Middle Grade March
Welcome to March, a month of many observances, celebrations, and seasonal adjustments like pollen and daylight savings time. But did you know that a spotlight on middle-grade literature was among the many things that make up March?
Middle Grade March started on YouTube several years ago and quickly spread to other online platforms. The idea is to broaden audiences of middle grade books. And why not? There’s so much to love about middle grade!
What is Middle Grade?
Before we define what middle grade is, it’s important to clarify what it’s not. Middle grade does not mean middle school. The word middle causes a lot of confusion.
Middle grade books usually have between 25,000 and 50,000 words and are aimed at an 8-to-12-year-old audience. As readers go, that’s not only a wide span of word counts, but also of ability, maturity, and interests. That means books often get classified into lower-middle-grade and upper-middle-grade categories.
Does that mean 7-year-olds are excluded? Certainly not. Does that mean the relevance of middle grade books ends at age 13? Of course not. Lots of middle grade books make great read-alouds for younger kids, and many middle grade books have become timeless classics enjoyed by both children and adults.
Some examples? Check out these middle grade titles loved by all ages.
Why is Middle Grade Literature Important?
A magical thing happens when kids become fluent readers. They no longer need to devote a great deal of energy to figuring out the reading process. At some point, usually around 8 years old, the switch flips to auto-pilot.
Young readers are able to read silently, express literary preferences, and sustain attention over the course of multiple chapters. They can handle narratives that have sub-plots, complicated characters, and internal dialogue. Basically, they are able to think about what they’re reading while they read it.
Middle grade books are foundational to the transition between learning to read and becoming a reader. So, while we can enjoy these books for a lifetime, it’s important to make sure kids are immersed in lots of styles, genres, topics, and themes so they can find what they love, get hooked, and become readers.
Variety in Middle Grade Books
There’s something for everyone in middle grade, with genres spanning from historical fiction to science fiction, and from humor to heavy emotion. Fortunately, there’s also a great deal of variety in middle grade styles and formats.
Rest assured, while they all look different, each one is of great value. If a child is engaged in what they’re reading, following the narrative arc over the length of the text, and expressing their own thoughts, questions, and predictions about what they’re reading, all the right stuff is happening.
Most middle grade literature is written in paragraph style, just like the classics listed above. Check out authors like Pam Munoz Ryan, Jacqueline Woodson, Erin Entrada Kelly, and current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Meg Medina.
Novel in Verse
This format packages a complex, sustained
narrative in the concise precision and lyrical beauty
of free verse poetry. Check out authors like Karen Hesse,
Kwame Alexander, Thanhha Lai, and Rajani LaRocca.
Graphic illustrated texts offer all the character development
and narrative tension of class prose, but they look like
comic books. This puts some adults on high alert.
Is it really reading? Yes, it is. And some kids love it.
Check out authors like Dav Pilkey, Jerry Craft, and
Raina Telgemeier. You’ll also find many new graphic
versions of classic middle grade novels and series, from
The Magic Tree House to The Babysitters’ Club.
Adults readers find joy in the process of reading. They know what they like. They seek it out. They read for pleasure. This is what we’re teaching kids when we give them access to a wealth of middle grade literature.
But remember, middle grade books are not just for kids! During Middle Grade March, adults are encouraged to check out some of these fabulous titles. While they are written for 8-to-12-year-olds, you might find that you enjoy them so much, you’ll get hooked on middle grade!
Susan Koehler is a veteran educator, a lifetime literary enthusiast, and the author of several books for kids and teachers. DAHLIA IN BLOOM, her first novel for young readers, was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, and NOBODY KILLS UNCLE BUSTER AND GETS AWAY WITH IT, a fast-paced contemporary mystery, was the Florida Writers Association 2022 Children's Book of the Year.