Thursday, February 16, 2017

MG VS YA

MW 4,5 due Weds. Feb 22 & F 4,5 due Fri. Feb 25  

Students are to post reactions (minimum 350 words) to the assigned reading linked below. Students are encouraged (but not required) to additionally respond to other student reactions.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Middle Grade: A Conversation w. Editor Molly O'Neill: "As you know, I have a marketing background, which means that whether or not I intend it, one of the first things my brain starts thinking about for a book is its readership: who is a book FOR? What kind of reader is it going to reach, and how? Maybe instead of asking “What is middle grade?” it’s easier to think about “Who is the middle grade reader, and what is he/she looking for in a book?” I think that a middle grade reader is often (and note, I’m speaking BROADLY, here) reading for one of two reasons: to understand, or to escape. Middle grade readers who read to understand look for stories that help them piece together the truths that seem to be opening up all around them, about the world and their place in it, and the connections between themselves and their family, their community, their friends, etc. Or they’re reading to understand about a different time/ place and what it was/would be like to be a kid then. Or they’re reading to just understand how stuff works, period—from the everyday mundane stuff to big concepts like justice and honesty and friendship and happiness and love. Click heading to read the rest of the interview.

 "A Definition of YA" by Brooklyn Arden: "So I've been thinking off and on about a practical definition of YA literature -- something I could look at to help me decide whether a manuscript is an adult novel or a middle-grade novel or, indeed, a YA. Such delineations don't matter to me as a reader -- a good book is a good book -- but they do matter to me as an editor and publisher, because I want every book I publish to find the audience that is right for it, and sometimes, despite a child or teenage protagonist, a manuscript is meant for an adult audience

An SFWA Introduction to Middle Grade & Young Adult: "For writers who are interested in writing middle grade or young adult fantasy or science fiction, the first step is puzzling out what exactly those categories mean. Science fiction and fantasy, after all, has a long tradition of featuring young protagonists — including such classics as Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings, and Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey — even if those novels weren’t originally published as middle grade or young adult books." Click heading to read the rest of the article.

"Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line?" by Judith Rosen: "Since Harry Potter first hit these shores in 1998, there’s been confusion over where best to shelve it: put it where most kids look for it, in middle grade (ages 8–12), or where the later, darker novels belong, in young adult (ages 12–up)? But J.K. Rowling’s books aren’t the only ones that fall into a gray area, especially as more kids aspire to “read up” because of popular films like Divergent and The Hunger Games. At the same time, adults have begun reading down, not just YA but also reaching for middle-grade books like Wonder and Out of My Mind, because they don’t want to miss out, either." Click heading to read the rest of the article.


26 comments:

Sara Hankins said...

Not base on age, external experience vs internal experience (Amanda Rutter), what the reader wants to read (Molly O'Neill)

When asked what makes the difference between MG and YA novels, nearly every literary expert cited the age range of the intended reader. This is not what the question is really asking though. Anyone can figure out how old a middle schooler or a young adult is; we are more interested in taking it one step further to find out what makes the genres unique and what similarities they share. As we have discussed earlier in class, any reader may read any book they choose, so age does not have to be the final deciding factor.

I like the difference that Amanda Rutter (editor at Strange Chemistry) defines as whether the experiences of the protagonists and the plot are externally or internally driven. MG is more about things happening to their characters and allowing the readers to get swept up into the progression of events and what the characters do to overcome their obstacles. YA, however, is more about internal events, such as a development of relationships or discovering their true self on the journey from childhood to adulthood. This also ties into what Molly O'Neill says about what the reader wants to gain by reading. MG wants to either learn or escape, and reading a story where things happen to the characters is usually ideal for that purpose. In YA, the readers want to gain insight to a struggle they might be facing along with their protagonist, so having YA characters with more autonomy and control over their stories is more appealing to that demographic.

Katie Steely-Brown said...

In the Publisher’s Weekly article, there was a part that said, “The biggest difference at BookPeople between middle grade and YA is the way they are marketed. Middle-grade bestsellers are driven by the store’s Booktalk program … On the other hand, YA sales are built on word of mouth.” I think this is one of the biggest difference between middle grade and YA books that I have noticed, and extends outside of just this one store. Growing up, my public elementary school and middle school held a biannual Scholastic Book Fair, which only offered children’s and middle grade books, no YA books. In high school, book fairs are not a thing— students are too old and expected to be able to find their own books if they like to read. That means my friends and I were no longer being handed popular books, but had to go find them on our own. This was also the point when most everyone I knew stopped reading any books that we were not assigned to read in class.

