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Growing Up With Books and Why I Love Middle Grade Fiction

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

When I was little, I loved the book The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood (actually, I still love it). I would always ask my Pappa to read it to me because he read it "The Right Way." Sure, Mama was great at reading bedtime stories, in fact she was usually my preferred choice for who read to me, but when it came to The Big Hungry Bear she just wasn't right. Maybe it was because Pappa had read it to me the first time I heard it, or maybe he just sounded nice when he read it--all I know is that I would cuddle up beside him on the couch with my brother, and when he began to read, I just felt so extremely happy.

The first line of The Big Hungry bear is "Hello, little mouse. What are you doing?" My Pappa read that line in such a way that it sounded like he thought the mouse was adorable and he loved the mouse. It was my favorite line of the entire book and I would ask him to read the book over and over again just so I could hear him say "Hello, little mouse. What are you doing?" as many times as possible.

Now I am sixteen, and I love bringing The Big Hungry Bear with me when I go babysitting. It's a great excuse to read that book over and over, which I still love doing to this day. I try to read it like my Pappa did--making the little mouse sound really cute. The kids seem to like it, but I think I might enjoy it even more than they do. It is the only book I don't mind reading many times in a row.

Now, it's not that The Big Hungry Bear is a particularly amazing book. Sure, it's got good illustrations and a fun, simple story, but that's not what makes it so special. When I think back on the days I read the book with my Pappa, I don't think about how funny the pictures are or how exciting the story is--I think about how he read it and how he made me feel when I listened. Through him reading the book to me, we were connecting. His love and adoration for that little mouse was a representation of his love for me (also probably his love for cute animals) and I could feel that when he read the book.

I think most people will realize the link between reading to a young child and connecting with them. It's pretty obvious that you are connecting when you are two real people, sitting side by side and sharing an activity. Something that some people may not realize, though, is that all good fiction is about connection.

Picture books are sometimes made amazing by realistic characters, but a book that’s read aloud doesn’t necessarily need any characters at all to be amazing, because there is a real human reading it to you--someone to connect with while you take in the story. Once you learn to read on your own, though, characters are extremely important. That real human connection of reading with an adult needs to be replaced by characters within the fiction written for older kids. It is very boring to read a book with no relatable characters in it, and that is because you have nobody to connect with.

When a child has just learned to read chapter books there is a necessity to keep the literature simple. Many more complex words cannot be used and sentences need to be reasonably short. Unfortunately, authors seems to often take this to mean that their characters need to be simple, as well. This is far from the truth. This isn't the most destructive thing to do to a character (hint, hint.: YA literature is coming later, keep reading to see the most destructive things to do to characters!!!), but it does ignore a great opportunity to connect with your readers, and it may also make people lose interest in a story. Sure, kids will still find the books with no multi-dimensional characters fun to read, but that is often because they haven't read anything better to compare it with. In short, a good kids' chapter book will have a simple but relatable plot and realistic, complex characters (this goes for villains and protagonists).

When a child graduates from being an "early reader" to reading middle grade fiction, that is certainly something to be excited about. The usual age for this literary transition is around eight to ten years--when a kid is skilled enough at reading and processing information to take in more complex plot lines. This (in my opinion) is the prime time for reading. If you have read many of my book reviews or even just talked to me about books, you've probably heard me rave about middle grade fiction. Many people don't know the difference between middle grade fiction and kids' chapter books, so I'll start with that. Then, I'll move on to why I love this stage of novels SO MUCH.


Middle grade fiction is the category of books that is geared (roughly) towards nine to twelve year-olds. Technically, it doesn't sound that interesting, but when you think about kids who are of that age and how they think, you can realize what great potential there is in this category of books.


Around this age, kids are (often) finally able to read longer and more detailed stories. Their growing reading skills and attention span combined with their ever-expanding range of experience reach a point around this time where they can read and process complex and artistic books, which means that there is suddenly room for so much more on their shelves.

When a year before, plot lines had to be simple and easy to understand, now they can flourish in every way imaginable. I'm talking mysteries with hundreds of clues, parents divorcing and moving across the globe, first dates and middle school drama (we all know how complex that can be), politics from 1947, and almost anything else that you can think of. Go look at the middle grade section in the library; what isn't there?

