Tales of a Fourth Grade Reader

It can be tricky to define a  middle-grade reader. There are a lot of variables but basically kids are on a similar developmental trek from child to adult. Understanding the typical path can help writers twist up a common theme or create an off-road adventure. Today’s post focuses on the middle of middle-grade, ten-year old readers. 

There is nothing average about middle-grade readers, but in spite of the huge changes in technology and culture over the past decades, ten-year olds are still tackling many of the same hurdles as writers who grew up in the 80s, the 70s or even back in 1930s when Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie. A writer can tap into his or her inner ten-year old by remembering the changes and challenges of moving into double digits. 

The beauty of age ten is its spirit, energy and curiosity. Fourth graders are rapidly developing the ability to think abstractly, make inferences and to be active learners. That enthusiasm is what we are striving to tap into and share at The Mixed-up Files. Imagine the job description for an average ten-year old as written by another ten-year old.

We’re always looking for another kid to join our group. The only requirement is that you had the big birthday. Double digits.

The main thing we are working on is getting better at everything we’ve already learned like reading, riding bikes and cursive writing. That also means not acting like a baby having a temper tantrum over everything. That’s so second grade. A lot of us think it’s fun to try new things like sports, playing an instrument or joining a club.

It’s okay to dress like everyone else and have a favorite sports star or singer’s poster hanging all over your room. You should have your own opinion about some things and know why you think it. Be ready to argue about it.

Parents are all right but friends are awesome. It’s good to have a best friend but don’t think you’re going to have the same best friend everyday. Things happen. It’s okay to have a friend that’s a girl if you are a boy (and the other way around) but most of the time the girls are with girls and the boys are with boys. Get used to it.

If you know some gross jokes—especially about the toilet, you are hired. We love that. 

No cheaters. We don’t like it if things aren’t fair so don’t try it. We’ll notice.


Making the Connection

Here is a small sample of five of my favorite classic books for ten-year olds. I chose books from different decades representing over fifty years. These books demonstrate challenges and character traits that have lasted through time and changing culture. But each book also includes a twist that makes the common extraordinary.

Stuart Little by E.B. White (1945)

Stuart finds a unique place in his family and uses his small size and big personality to overcome obstacles in his path. Independence, acceptance and a sense of accomplishment are themes that a ten-year old can relate to.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl  (1964)

Charlie is a good boy facing choices of right or wrong. The “bad kids” suffer appropriate and funny consequences that appeal to a legalistic ten-year olds’ sense of justice.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)

Many ten-year olds can relate to constantly dealing with an annoying little sibling and the need to act like the bigger brother or sister even when they don’t feel like it. Peter’s humorous voice brings the reader directly into the story making it easy to keep the pages turning.

Sideways Stories from Wayside Schools by Louis Sachar (1988)

Wacky humor and word play especially appeal to a ten-year old funny bone. And since school is such a huge chunk of life for this age group, this book remains a favorite.

Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996) 

Nick challenges the status quo as he tries out his own version of right and wrong, fair and unfair and drives his teacher a little bit crazy in the process. What ten year old can resist?

Wrapping It Up

My list is biased toward boy-friendly books since that’s my interest. Please take time to share your favorite book for ten-year olds whether it is an old favorite or new release. And to keep it even more interesting, include a thought about how the author tapped into the unique characteristics of a ten-year-old to create a compelling character or story. Check out the links below for more specifics about the developmental themes of this age group. And if you want to a chance to expand your own library of great middle-grade books, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway  https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/06/our-first-post…first-giveaway/ 

To Learn More About Being Ten

Child Development: The Ten Year Old


Child Development Guide: 9-10 years


Child Development: 10-12 years


Joanne Prushing Johnson writes boy-friendly chapter and middle-grade books with humor and heart. You can find her online at  http://joanneprushingjohnson.com where she discusses writing in the midst of real life and other miscellaneous thoughts.  She’s always looking for good ideas for how to fit thirty hours of activity into a twenty-four hour day.

