Thursday, July 1, 2010

Should we Rename Middle Grade?

When someone outside of the publishing industry asks me what kind of books I write, I used to answer "children's books."

"Oh, that must be so fun," they might say, naming off some of their favorite picture books. Then I'd amend my answer to say, "No, I write Middle Grade," at which point my well-wishers would look at me blankly. To a large portion of the general public, there are only two kinds of books - children's picture books, and everything else.

So now when people ask me what I write, I say "novels for children." They get that -sort of. "Like Black Beauty?" they might answer.

In the publishing industry, the names for book genres for young readers make sense, up to a point. Picture books, easy readers, early chapter books, middle-grade, tween (is this a new classification?) YA. But where in the world did the term Middle Grade even come from?

When I try to explain to anyone outside of the industry that I write Middle Grade books, they think of middle school, junior high, grades 7-8, so it makes no sense to them when I say that Middle Grade means grades 4-6, and up.

Publisher age ranges further compound the problem. Some are labeled 8-12 (which means no 13-14 year old kid would want to read it, even though they might Love. It.)

Our library system uses J for junior and YA for young adult books, and has them shelved in completely different areas of the library. This is unfortunate, because there are great middle grade books shelved over in the YA section that fifth graders will never find. And Junior itself is a term that seems kind of secondary in nature anyway, don't you think?

There are a couple of great new blogs right now that champion Middle Grade books: Middle Grade Ninja and
From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

At the moment, all the buzz is about YA. Young Adult. When blogs run contests (including mine) offering a YA books as a prize, I get easily double the entrants than if I offer a Middle Grade book. Why is this? Does this mean that Middle Grade authors feel they have to push their writing, adding more romance and older themes in order to get a coveted YA title on their books and perhaps make them more attractive to the general public, or sell more?

I hope not. What I think we need is a new name. A new name for the genre of book for 8-12 year old. Those kids who (because of the influence of television, movies, and the internet) are not nearly so innocent as they were even a decade ago. I don't particularly care for Tween, because of the connotation of being In-between, not this and not that.

But I truly feel that if a New Name (for middle-grade) was developed - one that more accurately portrays a novel filled with plot lines that kids would relate to, but not necessarily nitty-gritty sex stuff - then this genre of book would:

a) be easier to describe to the public
b) be more willingly grabbed up by kids and parents, and
c) maybe finally garner the respect that it needs.

Thoughts? Comments? New Names or Suggestions for the Middle Grade Genre?


Vonna said...

Maybe, to tie in with Young Adult, we could say Older Kid. OK, anyone?

Laura S. said...

I don't have a problem with the term Middle-Grade, but I see what you mean. I kind of like Junior. Maybe MG could be Junior Young Adult? JYA! Haha!

It's a shame libraries don't group all younger readers books together! My library has middle-grade books in both the children's section and the YA section, which doesn't make sense.

Linda Benson said...

Vonna and Laura - Thanks for your responses. I am wondering who actually came up with the term Middle Grade in the first place?

I don't have any really creative answers myself. For books after picture books and very easy readers, I'd like to tag them Junior for chapter books up to maybe fourth grade, and maybe Tween for grades 5-9and maybe YA after that.

I think the reason libraries move their YA section away from the childrens section is because of subject matter. But often the YA books are in cubby holes that hardly anyone frequents, and they have great reading material that some fifth graders could handle and adults might love also. I think that librarians (and probably book stores, too) struggle with where to place books in general. An all these labels on them don't necessarily help.