This week The Literary Lab presents a series of guest posts exploring the conventions of different genres and what writers love and loath about each of them. We're continuing with Tess Hilmo on...
What is Middle Grade?It’s probably easiest to start with a list of some popular middle grade books. These include
The Giver City of Ember
Harry Potter Artemis Fowl
The Graveyard Book
Island of the Blue Dolphins
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys
Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events
The Tale of Despereaux
Just to name a few.
The best part about Middle Grade is that it encompasses many genres….fantasy, science fiction, literary, humorous, action adventure, mystery, even basic romance.
There are exceptions to every rule, but some distinguishing features of Middle Grade include:
Age of Protagonist – Middle grade fiction is aimed at children ages 8-13, so the protagonist is usually around the 12-13 age range.
Subject Matter – You’ll find stories of death/illness, relationships, divorce - even murder within the covers of a middle grade book. Typically, scenes are less graphic and more skewed for the appropriateness of the intended reader.
Word Count – At one time, Middle Grade books had lower word counts. That is no longer the case. Some of the fantasy series are up in the 400 page range and kids still gobble them up! I was asking an editor about this very thing a couple of years ago at a conference, and she said that younger middle grade stories still fall in the 30-50k range. Older middle grade runs the gamut.
Language – you won’t find much swearing in Middle Grade as a rule.
Tess’ Soapbox Moment
Middle Grade books require the author to provide the same quality of writing as other novels. Those of us who desire to write successful MG novels still pay attention to issues of characterization, plot, atmosphere, dialogue, etc. There are fantastic and beautifully written MG books and there are lousy ones – just as with any other genre. Personally, when I think of a great MG book, I think of one that child and parent would both enjoy reading.
How awards distinguish Picture Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult literature:
The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the ‘best’ picture book each year.
The Newbery: Oh, the precious Newbery. Every Middle Grade author dreams about it (at least this one does!). Started in 1922 and named after John Newbery, a publisher, it is generally awarded to one of the top Middle Grade novels every year. Newbery Honors are also given each year.
The Printz Award is specifically for YA. Young Adult literature usually has an older protagonist, more serious themes, more opportunity for language, sex, etc… I’ll let another writer tackle this subject as I am no expert!