Posts Tagged We Need Diverse MG

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. 

From the Mixed-Up Files Gets Recognized for Dedication to Diverse Books

Wndmg logo

Are you looking for some good news to cheer about? Well, here you go: From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors is receiving some love!

What’s this about?

We all know that there are many reasons to love the Mixed-Up Files, and one big reason is our effort to put a spotlight on diverse books. Just check out our WNDMG Wednesday blog posts!

Well, it turns out a lot of people have been noticing our dedication to diverse books, and our blog is getting some love from Feedspot. Feedspot chose Mixed-Up Files as one of the 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites for 2024! That’s something to celebrate!

Here’s what Feedspot has to say about us: “Read special intros, summaries, and extracts from books and novels that revolve around the theme of Diversity and Inclusion. From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors is a team of writers and readers of middle-grade books, and their goal is to celebrate and generate enthusiasm about books for 8-12-year-olds.”


So, what is Feedspot, you might ask?

Feedspot is a content reader that can help you keep up with multiple websites all in one place. That way, you don’t have to visit each website separately to find out what’s new. With this recognition, Feedspot acknowledges the contribution of websites and blogs that recognize the importance of putting more books with diverse characters in the hands of children.  

The goal of this list is to recognize and bring more traffic to websites and blogs that are dedicated to the promotion and growth of inclusive literature. In addition to From the Mixed-Up Files, their list of 80 websites and blogs includes standouts like the Lee and Low Books blog, Multicultural Kid Blogs, and KidLit TV.


Why is this important?

You know the saying: Energy flows where attention goes. Publishers Weekly recently reported findings from the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) regarding diversity in children’s books. The good new is that “the number of books received by the CCBC that have BIPOC authors, illustrators, or compilers has tripled since 2015.” They expect this trend to continue with BIPOC representation and to expand to a broader range identities, including differing abilities, LGBTQ+, and religious diversity.

 As you’ll find on our WNDMG page, our mission is to “celebrate and promote diversity in middle-grade books, and we examine the issues preventing better equity and inclusion on the middle-grade bookshelf. We intend to amplify and honor all diverse voices.” If you’re like us, and you have a passion for making sure that all children see themselves represented in books, check out Feedspot’s 80 Best Diverse Book Blogs and Websites and make sure to follow From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. King

Coretta Scott King Awards bronze seal

As we celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s a great time to recognize the value of authors and illustrators who continue to carry his message into the world. This is the goal of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards. According to the American Library Association (ALA), these awards are presented annually to African American authors and illustrators whose books for children and young adults “demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” 

About the Award

The Coretta Scott King Book Award was established in 1969 by Mabel McKissick and Glyndon Greer at the annual conference of the ALA. The first award was presented to Lillie Patterson for her middle-grade biography titled Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace (Garrard, 1969). During the 50+ years since its inception, the award has grown and evolved.  

In 1982, ALA’s  Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table joined with the Coretta Scott King Task Force to form the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. Since that time, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards have been recognized as an official ALA award.

Currently, two separate awards are given, one to an author and one to an illustrator, and three books in each category are named as honor books. Additionally, the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Author Award honors new African American authors and illustrators, and the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes an author in even-numbered years and an illustrator in odd-numbered years.


Past Winners of the Illustrator Award

In 2023, the illustrator award was given to Frank Morrison for Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022).

Standing in the Need of Prayer book cover

Other past winners of the illustrator award include Kadir Nelson in 2020 for The Undefeated (Versify, 2019), which was also awarded the 2020 Caldecott Medal; Christopher Myers in 2015 for Firebird (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019), Misty Copeland’s tribute to young dancers with a dream; and photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. in 2010 for My People (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009), in which sepia-tone photos beautifully enhance the text.  


Past Winners of the Author Award

In 2023, the  author award was given to Amina Luqman-Dawson for Freewater (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022), a middle-grade historical fiction novel about the harrowing journey to freedom of two children who escape from the plantation where they are enslaved. Widely praised for its lyrical writing and gripping storyline, Freewater was also the winner of the 2023 Newbery Award.

Freewater book cover


Past winners of the author award include Jerry Craft in 2020 for his groundbreaking graphic novel New Kid (Quill Tree Books, 2019), which also received the 2020 Newbery Award and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature; Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin for March Book: Three (Top Shelf Productions, 2016), which was the winner of several prestigious awards, including the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; and Jacqueline Woodson in 2015 for Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin, 2014), an autobiographical novel-in-verse that received multiple honors, including the National Book Award.


Coretta Scott King Awards bronze seal


The Seal

Books that have received the Coretta Scott King Book Awards can be identified by the award’s iconic seal. Winners receive a bronze seal, and honorees receive a silver seal. Designed in 1974 by artist Lev Mills, the seal reflects both the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideals of the Coretta Scott King Awards. 

The circle represents continuity, the dove is symbolic of peace, rays of sunshine reach for peace and brotherhood, and the pyramid is representative of both strength and the Atlanta University, where the seal was designed. At the center, an African American child reads a book.

Mills also included five non-sectarian symbols as a sign of world unity. The Star of David, the Latin Cross, Om, Tao, and the Star and Crescent appear beneath the child.


Looking Ahead

The 2024 Coretta Scott King Book Awards will be announced soon, at ALA’s winter meeting. To be eligible for the awards, authors and illustrators must live in the United States or maintain dual residency or citizenship, and books must have been published in 2023. All applications had to be submitted by December 31, 2023. Stay tuned and watch for the announcement!

In the words of Coretta Scott King, “It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.” As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us also celebrate the authors and illustrators who carry his legacy forward and provide young readers with books that have the power to bring about positive change.