IT”S ANOTHER MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY!
Are more PG-13 type words creeping into Middle Grade books? I believe so. Except for the big F-bomb, I’ve seen just about ever other swear word in stories for 8-13 year-olds the past year. Is this something we should have concern over or is it a who cares?
Authors have several options when a cuss word pops up in their writing. The original method to insert a few punctuation marks (!?#!*!) is not too popular.
A second strategy is one used often in MG. A main character will say someone cussed or I’m thinking of a bad word. Another more interesting and often funny route is to disguise the inappropriate word with another less feared word (DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos comes to mind—”Oh-cheeze-us-crust!”). We know what the real word is without seeing the actual word. There’s even a web site listing at least a hundred more like:
Son of a Biscuit!
The final writing strategy is to use the cuss word as is. Kids on the cusp of leaving their childhood will most likely have heard the so-called bad words, and some will begin to use them in their thoughts or with friends. Saying a zinger around teachers or parents is usually avoided. Authors who use the word in print feel their writing should mimic what occurs in real life with preteens so they include them.
I’m sure this could be a massive debate as to the direction swear words should have in MG literature.
Instead, let me dive into SNOW LANE where 10-year-old Annie uses cuss words in her thoughts and sometimes out loud with her friends. Damn, hell and crap are her favorites, though she sneaks in a few stronger ones. It’s not excessive, maybe a dozen occurrences. A Catholic upbringing has her assigning Hail Mary penance after using an offensive word.
I don’t want this sidelight to overshadow what the story is about: a heartbreaking tale of being the youngest of nine children. It’s 1985 and not much happens in the first half of the book except you learn about each of the sisters and one brother. There are only tidbits of information about the parents. Annie is also dyslexic and has a trusted friend at school with the endearing, Jordan.
The secrets Annie and the rest of her family keep inside Snow Lane surface through events in the second half. The realities are handled in an appropriate way and would be fully understandable to middle graders. I wanted the story to continue but also felt fine with an ending that was more of a new beginning.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2018 PAGE COUNT: 208
THE PLOT (from AMAZON):
Fifth grader Annie is just like every other girl in her small suburban town. Except she’s starting to realize that she isn’t.
Annie is the youngest of nine children. Instead of being condemned to the bottom of the pecking order, she wants to carve out place for herself in the world. But it’s hard to find your destiny when the only thing you’re good at is being cheerful. Annie is learning that it’s difficult to be Annie, period, and not just because her clothes are worn-out hand-me-downs, and she suffers from a crippling case of dyslexia, but also because there are secrets in her life no one in her family is willing to face.
In Snow Lane, Josie Angelini presents a story about a resilient girl who, in spite of many hardships, can still find light in the darkest of places.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: SNOW LANE
- Readers take the same position as Annie’s friends—left to guess what is actually going on in this family. I had some, but not all of it figured out and was glad to be left in the dark for most of the book.
- A friend is someone who cares. Jordan is a boy you hope every school has. Kristen, too. They were the rocks in Annie’s world.
- The largest number of children in a family I’ve come across the past year is five. More common are one, two, or three kids to keep track of. Large families are unique and there’s always an interest from kids in what it would be like to be in one.
- Annie narrates the story and is about as spunky a protagonist as you’ll find. Her voice still rings in my head.
- I had compassion not only for Annie, the youngest of the nine, but also for Miriam the oldest. She made sacrifices to help this family grow until she couldn’t anymore.
A couple of years ago my dad let us watch this special on PBS. Normally we don’t get to watch TV because the Solid Gold Dancers are pornographic, but my dad made an exception for Carl Sagan, probably because he doesn’t do any dancing at all on his show Cosmos.
Snow Lane is a work a fiction. It didn’t happen this way. But it’s all true. This is the most honest book I’ve ever written, not because the plot is a faithful recounting of my childhood. But because if you read it you’ll understand why my sisters and I can laugh at tragedy.
For more visit Josie’s website.
Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.
This story sounds so intriguing from your review. You’ve got me wondering what you find out about the family in the second half of the story. And I think a little swearing is okay for middle graders, especially upper grade stories, because the reality is that kids know and use those words by then.
I know some parents go the opposite direction and will make a big fuss if any of these books are recommended to their child or read out loud in the classroom. It’s a tough line to balance.
I’d prefer mg books with language not be read out loud in the classroom. I want to know up front of language issues for home use. This one does sound good and I’m going to read it first before passing it along to my 10 or 11 year old.
There is a web site that rates books based on profanity, violence, etc. I can’t think of the name right now but will email you later on with the address,
With open swearing on TV now, it’s too difficult to keep kids from learning/hearing these words. I don’t mind occasional swearing in middle grade, but it has to suit a purpose or feel like it fits, not just a tossed in. I’m intrigued by this book and characters.
Yes, almost impossible. I was playing catch with a ten year old just last week in a local park. There was a skateboarding area nearby and the swear words were flying, The 10-year-old pointed and said “They’re cussing” but he had a sly smile on his face.
Dyslexia — you have me. It’s not always easy to find good stories about kids dealing with dyslexia. There are so many themes playing out in this story. Kids hear swear words from the time they are young. But, I find it more creative and entertaining to see “Son of a Biscuit!” It adds a different kind of humor. Thanks for the link. Looked at it quickly. Have been reading Michelle Isenhoff’s new YA trilogy, Recompense. Not one swear word — and her writing is so compelling and action-filled that you don’t even notice.
And the problems only get worse for this family. No spoilers here. I think our society is getting desensitized to the occurrence of swear words. I was at a PG-13 movie last week and the audience was full of kids younger than thirteen. More like younger than ten. Shows on cable television get away with saying almost anything. It’s too late to change but I agree that books, especially MG books, could do without adding to the onslaught.
So not much happens in the first half and yet, you say it was a really good book. Yes, editors of America, not everything needs to start in the first 250 words!! I had an editor critique my manuscript at a conference, and she told me she felt my book should have a slower start and the inciting incident maybe shouldn’t show up for 25 pages. I wanted to kiss her. Thanks for getting the word out about this book. I will check it out. And thanks for the link for all those good alternatives to cuss words.
Every book is different and shouldn’t be judged by a few pages. This story had enough foreshadowing going on that you wanted to find out what was really going on in this family.
I am curious to learn about the family in the book—I actually went out and bought a copy of this book after looking at the review! I also do want to see and read more books about dyslexia. Thanks for the recommendation!