What is Middle Grade Fiction?
Janet Spaulding began her Indianapolis Public Library career in 1997 as a page. Spaulding has served the Library as a children's librarian, supervising librarian and currently as collection development librarian for juvenile and teen materials. In this role, she works with staff, community contacts and vendors to create a diverse collection while staying on top of new trends and titles in children's and young adult literature. Below, Spaulding shares what we mean when we say “middle grade fiction” and some of the features of great middle grade fiction books.
As you wander through the children’s area of your library, sandwiched between the picture books and the teen fiction, you will find shelves of middle grade fiction. These books are for children who have moved beyond the basic foundations of reading, but who are not yet ready to make the leap to teen.
So, what is middle grade fiction?
Middle grade fiction is aimed at children ages 8-12/grades 4-6 and features pre-teen characters who may be a little older than the reader. While teens and adults may appear as secondary characters in the story, the main character(s) who drives the story will be of middle grade age. In comparison to novels written for kids ages 13 and up, middle grade fiction tends to be shorter in length with less complex vocabulary and sentence structure. Stylistically, middle grade fiction embraces a wide variety, including prose, novels-in-verse and hybrid novels (intermingling text with illustrations). These novels are likely to be written in the third person and feature a single element/event around which the story is based. Unlike novels written for teens, middle grade fiction has an outward focus where the plot hinges more on what is happening to a character rather than examining the character internally.
Fiction opens the world for kids and offers children a safe way to learn about experiences that are unlike their own. Through the pages of a book, kids can explore contemporary topics, such as diversity, prejudice, war/conflict, adversity, illness and death, but in a gentler way than teen or adult books might address those same issues. It is equally important that kids be able to see their own life experience mirrored in stories that feature characters with whom they can identify.
Books can also be an escape for kids. Fantasy allows the imagination to run wild. Imaginary worlds provide a place to go on an adventure or to face mythical situations and creatures that will never be encountered in real life.
Scholastic’s biannual Kids and Family Reading Report examines what kids are looking for in the books they pick out to read for fun. Humor and stories that have a mystery or a problem to solve are popular themes for kids reading middle grade fiction. Kids also find comfort in reading the familiar. For this reason, series are very popular with this age group.
Some of the current trends in middle grade fiction for this spring include books that feature strong (female) characters, explore the refugee experience or are based around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) principles. Coming-of-age tales, fantasy, humor, science fiction and adventure are all well-represented in the spring releases. 2017 is also going to see the release of a bumper crop of books by previous Newbery, Coretta Scott King, and Pura Belpré winners.