Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Middle Grade Novels

The Sameness of Sheep

Once, when I discussed my work-in-progress, middle-grade novel with my agent, I told her the character was eleven. “Make her twelve,” she said. “But eleven-year-olds aren’t the same as twelve-year-olds,” I protested. “Those are different ages.” “Make her twelve,” she insisted. “The editor will ask you to change it anyway.”

I didn’t finish the book (don’t have that agent anymore, either). The age argument took the wind out of my sails. I understood the reasoning—create older characters to get the most bang for the middle-grade buck by snaring younger readers. Better yet, stick the character in middle school.

The true middle-grade novel is for readers eight to twelve with some overlap. Chapter books for seven- to ten-year-olds bisect the lower end of middle grade. “Tween” books, aimed at twelve- to fourteen-year-olds, straddle the gap between MG and YA. If my characters are twelve, I hit the middle grade and tween target and everybody wins. Maybe not.

At our public library, I pulled more than a dozen new MG novels off the shelves. Opened each book, checked the age of the main character. Twelve. Twelve. Eleven! No, wait, turning twelve in the next chapter. While the characters and stories were all different, there was a sheeplike sameness reading about twelve-year-olds.

It worries me. Publishers contribute to pushing elementary school children as quickly as possible into middle school. Where are the middle-grade books about a ten-year-old character? An eight-year-old character? Ah, now we’ve backed into chapter book territory.

Charlotte's WebSupposedly, kids prefer to “read up” in age. This assumes that, say, fifth graders want to know what to expect when they’re in eighth grade. (Lord help them.) Reading about a character who is two or three years older might generate anxiety in some readers. And they may disdain shorter, simpler chapter books.

In the past, before publisher and bookstore classifications, age wasn’t much of an issue. Wilbur is the main character in Charlotte’s Web, although the book opens with Fern saving him. Fern is eight, a fact mentioned on the first page. Does anyone care what grade Fern is in once he lands in Zuckerman’s richly-depicted barnyard?

The Year of Billy MillerMore recently, Kevin Henkes broke the “age” barrier with his terrific middle grade novel, The Year of Billy Miller (2013). Fuse 8’s Betsy Bird compared it to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Billy is seven and starting second grade, a character normally found in a briskly-written, lower-end chapter book. Yet Billy Miller clocks in at a grand 240 pages. Bird praises Henkes, “[He] could have … upped his hero’s age to nine or ten or even eleven. He didn’t. He made Billy a second grader because that’s what Billy is. His mind is that of a second grader … To falsely age him would be to make a huge mistake.”

Tru and NelleAuthor G. Neri took on a bigger challenge. In Tru & Nelle (2016), the characters are seven and six. This hefty MG explores the childhood friendship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Neri chose fiction rather than biography because, as he states in his author’s note, “[This] story was born from real life.” He didn’t shy away from writing a lengthy, layered book about a first and second grader.

We need more books featuring eight-, nine-, ten-year-old characters that are true middle grade novels and not chapter books. Children grow up too fast. Let them linger in the “middle” stage, find themselves in books with characters their own age.

Let them enjoy the cycle of seasons, “the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep.” Soon enough, they’ll race away from the barnyard and into middle school.

Read more...
bk_thecrossover_140.jpg

The Crossover

The Crossover Kwame Alexander Houghton Mifflin Harcourt From the moment I began reading this poetry collection, I knew it was a different type of book because the rhythms, the cadence, were infused with energy and awareness. The Crossover is primarily free verse, with a few hiphop, rhythmic poems that change up the action. The narrator, […]

Read more...
bk_secretsshakespearesgrave.jpg

Gifted: Up All Night

My mother had the knack of giving me a book every Christmas that kept me up all night … after I had opened it on Christmas Eve. I particularly remember the “oh-boy-it’s-dark-outside” year that I received The Lord of the Rings and accompanied the hobbits into Woody End where they first meet the Nazgul, the […]

Read more...
bk_betsytacytib.jpg

Discussing the Books We’ve Loved: Déjà Vu

As I ready this article for publication, I am sitting in the coffee shop where I first met Heather Vogel Frederick, now a much-admired author of some of my favorite books. I still enjoy getting caught up in a series, accepting the likeable and not-so-likeable characters as my new-found circle of friends, anticipating the treat […]

Read more...
Reading Ahead

A Streak of Gold in the Reading Pile

There are times when the reading pile provides a streak of can’t-put-the-book-down reading. It gets me all whipped up about reading, writing, authors, illustrators … and I respect all the players in this equation, the creators as well as the readers who get to play in the words. I’ve just recently been on such a […]

Read more...
bk_dairy.jpg

Farm livin’ is the life for me

If you recognize that quote,* you might have a somewhat warped idea of what living on a farm is all about. It’s the first day of the Minnesota State Fair, which lasts for 12 days, and began 147 years ago as an homage to farming and all the ways we depend on The Land. In […]

Read more...
bk_ship_100.jpg

A reading path from Japan to America

My exploration began when a young man, aged 7, recommended that I read Shipwrecked! the True Adventures of a Japanese Boy (Rhoda Blumberg, HarperCollins, 2001). The title sprang immediately to his mind when I asked him what he’d read lately that was good. Finding a copy, I opened it and began reading, realizing that this […]

Read more...
bk_pies_100.jpg

Writer’s honor

I’m reading Heather Vogel Frederick’s newest book, Pies & Prejudice (Simon & Schuster), the fourth book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series. The girls are fourteen in this book. Their book club is reading Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice this year and a number of exciting plot developments make this a page-turner. Near the end […]

Read more...
bk_absl.jpg

The Nature of Humor

I’ve been pondering the many questions I have about the nature of humor as the Chapter & Verse Book Clubs prepare to discuss next week the book Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick Press). Wherever we go, teachers and librarians—and parents—ask for more funny and light-hearted […]

Read more...
bk_top_120.jpg

Baseball Crazy

Yup. I admit it. I am baseball crazy. I have been since my mom took me to games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, to see the newly arrived Minnesota Twins. And this year the Twins have outdoor baseball for the first time since 1982. It’s no wonder “baseball awareness” is heightened at this time […]

Read more...
bk_drums.jpg

Jordan Sonnenblick

Sometimes it’s about being behind in my reading. I’m finally getting to the level in my reading pile occupied by Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie. In truth, I’ve moved the book down a few times, not feeling strong enough to read a book about leukemia. I’m sure you understand—there are certain times when […]

Read more...