Sunday, May 25, 2014

10 Things To Know About Middle Grade Literature

Lately, I've seen a lot of blog posts discussing middle grade literature as though it is a new, difficult-to-define category. I hope to clear up at least some of the misconceptions with this quick list of things to know.
  • “Middle grade” is not a new term. It’s been in use in publications like Booklist and The Horn Book since at least 1967, and is also sometimes used synonymously with juvenile fiction (as differentiated from picture books or young adult fiction).
  • Middle grade refers, literally, to the middle grades of a child’s education, roughly grades 4 to 7, or ages 8 to 12. Education literature often uses the term “middle grade” to define a level of education, not just a level of reading ability. I have seen references to “middle grade math” and “middle grade science” as well as “middle grade fiction.”
  • Books read by middle school students may or may not be middle grade. Most middle school libraries I have seen have a mix of middle grade and young adult books designed to suit the interests of a student body ranging in age from 10 to 14. Many middle school books are on the upper end of the middle grade reading spectrum, and might not be appropriate for kids on the lower end.
  • Middle grade is not a genre. Middle grade books can fall into any number of genres - mystery, fantasy, realistic fiction, biography, self-help, how-to, etc.
  • Middle grade novels do have chapters, but they are different from chapter books. A chapter book is a transitional book for kids who have mastered the basics of reading but are not quite ready for the complications of plot and character introduced in a children’s novel. Chapter books can be appropriate for kids ages 5-8, while middle grade books straddle the late elementary and early middle school years.
  • Middle grade books will typically include stories of family, friendship, neighborhood happenings, school, bullying, fighting the forces of evil, overcoming hardship, and beginning puberty. Middle grade books will not include sex scenes, drug use, heavy violence, or other edgy, dark concepts. (Books for kids containing these subjects are young adult books.)
  • A middle grade book does not have to be appropriate for the entire 8-12 age range to be classified as middle grade. Books that appeal only to 9-year-olds are middle grade, as are books that appeal only to 12-year-olds. The middle grade category is a spectrum, and it encompasses a continuum of reading levels.
  • Authors of middle grade books sometimes write young adult fiction and vice versa. What determines whether the book is middle grade or YA is the subject matter and reading level, not the person who wrote the story. Though both are by Suzanne Collins, Gregor the Overlander is middle grade, and The Hunger Games is young adult.
  • Middle grade is a concept understood by teachers, librarians, authors, and publishers, but most kids don’t know which category the books they read fit into. Teens might know to ask where the young adult section is, but a middle grade child is probably going to ask, “Where are the fifth grade books?” not “Where is the middle grade section?” Middle grade is a useful term to use among children’s literature professionals, but it’s jargon and not necessary to use with the general public.
  • Categories are useful for organizing libraries and guessing at what a collective body of kids might be interested in reading, but terms like "middle grade" only matter insofar as they are helpful. The best way to determine whether a given book is appropriate for a given child is to gather facts about both and make an informed recommendation based on what you learn.

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