Don’t Be Afraid to Read Middle Grade

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I’ve written before about the reasons we all should all be reading more middle-grade novels, noting they tend to be less formulaic and more inventive than YA; that they are more joyful; and that they avoid the dreaded love triangle.  However, the book blogging community tends to look down on MG, disparaging it the same way outsiders often seem to disparage YA.  Routinely my reviews on MG books receive comments such as, “I thought this looked cool, but then I realized it was MG.”  A subtle dig if ever there was one.

Of course, we all know that “middle grade” and “young adult” are somewhat arbitrary designations used to market books, and do not often reflect on the sophistication of the content within.  Bloggers point this out all the time when someone dares to attack adults for enjoying YA novels.  Indeed, a simple look at your library shelves or at the community’s Goodreads shelves can reveal the perils of trying to label books.  Works such as Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series, Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co., and Rick Riordan’s books are routinely listed as both MG and YA because they have crossover appeal.  Another little secret?  Books are often labelled based on the age of the protagonist.  You can be reading the exact same book, but if the author notes the character is fourteen, suddenly it’s YA!  This can make shelving series such as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne books tricky for stores and libraries.  If a character ages from twelve to thirteen and older, are the books MG or YA?

It’s quite obvious that MG and YA can both offer sophisticated, nuanced, and entertaining selections, but readers sometimes seem to distance themselves from MG as a response to the backlash to YA.  That is, since we’re so used to being mocked for reading “books for children,” the instinct seems to point out that, no, the real books for children are those MG ones–the ones we are too old, sophisticated, and intellectual to read.  We try to save ourselves from stigma by casting the stigma onto someone else.

Of course, many readers and bloggers simply do not enjoy or are not interested in MG, and that response is acceptable.  Read what you enjoy!  However, it can sometimes be worthwhile to question our reading choices and why we make them.  I don’t like to avoid books because I worry about what others will think, or because I worry they will place me outside my normal reading comfort zone.  Reading is very often meant to stretch us, to make us uncomfortable, to show us a different perspective.

Perhaps I am fortunate in feeling secure in reading whatever I want because I routinely read a wide variety of books including drama, poetry, nonfiction, literary theory, picture books, graphic novels, classics, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc.  Maybe it’s because I actually read and love Shakepeare and Dante (for fun) that I am able to not care what others think of me when they see me reading MG.  If someone wants to suggest that I am juvenile or incapable of understanding “adult” books, I simply chuckle softly to myself.  I  cannot take someone seriously if they want to judge me based on a book or two they see me reading.

However, I firmly believe that a good story is a good story, no matter what age it was written for (or  maybe just marketed towards).  I do not believe I need to feel ashamed of my reading choices if someone else thinks them “juvenile”, nor do I feel that I need to distinguish myself as more sophisticated than other readers.  If reading has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always more to learn.  Maybe I can’t understand what someone sees in the books they read, but that does not mean the books have nothing valuable to offer, but rather that I  might need to attempt to broaden my perspective and learn to see what they see.

MG does not have to become the new YA, the group of “juvenile” books we’re afraid to be seen with and eager to move on from.  MG has so much to offer, from a higher level of diversity than YA to more inventive formats and more original premises.  We can celebrate all that without feeling self-conscious about it.

Krysta 64

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32 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid to Read Middle Grade

  1. Holly says:

    Love this! ❤ I completely agree. One of my favorite books ever is The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg. Though I read it for the first time in third grade, I continue to read it almost on a yearly basis now that I'm older. It's such an amazing story and each time I read it I take away something new.

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  2. Jennilyn V. says:

    I can’t believe this people judging other people’s reading choices. Reading is reading and it’s all good, period. I personally read MG once in a while. My most recent MG read that I really enjoyed was Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

    I love what you said about how “reading is very often meant to stretch us, to make us uncomfortable, to show us a different perspective” because it is so true.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I really don’t understand why it seems like we so very often encourage other people not to read. When people get made fun of for their reading choices, they tend to stop!

      I haven’t read Wonder yet, but I’ve only heard good things!

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  3. SERIESous Book Reviews says:

    I’ll admit, I’m one of those avoiders of MG just because the stories I routinely see don’t interest me. However, I also don’t go out of my way to find them or search for those ones that will either.

    I was a huge Meg Cabot fan growing up and as time progressed, I realized I was just outgrowing her stories and they couldn’t keep my attention. So I avoided MG contemporaries after that and never really returned.

    I never get why people have to put down other people’s choices of novels. Like you said, a good story is a good story. No one reads the same book the same way anyways. And reading and the classification of what is “good” fiction is just so subjective in the grand scheme of things.

