The Three Levels of Middle Grade Fiction

As soon as I finish the first draft of my cozy, I am going to work on a piece of middle grade nonfiction. But I need to decide where it falls in the “middle grade spectrum.” That’s my term for the idea that middle grade covers a broad developmental range, readers aged eight to thirteen years. That’s why publishers and those who discuss children’s books often break it into three groups – early middle grade, middle grade, and upper middle grade.

Early Middle Grade

Early middle grade readers are 8 or 9 years old. The books are 15,000 to 25,000 or 30,000 words long. These books are frequently humorous, think Judy Moody, but often have exciting plots. There are books with animal characters, such as P.J. Gardner’s Horace and Bunwinkle. There are fantasy storiees. The characters may face danger, but the story problem is resolved in a concrete, satisfying way. These books are about friends and family.

Middle Grade

Classic or “middle” middle grade readers are 9 or 10. These stories are 25,000 to 45,000 words long. Although these characters are finding themselves in that they are pursuing their own interests, they are still kids. Home and family feature in these stories and the characters do not have the independence that you see in young adult novels. They often need help in getting from point A to point B and “permission” is often essential. Diary of a Whimpy Kid and New Kid are both middle middle grade.

Upper Middle Grade

Upper middle grade readers are 11 or 12 years old, your classic tweens. The manuscripts are most often 45,000 to 65,000 words long. The protagonist is often 13 which is a tough age to sell to an agent who may feel the book is to old for middle grade and to young fot young adult. These books have complex plots but they are not edgy. These readers may be eding towards teen but they aren’t ready for the adult realities that young adult characters face. The stories may deal with topics covered in YA, such as bullying and family break-ups, but the story problem is still resolved. I would place Dragon Pearl in this category.

Where is my book going to fit? I suspect that my story is “classic” or middle middle grade. I am dealing with Home and family roles. I think the topics will be too mature for 7 year-old readers but I’m not considering a treatment that is pushing the realm of YA.

Or that’s my current plan. We will see what happens as I get to know my characters!

–SueBE