“Mom, I’m ready for big kid books now,” my precocious 6-year-old son said to me, eying the middle-grade section of the bookstore. While it was true he was a fluent reader, was he ready emotionally for the content?
Middle-grade books are typically geared towards the 8-12 year old reader. Within the middle-grade section, there are varying levels in length and story complexity. Harold Underdown in his book, THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS, gives this range:
Young middle-grade: 48-80 pages (7-9 year olds)
True middle-grade: 80-160 pages (8-12 year olds)
Older middle-grade: 128-200 pages (10-14 year olds)
Underdown notes: “it’s difficult to make hard and fast distinctions between the different levels.”
Ah, but distinctions I must make. There’s a huge difference between an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, not to mention a precocious 6-year-old. We were looking for lower middle-grade—that range of books appropriate in length and content for the 7-9 year-old reader, ready to move on from chapter books.* That meant young middle-grade books, with some true middle-grade books thrown into the mix.
I knew my young reader wasn’t ready for stories with a dead mother or kids in middle school or sinister fantasy. We were on the hunt for stories with elementary school kids, not-too-scary fantasy, or animals. Most importantly, stories that would protect his tender psyche and not disrupt our much-needed sleep with nightmares. Some of the classics, written before the sharp lines of age categories, worked well: CHARLOTTE’S WEB and STUART LITTLE by E.B. White, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl, TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING by Judy Blume, MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater, and MRS. PIGGLE-WIGGLE by Betty MacDonald.
Then began the hunt for newer titles. It wasn’t easy to find the lower middle-grade books buried among the potentially too sophisticated upper middle-grade books on the shelves. This is where a librarian or bookseller familiar with the content is gold. I read a lot myself too before handing him the book, which had some unexpected side effects: 1) He was more eager to get his hands on the book I was reading, and 2) we had wonderful conversations on what we thought about the story. I also discovered he wouldn’t read a book with a girl on the cover, but I liked some of those books so much I included them in my list below.
Here are some of my finds:
BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY) by Lisa Yee
ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS by Lenore Look
TAKE THE MUMMY AND RUN: THE RIOT BROTHERS ARE ON A ROLL by Mary Amato
CAMPFIRE MALLORY by Laurie B. Friedman
JUST GRACE WALKS THE DOG by Charise Mericle Harper
Let me know your favorite lower middle-grade books in the comments!
*Chapter books are shorter with simpler vocabulary and sentence structure, often with an illustration in each chapter. For example, the JUNIE B. JONES series by Barbara Park and the MAGIC TREE HOUSE series by Mary Pope Osborne.
Karen B. Schwartz is currently hard at work on a lower middle-grade novel about a spunky girl who gets kicked out of the princess crowd at recess, which her son has vowed never to read.