  1. When I was 10, I reread The Narnia series until I practically wore the books out. It was at a time in my own life where I was beginning to question my future, my faith, and myself. In short, I was growing up. I leaned on the Pevensie’s strength and bravery and Aslan’s love as I navigated that time between being a child and becoming a teen. I used them all as an example of the kind of person I wanted to become: kind, brave, sensitive, forgiving, strong, and teachable.

    Plus, I just really loved a good fantasy/adventure! Who wouldn’t want to romp through the forest with talking animals?

    That wasn’t really your question, though. That was my response as a 10yo reader, and not necessarily what C.S Lewis had intended.

  2. Tami- (regarding how these developmental themes influence my writing)

    First I tell the story my characters share with me. But in revision, when focusing on themes, I’m remembering those developmental milestones that many kids share or are striving toward. I think because I’ve spent a lot of time with lots of ten-year-olds, most of it is subconscious and teased out in revision. But what is the most challenging, is to tell a story that relates to “the masses” while making the individual reader feel that the writer was thinking only of him. BTW-my personal favorite as a fourth grader was the Little House on the Prairie series.

  3. Love your Help Wanted description! Here’s another favorite, published recently, Lisa Yee’s Bobby vs Girls Accidentally.

  4. I’ve read and greatly enjoyed those books you mentioned, except I haven’t read Frindle yet. Ten was one of my favorite ages!

    Loved the Ramona books, but I can’t remember which one she was ten. Ramona’s World, maybe? So good, though!

  5. I enjoyed your job description and found it especially notable that you included, “and don’t think you’ll have the same best friend every day.” That right there is the crux for the ages we write for. The crix, the joy and the anguish!

  6. I love your favorites (though not Judy Blume, and I need to check out Sachar!). I currently have 7, 9, and 11 year olds in my house, and there is definitely something magical that happens at 10. I can see my 9 year old rushing up on it, and it’s a joy to watch.

    Some of our favorites: Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl.

  7. I’ve always loved HENRY AND THE PAPER ROUTE. I read it over and over, and was enthralled with Ramona following along behind the wagon in her mom’s high heels and big glasses tied to her head. Henry’s embarrassment was exquisite, and I appreciated his creative methods for disarming Ramona.

  8. I should add that HOLES is a standalone, not a series. 🙂

  9. I would imagine that series are still big for this age. I know my nephew liked HOLES (Louis Sachar) and The Lightning Thief/Percy Jackson Series (Rick Riordan).

    When do you suppose kids start to break away from series and venture into standalones? Or do the appeal of series keep going strong through the middle school years and beyond? Just something that I’m curious about.

    Thanks for giving me pause on this interesting age in the middle grade years.

  10. When I was in fourth grade I made the exciting discovery that the author of Charlotte’s Web also wrote other books. I tracked the others down and spent a lot of time reading and re-reading them that year.

    * Stuart Little (1945)
    * The Trumpet of the Swan (1970)

    I also read “A Cricket in Times Square.”

  11. If I ever get a dog, I’m going to name him Turtle.

  12. A favourite around here is ALLIE FINKLE’S RULES FOR GIRLS. Allie is in 4th grade and Meg Cabot really captures that age group well, I think.

  13. Great post Joanne! I wrote my first MG book (Cinderskella) with my 10 year old. It was such a fantastic experience we plan on writing more books together!
    I’m too old to remember back to 4th grade, but growing up my favorite book (other than anything by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary) was A Wrinkle in Time.

  14. My favorite book in fourth grade was called A Horse Named Bonnie written by Pat Johnson and Barbara Van Tuyl (plus additional books in the series). Like many kids that age, I followed one particular topic with great interest, and that topic was horses! I appreciated the authors’ detailed knowledge of horses and horse racing, and how they incorporated those details into a mystery involving 17-year-old Julie Jefferson and her horse.

  15. Joanne- Do typical ten year old developmental characteristics affect your writing in direct ways?