Writing Protagonist Right Coffee Share

Good morning, Everyone. It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood. Lots of stuff going on which I will get to later, but this week I have been plagued with a writer’s dilemma. Grab your coffee. I am going to prattle through. 

Now that my novel, Daily Bread, is complete, an issue concerning the age-based categorization nags. The publishing world for children’s work dictates general guidelines to identify the readership market. There are four major categories—picture books, chapter books, middle-grade, and young adult (YA). These categories can fall into fiction and non-fiction realms and carry the recognizable genres, such as fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction.

The content and delivery of the story determine the readability and target audience. Picture books drive the story with illustrations and can be read aloud, ushering the love for language and reading. Chapter books invite fledgling readers to independently tackle books as they develop comprehension, imagery skills, and deepen appreciation for books. Middle-grade novels invite more complicated social and emotional stakes. Readers experience the beginnings of personal autonomy within their immediate world and family circle. Chapter book protagonists are usually eight or nine years old, and middle-grade readers expect their heroes to be eleven or twelve years old. Unlike YA, there is no profanity or romantic plots that go beyond a middle-grade crush and first kiss. YA novels contain the nitty-gritty of teens fitting into a grown-up world.

Categorizing Daily Bread along the readership guidelines has vexed me. Daily Bread unfolds through the eyes of Lily Taglia, a nine-year-old girl living in the Little Italy tenement neighborhood on Mott Street in 1911. She straddles between little girl safety and restrictions and big kid responsibilities and status. Although Lily is almost as tall as her twelve-year-old sister, Margaret, she is defined as a child because of her playful spirit and innocence.

I wrote this middle-grade novel with the younger protagonist instead of Margaret’s because Lily’s emergence from a little kid to a big kid was more authentic for the era. I am responsible for keeping facts real despite the fictional narrative. Immigrant children of the early 20th century were burdened with adult responsibilities and experiences before they were emotionally and physically ready. Lily held onto secrets that piled up, suddenly noticed hardships and conflicts that threatened home, and eventually took on responsibilities that turned out to be harder than they looked. Margaret was already a master of chores and wise in the way of their world that earned her parents’ confidence and trust. Margaret’s growth and transitions added to the story, but Lily’s journey was much more dramatic. The proverbial doors opened, and light bulbs lit as Lily learned to navigate and accept big kid responsibilities in a great big world.

Daily Bread’s social, historical, and emotional themes may be too complicated for chapter book readers. Originally I wrote Lily as an eight-years-old but recently gave her an added year to appease the protagonist guidelines for middle-grade readers. I wrote it in third person rather than first, giving me the avenues to create a more obtuse world for the characters with sensory details an eight/nine-year-old may miss. I believe this provided middle-grade readers a rich reading experience despite the hero’s tender age. It is also giving me space to continue Lily’s and her friends’ stories since the series, The Mott Street Kids, continue to play out in my head and live in outlines on paper. I like my little hero. She deserves her story, and readers deserve to know her.

I’d appreciate any comments and suggestions from fellow readers and writers.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and listening. Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.

Big thank yous go out to Ecelic Ali for keeping the Weekend Coffee Share up and running.

Be well. Be safe.

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Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

9 thoughts

  1. Wow Antoinette! I wish I were qualified to comment. I can say that some of these guidelines were present with slightly different details when I was that young reader and can tell you that I picked up on them and was resentful that someone sacrificed the story in ways that felt like the met some guideline but made the story feel watered down and non-authentic to me. There were authors I both loved and hated because once I figured out their style/guideline, I found I could predict the tempo of the novel. The story was worse for it. I bet you are able to write within the publisher’s guidelines and still produce a compelling read.


  2. It sounds like a middle grade novel to me. That would not stop a younger reader, or a parent to a younger reader to pick it up. The other way around, if you market your book for younger children, it might be missed, and sequels as well. It sounds like a very interesting story. “The book Thief” is one of my favourite books all time, and reading about your book I thought about “The book Thief”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your book is the kind of book I loved to read as a child. I vote for middle grade as Sagittarius Viking said above. You would have a wider readership. Best of luck with your new book.


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