The Line Is Blurry

I’m walking through the bookstore, inhaling the aroma of ink and paper (I avoid the café and bathroom areas) when I notice one of the employees drawing a line on the carpet. When he’s finished, he stands back to admire his work.

            “It’s blurry,” I say.

            “I know. Perfect, right?” He sniffs the bristles of his paint brush for some reason; a few white speckles now coat the tip of his rather large nose.

            “But,” I start to say.

            “Chicken butt!” He throws back his head, cackles like a loon and walks away. That’s not how that joke goes.

            I look at the line again. Blurry. I rub my eyes. Still blurry. Maybe I’m dreaming, so I ask this guy walking by to pinch me. I guess he must have thought I said, “Punch Me,” because I end up taking one to the chin. Plus he threatens to call security.

But I digest. Once my mind clears, I notice this blurry line is painted right between the Middle Grade (MG) books and the Young Adult (YA) books. I sense someone is trying to tell me something. And, no, it’s not my mother’s voice in my head again.

Sometimes it’s really hard to tell if a book is MG or YA, the line is blurry. And I’m sure most parents wouldn’t want to give their child something the young boy or girl isn’t quite ready to read. Or, if it’s too far above their level, the book may seem like work for them to read. We don’t want that!

Of course there are plenty of books that fit perfectly into the MG category. For example, Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy is not only a wonderful book, but fits snuggly into the MG age group.

But what about some other books. How about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Sure the characters meet the age requirements laid out my ‘The Middle Grade Corporation of Age Limit Discrimination’, but what about the premise, the setting, the storyline, the vocabulary… can the average MG reader follow along easily? I’m sure many have read it and thought it brilliant; others may have given up on the story early on, while others simply enjoyed the movies.

For me, the best example between MG and YA is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The first two books, The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets are pure MG with Harry being 11 in the first, 12 in the second. Then the line begins to blur when Harry turns 13 in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Even the library gets confused when shelving certain books. My local library has Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy in the YA section. What’s up with that?

Another MG book I think may be sitting on this blurry line is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I loved this book, I would have eaten it up as a young MG reader, but others might think differently.

So what causes this line to be so blurry? Some of it comes down to the reader; some of it comes down to the book. Kids read at different levels of maturity during the 8 to 12 years. Some are ready for The Graveyard Book, others for Me and the Pumpkin Queen. And, yes, I’m actually ready for both, thank you very much.

As for the book, it’s a combination of many things, the age of the protagonist, the story, the word count, the vocabulary and many other things.

So, what MG books, in your opinion, are teetering on the blurry line? What elements of a book cause it to fall one way or the other? For those who leave a comment (before noon tomorrow EST), I’ll draw a name and that person will win an autographed copy of Dean Lorey’s Nightmare Academy 3 – Monster War.

As the father of 4 daughters, Brian Kell hides out in the bathroom weeping most of the time.  He writes humorous YA and MG books. He’s still trying to break through the plastic-wrap ceiling and get one of his books on the shelves. Find out everything you didn’t want to know and less at

Brian Kell
  1. Great post, Brian. It’s definitely hard to see where the line is sometimes. I’ve seen books that have a main character as old as 14, which normally would be YA, but the reading level listed on bookstore sites is 9-12.

  2. Linda, I couldn’t agree more… this post borders on brilliant. No? 😉

    Thanks for all the great replies to this… lots of different books mentioned. I’m sure libraries and bookstores struggle with where to place what, but in the end… if the reader REALLY wants it… they’ll find it.

    Now to draw the winner!

  3. The line between MG and YA might be blurry, but this post is right on target. I have recently switched my query from YA to “Upper MG/Tween.” We’ll see how it flies. 🙂

  4. I recently read “As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth,” which felt like an olderMG/youngerYA book. Right on the fence. No issues with content, not much in the way of romance, the main character’s age is 13 or 14. So really it could go either way. I imagine many advanced readers of the 10-12 age range will enjoy this book. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.

    It’s funny because some of the books mentioned as “clearly YA” in the above comments are books that I think of as older MG. So yeah, blurry. I can live with blurry.

  5. I think it depends a lot on the kid. I was reading the Narnia books when I was eight, and I loved them. When I read them again at twelve and fifteen (and now, at twenty-nine, and many times in between) I found even more in them. Sometimes a book can be both, depending on who you are. I think Heidi is right – Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is a fantastic example of this.

  6. Realistic fiction is the hardest for me, that’s probably an obvious statement, but my own guidelines waver more for fantasy and sci-fi … I think I’m trying to give kids a buffer in a way, to read and think about things that are on the older side but be able to feel a little distance because of the unreality of the story format.

  7. What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman is a blurred line of MG and YA for me. It is brilliantly written, the content is mature but the main character is an eight year old, told from his perspective of course. I’ve always wondered that this book could even pass as adult.
    Another example for me is Tales of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo. Another brilliantly written book this time about a mouse, a young character, but the imagery and plot line of evil and death..borderline YA.
    Two of my favorite books by two of my favorite authors, both on the blurred line of MG & YA. Ahhhh, I could be so lucky to write one 🙂

  8. My precocious reader 8yo loves the Percy Jackson series (YA – at least by our library’s shelving system) but feels like Blue Baillet’s “Chasing Vermeer” books are a bit too complicated to dive into (MG – I think pretty much by every library’s shelving system). Harry Potter, absolutely on the line (In our house, HP1-3 feel MG, 4 and up scarier, so YA-ish) The 39 Clues books are also officially YA – but my kid gobbled them up easily – so clearly there’s a lot of MG cross over appeal…