I don’t like the term middle grade, even though I love a lot of books that fall under that umbrella. Middle grade books are not for middle schoolers, but the confusing terminology flummoxes a lot of teachers and parents.
If you’re also unclear, here’s the breakdown:
Middle grade= a publishing classification; literature for 8-12 year olds.
Middle school=students in 6th-8th grade, typically. Ages 12-14.
Tweens: pre-adolescents (preadolescene being “a stage of human development following early childhood and preceding adolescence), generally between the ages of 10-13. Blend of “in between” and “teen.” Used as a term for reckless twenty something Hobbits in Tolkien’s books.
Some middle schoolers are tweens, but not all tweens are middle schoolers.
Middle schoolers are more likely to be reading teen books, occasionally enjoying middle grade choices (Wonder and The One and Only Ivan are a couple of MG titles that I know appeal to middle school students).
This is a great article that breaks down the difference between middle grade and young adult books. I particularly like this section:
MG vs. YA Readers
Middle-grade is not synonymous with middle school. Books for the middle-school audience tend to be divided between the MG and YA shelves. So which shelf do those readers go to? While there is no such thing as a ’tween category in bookstores, there are degrees of maturity in both MG and YA novels that’ll appeal to the younger and older sides of the middle-school crowd. A longer, more complex MG novel with characters who are 13 could take place in middle school and be considered an “upper-MG novel.” But the material can’t be too mature. It’s still an MG novel, after all, and most readers will be younger. Writing a sweeter, more innocent YA? Then it’s pretty likely that your readers will be ’tweens, that your characters should be around 15 years old, and that your book will be marketed as a “young YA.”
While it’s useful for you to understand these nuances as you craft your story and relate to your true audience, when it comes time to submit, don’t go so far as to define your novel as upper MG or younger YA in your query. That’s already pointing to a more limited readership. Instead, just stick to calling it either MG or YA when you submit, and let an interested agent draw conclusions about nuances from there.
So here’s my philosophy (which I’ll expound on further and in more detail in an upcoming blog post): I think for children and teens, programs and spaces need to be clearly defined and specifically tailored; baby lapsit is so very different than a teen maker program, and so it goes for every developmental stage in between. What youth needs socially, emotionally, and physically varies greatly as they grow.
However, in terms of your collection (and here I am only concerned with what they’re reading), once a kid reaches about third grade and is an independent reader, I think things should be much more open.
What do I mean? Well, first of all, stop labeling your books. No more E for easy on the picture books, or J for juvenile, or any of that. You just have fiction and nonfiction in a variety of formats. Board books, beginning readers, and transitional books are pulled out, because those are very tailored to their audience for developmental reasons. The rest? All one big pile.* Picture books through chapter books, arranged by genre, perhaps. But no other labels. Have a kids’ collection that goes up to, say, sixth grade, and then a teen collection that’s 7th grade and up. But both collections include picture books.
Is this practical? Probably not. Would any library dare do this? Probably not. Is it a better way to organize literature and resources for youth? I believe so.
Stay tuned for another post about this idea of “reading unbound.” In the mean time, read more about those tricky tweens and how to serve them.
Tweens, teens, and twentysomethings: a history of words for young people
Teen Space Guidelines (does there need to be one for Tweens?)
Sign up for SLJ’s “Be Tween” newsletter.
*an organized, and definitely not literal, pile.
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