One paragraph that really annoyed me in the article, though, was this one: “Although owner Michele Barry would like to see middle-grade readers maintain their innocence for as long as possible, she won’t deny tweens a book they want to read. She will, however, warn an accompanying adult that it may feature sexual content, drug use, or language they don’t want their child to read.” I think the concept that any adults are trying to keep a kid, tween, or teen from reading what they want to is idiotic. First, restricting them from reading a book that interests them discourages them from wanting to read at all, as they will not find pleasure from it because they are being forcibly dumbed down by adults. These adults who try to restrict what kids read are the same adults who will later complain that teenagers/millennials spend too much time on their phones and not enough time outside or reading. Second, adults delude themselves that kids are more innocent than they really are. Every friend I have said they learned about sex, drinking, drugs, curse words and mental illness in elementary school, and at the very latest in middle school. Kids know those things are taboo to talk about until they are adults— so of course they talk about it and tell all their friends what they know about it. Adults may as well accept the fact that their precious little 12-year-old is absolutely discussing all of the sex jokes in Romeo and Juliet with their friends, and let them read a book that at least has accurate information on such subjects rather than letting their only source of knowledge come from another 12-year old. Third, a kid reading “outside” of their age range of books is absolutely normal. I don’t remember ever reading a book that was for my demographic while I was actually in that demographic. I read books about elementary schoolers as a preschooler, books about middle school as an elementary schooler, books about high school as a middle schooler, and books about upperclassman high schoolers and college and adults in high school. As someone who struggled with fitting in in school and had anxiety about growing up, reading books with characters and settings older than me made me feel better and more relaxed about the whole growing up thing. The first time I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was 10. The characters in the book are 17. I remember thinking that was insanely old— seventeen! they were ancient! Now of course, they seem like children to me and I cannot imagine being seventeen and literally saving the whole free world, but as a kid I looked up to them and their adventures and figured if they could survive growing up, so could I. Letting kids read “above” their intended book demographic can help them as they grow up.

Rachel Westerbeke said...

One line that jumped out at me in Malinda Lo’s list of definitions of MG and YA was Amanda Rutter’s statement that “Middle grade is very much about the external…YA is often much more introspective.” I don’t think the MG necessarily has to be as focused on the internal as YA, but I wouldn’t say that MG is entirely about the external. One of the characters I remember most vividly from reading in elementary school was a hockey player who inadvertently paralyzed an opponent in a hit that the referee determined legal. Despite the fact that he had played within the rules of the game and it was undoubtedly an accident, the main character quit hockey and struggled with the guilt and memory of the wheelchair-bound opponent. Another character faced with emotional and physical abuse by her parents. Another learned to live with the limitations of cerebral palsy.
I think that the internal conflicts in YA novels generally relate to some kind of change that causes the protagonist to mature towards adulthood whereas MG conflicts tend to be learning to deal with problems that you can’t change.
In “Theory: A Definition of YA Literature,” Brooklyn Arden modifies her definition of YA at the end of the article by saying that “a YA novel should end with hope, that there must be some thread of a ghost of a promise of a happy ending or more growth…” I do think that most YA tends toward a happy, neat ending, but some of it does force you to accept not everything working out for the protagonist. In The Hunger Games, sure, Katniss and Peeta end up together and have children, but Katniss also loses the person that she left to save in the first place. Despite the “happy ending,” there is a thread of disaster that will change Katniss forever meanwhile Peeta struggles continuously with wounds of his own. In Divergent, Tris dies in a way that every hero deserves to, but we lose the hope that her relationship with Four will mend itself and grow. In All the Bright Places, Violet falls in love with Finch who is afflicted by suicidal tendencies and a dark past. You want to believe that their love will be able to save him, but it doesn’t.
I don’t think that YA necessarily always has a happy ending, though there often is some kind of glimmer of hope even when the worst has happened (though the worst often does not happen). I do think that the difficult endings are often intentionally overshadowed by something else—for instance, Prim’s death is overshadowed by the image of Katniss and Peeta’s children.

Dan O'Connor said...

