Why We Love Middle Grade Books!

Recently I had the chance to speak with Candlewick Press editor Kaylan Adair.

Kaylan has edited a number of outstanding middle-grade novels including Down Sand Mountain by Steve Watkins, Small As An Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and the upcoming Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup.  She was even the American editor of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, a novel that straddles that tricky YA/Middle-grade line.

Welcome Kaylan! What excites you about editing middle-grade novels?

Middle-grade novels are what turned me into a reader. I struggled with reading for much of my early life but in fourth or fifth grade, my (incredibly patient) school librarian convinced me to give the novel Follow My Leader a try. The book struck me as being intimidatingly long, but it was about a boy who’s blinded in an accident and gets a guide dog and I was obsessed with dogs at the time (particularly German shepherds), so I decided to give it a try. It’s the first middle-grade novel I remember reading for pleasure. And it’s no exaggeration to say that that experience changed my life. Suddenly, countless worlds opened up to me. I quickly discovered Lois Lowry and devoured everything she’d ever written.

I signed up to read books for our state book award (the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award) and twice read enough books to be selected to go to the awards ceremony — quite an accomplishment for the girl who’d been so stressed about having to finish an assigned book that she’d thrown up on the novel the year before. (In class. In front of everyone.)

 To this day, middle-grade novels seem magical to me. They remain portals to other worlds — as many books are, certainly, but with middle-grade novels, I am keenly aware of the huge significance they can have on a young reader, on someone who’s still learning about the world and about herself. Whenever I work on a middle-grade novel, part of me can’t help wondering how this book might change some child’s life.

What were your favorite books when you were 9-12?

Lois Lowry was there for me at a very important time in my life. I remember reading the ending of The Giver during a school assembly in the auditorium. I couldn’t bear to put the book down, and when I finally finished, I sat there in a daze, trying to puzzle out the ending. (I have no idea what the assembly was about, by the way.)

We know you’re excited about the publication of Garden Princess, the story of an unlikely princess and a strange, enchanted garden (with a heart-stoppingly GORGEOUS cover sure to tempt any middle-grade reader.) Anything else in the middle-grade world you’re looking forward to this spring?

Yes! I’m excited and honored to attend the Highlights Whole Novel: Middle Grade retreat from March 3-9.  

I’ve never participated in anything like this before (and perhaps there is nothing else like this out there!), so I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way with authors and with their manuscripts. My hope for the writers is that they leave the retreat feeling energized and excited to continue working on their projects. Perhaps they’ll gain some new insight into their story or characters because of our week together, or perhaps even just the choice to prioritize their writing for this one week will have a lasting impact and they’ll continue to prioritize their novels long after our time together has ended.

I’ll be a mentor at this springs Whole Novel Retreat: Middle Grade, too. If you’re registered I can’t wait to see you there. If not join us next time!

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