The Middle Grade Slump

kid with book

Storm clouds have gathered over the land of middle grade literature, and the forecast is uncertain. Referring to 2023 sales, consumer behavior advisor Circana reports thatSales of books for children ages 8-11 are posting the steepest year over year declines within the children’s book market in the U.S.”

But haven’t print sales decreased overall? Yes, print sales were down 3% in 2023. However, sales of middle grade books declined by 10%. And that came on the heels of 2022, which saw its own steep decline in the middle grade market. The middle grade market is in a slump.

There’s a lot of speculation about the cause of this downward trend. There are supply chain issues, the cost of paper, and increasing book prices to take into account. But there isn’t one factor alone that has produced the current state of affairs. It’s a combination of factors that have joined forces to create the perfect storm.


Pandemic Effects

Event cancellations and supply chain issues caused a major disruption during the pandemic, and these issues have not completely resolved themselves. Increasing book costs and unstable profit margins are a direct result of this continuing recovery.

pandemic earth in mask

Another pandemic effect could be the widespread learning loss attributed to school closures. According to Education Week, “Analyses of student test scores have repeatedly shown severe declines in academic achievement.” These gaps in learning form a compounding deficit, especially in reading.

However, in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly, Circana BookScan books analyst Karen McLean notes that the decline in children’s book sales “is really a return to 2019 levels, before the pandemic led to a jump in children’s sales.” It may be reasonable to suggest that a surge in sales during the early part of the pandemic has skewed trends and statistics in the years since 2020. 


Book Challenges

Book challenges and book bans have certainly affected the middle grade market. School Library Journal reports that school librarians were “more likely to avoid buying books or to remove titles from collections because of their content” in 2023. This certainly affects sales, but in a larger and more concerning context, it affects readership.

Trying to avoid conflict, some school libraries have severely limited students’ access to circulation, placing restrictions on students’ ability to check books out. Many teachers have eliminated classroom libraries altogether, and still others have opted out of reading aloud to students.

School library book crates

Book challenges have created a threatening environment. For many school personnel, it’s just not worth the hassle to provide books for students. Sadly, the trend resulting from book challenges is contributing to a declining interest in reading among students.

In Publishers Weekly’s Spring 2024 Children’s Preview, Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency says, “The drop in school and library sales, thanks to book challenges and restrictive local and state-level legislation, makes me really concerned about the whole middle grade ecosystem.”


The Changing Landscape of Literature

School Library Journal’s Teen Librarian Toolbox (TLT) suggests that trends in middle grade books may be causing some readers to pause. One trend they note is that middle grade novels are aging up, with the typical middle grade protagonist now being 12 or 13. 

Additionally, TLT points out that middle grade novels “are growing increasingly longer, which can be a real hindrance to many readers. We don’t need all the books to be shorter, but we need more shorter books to be an option.”


The popularity of graphic novels among this age group should be an indication that many students are averse to hundreds of pages of solid text. Perhaps the formula for the next break-out middle grade hit will find its success in an innovative format.


What’s Working

We’ve heard the grim news. Let’s talk about what’s working in middle grade. Graphic novels continue to top the sales charts, especially when they are products of series. While this format initially struggled to achieve legitimacy among many adult gatekeepers, it has proven itself to be an effective port of entry for budding book enthusiasts.

We see consistency in the popularity of books by authors like Dav Pilkey, Jeff Kinney, and Raina Telgemeier, but there’s another trend in graphic novels that deserves some attention. According to Publishers Weekly, adaptations are driving the market. Many backlist books are seeing a resurgence in popularity because they have been adapted into graphic novels.

The Baby-Sitters Club

Ann M. Martin’s Baby-Sitters Club chapter books have been adapted into graphic novels, and guess what? The original chapter books have seen a new surge in popularity. The same is true of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books.

Lemoncello's Library Graphic adaptation cover

Following suit, you can now find graphic adaptations of Chris Grabenstein’s Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Paula Danziger’s Amber Brown series. Based on the track record of adaptations, we may see a resurgence in the popularity of these backlist titles.


Looking Ahead

Will the storm clouds continue to gather over the land of middle grade? Or will the sun break through and usher in the dawn of a brand new day? Time will tell. Given this uncertain forecast, what should middle grade authors do?

Authors, of course, should keep writing. Stories are derived from passion and creativity. They are crafted through revision and feedback. And they are always born with an uncertain future. 

Every creative act is a risk taken by the creator. Whether that creation finds success in the market or not, it is a personal triumph for the author who has turned a solitary, irresistible idea into a gift to share with the world. The great hope to which we can all cling is that middle grade readers will soon rediscover the joy of books. 

The Most Important Thing About Children’s Books: For Readers and Writers During COVID-19

Last night, my son asked for something extraordinary. He requested I read him a goodnight story. From my shelves, I pulled out a picture book, The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. At first glance, this might not seem that unusual.

