Sometimes you miss out on amazing things. This week, McNally Jackson Books here in NYC had a panel I would have LOVED to have attended: “Middle School is Hell,” organized by Kate Milford, moderated by Connie Hsu of Roaring Brook Press, with Kate, Rebecca Stead, and Mariko Tamaki speaking.
Sorry, Wright, Cespedes, and Murphy – that was the lineup I wanted to see. (But if you’ve got World Series tix for Citi Field, you’re not using, I’m rooting for the Mets. 😉 Go, Amazin’s! )
Beyond the stellar lineup, I was intrigued by the topic: the hole in the market for books aimed at kids 12-14 years old. I see this every day in my library – even though my oldest students are 11, if that. Many of them are reading beyond their age and grade, but not so much as to read YA. And the ones that do read YA don’t always seem to enjoy it or comprehend it full, given their comments to me.
The panel agreed that 12-14 is an awkward age, but I think it goes beyond that. The gap between 13 and 16 is much wider than the gap between, say, 6 and 9 – wider emotionally, physically, and intellectually.
Let’s face it, kids at this age are more sophisticated readers, and many of the books for middle grade seem babyish or are too quickly finished. These kids want something they can sink their teeth into, and I found that Puffin Classics work really well for them. But there’s only so many classic books, and many of these kids want something modern. They want books that are more complex, with bigger issues, but they don’t necessarily want all the romance (never mind sex) of YA or its all too frequent navel-gazing. And many parents definitely don’t want their not-quite or just-barely teens reading about sex, drugs, violence and other content typically found in books targeting older teens.
I’ve experienced this myself, not just with my child and her reading, but with my writing. I deliberately targeted this age group with my fantasy, and I’ve gotten feedback that I needed to age my characters up “so it’ll work for YA” or change the emphasis on certain themes so “MG can relate more.”
Maybe we all need to loosen up a little and let the readers find the book. After all, many adults find Pullman impenetrable – but I know plenty of kids who love him.
Maybe publishing will become even more granular, with a new category aimed at 12-14. MS for middle school? YT for younger teens? NQYA? (Not Quite YA.)
What do you think?