As we were growing up, many of us enjoyed the Nancy Drew books, The Moffats series (my personal favorites) and the Narnia Chronicles. Later on, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Charlotte’s Web, and A Wrinkle in Time were favorites. All of these great books, and many, many others, have spoken to countless middle graders over the years.
But wonderful as all these books are, today’s world of middle-grade novels is considerably different. According to a recent article in the Children’s Writer e-newsletter, to be competitive and successful in the current middle-grades market, we need to be aware of the many changes that have taken place.
To begin, today’s middle-grade novel has more white space and less text on each page. Because of the abundance of visual media, today’s readers (and the editors who choose what will be published) want books that are shorter and simpler (i.e., “quick reads”) than they once were. They also want less introductory narrative, more action, more first-person point of view, and less complex vocabulary. They also look for books that are “edgy” and more realistic than in years past.
In addition, the most avid readers (usually girls) prefer fiction to non-fiction, and high fantasy is many times the choice of the best, and older, readers. Boys are often a harder sell, and when they do read, they usually prefer non-fiction, especially about sports or hobbies. Humor, done well, is universally popular across all ages and genders of middle-grade readers. Girls enjoy stories about relationships, with some introspection by the main characters, but, as a rule, boys will turn away from this kind of book.
Another important aspect to keep in mind, this article states, is that while young readers may come to love your books, the books first have to appeal to adults….the editors who choose them and the parents and others who will purchase them. Also, a busy parent will often gravitate towards series books because they are easy choices. They know their children are already fond of the characters.
Some of the above may sound like the “dumbing down” of literature for young people, and we may wish things were different. We are certainly free to write what appeals to us most, but I think it’s important to keep these realities of the publishing world in mind, in this case for the middle-grade novel, especially if we have yet to make a “name” for ourselves in the children’s book market.
Contributed by Marjorie Flathers