Before reading the these articles I had never really put much thought into what might the distinctions be between middle grade and young adult. I'm still not entirely sure that I grasp the difference between the two. From what I gathered from the articles middle grade and young adult fiction should feature protagonists close to an age with the reader and feature heavily around the characters perspective of events. I suppose middle grade novels should be simpler to read as they are intended for younger readers, but the articles sounded as if this was not the proper way to create fiction for young people. For this reason I was left still a little unsure as to what should be the major defining points of what separates young adult and middle grade.

The article by Judith Rosen really helps to sum up some of my confusion. The various book sellers seem to be unable to easily define how these novels can be ordered and categorized. Complexity I guess would be the most important feature separating the two as there is likely to be a difference in reading abilities between the people thought to be in the young adult category and those in middle grade. Still however the definitions between the two categories seem nebulous to me at best. I find putting myself into the shoes of someone running a bookstore to be an exorcise worth the time and difficulty. Thinking about some of these books I favor the idea of not using a system which separates the books simply by middle grade or young adult, but instead by young reader then genre. There would be a kids section, then a young reader section for middle school to high school then everything else I suppose.

Maggie Lu said...

I have always just assumed the difference between middle grade and young adult books was based on age. Although Lo’s article does give specific age ranges for middle grade and young adult fiction, with middle grade being ages 8-12 and young adult being ages 12 and up, Rosen says that the biggest difference between middle grade and YA is the way they are marketed, with book store representatives traveling to different schools to talk about new books for middle-grader readers, and young adult sales being built on word of mouth. This is true from my experience because in the earlier years of grade school, we would have book fairs and go around to look at all the new books being displayed. There would be great amounts of particular books because they knew at that time, those new books would sell out the fastest. These were the most popular books out at the time, and every person would want to be “in” with the times and have the newest book to add to their collection. (At least I know that’s how I felt and what I did.) Another way to promote new books was that my teachers would choose the most popular book at that time and either read it to the class over a span of days, or we would do book clubs where multiple groups of classmates would read the same book.
Another difference between YA and MG is that authors are not afraid to use stronger language, sexual descriptions, and violent scenes, making these books more mature, while middle grade are usually more simple and easier to follow along with the plot and characters. In Arden’s article, she states that the “story” consists of things that are required to happen in books. However, I feel like it is sometimes better when readers can’t predict what is going to happen in a middle grade book. Having a pre-determined or predictable ending is not as interesting.
In the interview with Molly O’Neill, it is argued by the interviewer that many of classic books, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, would not find an audience today, and it could be argued that new books are coming out by the day in this new generation and books only sell to the newest audience of today’s market. I don’t exactly agree because I think classic books, including Hamlet, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, or The Great Gatsby, are still read today. Even if they are not read for pleasure, these books are still being taught and read in high school classes to preserve the importance of these classics.

Marina Martinez said...

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Middle Grade: A Conversation w. Editor Molly O'Neill” had some good advice. I particularly liked when Molly said that if you want to know what kind of story to write you should read other stories in that category because I feel it’s true. If you know your audience then it’s easier to write something that feels natural and is exciting to young readers. I also like that she encourages writers to get creative and her point about children wanted to escape and understand really resonated with me.

"A Definition of YA" by Brooklyn Arden provided me with a lot of insight on how to separate a YA from Adult Book by looking at perspective to see if the story is “centrally interested”. I think that’s a great point because that’s a part of growing up I think to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you and to become aware and empathetic to the suffering around you. I also agree that generally YA novels have an air of hope at the end.

“An SFWA Introduction to Middle Grade & Young Adult” by Malinda Lo had some good points. I liked Amanda Rutter’s answer that generally YA novels as opposed to MG novels are more introspective than action. I also felt Stacy Whitman’s point about there being edgy YA novels was extremely accurate.

"Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line?" by Judith Rosen was interesting. I didn’t know about the YA Buzz Book group existed and was amused. I feel like there is a huge struggle to keep kids reading books that are age appropriate. Kids are curious and books provide answers for children who are ready to grow up too fast. I wish kids didn’t want to grow up so quickly, but also know I always wanted to as a kid and it’s one thing to read about something and a whole other thing to experience it yourself. I think at least that is a possible safeguard towards children’s innocence. I don’t have a problem with people reading down because I think it doesn’t hurt to revisit memories or perspectives.

Ryan Allen said...

