Shari: Hi Jessica! Welcome to MG Book Village! I’m thrilled to chat with you today about your new book: Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, which releases tomorrow! What would you like to tell us about your book?
Jessica: Thanks so much for hosting me, Shari. It’s great to be back with the MG Book Village! Middle school drums up awkward and sometimes painful memories for many people. As a kidlit writer with a background in social science, this made me curious. I wanted to dive deep into exploring the middle school experience. I also wondered what today’s students wished was in a book about middle school. So I asked them.
I visited classroom after classroom to gather feedback and listen. Through these discussions the top ten “trickiest things” rose to the surface. Combining humor, a dash of science, choose-your-own-ending stories, and the wisdom of students, my hope is to shed light on it all.
Shari: Just the idea of Middle School incites a reaction in most people, including adults! What was your experience in middle school like, and how much did that inspire your creation of this “survival guide”?
Jessica: Ah, yes. Just the mention of middle school causes a reaction in many people. My experience was pretty typical. Awkward moments filled with highs and lows plus a deep desire to fit-in and be liked by my peers. Middle school in a nutshell!
Looking back, I realize I didn’t have the skills or confidence to navigate some of social dynamics of middle school. So yes, my experience, and the experiences of my kids, definitely inspired this book.
Shari: You clearly did a lot of research to make this guide relatable and engaging for today’s readers. Would you describe your research process for us?
Jessica: Sure. As always, I started with kids. I was lucky enough to be invited into 7th grade classrooms to chat with students. I asked the question, “What is the trickiest thing about middle school?” This opened the flood gates.
Once students helped me understand the top ten “trickiest things,” I revisited classrooms to learn more about their experiences. Their insights were honest, insightful and created the framework for this book.
From there, I combined this with human behavior science to shed light on the “why” behind common middle-school experiences. Then, to make it fun, I added quizzes, random facts and choose-your-own-ending stories.
Shari: One of the things that I loved about Middle School (the book, not the experience) was the comforting, personal voice that you used in your writing, which comes across as wise and caring without being preachy or parental. How difficult was this to achieve, and what helped you to create this delicate balance of humor and advice?
Jessica: Thank you for sharing that, Shari. As a kidlit writer, I know how important it is not to come off as preachy. It is one of my top goals/fears, so I keep that in mind whenever I write. I also have some preteen beta readers that help me here. I use the voices and stories of kids as much as possible to share their wisdom too.
Shari: If readers only take away one thing from reading Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, what do you hope that would be?
Jessica: Whatever happens in middle school does not define you or anyone else. We are all works-in-progress.
Shari: I love that! If readers enjoy Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, what other books (fiction or nonfiction) do you think they will enjoy?
Jessica: Two books that I love because they are so funny are Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and Middle School – Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts. Two books I love because they capture middle school social dynamics are All’s Faire in MIddle School by Victoria Jamieson and A Place at the Table by Laura Shovan and Saadia Faruqi.
Shari: What are you reading these days?
Jessica: I’m currently reading Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles and loving it. Next, I’m excited to read Let the Monster Out by Chad Lucas and Glitter Gets Everywhere by Yvette Clark.
Shari: Can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Jessica: I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my third middle-grade book, The Phone Book (releasing August 2023). I started this book during the pandemic as screentime peaked and the age at which kids’ get their first phone dropped. Like my first two books, The Phone Book is interactive with quizzes, secret codes and insights from kids.
Shari: What is your favorite question that readers have asked you?
Jessica: My favorite question is why I write about awkward and tricky social stuff. I like to share that for me, shining a light on this stuff makes it a little less awkward. Just knowing others are going through these experiences makes us feel less alone and taps into our shared humanity. Let’s face it, we are all a little weird.
Shari: Thank you so much for chatting with me about your new book!
Jessica: Thank you so much for hosting me, Shari, and for the interest in my books. I appreciate all of the work you and MG Book Village do to get books in the hands of readers!
Jessica Speer’s books engage and entertain readers by combining the stories of preteens and teens with fun activities and practical insights. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids.
She is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, parenting, and friendship. When she’s not typing away at her computer, she loves hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. She lives in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and two daughters.