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    • Krysta says:

      That makes sense. Everyone’s interested in different types of stories. I just don’t understand why people dismiss MG as “too juvenile for adults” when it can do plenty of interesting things! I probably read more MG fantasy than I do contemporary. The plots are often quirky, which I like, and the protagonists typically stay friends so it gives me a bit of a break from the constant romance in YA.

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    • Krysta says:

      I tend to enjoy MG contemporary more than YA contemporary for some reason. I think it might be because YA is often focused on romance or “issues” whereas MG contemporary is often more about fitting in or finding one’s voice, and I find that more interesting. It is nice, though, to be able to switch between both. It really expands your reading options!

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  4. Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads says:

    This is such a great post and a reminder I need from time to time! I’m always hesitant to pick up MG books but I’m not really sure why because when I do read them, I almost always love them. I’ve only posted one MG review on my blog so far and I remember being a little nervous that no one would be interested in reading it. There definitely is a bit of a stigma around reading MG which is kind of funny coming from a huge YA community that constantly talks about how reading YA as an adult is fine. 😛

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  5. Sarah says:

    Great post! I also read a lot of MG – they can be refreshing and are usually just fun stories without – as you say – the dreaded love triangles. I also find so many of them have cross over appeal but I agree that a lot of readers hate the MG label and pass on these books based on the covers and younger age of the main characters. Its a real shame!

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    • Krysta says:

      It’s so strange because often people will think a book is YA based on its description and they’re interested–but as soon as they see the label, they back away slowly.

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  6. TheAliceFan says:

    Exactly! I read everything, either MG, YA, or children’s literature. Books intended for each age group regardless which one it is, each have its own appeal!

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  7. Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations says:

    Interesting. I actually haven’t read many MG books, so I don’t have a strong opinion of them. However, I definitely wouldn’t hold anything against anyone who is interested in reading them, no matter his/her age. I agree that everyone should read what they enjoy and that a story can be great no matter the age group. I took a children’s lit class in university and loved it!!

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  8. pavedwithbooks says:

    This is really interesting, Krysta! Strangely enough, I reread Princess Diaries recently and found myself to be really impatient with the early novels, even though I used to absolutely love them. I don’t know if that’s affected my reading choices or not though. I feel like I don’t consciously avoid MG, but they’re often simply not on my radar as few around me reads them. If someone recommends a great MG book to me and it looks appealing, I think I’d happily pick it up!

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    • Krysta says:

      Not every MG appeals to me. And I do have a preference for upper MG, written for older children, since the younger MG sometimes tends to be a bit condescending to the readers. But, overall, I have had success with my choices. 🙂

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  9. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight says:

    I agree that people definitely should NOT look down on MG. I think it is an awesome genre, it just doesn’t tend to work for me. I do want to try a few more, because often the story does sound great! But I am always scared because of my bad luck in the past. Like, I am the only person on the planet who just couldn’t get into Harry Potter 😂 But even if they never work out for me, I wholeheartedly agree that NO ONE should judge anyone else for their reading choices! Goodness, that is why there ARE so many types of books- so we can all find something awesome to read!

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  10. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) says:

    Honestly, my experience has not been that MG is as nuanced as adult or YA. I have found some of my favorite representations of diverse characters and some of my favorite books of all time in the YA category, but I’ve read very little MG that didn’t feel extremely simplistic in tone and content.

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    • Krysta says:

      For me, it depends on the MG. Some lower MG isn’t really for me because it’s, as you say, simplistic. Some upper MG tends to blend into YA, though. I’ve also seen more diversity in MG than in YA, though I’m not sure why our experiences differ.

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  11. Wendy @ Falconer's Library says:

    I have read some really great MG over the years, although I tend to find the endings to be a little too pat overall. People behave the way they SHOULD in the end, one way or another. One thing I love about Out of My Mind by Sharon K. Draper is that there’s a moment fairly near the end in which people are kind of horrible still, even though they’ve gotten to know the protagonist. But when I was reading A Night Divided, which I found to be otherwise excellent, I was never in any way worried about the survival of the family, because I knew they wouldn’t kill someone off in a MG novel.

    The line is often pretty arbitrary between MG and YA, as you say. Which is Orbiting Jupiter? The characters are in middle school, there’s no cussing–but there’s also teen sex resulting in a child, off-screen child abuse, and two deaths.

    In sum, here’s another vote for “read what you like and don’t worry about the labels.”

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    • Krysta says:

      The endings are one of the things I like about MG. You may have character deaths, suffering, etc. but, by the end, there’s always a glimmer of hope. I often read books as escapism so I’m not into those vague literary fiction endings of, “Oh, maybe it got better, but maybe it didn’t. My refusal to say makes this book deep.” 😉

      I haven’t heard of Orbiting Jupiter, but it sounds like something I might have to check out!

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