As with the previous discussion about adults reading YA, I feel that there's only so much reasonable restriction that can be placed on a reader when it comes to categories. Ultimately, people will go in a direction that they gravitate to. For some 8 year olds, that might be books in the YA section. For some 14 year olds, that might be books in the MG section. Categories like these have to be treated as a guideline more than a rule. Because if they aren't, kids are just given an incentive NOT to read because what they'd actually like is being kept from them. Usually, it's by their parents, who for whatever reason decide that a shelf with a particular category above it knows more about their child's reading preferences than... well, their child.

Don't get me wrong, of course there are fundamental themes and styles that are more suited to a 8-12 demographic than a 12-18, but there has to be an open acknowledgment that readers from one will be occasionally drawn to the other, and that that's fine. Honestly, I think it would be better to have both in one section. That way, kids would be more immediately exposed to a wider range of subjects, writing styles, and perspectives. They would be able to more easily and quickly develop a specific taste that would efficiently lead them to more books that they really like. There are a lot of kids who get bored of reading one very similar type of book over and over again, which they often are doing simply because that's what was suggested to them by a librarian/parent/teacher. Like one of the articles said, it's about finding books that grab you and spark what is ideally a lifelong passion. Sometimes, for some kids, that means having access to a book that they might not normally have.

jaclyn liccone said...

Going into the semester taking this course, I never really thought about which books were YA or MG. I wasn’t even sure what MG stood for. Now thinking about the difference between the two types, which were already similar to me, was very interesting. After reading the articles, the one basic thing that stood out to me was that the main character in the book should be a character who is around the age of the age group who should be reading the book. This makes sense I guess because then all the events, good or bad, that take place in the book, a young reader would be able to relate to or understand because it would be in their reach.

If I was to put YA and MG into age groups, I would say that MG is the middle school age and YA is more around high school just as Malinda Lo pointed out when she listed age brackets. However, I think it is the most important to understand how the storylines are different or the actual writing techniques of YA vs. MG. Amanda Rutter talked about this and said that all the experiences that the main character goes through are either happening internally or externally. MG is all about situations happening to the characters and the reader is engaged in all the events as they take place. YA is more focused on what is happening within, meaning relationships amongst characters. MG is more about learning or enjoyment, and YA is more about connecting with the reader in some way that relates to their life. I see this making sense in the way that a YA reader is older and more mature and may realize more complex things about life that could be affecting them in a positive or negative way. MG, since the reader demographic is supposed to younger, is less intense and more about enjoying to read and learning about a story.

For me personally, I don’t think it matters what age you are when reading a book. Adults should not feel ashamed when reading a YA or MG book and a kid should not be restricted to only YA or MG. Reading is about exploring and that’s all that matters to me.

Samantha Glass said...

This week we read four online articles/blog posts of authors who are interested in the debate, “What is the difference between a YA and Middle Grade novel?” I will discuss a few other authors opinions/statements, but overall, I think the reason is there is a real differentiation between MG and YA is due to money and marketing.

Malinda Lo wrote an article where she posted other people’s definitions of what the “middle grade novel” actually is. A lot of those people wrote that middle grade novels have protagonists who are between 8-12 and YA is where the protagonist is 12-18. I do not think is true because children like to read up. They typically like to read about character who are 2-3 grade levels above them. I think putting a definition on YA/MG novels is a little silly because adolescents such a developmental time for children and they read/learn different things all the time. People also develop at different stages and children really do self-sensor and know what type of book is right for them.

I thought the most interesting part from Judith Rosen’s article was when she discussed how middle grade and YA books are marketed to children. For middle grade, the children love to be “book-talked” (something I do a lot, as a future English teacher). She said, “Middle-grade readers really respond to an opportunity to connect with an adult who loves books as much as they do”. She also noted that as they get older, they are most concerned with what their peers think and are much more likely to chose books based on what a friend is reading, rather than a teacher.

Brooklyn Arden’s definition of a YA novels is as follows, “ A YA novel is centrally interested in the experience and growth of its teenage protagonist(s), whose dramatized choices, actions, and concerns drive the story, and it is narrated with relative immediacy to that teenage perspective”. I don’t think she made any argument for the middle grade novel, but I would argue that the middle grade novel has a similar goal. Middle grade is not a short chapter book on morals or a quick story. It creates an intimate connection between reader and protagonist.

Lastly, I really loved Molly O’Neil’s advice to current authors of MG novels. She said that they should read current middle grade book, and not look to the classics for examples of great writing. She also said to stop trying to push morals or writing like how you would think a middle grader would speak.

Colleenie vonVorys-Norton said...

