An Ode to Middle Grade Authors
“What’s Middle Grade?”
My friend’s question makes me grimace. It’s all I can do not to shout at her across the café table. I bite my tongue and think of all the times I’ve been asked that question—even by those in the writing game. Middle Grade is so often overlooked or lumped into other categories, like Early Reader or Young Adult.
“Ages eight through twelve,” I reply, but it’s not what I really want to say.
What I really want to say is that Middle Grade consists of the books that defined our childhoods. It is Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, Louis Sachar and Roald Dahl. Middle Grade is the gateway into reading for almost every kid out there. They’re the type of books that first opened our minds to a world of literacy and written wonder.
So why do so many people have to ask me what it is or why I, or others like me, write it? Why don’t more people know how to label the books that basically built our young lives from the ground up? And why do I feel like many Middle Grade authors are left holding the empty moneybag without any thanks at all from their getaway drivers?
I can’t answer any of those questions in a way that won’t blow up my word count, or my friend’s ears as we sit huddled at the café table, escaping the afternoon rain. But what I can do—what I’m going to do—is recount all the reasons I owe Middle Grade writers my sincerest thanks. Think of it as an ode of sorts, and one that’s far overdue.
You created the gateway drug into the wide, wondrous world of literature.
All readers have to begin somewhere, whether it’s the back of a milk carton or an Amelia Bedelia chapter book. But where the fun really begins—where magic is brought to life and stories grow and take shape—is with Middle Grade fiction. These are the books that turn a casual reader into a bookworm. They are the bridge from childhood literature into the great beyond. If it weren’t for all those Middle Grade authors out there, these books wouldn’t exist, and all those fantastical tales wouldn’t be there to inspire our minds and open our hearts to a world of endless reading.
You took the time to shape young minds, even though writing Middle Grade isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Have you ever tried writing for an audience of preteens? It’s not easy. There are so many things to consider, like voice and hook and characterization, that are so vastly different than any other target market. I can’t count the number of writerly acquaintances I’ve had that have implied it must be easier to pen Middle Grade simply because you’re speaking to a younger market, and thus the language can be “dumbed down.” These people couldn’t be more wrong. It’s just as hard as writing for any other age group, and Middle Grade authors deserve props for taking the time to master that art!
You give children a place to escape.
Growing up is full of drama and angst. Transitioning from child to young adult brings with it memories of school bullies, family conflict, and other terrifying realities we often opt to forget as adults, whether that be from embarrassment or the downright unpleasantness of it all. Middle Grade books offer an escape from the world when life gets too rough, and what’s more, they give children a way to stay children for longer. Those same books encourage readers to dream big and keep imagining even when life is at its roughest. This gift is something Middle Grade authors should be thanked for.
You are real writers in a world of other real writers.
“Oh, so you’re not a real writer, then?” It’s a comment I’ve gotten repeatedly from people, both those in and out of the literary world, when I tell them I write Middle Grade fiction. In their eyes, being a true writer means tackling the great, hairy beast of adult literature, of creating a classic matching the likes of Jane Austen or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Well, let me tell you something, doubters: Writing anything at all is hard as f*ck. Middle Grade authors spend countless hours reading, revising, throwing pens across rooms and tearing pages out of notebooks and hitting the delete button on their keyboard, just like the rest of us! And for that, they deserve the respect every other writer is worthy of.
Thank you, Middle Grade authors, for all these reasons and more. Thank you for inspiring our young minds and shaping our relationship with literature. Thank you for spending countless hours typing and revising and possibly even crying to get the job done and deliver your stories to readers. I’d hug you all if I could, but since I can’t, I hope this article does the sentiment justice.
And as for you out there in the LitReactorVerse … what Middle Grade books still hold a special place in your heart, and why? If you could thank a particular Middle Grade author for their work, who would it be?
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