Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why Middle-Grade Fiction?

This weekend I attended a panel discussion at the NYPL entitled Middle Grade: Surviving the YA Onslaught about how middle-grade novels are being rebranded as Young Adult (YA).  The panelists were authors Jeanne Birdsall (The Penderwicks series), N.D. Wilson (The Dragon's Tooth), Adam Gidwitz (In a Glass Grimmly) and Rebecca Stead (When You Reach MeLiar and Spy).  I was especially fascinated by how these authors considered their readers and the age of their readers as they wrote.  They didn't just write a children's book that turned out to be middle-grade fiction; they purposely chose their audience and tailored their writing to it.  That might be obvious to the writers among you but it wasn't to me.

I appreciated the comment that they write for middle-graders because "they have all the intelligence and none of the hormones" as well as Jeanne Birdsall's idea that the author assures the middle-grade reader of "safe passage" through the book.  I love middle-grade fiction for its story-telling, its exploration of identity, friendship, and family.  I'd say middle-grade readers are ages 8-12, although the upper end of that spectrum overlaps with YA.  (I wish there were a different name for this audience, though; middle-grade has unfortunate connotations of mediocrity.)

The blog From the Mixed-Up Files, written by a group of middle-grade authors, has some great quotes about middle-grade fiction and its intended audience.

Being in middle grade is like being in limbo. You're not a little kid anymore, yet you're not a full-fledged teen. I love writing middle grade novels. It's an exciting and scary age, and the gateway to becoming who we are meant to be.  Lisa Yee

Middle grade readers are intrepid explorers: excited, unafraid, seeking the clues that will show them the way to the larger world.  Stephanie Greene

Middle grade fiction is for the young (or young at heart) person with one foot on the playground and the other foot on the path to growing up. It is for readers who are still filled with wonder but who have also begun to feel the weight of their internal and external world.  Ingrid Law

Middle grade is that age when you believe you're old enough, but often need confirmation from your parents that you really are.  Jody Feldman

Middle-grade is what Natalie Babbitt once called 'the last best years of childhood.' I have never felt anything more intensely or deeply in the rest of my life, as what I felt then, and it's those extremes of joy and sorrow, caused by events that can seem so small and insignificant to others, that I try to capture and honor in my books. Claudia Mills

To me, middle grade means that wonderful place sandwiched between easy readers for the very young and the mature, issue-centered books for young adults. Middle grade readers are still happily hunkered down in childhood, eager to move on from the more 'babyish' fare of their beginner reading days but not ready for (or even wanting) the more mature topics of teen reads. 
Barbara O'Connor

I believe the books we read at this age have a certain power. The characters can live on inside us and help us figure out who we want to be, and what we want to do with our lives. I wanted to write for this age to give something back to the next generation of readers the types of books that meant so much to me.
Wendy Mass

It's a fabulous age to write for. The kids are old enough to know that magic isn’t real, but young enough to wish that it might be. These readers are curious, creative, incredibly loyal, and just beginning to taste their own independence. And they crave characters that reflect their experiences.  Bruce Hale

Middle grade is a magical time when you're no longer a baby and not quite a teenager. The only thing that could be better than being a middle-grader is writing for them.  Laurie Friedman

Which of these quotes do you like?  What do you think is special and important about middle-grade fiction?


  1. These quotes are very helpful. The categorization of some of these books can be somewhat confusing. I particularly take offence to the young adult terminology. 13 year-olds (in my most humble opinion) are not remotely considered anything adult-like, nor should they be. When I first heard of that term, I initially thought it was targeting 18 to 22 year olds. I was shocked when I found out the age range meant by "young adult". I now am a parent to a middle-grader, so I can personally attest to how interesting and unique this age group is. I love their innocence as well as their budding interests in more complex relationships and situations. It's an interesting time! Visiting from the Children's Bookshelf! :)

  2. Renee, I think you put it so well yourself - "their innocence as well as their budding interests in more complex relationships and situations."

  3. I love all these quotes. It was nice to see you Saturday. Thanks for sharing at The Children's Bookshelf.