By Cindy L. Rodriguez
This is the third in an occasional series about middle grade Latinx authors. We decided to shine a spotlight on middle grade writers and their novels because, often, they are “stuck in the middle”–sandwiched between and overlooked for picture books and young adult novels. The middle grades are a crucial time in child development socially, emotionally, and academically. The books that speak to these young readers tend to have lots of heart and great voices that capture all that is awkward and brilliant about that time.
Q. Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
A. My mom started reading to me pretty much as soon as I was born, and I was completely absorbed by stories. I was writing my own stories before I could really spell or remember which way the letters faced. The book that helped me realize that being an author was an actual career path, though, was The School Story by Andrew Clements. Honorable mention to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Carpentier, who did a whole unit on fiction writing.
Q. Why do you choose to write middle grade novels?
A. Middle grade is so much fun because it’s an age where your readers/characters are still really figuring out the world as much as they are figuring out themselves. That lends itself well to fantasy, especially the kind of fantasy where characters discover magic hidden in the world around them. Having a brother eight years younger than me meant that my house stayed in little-kid mode while I was becoming a cranky teenager, and I think it’s good for older people to practice keeping that open, interested, hopeful mentality.
Q. What are some of your favorite middle grade novels?
A. Some amazing books I’ve read recently are The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez, The Inquisitioner’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, and The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi. From my own middle grade days I loved Ella Enchanted, Holes, and the Dear America books.
Q. If you could give your middle-grade self some advice, what would it be?
A. Don’t let anyone make you feel small. Stop worrying so much about the future and just keep doing what you’re doing. Embrace the puffy hair, because it’s not going anywhere.
Q. Please finish this sentence: Middle grade novels are important because…
A. Middle grade novels are important because middle grade kids don’t always know how to talk to the adults in their life (I sure didn’t). But at the same time, they’re struggling with big questions and need help navigating new situations. Books can give safe ways for kids to explore relationships with friends and family, authority and society, and their own developing identity.
Cindy L. Rodriguez was a newspaper reporter for The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe before becoming a public school teacher. She is now a reading specialist at a Connecticut middle school. Cindy is a U.S.-born Latina of Puerto Rican and Brazilian descent. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books (2015). She will have an essay in Life Inside My Mind, which releases 4/10/2018 with Simon Pulse. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.