The explosion of the young adult market in publishing has exposed many adult readers to the wonders of today’s brand of kidlit. From books turned into major motion pictures like 13 Reasons Why and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, to the surprising emergence of cult favorites like The Vampire Diaries, adult readers have joined their teenage contemporaries in falling deeply in love with the rawness, the grittiness, and the introspection present in books that delve into issues related to one of the most chaotic times in the life cycle of a human.
But, in doing so, it seems many adults are forgetting (or even outright lumping the two together) there is another sub genre out there that’s just as valuable and equally as enjoyable as YA. I’m talking about middle grade.
What is middle grade literature? Well, it encompasses books that target a general audience between the ages of eight and twelve years old–so basically, the prototypical middle school student.
I’ve been teaching middle school students for almost two decades and my main takeaway (other than pure survival) has been that we’re all middle schoolers, all the time. Even adults–once you peel away the outer shell we’ve built up to protect us. Because my students fall into this age range, and because I spend most of my “free” time writing books for these students–like my upcoming novel, Breaking News (4.28.2022)–I’ve read an inordinate amount of middle grade literature.
Now, I’m not here to pick favorites, because there are so many great books out there for me to make an accurate choice. But I am here to give you a few perfect reasons why you should pick up and read more middle grade lit, no matter your age:
Middle Schoolers Aren’t the Monsters We Make Them Out to Be
The first questions I’m inevitably asked when people find out I teach middle school are, “How do you do it? How do you stay sane?” It’s easy. Teaching middle school is the actual sweet spot of the educational system. It’s a time of like where students have developed a relevant world view. They can make their own decisions, and learn and grow at alarming rates. But they’re still gold. Like Ponyboy. They haven’t devolved into melancholy teens or jaded adults. The world is still fresh and new, and the literature of this genre reflects that spirit. As an adult, I find it useful to revisit this time and to remember that inside me, like a line of Russian nesting dolls, rests this perfectly middle school version of myself that’s yearning for nourishment. Middle grade literature feeds this worthy beast.
Middle Grade Lit = Truth
One of the most disappointing features of being an adult is realizing how often we exaggerate our worth for the sake of saving face, or to promote our own needs and desires. Adulthood, to me, often feels like a high-stakes, political shell game. This, as far as I can tell, is simply not a feature of being in middle school. Today’s middle grade books reflect a generation of youth willing to wear their hearts and minds on their sleeves. Quite frankly, it’s a refreshing experience to read about young people running headlong into the flames dressed in suits doused in kerosene, and it’s therapeutic to admit to myself that at forty-one years of age, I still face many of the same emotions, desires, and problems as my students.
Middle Grade Books Transport You
Sometimes it’s just fun to escape reality. I mean, look at the world we live in. On most days, the news flies at you from every angle and gives the impression we live in a raging dumpster fire that’s somehow floating in a sea of carbolic acid. And then you open a middle grade book and you’re transported to a distant kingdom, or to the interior of a sorcerer’s castle, or sucked directly into the storyline of a video game, or anywhere else that would be considered “too childish” for adult (or even YA) literature. But I’m glad it’s childish in some small ways, because don’t we spend enough time in our lives pressed under the immense force of being adults? Don’t we deserve an escape too?
Middle Grade Books are Fun
Let’s face it, most readers become readers in the first place for the sake of entertainment. As a middle grade author, one of my first goals in completing a project is to write something that will make people laugh. Something that will urge a reader to turn the page, to long for the journey of the novel when they’re not actively reading it. Yes, I want my books to provide readers with a message. Yes, I want to touch on issues relevant to today’s youth. But not at the expense of writing a book that isn’t fun to read. You deserve to be mystified and entertained by the literature you read. Middle grade books can do that for you.
Middle Grade Books Predict the Future
As adults, we can all think back (either fondly or not-so-fondly) to our adolescent years. When we do so, and if we’re honest, the exercise can reveal deep-seated issues that may even affect us in the present. But times change. Kids change. Our modes of communication change. And, even though human nature largely remains the same, it’s worthwhile to read the literature currently being read by today’s middle schoolers–who will, at some point in the not-so-distant future, be tomorrow’s leaders. It’s more relevant than ever for adults to read books that will help them understand where these young folks come from, and the issues that are most pressing to them as they navigate this most complicated (and quite valuable) stage of life.
Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novel, No Sad Songs (2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. The first book in his debut middle grade series, Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein (2019), is a Book Excellence Award finalist. It provides young readers with a roadmap to end bullying. Morelli’s latest young adult novel, On the Way to Birdland, hit shelves on June 8, 2021. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Highlights Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter @frankmoewriter and on Instagram @frankmorelliauthor.