I always thought that the difference between YA and MG was just the age that was intended to read it. I did not think much else about it until I read these articles that I noticed the main difference was more about the characters and their journeys. In YA, the stories are more about the individual, usually a teenager, and how they deal with facing a problem. These are more introspective than MA which deals more with the situation. This made a lot of sense because teenagers are more introspective where younger kids are still figuring out the world. One of the things that stuck out to me the most was the article on where they shelve the different categories. When I was making the transition from MG to YA, I felt uncomfortable being in the YA section of the library in the beginning because I felt like I was too young to be there. That is why I really enjoyed reading about Children's Book World in PA. Since I read a lot as a child, I made the switch into YA when I was closer to 11-12. In my local library, the MG was next to the children's books while the YA section was closer to the adult books. I remember not being interested in the MG books but would feel embarrassed in the YA section. That's why I think that the mixing of the categories is a smart idea. Especially at those transitional ages, there are so many different reading levels at the same ages and it would make the transition easier. I think that I would define MG and YA now after reading these articles as being more about the types of sentences and the character arcs. MG has more simplistic sentences and simpler characters. That's not to say that the characters are less developed but more that the reader is more focused on the event then the character. As for the general story, they can have the same general story if it is executed in different ways. A YA book may focus more on the main character's inner turmoil where the MG might focus more on how they solved the problem.

Leah Usefara said...

Ever since I was young, I never really paid much attention to recommended reading age of the books I read. If it looked nice on the front of the book and I liked the summary on the back of the book, I would read it. However, I would naturally gravitate towards certain sections. I would go to Borders every Sunday after church and head over to the Middle Grade section. I liked reading books about children my age and who had the same interests and concerns I did (for the most part). I was never interested in the young adult's larger care for romance, body image, drugs, or anxiety for adulthood. I wanted to read more about friendship and family. Although it looked like the Middle Grade books flowed seamlessly into the YA shelves, it always felt like there was a wall. Of course, children, middle grade, YA, and even adult books can bleed across the lines. The age of the protagonist may not be consistent with the readers and the themes of the book may not be consistent with the genre. The comment that classics only sell because they're classics made me a little mad. Just because books were published in the past doesn't make the books bad. Many of them have a certain taste to them, like 1970s fantasy, but it doesn't make these books unappealing to read. Many are timeless and critically acclaimed by critics and average readers.

Michael Mintz said...

Middle Grade and Young Adult in my opinion are basically the same except with different aged protagonists. Not to repeat the same argument I had in the Adult versus Young Adult argument, though I would say there are some books I would consider books for start-up readers. One of the books that I really loved when I started to read was Captain Underpants, the comic like structure and the interactive parts really excited me at the time in fact I had a whole row in my desk that was just Captain Underpants books. Instead of a Middle grade subject it would better to call those books as Start-up books. Books made to make young readers interested in reading more complicated and interesting stories and books. For example, while I enjoyed Captain Underpants as a child, the humor has become lost to me now, all the remains is nostalgia and me remembering the times I read it as a child. When I was in school being forced to read books like the Giver and Fahrenheit 951, while great and interesting novels may turn off many children to reading due to the complex and political ideas in both of those stories. Instead if someone would have given out more simple books I bet a lot more of the kids in my class would have read different books. Not that children don’t have standards but their standards are extremely different from older teenagers. While teenagers may enjoy romance and complicated thought-processed and ideas, children still live in the world of Black and White where they don’t want to think everything sucks or that someone is dying. Books that tell a simple yet enjoyable story are what I consider Start-up books that would help people to read more, instead of considered reading books a daunting task which it might sometimes be. To instead be a fun time that someone would do instead of watching Television. Such difference would allow the person to gradually enter more thought provoking books. Of course if the child in question has no issue reading complicated books than they should be allowed to read those Young adult and adult books. However to just label these differences based on main character’s age and in my opinion not correct.

Crystal Lam said...

