The Importance of Middle-Grade Fiction
Why Reading my Book Series Scary School is Guaranteed to Turn your Kid into a Well-adjusted, Ivy League-bound, World-beater Dynamo
By Derek the Ghost
Let’s start off with this question. Why is reading important for children? Wait. I have better question. Why is absorbing a story in the form of text considered a superior means of story-absorption as opposed to pictures and sound through a television or movie screen?
Back in the olden days before TV and movies, reading was the numero uno form of self-entertainment. However, like TV of today, using books to take in fictional stories was considered a highly frivolous activity. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only form of reading not considered frivolous was reading the bible.
So why did the cultural paradigm shift? Television and movies became the dominant form of story dispersion, and suddenly books became the underdog. When books became the underdog, they went from frivolous to intellectually elitist practically overnight. You could argue the same thing happened with theater.
So, are you actually smarter because you read, or is it just our culture’s perception of reading that merely makes you appear smarter?
Here’s the answer. You’re actually smarter.
It goes without saying that reading requires a basic education. But more importantly, it requires that the brain function in a heightened state of stimulation called Alpha Mode. During Alpha Mode there’s an innumerable amount of split-second decisions taking place. The brain is constantly deciphering letters and interpreting their meaning while at the same time forming imagery to correlate with each phrase. It requires a lot of sub-conscious brain energy and millions of electrical reactions.
Because reading requires so much brain energy, the brain becomes tired quickly and wants to switch to Beta Mode. Beta Mode is when you are spacing out, vegging out, or just hanging out. You are essentially on autopilot, just taking things in, but not actively participating. When you are driving a car, you are usually in Alpha Mode. But when you suddenly look up and realize you’ve driven ten miles past your freeway exit, that’s right… you switched over to Beta Mode, buster.
The good news is that reading is like running. When you first start running you can only run a short distance before getting tired. Reading is the same way. The more you read, the more “brain exercise” you’re getting, and staying in Alpha Mode for longer stretches without getting tired becomes much easier. This effect bleeds over into all facets of life. You’ll be able to study longer and more effectively, retain more information, and work more thoroughly and patiently for extended hours. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did this better than anyone.
Now let me ask you this: Why were kids who had never read anything longer than a 150-page Goosebumps book so eager to read a 750-page Harry Potter book? And why were they able to do it so effortlessly, when reading just one chapter of a schoolbook feels like a Herculean labor?
Because they loved it. Reading Harry Potter was as enjoyable to most kids (if not more so) than playing video games or watching cartoons. The pleasure of reading those books caused kids’ brains to squirt dopamine into their system, making them feel euphoric and self-confident. There’s something books provide that all their other forms of entertainment cannot – a deep, almost familial bond with the characters. Only books can create that on such a profound level. Remember Kathy Bates in Misery? That’s the dark side of it, but I don’t think anyone went bat-#$#@ crazy when Friends was cancelled.
The great thing about Harry Potter was the after-shock it created in the middle-grade and YA book market. Kids were addicted to the book. The pleasure they got from the suspense, humor, mystery, and triumph had shot buckets of dopamine into their systems and no other form of entertainment could match that natural high. So, the middle-grade and YA book market exploded with kids seeking their next fix. When the Harry Potter fans grew up, they were naturally attracted to edgier, more adult fare that reflected their changing selves, and the YA market skyrocketed, heralded by Twilight and now The Hunger Games.
Which brings me to my book series, Scary School. With these books, I had only one goal. I was not trying to write to the best middle-grade series ever. I wasn’t trying to win any Newberry medals for literature. All I wanted to do with the Scary School series was make kids laugh. That’s it.
With my background in comedy writing, I felt that I could maybe write the funniest (not the best) middle-grade book ever. Go big or go home, right? I wanted to have at least three laugh-out-loud moments on every page. Did I succeed? You’ll have to tell me, but the most often used words in the reviews of the book have been “hilarious” and “laugh-out-loud funny.” So far so good.
What will happen when your kids read Scary School will be something very magical. It may very well be the first chapter book your kid reads as well as the first chapter of a life of profound and meaningful achievement. It may also be something a reluctant reader gives a shot because it actually looks fun with that zombie skateboarding kid on the cover. Maybe the only reason your kid gets it is because I’m signing copies at the local bookstore, so you think it would be neat for your kid to have a signed book. Let’s play out that scenario:
I sign the inside jacket of Scary School Book One and write him or her a special message with a funny drawing. Your kid is much more excited to receive it than you thought he/she would be.
That night, you hear laughter from across the house late at night. Your kid is supposed to be asleep but is staying up in bed reading Scary School. You figure that’s okay, so you let him/her keep reading, and you keep hearing laughter until midnight. The laughter is forging an imprint on your kid’s brain that reading=fun.
After finishing Scary School, you child will seek out more books to try and recreate that boisterous experience.
In the process, the child will continuing growing up, always reading and seeking that next great story. While other kids are watching TV and living their lives in Beta Mode, your child’s brain will be in Alpha Mode 1,000% more often. The heightened brain stimulation for long hours will increase your child’s cognitive functioning far past his/her peers. Not only that, your child will be armed with amazing moral and practical lessons learned throughout the Scary School book series that helps him/her adjust to new situations, treat people with respect and kindness, and fuel him/her with a yearning to make the world a better place.
This leads your child into doing community service, building the next great invention, and becoming class president.
Harvard and Yale both offer your child full scholarships, but he/she chooses to cash in on his new invention money and attends Oxford because Scary School taught him/her the value of seeking adventure and meeting different kinds of people from all over the world.
You don’t miss him/her as you otherwise might have because in the future there’s holographic communication where it seems like you’re actually sitting and talking in the same room together.
After graduation, your child comes back home where he/she is probably a DA, a famous architect, a prodigious scientist, or CEO of that hot new startup. He/She comes over for dinner one night and puts a knapsack down on the sofa. It falls over, and amongst the futuristic gadgets, you notice an old, dusty copy of Scary School – that book your child read in one all-nighter back in middle school. That book purchased on a whim because the author happened to be signing at the store. You open it up, and read what is says where I signed the inside of the jacket:
Dear (your kid’s name), Have Fun at Scary School! – Derek the Ghost