The etymology of middle grade literature is rather hard to determine. For the most part, it came to be when writers and publishers determined that there was a market for it. This is a recent occurrence and middle grade literature is now a separate category rather than a subgroup of young adult literature . While it is a recently new “term” to describe literature, there are books, however, that were written before this literature “age group/ audience” came to be. For example, while the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Montgomery and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis have now been classified as middle grade literature, they were not written specifically with the middle grade audience in mind.
While middle grade fiction covers a wide range of genres, there are some common characteristics between middle grade novels. For example, the main characters of these novels are often between the ages of 10-14 . In addition, middle grade fiction novels are often comprised of around 30,000 to 50,000 words . As well, while there may be heavier topics, middle grade literature tends to avoid subjects such as sex, drug use, or other more mature content. Moreover, while the issues and challenges faced by the protagonists in middle grade novels are still serious and often deep, these conflicts are more often caused by external issues as opposed to internal challenges , which results in the lack of self reflection that is often seen in middle grade literature. Another common characteristic is that the syntax and vocabulary in middle grade literature is more complex than children’s literature but less complicated than young adult and adult literature. As well, unlike young adult literature, whose stories are often told in first person, middle grade novels often feature third person narration .
In middle grade literature the parents play a different role than in young adult literature. Editor Stephanie Lane explains that in young adult literature, “the characters are old enough to be pretty independent and get into trouble on their own,” whereas in middle grade, “kids’ lives are still fairly controlled by their parents”.
Edna L. Sterling and Alice Simondet outline what they believe the goals of middle grade books should be. Thought the following list is a bit dated (it was written in 1956), the goals outlined are still relevant to middle grade books today. Of course, one would be hard pressed to find a middle grade novel that incorporates all these elements, and most only incorporate a few, yet this list is still valuable for discussing the aims of middle grade books as a whole. According to Sterling and Simondet, these books should:
- Develop in each child the desire to read
- Teach pupils new skills for reading ever increasingly difficult material
- Develop in the children helpful word-attack skills
- Aid children in developing new thought patterns
- Encourage children to think critically about what they read
- Cultivate an appreciation of good literature of different kinds
- Encourage children to engage in wide reading
- Introduce children to various forms of writing that authors use
Marie Lamba, an author of young adult literature, writes that middle grade books are generally written for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, and are shorter than young adult novels. As far as content goes, they typically “focus on friends, family and the character’s immediate world and relationship to it; characters react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection” .
Amanda Rutter, editor at Strange Chemistry writes that middle grade is much more about external problems, while young adult books are about internal problems. She says, “The protagonist reacts to external situations and events, which leads to adventurous stories, and there is little time spent in the characters’ heads.
Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management sums up what middle grade novels are all about quite eloquently.
- “Middle grade readers who read to understand look for stories that help them piece together the truths that seem to be opening up all around them, about the world and their place in it, and the connections between themselves and their family, their community, their friends, etc. Or they’re reading to understand about a different time/place and what it was/would be like to be a kid then. Or they’re reading to just understand how stuff works, period—from the everyday mundane stuff to big concepts like justice and honesty and friendship and happiness and love.”
- Lo, Malinda, Abigail Ranger, Amanda Rutter, and Joe Monti. “An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, Part 1: Definitions.” www.sfa.org. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 1 Feb. 2013. Web. 13 May 2015.
- O’Neill, Molly. “Everything you ever wanted to know about middle grade…and were willing to ask.” www.dystel.com. Dystel and Goderich Literacy Management, 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 13 May 2015.
- Sambuchino, Chuck. “Is it Young Adult or Middle Grade?” www.writersdigest.com. Writer’s Digest, 22 Apr. 2012. Web. 13 May 2015.
- Lamba, Marie. “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs. Young Adult.” www.writersdigest.com. Writer’s Digest, 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 May 2015.
- ”Elliott, Stephanie Lane, and Sara Crow. “Editor Interview: Stephanie Lane Elliott, Senior Editor, Delacorte Press.” Interview. Web log post. Acrowesnest.blogspot.com. Crow’s Nest, 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 20 May 2015.
- Sterling, Edna L., and Alice Simondet. “Organizing Reading in the Middle Grades.” The Reading Teacher 10.2 (1956): 86-92. JSTOR. Web. 12 May 2015.
- Bourret, Michael. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Middle Grade…and Were Willing to Ask.” Www.dystel.com. Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 May 2015.