As a high schooler, I had no clear distinction between middle grade and young adult books. To me, whichever book cover or title that seemed interesting was deemed worthy of being read. Once I entered middle school, I stopped reading what I called 'chapter books' that were usually smaller in size and dealt with elementary school problems. For me, the line between middle grade and young adult lay in the sophistication of the language and the subject topic. Rather than focusing upon the age of the reader or the ages of the protagonists, the book's content made a larger mark to me. I like Abigail Ranger's statement in the SFWA article that "'middle grade' and 'young adult' describe audiences, not genres." This is increasingly true as adults and different audiences start to read young adult novels that are turned into movies or are featured on best seller lists but the writing still mainly speaks to readers of a core group. There is a certain audience that the writing is meant to appeal to but the book can still be read by anyone. One of the importance distinguishing features of middle grade is its readability to younger readers. If a book is too hard, some children will reject it no matter how relevant the content may be. There are some books that I feel should be set aside for readers who are just getting comfortable exploring reading on their own. The books needs to be interesting yet not too difficult for students in elementary school. The more advanced readers should be free to venture into the young adult section and find books more suited for their abilities while being careful that the content is not too mature. Many YA novels have darker themes and may use stronger language but is still not as explicit as one may fear. As discussed in previous articles, children filter their own reading material and if something is too out of their league, many times they will stop reading the book on their own. Either way, they will be exposed to these issues later in life and a few years will not make too much of a difference. Parents should still monitor what their children are reading but middle grade and young adult should not restrict readers. Instead, they should just remain categories in book shelves, there for labeling purposes and perhaps nothing more.

Ilana Shaiman said...

In “Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line,” I agree with Meagan Dietsch Goel that each child is different, and that books shouldn’t necessarily be recommended to them based upon age, but instead by reading level and general interest. For example, a 10-year-old may be interested in science fiction that is technically in the 12+ section, but if the book doesn’t have any topics that are too intense for them, than the book should be a potential recommendation for that kid.
In “Everything you Ever Wanted to Know about Middle Grade…and were Willing to Ask,” MO says that young readers read to understand or escape. I think this is true, but I believe that all readers, regardless of age read for the same reasons. Younger readers grow into older readers but the desire to read stays the same, readers want to understand their own worlds better and they do that through experiencing the life of another character. Whether that is through escape, in a different time period, or a realistic fiction novel that they can more closely compare with their own lives, readers enjoy finding aspects of themselves within a book.
“Theory: A definition of YA Literature” indicates that in YA, the teenage protagonist must grow or change by the end of the novel. This is true, but I feel that the same is usually true for any main characters in adult books as well. To me, it’s not question of growth, but rather how drastically a character has changed from beginning to end. In an adult novel, it can be much more subtle and nuanced, but in YA, it needs to be spelled out a bit more in a way that is irrefutable.
In “An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction,” Lisa Yoskowitz, editor of Disney-Hyperion Books, says that middle grade is for ages 8-12 while YA is generally for ages 12+. To me, I think it’s funny that bookstore label books in terms of age, as if the books in YA are necessarily of a higher level just because they are for kids who are older. There were plenty of YA books that I read that I know were easier to read than certain middle grade books. For example, in middle school I loved reading the “TTYL” instant message YA series by Lauren Myracle, yet I’m sure that Bridge to Terrebithia, a middle grade book, is much more involved and difficult to read.

Michelle Chen said...


Will there be a time when the distinction between middle grade and YA won’t matter? “I hope not,” says BookPeople’s Goel. “I think there are real differences in how kids and teens view the world.”

“The last thing we want is to make a child feel they need to read something above or below their level just because a sign dictates that is where they belong.”

Labeling shelves and sections with target ages can certainly preclude children who read above or below an average level from discovering books that they enjoy or connect with. However, I don’t agree with the idea of having no signage at all, which I believe can actually make it harder for children to find books they’re interested in. (I spent a lot of time roaming bookstores amd libraries as a child, and I definitely never wanted to ask an adult for help, so I think signage helps in generalizing a search area.) I think using the “categories” like “early readers” “middle-grade” and “young adult” is a good compromise because it allows readers to decide for themselves which category they belong in, less so based on age and more based on the types of books in a section. (As a child, I definitely had no conception of what these terms meant, but I knew which section the books I was reading were in, and therefore where I was likely to find more books to read.)

While I am vehemently against censorship and book-banning, particularly at large, institutional scales, I nonetheless think it’s valid that there are topics and books that are not appropriate or “beyond” children and teens. However, the age at which these distinctions are made can vary drastically from individual to individual – what’s appropriate for one 12-year-old is not appropriate for all 12-year-olds. Parents shouldn’t dictate what their children read – frankly telling a kid that they can’t do something is often the safest way to get them to do that thing – but most parents are very good at understanding what is and is not appropriate for their own child. I think the most important point made in these articles is “the “key is simply to talk up the books that you think are right for the kid in front of you and not to talk about what age they are written for.””

