Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 1, 2019

A Writer and Two Editors: What I love about Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels

Hello, because I’m a fan of the Children’s Book Academy, I asked Sterling Children’s Books editor Rachael Stein; multi-published, award-winning chapter book and middle grade author Hillary Homzie; and Mira Reisberg, Clear Fork Publishing/Spork editor and art director and the director of the Children’s Book Academy what they loved about writing or editing chapter books and middle grade novels. The three of them are co-teaching the stellar upcoming Middle Grade Mastery e-course. They’ll also be giving a free workinar (a cross between a workshop and a webinar) on Saturday May 4th here – ~ Kathy Temean.

Three Reasons Why I REALLY Love Writing Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels ~ Hillary Homzie

Hi, fellow writers! I’ve been around for quite a while writing chapter book and middle grade novel series, teaching, and freelance editing other people’s books. I’m the author of many books for children, including the Ellie May chapter books, a SLJ Webcast featured selection, the chapter book series Alien Clones from Outer Space, which was made into an Australian animated television series, and Queen of Likes, a middle grade optioned by Priority Pictures, which is a PJ Our Way selection and the recent Scholastic book Club favorite, Pumpkin Spice Secrets.

With over a dozen titles, you can rest assured that I love writing chapter books and middle grades. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. I love how I can spend time with my stories and really get to know my characters. Usually I start with what Anne Lamott calls “a shitty first draft” where I get my basic ideas out. Then I go back in and refine, adding details, deleting repetition, and making sure that there aren’t holes in my plot. I have a system for doing all this that makes it really manageable, which I teach in both the Middle Grade Mastery and Chapter Book Alchemist courses.
  1. I get to really fall in love with my characters, which I hope makes others fall in love with them too, without the restraints of having to keep it to less than 500 words like you have to do with picture books. Getting to know and love my characters, warts and all, helps me develop my plot by following their fears and insecurities and exalting in my characters’ assets to see how they can triumph over adversity.
  1. I love the magic of starting on a blank page with an idea and just following that idea where it leads me. This means mostly trusting in the process that I’ve developed over the years, but sometimes going “eek, I don’t know if I can do this!”– but persevering anyway!

writing-a-series aspect that allows me to stay working and spend even more time getting my characters in and out of trouble.

Oh, and here’s another bonus! I get to bring in my experiences, memories, humor, and other things I wished I’d done or actually did do. All of this adds another layer of authenticity to make it more believable, even if it’s something weird like my Alien Clones from Outer Space series. Go figure! Still, it’s a beautiful thing.

Hillary Homzie has written and sold many books. In addition to teaching at the Children’s Book Academy, Hillary is Faculty at Hollins University, Summer MFA Children’s Literature & Writing and Faculty at, Sonoma State University, Communications & Internships

 Visit her on the web at or find her here @HillaryHomzie

What I love about editing and working on middle grade novels ~ Mira Reisberg

Middle Grade novels are magic to me because of the ways that they inform kid’s future reading habits, making them fall and stay in love with reading. I love the diversity of middle grades that can be done as hybrid graphic novels and straight text like the hugely successful middle grade series Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the illustrated middle grade series The Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Melon and Carson Ellis. Or they can just employ beautiful or fun language with a great story forgoing pictures as many novels do.

Middle grade books can be 40-60 page illustrated nonfiction titles for older readers with photos (or illustrations) like Patricia Newman’s Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. But middle grade novels are mostly 30,000-60,000 word stories that are built word-by-word, page-by-page, and chapter-by-chapter until they magically transform into a fully fleshed novel. And while they do take more time than writing a picture book, they are more like the equivalent of writing 6 good picture books, but with much greater rewards.

I love how middle grade novelists get to go really deep in exploring their characters. How there can be subplots for multiple characters that all converge into one thematic story and how magic it is to weave these threads piecing them together like a jigsaw puzzle to make something much bigger than the sum of each part. And while it might sound overwhelming, with wonderful technologies like Scrivener or even a spreadsheet, or old school index cards, and a map of what could go where, they can be united together bit-by-bit, or even dictated from speech to text, to form this magical whole.

As an editor, it’s a pleasure for me to witness all this and make suggestions to deepen areas or lighten others while falling in love with the characters, the story, and the impact that it might have on children’s lives.

Dr. Mira Reisberg is an editor and art director as well as a multi-published, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author whose books have sold over 600,000 copies. Previously, she was a children’s literary agent, and a former university professor teaching kid lit writing and illustrating courses as well as teacher ed. Mira has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children’s literature and has helped MANY writers and illustrators get published. Her job at Spork allows her to help even more people. Find her at or @childrensbookac

Some of my favorite things about editing chapter books and middle grade novels ~ Rachael Stein

One of my favorite things about working on middle grade and chapter books is the audience. Upper elementary and middle school are times of a lot of change for kids: they are growing up physically and emotionally, developing their individuality, and moving toward independence. But at the same time, they’ve very much still kids: their families and friends are really important to them, they have powerful imaginations, and they might still think fart jokes are hysterical. This creates a unique and rich space for storytelling, and for a range of storytelling! In this space, we get everything from silly, quick, and highly illustrated chapter books like Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang to longer and more complex middle grade stories like Greenglass House by Kate Milford—and a whole lot in between.

As an editor, I’m passionate about working on books that serve all kinds of kids and give them tools to expand their worldviews. Since the chapter book and middle grade age range is such a key transitional time for kids, these are books that I really gravitate toward. Also, it helps that I just find these books incredibly fun to work on and read!

Rachael is a voracious reader, children’s books fanatic, and an Editor at Sterling Children’s Books where she acquires and edits books for kids of all ages, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult and both fiction and nonfiction. Before joining the Sterling team in 2018, Rachael worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, Lee & Low Books, Macmillan, and Fox Literary. Some of the amazing authors she has worked with include Linda Sue Park, Gary D. Schmidt, Kate Milford, Ronald L. Smith, and Sarah Beth Durst.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks for a very informative post.


  2. Wow, three interviews! Love the comments from all three. Thanks so much for this great post.


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