Between MG and YA: Books for Tweens and Young Teens
November 19, 2019
I started my current work in progress in September of last year. For about a year now, I’ve described it to several people who said, “That sounds like Middle Grade (or MG), not Young Adult (or YA).” Some said that the conflicts or themes were too young. That’s been frustrating, because my main character is a freshman in high school and it feels like YA to me.
I finally read an article that explains what’s going on: “Middle Grade Is too Young, YA too Old. Where Are the Just-Right Books for Tweens?” by Katy Hershberger in the Nov. 1, 2019 School Library Journal (https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=MiddleGrade-Too-Young-YA-Too-Old-Where-Are-the-Books-for-Tweens-libraries). It seems that most current YA books are meant for older teens, and tween and middle school readers are often steered toward MG books. That can be a problem according to Hershberger: “For students around ages 11 to 14, middle grade titles aren’t always a good fit. The terminology can be confusing—middle grade doesn’t equal middle school. Most middle grade books are designated by publishers for ages eight to 12, while middle school students range in age from 10 to 15. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2018 there were approximately 20.8 million 10-to-14-year-olds in the United States, or 6.4 percent of the population.” Many of these kids have already plowed through MG titles and are ready for different books. But the latest YA bestseller may too “old” for them.
Most YA books are written with older main characters. “Since May, Andrea Sowers, teen outreach librarian at the Joliet (IL) Public Library, has kept track of the ages of the protagonists in the YA and middle grade books that cross her desk. In YA, she says, only three percent of stories have main characters under 16.” That’s when the light bulb went off in my head. My current heroine is too young to fit in that category. Aha—that explains why I’ve been getting those comments. My books might be considered younger YA.
Some publishers are starting to create imprints or divisions just for tweens and younger teens. Simon and Schuster’s Atheneum, has the Dlouhy imprint. HarperCollins’s Zondervan division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s tween imprint is Blink. Scholastic offers two imprints for that age group, Wish and Point Paperbacks. Hopefully, this will meet the need over the long run.
In the meantime, librarians must find books that fit all their readers, and that includes those that may be ready for that sweet spot between the traditional MG and YA categories, what I would consider younger YA. Some have come forward with publications, like Karen Smith’s Creating a Tween Collection: A Practical Guide for Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield). Kylie Peters’ blog flashlightchronicles.com has book reviews and lists of recommended books for different grade levels.