Becky Clark said...

The first time I learned what middle grade was, I was a senior in high school working at the local public library. The middle grade section was new, made up of only two shelves at the time, and located in the children’s library while YA was located in the adult library. The first thing that I noticed about these middle grade books were they were taken from the children’s section but they either had a focus on growing up in middle school or had some romance that wasn’t enough to put it in YA like Stargirl.

I agree with most of the articles that the difference between YA and MG is in age with MG mainly for 8-12 year olds and YA for 12 and up. I consider middle grade to be more PG while YA is PG-13. An eight year old and a 16 year old probably aren’t looking for the same thing in a book. Rutter states “Middle grade is very much about the external…YA is often much more introspective.” While I don’t think this is true in every case, I do think that younger kids want to read more about action and have stories with intense plots while teens look for something that focuses more on characters. When I was 8, I was interested in good stories, not so much seeing how a character can grow.

I agree with Baker that “there will always be and will always be a need to separate sections for middle-grade and YA fiction.” There are some topics that even the most advanced middle grade readers won’t understand because they are too young. By having separate sections, it offers readers a chance to read books that fit their age range instead of ending up hating a book because it was meant for older teens.

Out of all the articles, my favorite line was from Molly O’Neil, “I think about middle grade being the time when a lot of readers discover “that book”—the one that turns them into a lifelong reader, or explodes their world open with new ideas, or shares exactly the right truth at exactly the right moment in a way they’ll never forget.” This hit home for what MG actually is. Most people have ‘that book’ that made them fall in love with reading when they are a kid. For me, it was Harry Potter. Middle grade is about wonder and adventure. The ideas about romance and stuff aren’t as developed as YA, but it brings kids into the world of books. If readers don’t get that love of reading when they are younger, they might not even want to make it to YA books. Middle Grade is the perfect stepping stone in between small chapter books and young adult.

Jenny Huang said...

All of the articles articulated what each publisher/bookstore/etc.’s general rules for distinguishing between YA and MG books, but I find myself still finding difficulty with being able to figure out what category is what book. One of the most interesting points that was made was in “Everything you ever wanted to know about middle grade…and were willing to ask,” where Molly O’Neil says that “middle grade being the time when a lot of readers discover ‘that book’” – in the end, it is far more important the impact that the books have on readers than the categories they are put in. I love the idea that actually sorting out which books go where is an arbitrary concept, and that the only thing that should matter is who ends up wanting to read the book. The article “An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction” by Malinda Lo had an interesting perspective brought up by Abigail Ranger, who says that “middle grade” and “young adult” describe audiences, not genres. Those categories tell you a lot less about what the books should constitute and more about who actually ends up reading them – and I think it is true that readers tend to read up, but generally remain in a similar age group to their own. What I find particularly interesting is that the conflict between MG and YA does not seem to reflect in the movie industry – what is PG vs. what is PG-13 seems to be easily distinguishable. If there is cursing, violence, sexual references, normally a movie will be classified as PG-13 and not PG. Perhaps this would be an easy way to classify what middle grade and young adult novels are. However, the difficulty in that is disregarding the protagonist and the protagonist’s age and purpose in the novel. I am in agreement with “Theory: A Definition of YA Literature” because YA novels should feature teen protagonists, as teens tend to experience things differently than adults do, but I suppose the difficulty is where to draw the line – is a 12 year protagonist going to appeal to young adults?
Out of all of the articles, I found the last to be the most interesting, as they discussed bookstores – I rarely ever consider how difficult it must be for bookstores to decide where books go, especially when they overlap in genre. In the end, though, I think I like the idea that young adult and middle grade novels shouldn’t be labeled. Based on my personal experience of reading adult novels when I was young, I believe it only served to further my love for reading, and there really isn’t any harm in that.

ALEX LYU said...

First of all, I have to say I find it hilarious that three out of the top six best-selling titles in Publisher Weekly's list are different editions of The Fault in Our Stars. Good for you John Green. This isn't a knock, by the way, as I definitely had a John Green phase myself. *cough*Paper Towns was a farce though*cough*

I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to say about these articles, as they all just seem to be accounts of what various authors, publishers, marketing agencies think about YA and MG categorization. It's hard for me to have an opinion on this because I feel like it's mostly relevant in a marketing sense, and the debate over where the lines are drawn seems endlessly fruitless.