Except my son is a ninth grade, a newly minted 15-year-old, and I couldn’t more proud. He wasn’t afraid to ask for what he needed– the comforting ritual of a bedtime story read aloud by a parent. He wasn’t embarrassed. His ears didn’t pinken. This wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID. Well, it would have but like six or seven years ago.

This was not an isolated incident.

My oldest son, who graduated from college last year and is a software engineer for a celebrated car company, is back home and after reading some non-fiction, picked up The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. My son had first read this very book and the rest of His Dark Materials series when he was ten. He said he relished re-reading it even more because “there was so much that I didn’t understand” the first-time round.

My middle son, a 20-year-old, and college sophomore has been asking for back rubs after sitting in his chair digesting his third Zoom class for the day. He also has been introducing us to some of his favorite board games.

In fact, all three of my sons have asked that we play family games at least once a week. Our favorite is definitely Exploding Kittens, which is silly, involves a little strategy and a lot of luck.

I’m not trying to glorify sheltering-in-place. It’s been, at times, incredibly stressful and full of grief. Two of my students have lost their grandparents. Three of my students have been hospitalized. Childhood friends are struggling to recover from COVID-19. My youngest son may have had COVID-19 for a month in March, but at the time we couldn’t get him tested. But I don’t need to tell you of all this woe. We’ve all experienced heartbreak in one form or another, collective grief and loss in many forms.

So I’m really trying not to be a Pollyanna.

But I do feel like COVID-19 has helped me put priorities and values into sharper focus.

Health. Wow. That’s important.

Friends. Community. Books. All Vital.

And it’s clearer than ever before that children’s books are not just for one particular life period. And reading aloud shouldn’t have to stop when you’ve graduated from the HarperCollins I Can Read Level 4. Nope. The pleasure of children’s books are for every season of life. The idea, for example, that you read middle grade just when you’re 8-12 is merely a state of mind.

And as creators of children’s books, it’s especially imperative to embrace this perspective.

Next month, starting on June 15, I’ll be teaching Middle Grade Mastery, a four-week interactive, remote course for the The Children’s Book Academy with Rosie Ahmed (Penguin Random House/Dial Books) and Mira Reisberg (Clearfork/Spork). It’s a class I’ve taught for several years now, and one that I love. We focus on craft and mentor texts. But this year, I plan to remember what I’ve learned from this sheltering in-place. I want to emphasis more reading aloud at any age. And to remember that no one is ever too old for children’s books; they open hearts and minds, pose and answers questions, as well as (perhaps most importantly right now) mend and delight the spirit.

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the new Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House 2020). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University and in the summer she teaches in the graduate program in childrens’ literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy. She can be found at and on her Facebook page as well as on Twitter.

Children’s Authors Chat about —Where Do We Go From Here?

How are you all doing? Anyone feeling like this #shelteringinplace is going on forever? Perhaps you feel like you are stuck in the Groundhog Day movie over and over? While these restrictions are necessary, it is still somewhat difficult to be stuck in a place of so much uncertainty. What will happen when things begin to open up? Will life go back to normal or will there be a NEW normal? At this point no one knows.


I decided to ask some of my fellow kidlit authors about what they are doing now and their hopes  for the future. Perhaps reading these, you’ll feel that there is HOPE for life again, even if it’s a new normal.


After all, as Albert Einstein states,  “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”


” I don’t know what the future holds for in-person visits, but I sure hope that they happen. It is a treat to connect with writers in person. While they don’t, I will continue virtual visits and will keep on WRITING! After all, I’m a writer. My job is to get out great books that will connect with readers during all of these times!” — Nancy Castaldo

“For me, my schools have cancelled my workshops so there’s not much I can do, especially if they remain closed until September. I’ll re-evaluate then. In the meantime, I’ve been giving many free readings and mini workshops online and it’s been fun to interact with kids again!”– Lydia Lukidis

“Gosh, for now, nobody knows what will happen with in-person schools, much less in-person author visits. I’m certainly willing to adapt my presentations for virtual visits, but I’ll miss interactions with kids:( I will also increase my online classes and might seek out a faculty position with an MFA program, too. I’m recently divorced, so this financial hit of lost gigs is a bit of a wakeup call about the fragility of the freelance life. As for book publication, I think we’ll all have to be extra creative about online offerings.” — Donna Janell Bowman

“As teachers and school districts have reached out for permission to read my books aloud and make recordings, I’ve been asking how they plan to use the recordings with students. To say I’m blown away by their creative ideas would be an understatement!
Some are book specific, but many could be done with a wide variety of books. I’d like to find an easy-access way to share these great lesson ideas and teaching strategies with other educators. I’m still pondering the best way(s) to do that and how the lessons might work when the recorded read alouds are no longer available, but it’s exciting to think about. School closures have demanded so much creative thinking, and teachers have risen to the challenge. Educators rock!” — Melissa Stewart

