What is Middle Grade Fiction?

When shopping around for books to read for yourself, or your children, it is often hard to find books that fit exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes the labels publishers, bloggers, and marketing teams slap on books and there descriptions to help only make it harder because no one knows quite what they mean. Middle Grade fiction is one of those labels. Middle Grade fiction typically refers to books for the hard to please audience of eight to twelve-year-olds. Heavy readers in this age range are often bored with most books in the children’s room because of their reading ability but are often deemed too young to branch out into the young adult section because oft he content that can be found in those books. As a reader that was reading adult books while still in this age range, and learning about all sorts of things my parents might not have been thrilled about, I can understand the concern other parents might have when their book loving children hit this challenging in between stage.

Some people and groups chose the label of ‘Middle Grade’ by the age of the main characters. However, in many cases the themes and conflicts play a large role in whether a book is really better suited for the young adult or middle grade designation. For example, a book featuring a nine year old protagonist that faces harsh violence or abuse might be better suited for the young adult section while a book featuring a fourteen year old with a lighter, relate-able story might be better received by the middle grade set than teenagers. Like many genre and age group labels it is often hard to decide which label, or labels, are best suited for each book and help it reach the best audience. Thankfully, many attempting to label these books have been book lovers since they were that age as well are doing their best to get the right books in the hands of eager readers.

Here are some of the best ‘Middle Grade’ fiction books that I have seen in the last year:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and was not expected to survive, goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade at a private middle school in Manhattan, which entails enduring the taunting and fear of his classmates as he struggles to be seen as just another student.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? (All The Wrong Questions #1) by Lemony Snicket
Thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket begins his apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson of the secretive V.F.D. in the tiny dot of a town called Stain’d By The Sea, where he helps investigate the theft of a statue.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Seventh-grader Georges adjusts to moving from a house to an apartment, his father’s efforts to start a new business, his mother’s extra shifts as a nurse, being picked on at school, and Safer, a boy who wants his help spying on another resident of their building.

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
After a devastating earthquake destroys the West Coast, causing seventeen-year-old Penelope to lose her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother, she navigates a dark world, holding hope and love in her hands and refusing to be defeated.

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington
Twelve-year-old Sarah writes letters to her hero, To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch, for help understanding her mentally ill mother, her first real crush, and life in her small Texas town, all in the course of one momentous summer.

There are many more great books in this little subsection of children’s literature. Some more of my favorite examples are; The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1) by Chris Colfer, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson,  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) by Rick Riordan,  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, and The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #1) by Trenton Lee Stewart.

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