middle grade is another beast entirely and quite hard to pull off.
When I say quiet, I don’t mean slow or boring. Quiet stories are often extremely engaging on an emotional level. They tug at the heart strings and envelop you in the ambiance, completely drawing you in even though the plot isn’t racing by at the speed of light. Rather, the plot is drifting, and you’re content to watch it pass.
A good example of a ‘quiet’ story for younger viewers is Kiki’s delivery service, which is an incredible little movie from Miyazaki. Though the main character is a witch, the film isn’t an action fest. Rather, its about a young girl moving to a new place and starting a little business. There are so many quiet moments in this movie but they’re often pleasant, calming...even moving. The film isn’t afraid to sit in silence and let the moment pass.
When I was interning in New York I read a submission that fit under this umbrella. Because it was set on the gulf coast I was utterly transported to my childhood vacations to Florida, so much so that I could smell it. I could feel it. It was oddly emotional and it made me home sick for the beach. That’s the kind of power that quiet middle grade can have.
So, if you have an idea that you think might be “too slow” for a younger audience, give it a go anyway. There are lots of kids who don’t mind a calmer plot, and you can trust them to sit still in a moment without getting bored. We all need our special, quiet stories to relax with on a lazy Sunday when we just want to watch the world drift by.
That's all for now. Happy writing!