Sunday, February 20, 2011

What About Middle Grade?

Everybody feels misunderstood, left out, and underappreciated. That’s one of the great themes of middle-grade fiction.

It’s also how it feels lately to be a middle-grade writer. Children’s bestseller lists and Publishers Marketplace are dominated by YA. The Today Show deemed Newbery Award winners of such low interest that they bumped them for Snooki. Libraries and librarians, the best allies of middle-grade writers, face slashed budgets. E-books are shaking up the industry, and the impact on children’s books is one of the murkiest areas.

After the ALA awards, Dystel and Goderich’s John Rudolph wrote an insightful post that stuck with me.
I’ll be curious now to see if Moon starts to take off in the trade, or if it’s regarded as hopelessly institutional—that’s a question prospective MG writers should consider, too, especially as the gap between trade and institutional seem to be widening further.

Thought-provoking, coming from someone who reps, supports, and loves middle-grade. I needed a writing gut check, so this question hit home.

The good news is the Newbery winner, Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, rides high at number four on the NYT list for Children’s Chapter Books.
Snooki’s literary fame – well, let’s say it’s as ephemeral as a spray tan.

I’m aiming for commercial success and trying to write books for young readers that stay with them a little longer. So what if middle-grade writers feel misunderstood, left out, and unappreciated? I’ll channel that right into my characters.

Any middle-grade writers out there? What are your thoughts? Oh, and if you ever wondered what's the difference between middle grade and middle school, here's a great explanation.


  1. Great article, Kelly! Thanks for the link to my post. :)

  2. I've got to say some of my favorite books on the market lately are middle grade. I loved the Artemis Fowl series as well as Pendragon, both MG books. I guess like any other good book these two stuck with me because the story was original and entertaining and the writing good. That's what I want in a book, I don't care what genre it is.

  3. I am a middle grade writer (and PB, too) and I totally get what you are saying. But all we can do it write the best books we can and hope they find their audience.

    Unfortunately, with fewer and fewer brick and mortar stores, I think kids will get fewer chances to choose what they read. What a wonderful thing it is to go into a bookstore and browse......How sad it will be when most choices will be made online.


  4. Storyqueen, I hope that didn't come off as gloomy! I've been hearing a lot about the literary/commercial nexus in middle-grade, where writing, concept, reviews, and broad appeal meet. I think it might have nudged a bit more toward the commercial, so that's the sweet spot I'm aiming for...

  5. I'm with storyqueen. If I'm not a bestseller, so be it, but I love what I write. :)

  6. Wait until they grow up to be YA. Then, according to the New York Times, they'll be forced to conform by the distopian world they live in and still be misunderstood, left out, and unappreciated. Is that the role of a main character?

    Seriously, today I decided to read through the Newbery award winners in order. Was surprised to see how often Scott O'Dell has won the award.

  7. I don't read nearly as much MG as YA, but I've had a MG short story published. I confess I thought it was YA until the editor put the MG tag on it. I was okay with it, just hadn't thought of it that way. So it was a good nudge for me, to go and see what else MG had to offer that I'd been missing.

  8. thank you for this post. as an MG writer/blogger surrounded by YA writers i have felt more than left out to the point of wondering if i'm all alone out here.

    there must be a good way for us to band together to provide the same type of mutual support the YA writers have (if by sheer numbers alone).

    suggestions, anyone?

    -- Tom

  9. Thanks for that link. This is something I have to adapt my own knowldge for--here in Canada we have 'jr High school' not Middle Schools for the most part. The grades are a bit different (7, 8 & 9) and it's tough sometimes because a lot of MG seems much too 'young' for kids in Jr high school from what I see here, so I have to adjust my thinking a bit when writing this age group as I write for a US audience, so it's not the same.

    I do agree MGers are in a tough place. All I can hope is that literacy will make a 'comeback' soon and people will start placing greater value on these important reading/learning growth years. Right now it definitely feels like cuts are everywhere and that not enough importance is placed on lit for this age group. I fear for the wide angle repercussions of this.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse


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