Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reaching Readers: When Big Kids Aren't Really That Big...Yet

Can middle school kids read young adult books?

Yes, of course! Most 13 and 14 year olds have the reading comprehension skills to absorb a YA book. 

Should this middle schooler read YA books?

Um….The answer to that is somewhat personal. Parents should decide for themselves what they would like their tweens exposed to. As a mom, I’ve made the decision that my tween is mature enough to handle more adult themes in his reading. I’m not letting him read Game of Thrones yet, but books like the Hunger Games, Divergent, and Fault in Our Stars I’m mostly okay with it. 

But an interesting thing happened when I exposed my tween to YA books.

After reading YA exclusively for months, he got turned off from them.

All of them.
hate book photo: Book e8a16caa.gif

One day he came to me looking for what he called a “happy” book. A happy book?

He didn’t want…
- Planet on the brink of destruction
- Teen angst
- Cancer
- Aliens taking over the human race
- Kissing
- You get the point....


All of that, he said, caused him STRESS. And if you  know anything about tweens you know you must minimize stress.

So here came Mom to the rescue. I pride myself in being THE EXPERT in YA. After all, I’m the one everyone comes to for book recommendations. I have a book recommendation for everyone. Surely, I could help my own child select a YA book he would deem “happy.”
None of them were the happy he was looking for. All of them dealt with serious issues and even the fantasy or science fiction genres he loves so much had heavy, high stake, issues. That’s not what he was looking for.
So where did a point him?

To Middle Grade books.

Because you see, that’s what middle grade is all about. Some days these kids think they’re all grown up, ready to take on grown up things. Then the next day, those same kids are asking their moms to snuggle with them before bed. It’s the same thing with the books these kids want to read. Sometimes they’re keen to read books targeted towards older readers with more mature content, but other days, they just want carefree, low stress, happy books.

And that’s all okay!


  1. Middle grade has been pretty depressing of late. Certainly, few of the parents survive. I don't know why this is, and it's making it hard to find books for my students! My "Unicorns Pooping Rainbows" campaign for more happy books hasn't had a lot of followers. Maybe a new name...

    1. You're right Ms. Yingling. I'm seeing this trend in Middle Grade. Publishers certainly want to bring "real life" to the younger readers which I think is great, but sometimes kids just don't want to deal with the "heavy". But I've also found a whole bunch of "happy" MG books that aren't overly babyish which would appeal to middle schoolers. Chris Grabenstein's Mr.Lemoncello series was very well received, for example. As was Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. There's always Rick Riordan...the kids keep coming back to his books, and similarly Peter Lerangis' Seven Wonders series. But I love your suggestion for a Unicorns Pooping Rainbows campaign. Sign me up!

  2. Oh good, it's not just me. I made it a quarter way through Red Rising and said, "I can't do this again." It just seems that YA has turned so dark.These are well written stories, but surely teen readers want a little sunshine in their lives. But, to be fair, middle grade readers can't remain in the world sunshine and silliness. A good story, as we've been told time and time again, is about the difficulties of life. Harship must be overcome. I trust the readers to find a balance. They'll know when they've read one too man books involving hovercraft and brutal future governmnents. They'll pick up somethinig lighter, maybe even discover a new genre. And aren't we glad? If young readers sat by and only waited for the next zombie apocalypse, they'd never discover the rest of us. I have faith that my Navy Brat Historicals will one day find a home in the hands of a young reader in Oklahoma who has grown tired of the end of civilization. Just like I found a book about rabbits escaping their warren when I really couldn't deal with one more revelation of Stephen King's view of life (or lack thereof).

    The kids will follow their hearts. And then another vampire\dystopian\cancer breakout will come along and shadow all the other great books for a while. But when the shadow passes, we'll still be consistently producing happy tales.

    1. I couldn't agree more! Of course, middle grade readers can't remain in the world of sunshine all of the time. But sometimes, a kid just needs a dose of happy. They're kids! Just like sometimes that 13 year old big kid wants to cuddle up with his old teddy bear, you know what I mean?

  3. This is why I love middle grade! There can be serious topics...but there can also be a lot of hope, and fun, and lightness that I need to balance that stuff out. And it's also okay to JUST have fun. We need that, too. :)

    1. I think middle grade needs a dose of both. I would never suggest we, as writers, shy away from the heavy stuff. We have a responsibility to tell the important stories. But sometimes a kid needs a dose of happy and silly. And that's OK too. That's why middle school is so special...and so DIFFICULT!

  4. Love this. I remember going through this myself and both of my kids wen through this too. My middle grade books are still my happy place, even when they touch on more difficult issues.

  5. So true! Think I almost teared up reading that.

  6. Couldn't agree more, Ella! My middle-schooler has the same issue. And even my Young Adult sometimes wants a lighter (but not mushy lovey-dovey) story!

  7. Couldn't agree more, Ella! My middle-schooler has the same issue. And even my Young Adult sometimes wants a lighter (but not mushy lovey-dovey) story!


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