Urban Settings in Middle Grade Novels, a guest post by Sally Engelfried and Melissa Dassori

Middle grade novels are full of exploration. While families are present and often powerful forces, middle grade protagonists are discovering themselves, navigating changing friendships, and gaining independence—or wishing they could. Urban neighborhoods provide unique environments for these coming-of-age stories, and city settings are integral to both our recent debut novels. For Sally, Daphne of Learning to Fall is sent to stay in Oakland for the summer but finds joy in being able to hop on her skateboard and explore the neighborhood on her own or with a friend. And for Melissa, Josephine Rose Silver of JR Silver Writes Her World champs at the bit to walk home alone from school in Manhattan, which sets off a magical chain of events in the face of her overprotective parents’ worries. Here we share some of the ways in which our urban settings influenced the shape of our novels.

Sally: One thing I find interesting is the common perception by non-city dwellers that the city is a dangerous place. It certainly does have its dangers, but kids who grow up in the city take these in stride. They are exposed to more—like the way Miranda in When You Reach Me passes “the laughing man” on the way to school each day. She’s wary of him, but she also understands he’s just a part of her daily life living in Manhattan.