Yesterday I posted a “Guess Who” on one of my favorite Middle Grade authors. Are you ready to find out who it was?
Drum roll please!
Paula has written SEVEN middle grade novels-including two of my favorite reads- So Done and Dough Boys. She is a force to be reckoned with and feels strongly about her work and her readers. I love her passion and the sense of urgency I get from her books about taking action about certain issues that are facing our young people today.
Paula contacted me about an interview to discuss including political issues in her middle grade novels and why that is so important to write about. Here is our discussion:
What are some of the political issues you have included in your books?
Not once have I ever set out thinking “I’m going to talk about this issue,” and yet my books have included domestic violence among teens, drug dealing, absent parents due to drug abuse, and inappropriate touching/preying on a child. Minus two of those topics, they were all covered in my YA books. Then there are the underlying dynamics between my characters that have touched on the cultural differences between Black and White people, single parenting environments vs. two-parent homes, middle class vs. working class. My books are often a commentary on how our differences play a part as soon as we think we’re among like-minded people.
Why do you feel it is important now more than ever to include politics in your books, especially in books that are marketed towards younger readers?
Because they’re caught in the middle of these dynamics. It’s frustrating when adults believe that an entire country can be embroiled in debate and it not impact young people. They’re hearing one thing at home, one thing in school, another thing among themselves and of course there’s the internet there big and bold ready to give out flawed or inaccurate data. It’s a mistake to think that we can talk above their heads hoping there will be a right age to address what they’re hearing about.
I would love to hear what readers have said in response to the issues brought to life in your books. What are some of your favorite responses?
I had one reader tell me that they didn’t pick a side in So Done. Yet the rest of their comment made it pretty clear they were siding with Tai. It was funny because I believe they believed they hadn’t picked a side, but they made some pretty solid statements for Tai’s point of view.
What advice would you give to writers who want to add in some more controversial or political subject matter into books that are written for a younger audience?
As someone who has gone on record saying that my books are not here to teach, my advice is to only get as political as the story organically allows. Readers can tell when an agenda is being pushed. Yes, even young readers. As long as what the character is going through is right for that character and their circumstances then just about any topic can be covered. But sometimes writers feel like they have to “add in” controversy. If that’s why you’re tempted, then don’t.