An interesting thing is that these are largely the same things explored in teen and adult fiction. There is a difference, though (other than middle grade fiction being devoid of sex and extreme violence, of course). The difference is that middle grade novels describe these topics in a curious and innocent way. For a person who is experiencing so many things for the first time, this is very important because it can help them to understand what is going on in their own minds.

Another wonderful thing I've found about middle grade novels is they seem to have more heart in them than other books. My theory is that this is because Young Adult authors are trying to be cool, early reader authors are trying to be simple, and middle grade authors are just writing a story.


I can't explain everything that's wrong with YA books right here, because that could be a whole article in itself. I will attempt to be concise here.

Back near the beginning of this article, I spoke about how early reader chapter books often feature boring characters because they are trying to keep things simple. This is not always such a tragedy because (often) a child will just invent more about the character than was actually written. Leaving out interesting details may make the books a little flat, but at least it leaves room for you to imagine your own personality within the character. YA, on the other hand, does not.

I can say for sure that there are only about two or three YA protagonists that I have really felt connected with. The reason for this small number is all of the strange and irrelevant quirks that authors give teenaged characters. It seems to me like they are trying to make the characters semm ‘cool’, but it often really fails to do that. One of the strangest things you'll see in YA stories is the outdated and irrelevant use of slang. As Vivian Parkin DeRosa says in her article for Huffington Post, 'I'm A Teenager And I Don't Like Young Adult Novels. Here's why,'

"OMG, do y’all literally mean that slingin’ around dank slang isn’t on


In three years (or in two months) the above sentence will illegible.

For some teens, all of the above words are already out of style."

I mean, that may have been relevant slang once among some people somewhere, but now I literally have to use Urban Dictionary to translate it. Adding slang to a character's vocabulary gives them an unnecessary trait that makes them unrelatable to so many teens.

Another thing that young adult fiction authors do terribly wrong is making all of the characters too much like adults. Teens may not be as young and innocent as ten-year-olds, but we still have insecurities galore mixed with not much world experience and a need to experiment with everything we can. YA characters are too sure of themselves and they act like they're twenty -year-olds. Not only does this make the characters unrelatable, it also gives teens an impossible idea of how they should be. I think that this is part of the reason teens keep reading YA fiction. We think that somehow, if we just read enough, we will be like those cool people in the books. I think this is really damaging to people: always having to strive for this unattainable goal and never feeling like you are good enough.

The last large issue I have with YA books is their use of shocking language, text, and themes to keep the readers interested. I believe that this is the case with many adults' books as well, though I haven't read enough to say for sure. If your story isn't good enough to make it without a few graphic sex scenes and bloody battles pasted into it, then maybe you shouldn't publish it.


I've read quite a few adults' fiction books, and I have to say I found ninety percent of them pretty boring. This is not because they aren't fast-paced enough or they were too complex for my young brain--it is because they are written from the perspective of adults. These characters have been through life and they've seen things that I haven't. They're used to certain types of pain and they've accepted who they are and their lot in life. I can't connect with someone who is so much more experienced than I am. If their thoughts are not similar to what mine would be in the situations they encounter, they might just be going back on the shelf and not coming down. I have read some books that were meant for adults that I really enjoyed, but the majority of adults' fiction is just not right for kids or most teens.

So, the problem with early reader novels is that they don't have enough in them. For early readers, that's usually OK, but when you get older the severe lack of complexity just makes them boring.


The problem with YA novels is that they have too much in them. Between outdated slang, gory executions, and driving around in sports cars, there isn't much room left for the reader to think about what they're reading.

Then you have middle grade fiction. It explores difficult topics, but it's whole and fulfilling to read. It has complex story lines and perfectly-planned plots, and it's realistic. When written well (which it so often is), middle grade fiction is not oversimplified and it's not over-exaggerated or shocking. It's not trying too hard at being funny or cool, it just is. Middle grade fiction has characters you can connect to, like you did when your parents or babysitter read you a bedtime story. Middle grade fiction can help you through hard times and lets you sort out your many thoughts through the minds of fictional people.

Now, I'm not suggesting everyone in the world should exclusively read these books. Kids' novels are good for young kids just like adults will prefer books with more weathered heroes. Just remember middle grade fiction is there, especially if you're a teen who is tired of reading YA books, and give it a try when you've got some time. You will not regret it.


Read the Huffington Post article by Vivian Parkin Derosa that I mentioned on young adult books HERE

My favorite picture book: The Big Hungry Bear

Look at my suggestions of good books in the early readers, middle grade, and YA categories HERE


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