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Too old for MG?

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I'm working on a MG series, the first book which I've already finished. However, my protagonist is 16. I don't want to make her any younger because it doesn't seem feasible with the scenarios she gets herself involved in. I was wondering if that's too old for a MG book. I'd switch it to YA but the books themselves are short chapter books which would fit MG. Any thoughts?
#1 - June 23, 2014, 07:04 AM

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Yes, 16 is too old for MG. Kids like to read "up" in age, but not that much--it's generally going to be hard for MG readers to relate to a character that age. You may have to do some rethinking here...maybe consider practicing writing longer.

One thing you might look into--I know little about it--are "Hi-Lo" type books--books for teens with reading issues who want YA type stories but written at shorter length and with less complex syntax.  Try doing a search here on the Blueboards--or maybe someone else could chime in?
#2 - June 23, 2014, 08:45 AM
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Hi Dana. I agree with Marissa that 16 is too old for MG. I consider 13 an upper age limit. Hi-lo might indeed be a good fit for you. The hi-lo novels I've written for teens are between 15,000 and 25,000 words. They're YA themes with simple wording, as Marissa said, written at anywhere from a 1.5 to 3.0 grade level. You can ask for hi-lo novels at your library and see if you like the writing style (it's not for everyone).   
#3 - June 23, 2014, 09:36 AM
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Instead of thinking Middle Grade, ( which many confuse with "Middle School" ) think PRE-TEEN. This is pre-puberty and all that entails. This will anchor your story, its themes and its world, more firmly.

Pre- and post puberty really are two different worlds. I'm in the camp that YA (or any variation of it) does  not belong with children's books, period.
Will kids read about teens and young adults? I know I did, beginning about age twelve, even as much of it went over my head. Ask yourself if the story really is MG. If it really is, (in terms of its focus) then ask why a sixteen year old inhabits it as a MC.

Not impossible that this is a book for all ages, beginning with pre-teens. Not easy for those who shelve them, but such books really exist. Think of Huck Finn.
#4 - June 23, 2014, 11:41 AM
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If the story requires her to be 16, you are writing a YA story. As others have said, young adults have different cares and constraints than the middle grade audience, think ages 8-12. If you're unsure of what direction makes sense, consider posting for critique in the SCBWI section or seeking a critique partner.
#5 - June 23, 2014, 12:14 PM
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Concurring. You say she needs to be 16 for the sake of plot/story. Then you are writing a YA novel. Hi-Lo could be your answer. If not, then I think you'll have to recast as a true YA novel.


If you want a chapter book series, you'll need a character that's 9 or 10 years old (think Clementine, Judy Moody), and a story relatable for that age level.
#6 - June 23, 2014, 12:33 PM
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Hm, can you give an example of a situation your character gets into that requires her to be 16? I'm wondering if there would be ways to work around that obstacle, depending on the type of situations you mean, in order to age the character down to MG range.

Also, depending on the type of book you're writing, you can have a bit of flexibility in MG when it comes to character ages. Fairy tale retellings are one example -- think Ella Enchanted, which is solidly MG, but Ella and the prince get married, so she's clearly older than the typical MG character.

The closer you are to a modern setting, I think, the more the character generally needs to fall into a certain age range. My contemp MG fantasy protagonist was 13, but was asked to adjust age to 12. No big deal there, but 16 to 12-13 is a much bigger change, so I definitely see where you could be running into issues.

Looking into Hi-Lo is a good suggestion. You might also take a trip to your local library and ask for some recommendations for younger YAs. It might give you a sense of how to change your book to a YA if that's the route you ultimately decide to take.
#7 - June 23, 2014, 02:54 PM
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You describe your books as short chapter books, but most regular MG still runs a flexible average of 35,000 words. As mrh mentioned the length you are describing would have a 8-10 year old main character.  Hopefully you can give YA a try.  :)
#8 - June 23, 2014, 06:30 PM
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Hmmm, what about Nancy Drew or some historicals where the MC is 16 or older, that have a solid MG feel? It's less about the age, more the sensibility.

I once critiqued a fantastic historical that fell in-between. Had a very MG feel but the protagonist was 16. I wish there was room for a book like this but eventually the writer chose to go younger instead older. Have you had other writers read this work for you? If several people feel that the age/voice is off, I'd take their opinions into consideration.

Good luck,
Vijaya
#9 - June 23, 2014, 07:33 PM
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Vijaya,

I wish publishers would still put out those books. My son ate up Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys. He likes that they are older and have that freedom. He feels like they'll be able to handle the dangerous elements better than a younger protagonist like Trixie Belden. He was too scared for her to keep reading.
#10 - June 30, 2014, 08:39 AM
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Gosh, I hate to be the devil's advocate, but my take on the issue is - content. I agree that older kids have more freedom to solve their problem, then there's Percy and all his escapades (fantasy?) But if the content is mature, then I'd hesitate. MG is not ready for romance or such as that, and shouldn't be exposed to peer pressure towards drugs or alcohol issues, such as that. When I was younger, going into the fifth and sixth grades, I read everything Jack London wrote and tried to live it (I even went to Alaska as an adult) I started reading Alexander Dumont's Three Musketeers, and Robin Hood - one of the first editions, and other books like that. I gobbled them up and looked for more. Content. I read everything written about a dog or a horse. All of the Black Stallion books start with Alex Ramsey being 15, and he did have a girlfriend in The Black Stallion and the Girl. I was in the sixth grade when I read that one.

My granddaughter started reading YA when she was in the second grade. She actually finished The Fault in our Stars in three days, and was able to discuss it with her mother and me.

So many variables.

I don't know if I helped or hindered, but that's my two cents worth as a young reader.
#11 - August 19, 2014, 05:10 PM

I agree with you. Middle grade kids still need exposure to good literature. Between 8 and 12, my girls loved the Anne of Green Gables books, the Black Stallion series, Heidi, Nancy Drew, Madeleine L'Engle's books, and many more. 

I think books rich in content are very important. They expose kids to situations outside their own experiences. Standard conventions of literature, such as imagery, help children visualize what they are reading and improve comprehension. Robust vocabulary words impart word-meaning skills that help take kids to the next level.
#12 - August 22, 2014, 05:01 PM
« Last Edit: August 22, 2014, 05:12 PM by Flashflood505 »

There are a TON of variables, and exceptions to every rule.  But this might be helpful:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-key-differences-between-middle-grade-vs-young-adult?et_mid=685611&rid=239167764

It's an article I wrote for Writer's Digest Magazine on the differences between MG and YA.  They've recently put it online here for free viewing.

Best,
Marie
#13 - August 23, 2014, 05:50 AM
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The other obstacle is Barnes and Noble. From what I understand, they like to categorize by age. My agent had me change the age of my character from 13 to 12, just so there wouldn't be any problem getting shelved in Middle Grade. She told me 13 was the cutoff. Content is key, and Nancy Drew is a great example. But I can't think of any modern examples.
#14 - August 23, 2014, 10:43 AM

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I agree with 16 being YA. However, you mention it being a series. If it's a chapter book, is there any reason why you can't consolidate the whole series into one book? You can even divide them into "parts" and make it YA. Either way, the age is still a problem so at this point you should either consider changing the age, or making it age appropriate.
#15 - August 23, 2014, 03:07 PM

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