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Can a chapter book have 4th grade main characters?

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I wrote a chapter book with third graders as the main characters but later decided that it would "work" better with the kids as fourth graders.  I made the changes and am very happy with the results, but am a bit worried because the majority of chapter books have main characters in 1st through 3rd grades.  My word count is at 12,600 and in my query letter I call this an "upper chapter book."  But I am worried that prospective agents will see "chapter book" and "fourth grade" and will immediately be turned off.

I talked with a CB author at a conference this weekend and she said not to let the fourth grade thing stop me, but she also asked why the MCs couldn't be third graders and reminded me not to underestimate my readers (all great advice!).  I made the switch because it seemed to work a little better for the plot of the book, and also because I wanted to "stretch" the potential readership a bit--we know that kids frequently read up, and I didn't think at the time it would hurt my chances for representation and publication.  But now I am questioning my decision--chapter books are a tough sell anyway these days, and I don't want to make any big mistakes right out of the gate.  And I am also asking myself if a fourth grade girl (it is more geared toward girls, with some boy characters) would want to read a book with only 12,600 words when that is around the time they are exploring longer MG stuff...

Does anyone have any advice on this?  Am I putting too much thought into it?  I have a manuscript and query letter ready to go but am sitting on it right now, trying to make up my mind.

Thanks so much!!!

 :smile  Becky
#1 - September 27, 2010, 08:16 AM
Just keep swimming!
www.beckyshillington.blogspot.com
Twitter: @BeckyinSC

I would keep it.

1. Kids are much more likely to read about older characters than younger characters.
2. Readers who are in fourth grade and aren't ready to read the "big books" will love having something they can relate to.
3. The editor will talk to you about it if it's really a problem.
#2 - September 27, 2010, 09:02 AM

is kooky.
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I'm on the other hand...my 4th grader is reading HP5, so I think you may be stretching it.

ETA: Looks like I'm wrong!  :moose It's not that uncommon...lol
#3 - September 27, 2010, 09:13 AM
« Last Edit: September 27, 2010, 09:43 AM by Aimee Walker »
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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I agree with Inspired. My Supernatural Rubber Chicken chapter book series has twin protagonists in the fourth grade. No one's every complained that the characters are too old.
#4 - September 27, 2010, 09:35 AM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

http://www.DebraLGreen.com

I also agree. Moxy Maxwell is a terrific chapter book series that has a character who's 9 and I think she turns 10 later.
Kids have a wide range of reading abilities. One child might be able to read Harry Potter in first grade while others won't be ready until middle school. Kids who aren't as strong of readers can really enjoy chapter book series with slightly older characters that aren't seen as babyish.
#5 - September 27, 2010, 09:40 AM

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Cam Jansen is in fifth grade. Frankie Pickle is in fourth grade. Zack in the Zack Files is ten years old. In my own chapter book series (The Milo and Jazz Mysteries), Milo and Jazz are about ten, although their age and grade are never stated. I agree that younger kids like to read about older kids, and older kids with reading difficulties don't want to feel that they're stuck with "baby books."
#6 - September 27, 2010, 09:41 AM
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JMouse

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Aren't Harold and George in the Captain Underpants series in fourth grade? How about Jack in the Magic Tree House books? It seems to me he's around eight or nine (although I may be remembering incorrectly)!
#7 - September 27, 2010, 10:52 AM

My younger daughter had a heck of a time learning to read, and yet loved to read. I remember it being not so easy to find her books on her reading level that weren't for kids years younger than she was. And, if it's in a regular trade book market without the label of being hi-lo or for "the struggling reader" all the better!
#8 - September 27, 2010, 11:35 AM

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Thank you SO MUCH, everyone!  It really helps to hear other people's perspectives, and thanks so much for the additional titles.  I am so thankful for this board--I learn something new every day!

 :thankyou  Becky
#9 - September 27, 2010, 01:47 PM
Just keep swimming!
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Twitter: @BeckyinSC

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I am working on a chapter book and the MC is in fifth grade.  Maybe I'm wrong, and it may never sell, but having taught 4th and 5th graders for 32 years, I found that most kids love to read books about characters in their appropriate grade.  At least, that's my experiece.  So, I'd go ahead as you are going.  And, good luck to you!!   :goodluck
#10 - September 28, 2010, 06:37 AM

jenniferfisher

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I think things such as plot, tone, and voice are going to drive your readership more than the grade level. A book in my hands now has a 7th grade MC, the book jacket levels it on a 2.6 (level M), and Renaissance Learning levels it on a 3.4. Obviously this book is geared toward HiLo, but my point is books are as varied as their readers. There's a lid for every pot  :flower
#11 - September 28, 2010, 06:42 PM

ladylind

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I also have a CB character who is 9ish.  Glad to hear that there is good support in this area.
#12 - October 10, 2010, 04:35 PM

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