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middle-grade vs. middle-school

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Dionna

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So here I am thinking about the ages of readers for middle-grade--8-12, right?

Here's the seeming conundrum for me:

Eight year-olds are in second or third grade, which is WAY before middle-school, and many second graders are still learning to read well. Twelve year-olds are in 5th grade, maybe part of 6th.  Big difference in emotional, physical and social development spans between second and fifth grade, right?

So, am I correct in saying that the term "middle-grade" is NOT synonymous with middle-school?  :eh2 

And If a main character in a middle-grade is say 10, the readership would be aimed at second graders, since young readers like their protagonists to be older, right? And if that's the case, the subject matter should be devoid of "deep" or "dark" themes, but be light and silly? And if the age of the main character is say 13, the concerns and themes could be much more complex.

So...how important is it to determine the age of the reader, the tone and theme of your story and the age of your main character BEFORE crafting your middle-grade?
#1 - November 04, 2014, 06:12 AM

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Dionna, yes, this is very confusing to a lot of people. Middle grade does NOT mean middle school.

In the situations you describe, a 10-year-old mc, would, in most cases, be appropriate for a younger middle grade story. The 13-year-old would be more appropriate for a more complex, older middle grade story. There is a huge range of complexity, length of manuscript, themes, but just because it's middle grade, doesn't mean the dark stuff doesn't exist. It's just not handled as brutally as it can be in YA. Middle grades explore issues like death and violence (for instance), but in a more careful way, I think. Definitely lighter in tone, perhaps, but the meaning is still present.

To answer your last question, I think you really need to know your character (and yourself), and fully realize the story he/you need to tell. That happens as you write it. I know PLENTY of people who start out thinking they are writing a young adult novel, and end up with a middle grade, and vice versa. Your "appropriate audience" is naturally born out of the truth of the character and that evolves over the course of many revisions.

I would suggest not to worry about your audience yet. Write, and as your character and story forms over time, it will be more apparent where it fits in the marketplace. EVEN THEN, your assessment could be off, and an editor may put it in a completely different category than you expect.

#2 - November 04, 2014, 06:35 AM
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To answer your last question, I think you really need to know your character (and yourself), and fully realize the story he/you need to tell. That happens as you write it. I know PLENTY of people who start out thinking they are writing a young adult novel, and end up with a middle grade, and vice versa. Your "appropriate audience" is naturally born out of the truth of the character and that evolves over the course of many revisions.

I would suggest not to worry about your audience yet. Write, and as your character and story forms over time, it will be more apparent where it fits in the marketplace. EVEN THEN, your assessment could be off, and an editor may put it in a completely different category than you expect.

This.

But I'm right there with you. In my head, before I got into writing kidlit, Middle Grade and Middle School were synonymous. But they aren't. So weird, right?
#3 - November 04, 2014, 06:39 AM
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 I'll add that some MG are stories about kids in middle school- up to 8th grade. Some upper MG  deal with heavier subjects like racism, parents with alcohol problems, having a gay sibling, dealing with death. Or an upper MG might deal with middle school cliques and first romance. Protagonists can be 13 or 14, and if the book is fantasy then younger kids will be reading about older characters. However, if its contemporary and deals with some heavier issues, it's not going to appeal to an 8 or 9 year old even if they're advanced readers.

I agree with the others: write the story you were meant to write, then figure out where it fits in. Also, read as much MG as you can, in different genres and those stories aimed at younger as well as older readers.
#4 - November 04, 2014, 07:34 AM
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We don't even have middle school where I live!

As I recall, the middle grades are the grades between primary (1-3) and secondary (7-12). It was coined before middle schools became popular.

Hope that helps!

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#5 - November 04, 2014, 08:14 AM
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I don't think the subject matter for the lower end of MG readers necessarily needs to be "light and silly." People of all ages love light and silly stories. But there is no reason why kids who are 8 or 9 won't benefit from a book with a slightly darker theme. Of course, it depends on the reader, but that's why there should be a variety of themes in stories for every age range. Consider Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry. Definitely a darker theme, but at a level that is appropriate for plenty of 2nd or 3rd graders. There are older kids that have low reading levels, but want high interest stories. And there are young kids who have high reading levels that are only interested in light and/or funny reading. Or young kids that want to leap into YA, but aren't quite ready for it. We need to be considering all of those readers when we write.

When my daughter was seven, she jumped from picture books to MG practically overnight when she read T.A. Barron's THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN. I wouldn't consider that book appropriate for most seven year olds based on its reading level. I'd say it is geared more toward the older MG crowd (10-12 year olds). But she devoured it! It's good that those books are there for readers like her.

I guess my point is that there really aren't any rules about this. There are so many great MG books that explore a variety of dark and light themes and are appropriate for a variety of ages. Just make sure that your story is true to the ages of the characters, and let the rest work itself out.
#6 - November 04, 2014, 08:55 AM
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Quote
It was coined before middle schools became popular.
This makes sense.

