Middle Grade Magic

Why would an adult want to read a kid’s book?


People sometimes ask me this question, which I love because it gives me the chance to remind them of the brilliance and beauty of middle grade fiction.


Do you remember your own third- to sixth-grade years? Close your eyes, think back, and you’ll recall the vivid contrasts inherent in being a tween, when countless developmental milestones collide like furious little atoms.


When I was that age, I wanted to make my own choices, but I still yearned for the comfort of my parents and family. I wanted to be “different” and “unique,” but never at the expense of being rejected by my peer group. Everything felt like a push and pull—independence, affection, security, adventure—but that’s because it was. It was akin to standing on the fulcrum of a seesaw and never, ever getting it to balance.


On top of this exquisite mental anguish, my body was starting to grow and change like crazy, which meant I couldn’t get comfortable inside my own skin. Do you remember your limbs literally stretching out, inch by inch? Do you remember feeling clumsy and awkward? Do you remember trying to find (and use) your figurative and literal voice?


Middle grade fiction gets right to the heart of this tender, pivotal time, when kids are figuring out who, what, and how they want to be in the world. The themes are universal and eternal, such as what it means to belong, why it’s crucial to speak up, and how to become our own best cheerleaders. Above all, middle grade fiction urgently reminds us to be patient and kind—not just with each other, but with ourselves, too.


The genre of middle grade, if you’re curious, is geared toward kids ages 8 to 12. Middle grade readers are typically girls, and the average length of a middle grade book is 35,000 to 50,000 words. Middle grade novels are funny, fast-paced, sweet, or poignant. They can be plot-heavy and full of action, or they can be character-driven and literary, with a soulful coming-of-age vibe. My favorite middle grade authors include Katherine Applegate, Erin Entrada Kelly, Dan Gemeinhart, Kevin Henkes, Lauren Wolk, and Jacqueline Woodson, but there are so many other excellent ones out there.


So. If you've forgotten how to find your courage and gumption in the midst of great difficulty, middle grade fiction will provide just the inspiration you need. Crack open one of these delightful novels, and you’ll instantly get caught up in the joys and pitfalls faced by the characters therein.


No more doubting the magic of middle grade fiction!


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To fend off her tears, Clare focused her attention on the giant blue silos out her window, wondering what crops were stored in them. There are so many things that people just can’t see from the outside.


- From Crossing the Pressure Line