Middle Grade Lit? What is it?

I’ve seen several blogs that feature “Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays” where they review books or discuss middle grade literature-related things. My Brain on Books is one of them and she lists the others at the end of her posts.

Because it’s, hey, Monday, I thought I would chime in with a post about what this fast growing demographic is about.

When I was at the ReadDating event in Vancouver, where authors and librarians chatted in small genre groups, I was surprised when a librarian asked me what “middle grade literature” meant. When I explained, she said, “Oh, we categorize that as juvenile literature.”

When I told a friend I was working on a middle grade novel, he thought I was referring to the quality of the work or some literature rating scale.

Even parents aren’t sure what it means. They think of “middle school,” which means different things in different states. When I taught in Colorado, Middle School was 6 – 8th grades.

Middle grade literature has loosely been defined as geared towards the 8-12 year old reader. But kids are 8 yrs old when they enter 3rd grade and 12 yrs old when they enter 7th grade. That’s a pretty large reading discrepancy and many authors, including myself, refer to their books as “lower middle grade” or “upper middle grade.” I’ve even heard some use the word “tween fiction” to indicate the 10-12 audience, but there’s no classification for that in the bookstores or libraries . . . yet.

In lower middle grade literature, there is less grey area between right and wrong, time and distance can be truncated to move the story, and characters can be less complex, even cartoonish. Not much internal angst. I write for upper middle grade because I like that moral grey area, I want my stories, even speculative fiction, to be believable, and I like a little angst.

(don’t even get me started on those book series (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter) that start off as MG and work their way into YA as the protagonist ages)

One reason I enjoy writing for this age group is because of my memories of becoming an independent reader. I remember the excitement of picking my own novels out at the library. I remember staying up far past my bedtime to read a book I’d already read 3 times before (Rats of NIMH, Phantom Tollbooth, Chronicles of Narnia, Harriet the Spy).

So what defines Middle Grade lit other than it’s aimed at 8-12 yr olds and is about, well, stuff that is important to middle graders?

First, most often the protagonist in children’s lit is slightly older than the intended reader. So, a 10-year-old would like to read about a 12-year-old.

A publisher at the SCBWI conference said that Middle Grade lit is about the protagonist fitting into the world (as opposed to YA where the protagonist becomes an individual from the world). Also, Middle Grade lit has much stricter guidelines about content, especially sexual situations (i.e. you can’t shelve anything with sexual content in the Middle Grade section of bookstores). Culturally, in the U.S., violence is more tolerated than sex in MG/YA lit.

Boys still read in the middle grades. Sadly, we lose a lot of boy readers when they hit high school.

If you have anything to add to this conversation, feel free. I’m sure there’s much more to be said.


Filed under Middle Grade Mondays

11 responses to “Middle Grade Lit? What is it?

  1. Nice post Danika!
    I like middle grade. I have a strong interest especially in multicultural middle-grade novels. The Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins was one such read.


  2. Thanks for the recommendation. Always looking for good MG/YA reads.

    I like MG in that it represents our first adventures, our initial threshold crossings / rites of passage.

  3. Great post! I love it that you took the time to explain the nuts & bolts of MG literature. I have never thought to do that! 🙂

  4. Thanks, Shannon. I find that I keep having this conversation with people who ask “what is middle grade literature”? And I went to an excellent seminar at SCBWI that addressed how to write commercial middle grade fiction.

    To me, though, it’s kind of one of those “I know it when I see it” things. lol.

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  6. Teresa Donnelly

    I love this post as it is from a perspective I have not heard. My son is in 7th grade, and while he’s not an avid reader, if a book interests him he won’t put it down. I take him to the book fairs at school and am often times shocked by the material offered. He has never taken an interest to Harry Potter and like material. But right now in his Language Arts class they are reading The Outsiders and he loves it! I’m always trying to find books that would interest him, and after reading this post, I have a new perspective when researching! 🙂

  7. Thanks, Teresa. I’m glad it helped. It sounds like he’s drawn to more realistic fiction than speculative fiction (sci fi, fantasy).

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