(For those who want to skip straight to the writing exercise, it’s at the bottom of the post)
We saw it happen with the Harry Potter series. In book one, Harry is 11 years old. That’s 6th grade. I remember the first book carried a lot of humour. It was whimsical. Little Harry is more interested in magical candy than snogging a girl.
But by the time we get to the end, it’s a dark bloodfest with some serious snogging. This makes complete sense to me. What matters to a 6th grader is much different than what matters to a 12th grader. If you recall what it’s like going through high school, there were probably some dark and scary times. I know I experienced a lot of emotional turmoil.
For those kids who read along as the series was published, this was a very personal journey. Harry grew as his fans grew and they all lost their innocence together. What a magical experience that must have been for them.
But now all the books are out in the world. On Amazon, Harry Potter is listed in the description as “for ages 9 and up” for ALL the books in the series. Really? If you were taking the 7th book as a stand alone, would you give it to your 9-year-old?
(as a side note, this is an interesting description because rarely are books listed for “X and up.” They are usually very specific about age groups for children’s books)
When I was at the SCBWI Conference last summer I asked an editor at a large publisher about this phenomenon. If one is writing a middle grade series, “is it all right” or “what happens if” the characters grow older and suddenly they’ve stopped playing hide-and-seek and are now into young adult shenanigans. (Okay, so I didn’t use the word “shenanigans”)
All she said was, “Yeah, that happens.” She didn’t say it was wrong to do, but she did imply that it was a bit of an issue for publishers.
The reason I asked her is because I’m coming up against the same issue with my own series. Originally I was going to follow my young protagonist up until the point when she became a mother herself. I have since changed my mind and decided to only have her age a few years. However, something I find harder to address is that the story is getting darker as I go deeper into it and I’m already afraid I have isolated my youngest fans.
Are there any other series where this holds true? Where it starts as a MG read but creeps into the YA category as the series continues and the MC ages?
I only read the first 2 books of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I started to wonder if Kinney had written a book for every year of school and the summers in between, wouldn’t that mean the MC was 15 at the end of the story? Does this ever become an issue?
For a list of more Middle Grade Mondayers, CLICK HERE
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TODAY’s WRITING WORKOUT
Inspired by this idea of “what matters” to your protagonist. . .
Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: The most precious person in my protagonist’s life is…
Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out
When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist hurts/disappoints this person when . . .
(if that startline doesn’t work for you, try My protagonist can’t bring herself to tell this person that . . .)
When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist redeems him/herself when . . . (or My protagonist reveals the truth when . . .)
Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.