Tess Hilmo is a writer and an amateur composer who lives in Utah at the base of the Rocky Mountains. With a Name Like Love is her first novel. For more information, visit www.tesshilmo.com.
I am frequently asked, “What does the term middle grade mean?” As you may know, it is an industry term specifying a novel written for young readers, typically between the ages of 8-13. Sandwiched between early chapter books and teen novels, middle grade is a sweet spot in youth literature. Some of my favorites are classics like THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE and even the early Harry Potter books. All of these are great middle grade novels.
The follow up question to “What is middle grade?” is usually “Why do you write middle grade?” That is easy to answer. Quite often, these books are the first novel length works we connect to in our youth. They can inspire, guide, comfort or just provide a giggle when we really need it. I consider it a sincere privilege to be able to write for these insightful young readers.
My recently released novel, WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, is further classified into “upper middle grade”, meaning it falls to readers on the higher end of that age spectrum. These books are often fairly complex in characterization and plot. The subject matter can be more serious and the issues addressed more intricate, all the while keeping the content relatively clean.
The characters in most middle grade novels are at critical junctures in their lives. In my novel, Ollie comes across a situation where a boy is being judged unfairly. He is mistreated and misunderstood. His mother is falsely accused of murder. Ollie has never been in a situation like this before and asks herself; Can I do anything to help? What power do I have against so many townsfolk who have chosen hatred over acceptance? Will anyone even listen to a thirteen year old girl?
In our lives, we will face times when we see injustice and unkindness and we may ask ourselves, Can I do anything about it? Will anyone even listen to me? Being able to explore these matters with readers who are experiencing them for the first time is a truly wonderful thing.