One Author's Life


Why Middle-grade?

October 23, 2017

My tenth book, Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York, will be my first for middle-grade readers. Other than one picture book back in 2003, all of my books have been for adults (although, interestingly, they are appropriate for YA - young adults - and have won awards in that category.)

Why middle-grade for Streetcar to Justice? Because it’s the right audience.

And, yes, I had to adapt my writing style, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

For years, librarians, teachers, and parents have asked me to write a nonfiction book on a topic that would appeal to middle-grade readers. This is the age group, variously described as somewhere between 8 and 13, that is between two worlds. They have outgrown picture books but may not be ready for some of the content found in young adult books.

The story of Elizabeth Jennings seems perfect for them. I’d been researching this forgotten story and the immense historical context of the era, New York in the 1850s, as a hobby of sorts for many years. (Yes, this is a journalist’s idea of a hobby!) Elizabeth Jennings is an inspiring character whose story was similar to Rosa Parks, although it happened a century earlier and in the North.

It was over lunch with an author-friend who writes middle-grade books that the idea of turning boxes of research on Elizabeth Jennings into a book took root, however. When I mentioned my ongoing research, my friend set down her fork. “You need to wrap that up and get it published!” she said. “People need to know that story. And it’s perfect for middle-grade!!”

I went home and got to work. It took several months to write the proposal but my agent was able to sell it quickly. This was followed by a year of writing, locating historical images to go with my text, coming up with a title - and so on.

In January, the book will be published. I'll always be grateful to the librarians, teachers, parents - and especially my author-friend - for giving me a nudge!