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Tales of a Middle Grade Everything

Molly Kane, Head of Teen Services and Emerging Technologies

I could fairly say that reading Middle Grade fiction because it’s part of my job.

There’s a lot of discussion about exactly WHAT Middle Grade fiction is as well as WHO it’s for, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s simplify it describe fiction “chapter books” written generally for 8-12 year olds, with characters who are also 8-12 years old, and whose plot is generally of interest to 8-12 year olds. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume comes to mind immediately as one of the first Middle Grade books I read as a child. Peter Hatcher struggled with growing up outside of Central Park in the late 1970s – he had an impulsive younger brother who literally swallowed his pet turtle, a best friend he sometimes clashed with, and school projects that forced him to interact with a neighbor he never quite got along with. He was mostly obedient and well behaved, but wasn’t afraid to question his parents when he felt something was unfair. Generally, Peter Hatcher is a Middle Grade everyman to young readers who may not be able to understand what it means to live in New York, but know what it’s like to be a kid.

So given that one of my responsibilities at the library is to buy Middle Grade books for our Tween collection, I can honestly say that reading Middle Grade fiction is a part of my job.

But really? Really I read it because I’ve never stopped enjoying it.

Since 2019 has started, I’ve read twenty-two books. Ten of them have been Middle Grade. Three of them are:

Book Cover to Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing    Book Cover of Andrew Clement's The Friendship War   Book Cover to Victoria Jamieson's All's Faire in Middle School

I’ve already touched a little on Peter Hatcher, but permit me to introduce Grace, Ellie, and Hank and their button collections as well as Imogene who grew up homeschooled at a Renaissance Faire. All of these kiddo characters are struggling with what it means to be a big kid in a world that primarily caters to younger siblings or adult concerns. All of them are searching for their places in the wider world and are trying to find a way to make their voices heard. I honestly like them all, even Ellie who could be characterized as a middle school bully depending on how you read the book. (She’s redeemed by the end of the story!)

As an adult reading these books, it’s easy to get caught up in how ridiculous and unrealistic some of the situations in these books are. Things like:

  1. One of the characters commits an act of “vandalism” (I wouldn’t characterize it as such personally, but I’m not about argue a fictional principal about semantics!) that is reported to the police. She fesses up and the principal imposes a monetary fine to pay the overtime of some of the town’s police officers, but the character’s parents are never informed.
  2. A character takes it upon herself to start a new interactive act at the Renaissance Faire that includes teaching children how to fight with swords. Okay, so maybe that isn’t the most unreasonable thing, but what I did find shocking is how many students under the age of eight are just allowed to join in the sword fighting with no parents anywhere to be seen.
  3. Did I mention that Fudge Hatcher, aged 3 at the time, SWALLOWED A PET TURTLE WHOLE? I mean, look at that turtle in the bowl on the book cover. It’s larger than Fudge’s hand and twice as big as his mouth and yet he swallowed the turtle whole?!

These plot points ring untrue to my adult ears, but turtle swallowing aside, they all reflect potential situations 8-12 year olds could find themselves in.

When you’re 11, sometimes you make a bad decision and it can be a scary but deeply powerful thing to accept responsibility for it.

When you’re 12, sometimes you have great ideas of how to make your community better and while it can be scary to try, it can also be an extreme confidence builder when you can make it happen.

And, when you’re 10, sometimes a family pet dies (PROBABLY NOT BY BEING SWALLOWED) which is heartbreaking and it’s good to know you’re not alone.

Ultimately, being 8-12 years old is hard. Luckily there are some great Middle Grade books out there to help get your through. For more information on these titles or other great books Miss Jenn and I have read, contact us! Or just stop in the next time you’re in the library. We’re always happy to help get the right books into the hands of the right readers.

But remember, swallowing a turtle whole is never advisable!

Pet turtle being held between two fingers and looking surprised