The Middle Monster Project

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  I even tried to get it off and running awhile ago, but the dog (literally) ate our homework.  Then the summer just flew by and it’s almost time to start school again.  So before we get too busy with homework, etc. I’ve decided to start.

The Middle Monster Project.

You’ve heard me talk about Middle for a long time now.  She’s hilarious, dangerous, and challenging in the best of ways.  She can walk across a room, trip, and almost kill herself.  A daily mantra around here is “You only get one little body – take care of it!”  We used to joke that she was the boy we never had — she has many typical “boy” personality traits, while also enjoying makeup, Team Jacob, etc. just like her sisters (except they’re both Team Edward).

When it comes to school, she’s a physical learner.  e.g. instead of buying flashcards to practice multiplication, we made our own.  Part of her learning requires hands on approaches.  She learns better if she makes things herself and really understands how things go together.  To learn to count to 100, we practiced with pennies, etc. and physically moved them around, made piles in different ways, etc.

One of her struggles at public school is reading and writing.  As a baby, she was constantly sick with ear infections and ended up with 3 surgeries before she went to kindergarten (two ear tubes, one tonsillectomy).  As a result, she was a little delayed in speech and to this day, she still says some words wrong.  She’s not the world’s greatest speller, either, which handicaps her writing assignments at school.  It’s not that she can’t — it’s that sometimes she just can’t be bothered.  Her attention span is short.  Frilly silly girl books cannot hold her interest, unless they’re cartoon style or manga.  While her sisters read Junie B. Jones, Middle read Captain Underpants and Teacher From the Black Lagoon.

In short, she has typical “boy” tastes in books, but likes some “girl” frills.  It’s been difficult to find a series that she really loves as much as she loved Biscuit (the dog) books in kindergarten.

So what does any writer do when she can’t find the books she wants to read?  She writes them, of course.

I tried this a year or two ago but Middle just wasn’t quite ready.  She was excited about the idea, but interest waned.  She left our story notebook out on the floor, and the dog ate it.  I think at some level she was relieved.  But I think she’s ready to try again.  She’s been drawing a lot more, and the same old Captain Underpants books just aren’t going to cut it in 5th grade.  We need more.  We need something meaty and exciting.

So we’re writing a book.  Together.

Filed under “know your child” and “learn from past mistakes”, I’m loosening up my “requirements” this time around.  Last time, I had more selfish reasons.  I really wanted something “publishable.”  So I pushed a litte too hard to come up with a unique high concept idea, and by the time we got around to the idea, she was bored already.  This project isn’t for me.  It’s for her.  So I’m giving in on some of what I would require in a story before I wrote it.  If it’s a little fanfiction-ish, that’s okay.  If she’s obviously the protagonist aka Mary Sue, then that’s okay too.  I just want to get a project that she loves, that she’ll have fun with, and that will most importantly, HELP HER.  We’re working on her writing too.  We’re working on her reading ability.  That’s key.  Not whether Mom can sell this book.

Middle adores notebooks (gee I have no idea where she got that, I protest sheepishly) so I picked out one my personal favorite notebooks I’d been saving “for a good cause” that she’s had her eye on for awhile.  It’s small, hardcover, with a big spiral so it’s easy to turn the pages.  It’s also dividied with some cool pockets that she adores.  I’m giving her one of my favorite magical purple pens.  And I’ve listed out some little “homework” pages that should be fun for her.

She’s only 10, so the key is to keep it easy.  I didn’t list more than 3 things for her to do on a single assignment.  (Remember, her attention span is short!!)  I listed some generic things to get us started.  After I read what she’s got so far, I’ll tailor more assignments to pinpoint what she wants this book to be about.

So far, here’s the first easy assignments I’ve given her, if you’re interested in doing this with your kid.

1. Things I love to read about.

2. Things I love to do.

3.  My character is a boy or girl?  How old?

4.  Hair color, eye color, special abilities.

5. At night in bed, this scares my character:

6.  Best friend, person or animal.

7. Family.

8. My character lives… in our time/world?  In the past?  In a castle?  In the future?  On another planet in space?  Anywhere!  Tell me about it.

I figure this might take her a few days to fill out.  I listed each mini assignment on its own page, with lots of room for her to doodle and write in her own words.  If she gets inspired, she can also write on the back of each page.  I’m going to encourage her to draw if she wants.  Clip pictures from newspapers, etc. and stick them on the pages, or use the pockets to add ideas as she gets them.

She already knows about “Beginning, Middle, End” of good story telling, so I’ll probably have her direct the whole thing.  We’ll brainstorm the plot at her level and speed, and I’ll probably write as we go.  Depending on what we get (and if she gives her permission), I’ll share it here.

Mostly I just hope she has fun and that we end up with a project that helps her writing, reading, and creative interests!