“I’ve been connecting one-on-one with some enthusiastic readers” — Laurel Neme

“I am trying out my first virtual writing workshop lesson with middle schoolers (It helps to work in one!) next week. It’s specific to THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT, but could be adapted for other books, or even done without a book connection. If successful, I’ll work on marketing this as an alternative to in-person school visits.”– Randi Sonenshine

“My WFH (work-for-hire) writing projects have all been put on hold, so I most likely will dive into research for a couple MG projects that I have been working on.” — Lisa Idzikowski

“Today I held a virtual visit for kids at home. I used one of my school visits that I knew would translate okay via screen, was an older one that is not requested much for live visits (i.e. not my “best”). I promoted via e-newsletter (mostly teacher-librarians) and social media. I offered it for free but made a request in the registration and confirmation emails for donations and/or book purchases. I had 64 families register and probably 40 show up (many with 2 kids). So far I have received 1 donation and of course don’t know about purchases. I did it mostly for myself — I desperately miss teaching– but also as a test of the interest/ willingness-to-donate.” — Heather Montgomery

“I already do virtual visits and am happy to keep doing them, but I hope we won’t get rid of in-person visits. I was telling someone the other day about times when kids have come up to me with their private concerns, and that can’t happen through a Zoom meeting. But, I do think there’s a lot to offer with virtual visits too and I’d love to see them continue to evolve. I’ve been teaching writing classes online already and would love to do more of that, although again, as much as I love webinars, in-person classes are better. As for marketing, I think there’s an opportunity to have virtual tours across the world in collaboration with bookstores. The signed copies would be missed, though.” — Samantha Clark

“I have been doing virtual school visits for 5 years at least so I doubt that will change very much. But I intend to go back to in person visits. Physical presence has a power that virtual presence does not. I will be more mindful of keeping myself protected on the road, more hand washing, less handshaking. But my life has been a mix of virtual and personal connections for a long time now and I don’t see a need for it to change drastically. But here’s what I hope will be the longer term impact for publishing. This pandemic is proving that it’s possible to run a publishing house with the majority of staff working from home. Which means that even though big publishers will likely remain in NY, their work force could be much more geographically spread out and that would be good news indeed for diversity. The expense of living in or near NYC is what drives out diverse applicants and drives up the cost of producing books.” — Rosanne Parry

“All my spring school visits were cancelled (all have said they will rebook next year, but who knows if that will be possible.)” — Buffy Silverman

” I had a few events around my book launch but have had several events cancel or postponed until next year. I’m putting in conference proposals (NSTA?) in hopes I’ll be able to travel one day, creating digital resources kids can use now, doing occasional zooms (for free) with classes of kids. Fortunately I had several blog posts and podcast interviews that continue to roll out and keep my book in folks’ mind. Other than that, I’m trying to get more reviews on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads and offering to do the same for other creators. I figure that’s one of the best ways for books to be discovered right now.”– Kirsten Williams Larson

” I will be doing a virtual joint book launch with Teresa Robeson. I recently did three Zoom visits for schools and look forward to doing more of these going forward. Although I will be very happy to return to in person visits when it is safe to do so!” — Nancy Churnin

“With school visits, educator conferences, and book festivals all being cancelled, it leaves me wondering what will happen with my three new books coming out this summer and fall. I’m already focusing a bit of what I can do online but hope for some in-person events, too. I hope to jump back into in-person school visits in the fall but will happily Zoom with classes, too.” — Annette Whipple


And, me, what am I doing and what do I hope for?   I, like everyone above hope very much to get back to doing in-school visits. The sense of energy and connection with the students from actually being in front of them is difficult to achieve in a virtual school visit. I believe that teachers want this, too. I am taking this time to work on something I’ve had percolating for years. I’m starting a new STEM podcast with Jed Doherty. Look for Solve It! — a brand new podcast for kids and families to learn how real scientists, engineers, and experts use curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity to solve everyday problems in their jobs. — Jennifer Swanson

Also good news is that agents are accepting submissions, and editorial meetings are still happening at publishers. Even though things may move more slowly, the publishing world churns on.


Finally I think we can all agree on one thing:  TEACHERS and LIBRARIANS ROCK!!!   Despite their many challenges they are doing a fabulous job connecting the best way they can with their students.

So, you see, even though we may all be hunkered down in our houses, the creative spirit lives on– THRIVES even!  Let us all hope that one day soon we’ll all be able to get together in a classroom,  at a conference or workshop, or even just for coffee,  and share this spirit in person.

I leave you with this quote from a truly amazing and inspiring woman:


“You may not control all the events that happen to you,

but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”  — Maya Angelou


Stay safe, my friends.

If you have things you are doing now, please let us know. If you have hopes for the future, also post below. Let’s promote HOPE!