Middle Grade Monday – All about “Lower Middle Grade”

For this week’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday I’d like to look at “lower middle grade” books.

There’s a lot of discussion about the difference between Middle Grade and Young Adult literature – this excellent post for example from Upstart Crow Literary Agency. While there are various sides to this discussion the issues of protagonist age and sexual content seem to be the main distinguishing feature between MG and YA these days. Violence is certainly an issue, but I know at least two eleven year olds who devoured The Hunger Games Trilogy (to my horror, actually) so clearly under 10-12s can handle violence.

But what of the younger middle grade years? Middle grade is sometimes defined as 8-12. Can I really picture an eight year-old reading The Hunger Games? Even though I watched two Transformers movies with my seven year old daughter this weekend I’m not sure that she could make it through a novel length story with so much physical jeopardy and conflict.  It’s not so much the exposure to violence in these books as the basis of the conflict.

Even in the Harry Potter series, the later books feel much more YA than MG because the source of the conflict changes. Books one, two and to a certain extent three are mysteries at their heart. Books four and up are essentially war stories. Several people die in book four remember? They are also much longer books, and more complex. And much more challenging for younger readers, maybe too challenging.

So there is definitely a place for gentler books. My daughter is a very advanced reader for her age, but she’s not really interested in subject matter in anything but early chapter and lower middle grade books. She loves The Magic Treehouse, Ivy and Bean, and Encyclopedia Brown. Of course there is Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach but she has already listened to most of those. I’m hoping I can get her interest in something a bit more modern.

Santa Claus brought her Diary of a Wimpy Kid and I think she might like the Origami Yoda series too. Both of these books have a kind of ‘multi-media’ gimmick going for them which I think it great for younger readers.  I also think just plain twisted ideas work well for younger middle grades, Captain Underpants for example, or  The Wayside Books by Louis Sacher. And despite what editors and agents might be saying, talking animals and conduits to other worlds appeal to this age.

Then of course there are just simpler, shorter books about regular kids. Because of Winn Dixie is a good example or Frindle by Andrew Clements. And of course there are hi/lo books.

Many parents get tied in knots about WHAT their kids are reading – is it advanced enough, is it trash, does my child reading this make me look stupid? I say – relax a bit. There’s a world of books out there. Kids will read what appeals to them. Don’t push kids towards books that are too challenging for them, either in language or in content. Children are likely to get frustrated with this, and that’s the last thing we want. Kids “graduate”  to higher level books when they’re ready. Don’t worry, they’ll let you know.

Here’s an excellent post from Karen B. Schwartz that further discusses this issue and gives some great examples.

Other Marvelous Middle Grade Mondayers can be found here:

9 thoughts on “Middle Grade Monday – All about “Lower Middle Grade”

  1. I agree that too many parents out there are worried about what their kids are reading and whether it’s up to their level or below their level or whatever. Just let them read!

    FRINDLE is one of the funniest books ever! And there’s nothing wrong with CHARLOTTE’S WEB and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. We still sell plenty of those and more by those authors in the bookstore where I work!

  2. It never occurred to me that there are “lower middle grade” books. But after reading your post it makes sense now. Thank you for highlighting some those books.

  3. Excellent post! I highlighted BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE this week because I heard Kate DiCamillo speak. There are many wonderful, beautifully-written lower middle grade books, but many of them get lost in the shuffle of those for the older set.

  4. Great post on an important issue. I think that when you are reading a book to your child harder subjects can be explored. Unfortunately, when kids get to be fluent readers we often forget that they can still get great enjoyment and benefit from listening to an adult read. They are great for starting dialogue about subjects that they hear about everyday. Then they will have a way to process things when they confront it in the news and their own lives.

  5. Great post. Reading levels can be so varied at these ages, and some readers’ maturity may be well beyond their reading ability, and vice-versa. My little sister handles violence and so forth fairly well, but her reading level is poor, so I suspect that she would struggle with any lengthier works or works with strong thematic elements. As an adult, I find myself often preferring MG, as I enjoy the lightness of it–so much YA today is so dreary and angsty!

  6. Oh my…love both the books you’ve mentioned. And-great advice for parents, too!

    Btw…you won an e-copy of Lisa Ard’s Fright Flight as part of the mg readathon. If you email me at

    just deb @ debamarshall DOT I will forward it to Lisa who will email you the book! Thanks for taking part.

  7. I used to/ still love all the books you mentioned. Definitely including the Hunger Games. Hee hee hee. What’s funny is that my parents don’t really care at all. Which is strange because, well, not because they should be, just because I read novels way higher than the average for my age (Shiver was better than I was expecting. Strange, yes, slightly creepy, yes, but good) and my parents are very concerned about these things. So this comment was really for no reason except to worship most authors (Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, you catching this?) and to agree completely..

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