I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop for Children’s Book Week!
There is not much dearer to my heart than books for kids. During my early marriage, my husband was always furious about how much money I spent on picture books when I went to teaching conferences, but we still have 90% of those books on the shelves or in the attic–waiting for the next generation of our family to enjoy them.
For this blog I thought I’d focus on middle grade books because it is a genre that is often confused, misunderstood, or blurred into the young adult group. It is also the genre of books that I currently publish with my Cats in the Mirror series. At the end of this post I’ll give you some recommendations of my own and those shared by friends and former students, but first let’s be clear on what I mean by middle grade books.
Middle grade book are specifically designed for elementary age students–around ages 8-11. The print is larger and easier to read, the vocabulary simpler, and the book itself is normally not very long. I limit myself to 35,000 words for my middle grade books. Middle grade readers will avoid a book simply because it looks too long.
Listening to agents and editors over the years, I’ve clarified that middle grade also focuses on main characters who are in elementary school and worrying about the problems that go with being that age. As with my books, the characters are often animals as well. If the characters in a book are worrying about puberty, boys, or middle school and high school issues, you have made the jump into the young adult genre. Middle grade genre is not the same as middle school age. That’s very confusing, but I don’t make the rules. Middle school (ages 10-13) is where kids begin to make that transition into reading longer, more complicated books, but not all of them will be ready. Those middle school years are often a mixed up time in more than what they are reading, but by 7th grade most kids are leaning toward vampires, shifters, and darker themes.
In general, middle grade books also tend to have themes that are lighter, funnier, and more upbeat–unless you want to win a Newbery Award. Then something awful has to happen or someone has to die. It’s rather like winning an Academy Award. Again, I don’t make the rules, but these are things you should be aware of when simply picking books off a list of award winners.
“The One And Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate is a perfect example. The print is large, the vocabulary is appropriate, but the subject matter is actually quite dark/depressing and includes discussions about horrible things that poachers do to gorillas. A large part of me thought the book didn’t need to go there. The story was wonderful and thought-provoking enough without a few sentences that made me cringe, even though I was already well aware of the horrors it mentions. Newbery Award winners are traditionally like this, so just use caution if your child is tender of heart. I’ve never heard quite as impressive a collective gasp as I did in the movie theater during “Bridge To Terebithia” when a certain horrible event occured. Clearly, they had not read the book. It’s an amazing story, but be ready to talk with your child or students about it.
Here are some of my favorites from days gone by that would qualify as middle grade, as well as recommendations from friends–trying to avoid the obvious ones that you can find on any published list:
It’s probably not terribly shocking that one of my favorite books was “Socks” by the outstanding Beverly Cleary. She is the epitome of a middle grade writer, and I would recommend all of her books. They are light and fun and reach elementary school kids perfectly. The Ramona series, everything with a mouse on a motorcycle, and “Henry and Ribsy” are delightful.
Not sure how I missed out on them since ballet was my life, but I didn’t learn about the shoe book series until I saw the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” My daughters loved them. I hate to draw lines, but I would say the series falls firmly into the girly section of things. Being from a different era, the shoe books don’t have all the trademarks of a current day middle grade book as far as vocabulary and print size, so it would be best for a stronger reader.
“Tangle of Knots” by Lisa Graff
“The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill” by Megan Blakemore
Big Honey Dog Mysteries by H. Y. Hanna
Wayside School Series by Louis Sachar
“Frindle” and anything else by Andrew Clements
“Castle in the Attic” and “Battle of the Castle” By Elizabeth Winthrop
Time Warp Trio Series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Indian in the Cupboard Series by Lynne Reid Banks
“City of Orphans” by Avi
“Privateer’s Apprentice” by Susan Verrico,
“Liar & Spy” by Rebecca Stead,
“The Shadow Collector’s Apprentice” by Amy Gordon.
“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
“From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Koingsburg
“Charlotte’s Web,” “The Trumpet of the Swan, and ” Stuart Little” by E. B. White
Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
“Maniac McGee” by Jerry Spinelli
“Sarah Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLachlan
“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Sleznick (slipping into the young adult genre)
Elsewhere Series by Jacqueline West
“The Hero’s Guide To Saving Your Kingdom” by Christopher Healy
The Keepers by Lain Tanner
Please feel free to post your own favorites in the comments section so everyone can find them!
I will be randomly selecting two winners from the comments on this post to receive free copies of both of my award-winning middle grade Cats in the Mirror books (either paperback or ebook). Last entries to be considered will be at midnight on May 18th. I don’t use a service for this because it will require you to share information you might not want to, so be sure to agree to follow the other comments on this blog or check back to see if you won.
Winners will be notified on May 19th.
You can also add both books to your “to read” library at Goodreads by clicking on their links here:
Many thanks go out to the friends and students who helped me compile the list of favorite books: Kim Piddington, Ruth Outland, Tori Ellithorpe, Lori Kilkelly, Janet Anderson, Leanne Raymond, and Michelle at Reading is Better Than Real Life.
And thanks to all of you for taking part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop!!
Are you a children’s book or teen literature blogger, an author, a publisher, or a publicist looking to share copies of a fabulous book? Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews are joining forces to provide you with the opportunity to take part in the Children’s Book Week Giveaway Hop 2014, featuring links to giveaways for fabulous children/teen’s books, gift cards, cash, or other prizes. What better way to celebrate Children’s Book Week?