Some of you may be wondering… what exactly are middle grade books? And are they the right fit for me? This will be your ultimate guide to understanding what middle grade books are and why they are much more interesting, enlightening, complex, etc. (!) than they often get credit for. So, let’s get started!
What Age are Middle Grade Books for?
Middle grade books are written for readers in who are between the age of 8 and 12 years old.
There is a little bit of a grey area when it comes to middle grade books’ intended audience. Many 3rd graders begin reading middle grade novels especially because the topics and summaries found in middle grades appeal to them. You will also find that many 13-14 year olds gravitate toward middle grade because the protagonists in these books are extremely relevant to them. One distinct feature of middle grade books is the main characters are developmentally moving out of childhood and into true adolescence.
In other words, just because you are not between the ages of 8-12 does not necessarily mean that middle grade books are not for you! Let’s learn more about middle grade books, shall we?
What Makes a Middle Grade Book a Middle Grade Book?
Middle grade books are considered literature that is much more sophisticated than a children’s picture book or younger chapter books such as classics like Charlotte’s Web and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Middle grade books present internal conflicts of characters classified as coming of age and are generally experienced only by readers of this age group (8-14 years old). Coming of age is exactly as it sounds meaning coming into young adulthood or full maturity. This includes topics such as friendship problems and fitting in, crushes on classmates, dealing with bullies, processing societal issues in the world at large, or navigating through hardships within family dynamics such as a loss of a sibling, poverty, or divorce.
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What are the Main Characteristics of Middle Grade Books?
- Middle grade books typically have protagonists who are between the ages of 10 to 13 years old – though some series may feature younger or older characters as well.
- Middle grade falls under every genre. This includes novels, realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/suspense/adventure stories, historical fiction, non-fiction and more.
- Romance is limited. Middle grade almost never contains graphic violence or profanity.
- Characters typically respond to what occurs in their immediate surroundings with a focus on friends or family.
- Characters do not display much self-reflection and instead focuses on real-world situations.
- The main characters are developmentally moving out of childhood and into true adolescence.
Think of the ways that each of these wildly popular middle grade books fit each characteristic above.
Check Out These Middle Grade Book Lists
But Middle School Starts at 6th Grade…?
Indeed, middle school traditionally begins in grade 6. However, this is not to be confused with the term “middle grade” and the audience middle grade books are intended for. The term middle grade is a bit confusing, especially since publishers also realize there are grey areas in determining what a middle grade book is and what it isn’t. Just remember that middle grade books are generally written for kids ages 8-12, regardless of what grade they are in.
For the longest time, middle grade books were labeled as children’s books. In many cases, they still are which makes the process of labeling them a bit fuzzy. Other names they go by are:
- Young Readers
- Chapter Books
- Coming-of-age Fiction
The most common name for middle grade readers is ‘young readers’. Go to any Barnes and Noble and you’ll find a massive section of books titled, “young readers.” Young readers can still be a bit confusing because it doesn’t quite seem to suit the older kid demographic.
What is the Difference Between Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction?
To begin, young adult fiction (YA) is literature written for individuals aged 12-18. As with middle grade, YA can be read by those who fall shy of this age-range or older adults. YA is widely popular amongst individuals in their 20s as well.
There are 4 distinctions that help divide middle grade books and young adult fiction however, there may be overlap between both categories. Consider the following:
- Middle Grade books do not contain graphic violence or profanity and romance is very minimal (first kiss only, nothing overly erotic or sensual). Whereas YA may content elements previously listed but in an age-appropriate, thoughtful way. Parent approved, of course!
- The length of middle grade books is often shorter than YA ranging between 30,000 and 50,000 words.
- Middle grade is customarily written in 3rd person where the characters deal with relationships with their friends, family or direct real-world situations. YA is primarily written in the 1st person featuring deeper explorations into internal conflicts of characters generally beyond their immediate surroundings.
- YA displays a higher level of self-reflection than that found in middle grade.
Consider the Harry Potter series upon reading this list. Even though the Harry Potter books fall way outside of the 50,000 word mark, the first book contains approximately 77,000 words, the entire series is considered middle grade through and through. Though I’d venture to say that the later books are on the verge of becoming young adult readers only because Harry is older and there are much deeper and reflective content strung throughout but alas, they are categorized as middle grade.
Are Middle Grade Books Written with Easy Language?
The short answer is no. Middle Grade authors write to complex, relevant themes in respect to their audience.
Although some middle grade authors would say the majority of their audience are those indeed between the ages of 8-12, the themes and conflicts characters face within their stories are no less complex than those found in books written for young adults and adults all things considered. They are simply most relevant to readers of that age range.
Middle grade authors use language suitable for the 8-12 age group yet it is filled with extremely rich language that does not undermine the intelligence of their coming of age readers. They rely on their readers to have good comprehension skills. This makes for a very enjoyable reading experience even for older readers.
Think of it this way. The widely popular cartoon, Spongebob Squarepants, is written for children. It’s enjoyed by children of all ages.
However, the reason why it has received world-wide recognition is because adults find entertainment value in the cartoon as well. Spongebob Squarepants and his friends face dilemmas and conflicts that are more or less just as complex or relatable as those that adults face, too.
Moreover, the language used within the cartoon does not undermine its’ intended audience either. Heck, even sometimes the jokes ‘fly over the heads’ of their younger audience and right into the face of their adult viewers. Just as intended!
Can Adults Read Middle Grade Fiction?
YES! Of course! Anyone can read anything they love and enjoy! That is the joy of books and story-telling! Read what you want and don’t let others tell you otherwise.
Middle Grade Books are for you IF…
- You are between the ages of 8 and 12 and currently a 3rd through 8th grader.
- You are on the lookout for intriguing stories, characters or conflicts that you can relate to.
- You enjoy reading about fantastic adventures and ‘living in another person’s shoes’.
- You want a quicker read that still contains stronger developed main characters and more complex themes than younger chapter books.
- You love empathizing with coming of age experiences (this can be for older readers).
- You love reliving past experiences vicariously through the protagonists of the story (once again, for older readers).
Tell us what your thoughts are on middle grade books in the comments below. What is your favorite book? Do you know of any middle grade books that fall beyond the distinctions listed above? If so, what makes them uniquely middle grade still?
Get Started with these AWESOME Middle Grade Books
A Newbery Honor Book
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.