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I started reading a book with my 6&1/2 year old son a couple of weeks ago. The characters were supposed to be around his age, but it didn’t ring true for me. They were just really snarky and sarcastic in a way that isn’t typical for that age group. I didn’t say anything about it because we like him to develop his own opinions about books, but after a couple chapters he didn’t want to read anymore either. He said the kids were mean. Maybe he and his friends will develop the ability for cutting remarks in short time, but we’re reprieved for now. Right now he still tries to (mostly) be sweet and gets taken aback when people are rude. I know the tide is likely to shift soon, so I’m trying to soak it all in while I can.

It’s not all sunshine and fluff, though. Take Halloween, for example. We had a few years there when he wanted to be nothing more vicious than the cutest of cats. This year he wanted to be a stormtrooper, but his school allowed neither blasters nor masks (or anything “scary”). So, he decided he wanted to be a zombie “With lots of leaking blood! Leaking everywhere! Smeared and dripping!” he said. This from the boy who had nightmares about the chickens in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie.

He’s afraid of CGI chickens, but this summer during one weird afternoon in the desert he did this-


He’s standing on a big box feeding a big tiger while the other one growled and snarled.

He also did this-


and this-


His dad was nearby, ready to wrestle any attacking reptiles away from curious fingers while yours truly watched from far, far away and tried to work out  the distance to the closest margarita. Scared of cartoon chickens, not of giant snakes. Check. It’s an age of fascinating contradictions.

The blood-leaking zombie probably qualified as too scary for the delicate nerves of his school administrators, so we compromised with a last minute X-wing flying weapon-less Luke Skywalker costume. Everyone was happy.

Use the force, Luke.

Last year I would not have predicted a request for a zombie ensemble, so maybe next year he’ll be spouting sarcastic retorts like a fourteen year old. I hope not, but who knows? Sometimes it helps to have your very own live-in case study kids, but you have to take it with a grain of salt, too. My kids are pretty typical, I guess, but there’s a big wide gamut, even between the two of them.  His little sister is three years his junior, but she could be requesting a bloody zombie costume next year. It wouldn’t surprise us at all.

My current WIP is early-ish middle grade, so I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. My point is that even when you live with kids it can be difficult to write realistic characters that appeal to a broad range of readers, when there’s such a wide spectrum of personalities and development. Wannabe zombies may be polite (for now), but they don’t suffer fools.

How old is your protagonist? Do you ever struggle with age authenticity? How often do you stray from the “typical” X-year-old?

I write stories for kids while volunteering as the Assistant Regional Advisor and Conference Coordinator for the western Washington chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

I live in Seattle with my family and a small zoo of animals. I drink copious amounts of coffee and assign complicated life stories to passing strangers. I'm currently working on a middle grade novel.

There's a wee bit more on my website. You can also follow me on twitter.


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