DF: “You look so happy, almost glowing.”
Me: “Well, I have a reason. I just finished the first draft of my very first middle grade novel. I didn’t know I could write anything of that length and take it to the finish line.”
DF: (after a long silence, looking perplexed) “Why would you write a so-so novel? Why not write a good one?”
A few years ago I had this very conversation with a dear friend who, one will rightly surmise, is not a writer. She could not fathom such joy at having completed something of middle-grade when one should have at least attempted a finer grade.
I have since seen this confusion in places and people I thought knew this publishing industry term. Is middle grade meant for middle school? (No, middle school years are 6-8 grade, or 11-14 year olds.) Is middle grade just the younger end of young adult? (Not really, though overlap is natural in literature.) Is middle grade the same as chapter books? (Fifty years ago it would have been. Now chapter books are shorter, meant for second and third graders, and precede the reading of novels. But middle grade novels often have chapters, as do novels for all ages.)
And the worst of all- are middle grade novels just the not-so-good, genre formula fiction, sold in the supermarket? (Well, some qualify. But this is not what “MG = middle grade,” as a category in publishing, refers to. Not even a little.)
The short answer is that middle grade books are aimed at ages 8-12, or grades 3-6, once “the middle grades” when elementary school went from first to eighth grade.
And middle grade novels are the first real novels children will read. The Newbery committee honors the finest children’s literary middle grade novels. They can be as short as 20,000 words and as long as 80,000, Harry Potter and other outliers on both ends not withstanding.
My published novel for middle grades is at the shorter end of this spectrum. The first draft I finished that day went on to have many revisions, and, after being published, it even won and award. The Moonbeam Children's Book Awards called the category “Pre-Teen.” Not a mention of “middle grade.” Awards are for good books, not so-so ones.
I like pre-teen. I think the choice of wording is perfect: descriptive, informative, and less likely to be misunderstood.