Back in the day, middle school was called junior high school, and elementary school was divided into kindergarten, the primary grades (1-3) and the upper grades (4-6). At least for us. I'm sure there were regional variations.
#7 - November 04, 2014, 09:00 AM

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Thanks for your input, all! Very balanced advice.  :flowers2
#8 - November 04, 2014, 09:42 AM

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I think you are honing in on the difference between true middle grade and upper middle grade and yes the name is confusing. There's a big difference between 8-10 yr old readers and 10-13year old readers. most lit with MC's that are 12-13 tend to fall in that upper middle grade category. Stuff like percy jackson and parts of harry potter tend to fall more in that upper middle grade category. But the issues a grade schooler faces vs a middle schooler can be very different.
#9 - November 05, 2014, 05:36 AM

Another thing they used to call Middle Grade was "middle reader" -- the term has sort of fallen out of fashion, but you can still see it on signs in bookstores and such sometimes. Middle, ie, the bridge between babyish books and sophisticated books. Yep, nothing to do with middle school! Yep, confusing. ;-)
#10 - November 05, 2014, 07:37 AM
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Middle reader! That makes sense. Seems like I remember Hardy Boys being called middle-readers, and yes, those books made me feel so grown up! (Or maybe I'm just reminiscing about Shaun Cassidy.  :thanx)  But middle-grade, well, the term certainly seems to indicate what "grade" a kid is in. Why don't we all revolt and go back to the term middle-reader?!  :grrr
#11 - November 06, 2014, 08:07 PM

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My nine year old son has read all of the Hardy Boys - Middle Readers with 17 year old protagonists. Those were the days. Funny that no on thinks this age group would read them today.

He loves them and the graphic novel series based on them.

Lemmony Snicket is pretty dark too, but very middle grade. Oops, I meant middle reader.
#12 - November 10, 2014, 12:05 PM

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My nine year old son has read all of the Hardy Boys - Middle Readers with 17 year old protagonists. Those were the days. Funny that no on thinks this age group would read them today.

My sister and I read all the Nancy Drew books we could find when we were middle school age even though Nancy was much older than we were. I think maybe publishing has gotten a little too rigid about how old MC's should be for each age group. It's the voice that really matters. The Nancy Drew books definitely have an MG voice.
#13 - November 10, 2014, 07:56 PM

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Pons, I agree.
#14 - November 17, 2014, 08:21 AM

That's fascinating, I always wondered what middle reader meant.
#15 - November 17, 2014, 04:04 PM

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I have long thought there should be a tween level in between MG and YA. Especially to break up the YA section. What's good for a 17-year-old isn't necessarily good for a 12-year-old. And yes, let’s get rid of the term Middle Grade! Two highly-educated acquaintances of mine (who aren't authors and who don’t happen to work with, or have children) both had the same reaction when I told them what type of writing I do. They thought I was belittling my books when I called them middle-grade (as opposed to high-grade).  :duh
#16 - November 18, 2014, 08:21 AM
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I was probably nine or ten when I began reading "the classics" of children literature. I'm thinking of the sorts of books you read and re-read your whole life: Huckleberry Finn, The Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables. (Real examples from the English-speaking world that I read in translation back then, in addition to  books from other cultures and my own, Hebrew.) My two kids followed the same, and no one made them.
So to me middle Grade novels are the heart and the meat of children's books. (Picture books are the art of it.)
I wrote a blog post on this, suggesting we re-name MG "pre-teen."
http://mirkabreen.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-re-name-middle-grade-novels.html

But re-naming may not be my forte. Marketers guide these efforts, and writers do their best to understand. But we may be too understanding sometime. These market-categorizing terms should not be taken rigidly.
#17 - November 18, 2014, 08:46 AM
« Last Edit: November 18, 2014, 08:49 AM by 217mom »
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I am writing what could be called a Tween now. It definitely has an MG voice, but the MC is 14. There is such a need for books for kids who want a taste of high school, but aren't ready for a YA voice - The Tweens. An agent once told me that Tween books were doomed to fail because no one knows where to shelve them in a book store. Really? That's the big issue?  :faint  If there's no Tween section (And there isn't right now.) put one copy in MG and one copy in YA. (Mods, I hope I haven't gone too snarky here.  :eh2)

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#18 - November 18, 2014, 12:00 PM

Dionna

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Two highly-educated acquaintances of mine (who aren't authors and who don’t happen to work with, or have children) both had the same reaction when I told them what type of writing I do. They thought I was belittling my books when I called them middle-grade (as opposed to high-grade). :duh

Wow, I can see how they figured that...like middle-grade fabric...INTERESTING!

#19 - November 18, 2014, 01:37 PM

Dionna

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So to me middle Grade novels are the heart and the meat of children's books. (Picture books are the art of it.)

BEAUTIFULLY SAID!

I wrote a blog post on this, suggesting we re-name MG "pre-teen."
http://mirkabreen.blogspot.com/2014/03/lets-re-name-middle-grade-novels.html

I enjoyed your post! Very well-said. The term pre-teen does seem to fit, although I wouldn't consider 8 & 9 year-olds preteens.
#20 - November 18, 2014, 01:44 PM

Dionna

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There is such a need for books for kids who want a taste of high school, but aren't ready for a YA voice - The Tweens. An agent once told me that Tween books were doomed to fail because no one knows where to shelve them in a book store. Really? That's the big issue?

I agree, Pons! Clothing stores have a junior section for girls and boys, right. I remember when they didn't. So maybe, someday!

How about these shelf labels: board books (0-3), picture books (3-8), early-readers (5-8), pre-tweens (8-10), tweens (10-12), teens (13-15), young adult (16-18), new adult (17-19)??? I lika!

 
#21 - November 18, 2014, 01:55 PM

Yes I vote for a tween level. I don't really like how thirteen seems to be defaulted to YA no matter what. Now granted you can do more in YA, but I'm not wanting to do Outsiders or Winnie The Poo. Those are just way to the extreme to me.:/

But what makes middle grade has always confused me. I mean I know now, about three classics and one current later.
#22 - November 19, 2014, 12:10 PM
« Last Edit: November 19, 2014, 12:13 PM by SarahW »

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Dionna, I love your shelf labels! And it would be easy to overlap audiences, by saying, for example: pre-tweens through teens, etc.
#23 - November 22, 2014, 07:18 AM
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Why, thank you, Marcia! Shall we gather address labels and Sharpies and hit the bookstores? I'm ready! :cop2 (or not.)
#24 - November 22, 2014, 11:09 AM

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