Of course, I basically agree with the general separations, as eight year olds probably wouldn't have the same perspective as fifteen year olds, but when it comes down to the absolutes, I'd have to fall back on some platitude along the lines of "everyone is different" or "there are no absolutes" or "rules are meant to be broken." Unless, maybe I'm missing some higher, more profound lesson in these articles.

I gained value from them in the sense that I have some more explicit guidelines and testimonies from established professionals, but I think I already gleaned that from articles previously assigned. Either way, I'm sure that I'll consider these parameters and suggestions once I actually start seriously considering writing for an audience. I just find it counterproductive to try and bend whatever truth I'm trying to write to these demographics. I don't plan on writing anything too esoteric, so hopefully my writing achieves some level of universality without being contrived.

Elaina Yu said...

Growing up, I personally rarely spent time with middle grade – level novels and spent most of my elementary school through high school reading what people consider young adult. Many of the novels and mangas aimed at young adult were far more interesting to me than middle grade. I think this is largely in part of the fact that I’ve always been very introspective and reflective, and far less reactive than most of the protagonists that I had read in my albeit limited experience in MG. I also was always more interested personally in broad mature topics, especially in relationships / romance, and not the stereotypical plots that I found outside YA.
So, the definition of age groups is hazy at best and misleading at worst. I lean much more towards the distinction between MG and YA being that MG is outward facing, and YA is introspective with its stronger and better rounded characters that actually have some influence on their situations.
I personally struggle with how to characterize my age group, since they tend to be my age (20-23) and I don’t shy away from sexual scenarios, since I’m interested in relationship development and how sometimes sex be far more telling of the relationship temperature than their daily lives. So, it was enlightening that there is an “edgier” YA that my writing could fall into.

Christopher Yi said...

The more I read about this debate, the more mixed I feel about categorizing middle grade and young adult. In her interview, Molly O’ Neill states, “I think that a middle grade reader is often (and note, I’m speaking BROADLY, here) reading for one of two reasons: to understand, or to escape,” however, is this not what every person does when they read? Everyone, whether they are an adult or a child (or anything in between), reads to escape to a place where they can understand the world around them just a little bit better. Whether it’s a self-help book, or a twentieth edition biology textbook, or a middle grade book, they are learning about truly new and unique experiences through the lenses of others. Honestly, I find the arbitrary boundaries and serialization of books quite asinine because it essentially boils a book down to its label. I suppose there’s no real chance at detracting readers from buying from genres that they already like but I wish people would be more willing to read a variety of books even if the feeling is solely based on a whim. Perhaps then we wouldn’t have these silly pedantic views of MG and YA. But alas, people like what they like and you can’t really change that.
Some of the arguments about perspective do make sense though and I guess they did change the ways I see MG and YA, namely the external vs internal driven plots. The older people get, the more self-aware they become and I guess the YA audiences look more introspectively as a means to grow and understand the transition into adulthood. And yet, this can’t be the only distinction. Kids and teens see the world differently but is a book being relatable the only means of distinguishing between the two groups? I’m kind of tired of arguing the differences between childhood and teenhood when we are all constantly still growing and learning. People will continue to think differently about themselves even when they are 40 moving onto 50 and 60 and so on. I don’t think the obsession of MG vs YA is warranted.
Some of the arguments about perspective do make sense though and I guess they did change the ways I see MG and YA, namely the external vs internal driven plots. The older people get, the more self-aware they become and I guess the YA audiences look more introspectively as a means to grow and understand the transition into adulthood. And yet, this can’t be the only distinction. Kids and teens see the world differently but is a book being relatable the only means of distinguishing between the two groups?

Melissa Cecchini said...

The thing I found most interesting when I was reading these was there was never one quote or definition that really stuck out to me and spoke to me as the true definition of either middle grade or, especially young adult fiction. I think that both categories are so broad that when you try to create one set definition you run the risk of closing out an entire section of the literature. One article talked about the force the protagonist has to exert on the world around them in order for a story to be considered YA. This speaks to some larger savior figures that save the world with a ragtag team of friends. And it defines MG as the world outside exerting a force on the protagonist. But there are a lot of novels in each category that switch these plot points.

Even basing them on the intended audience is blurry. With the popular culture of today, there are nine and ten-year-olds that are being exposed to really adult concepts and behaviors that might drive them to pick up more advanced books than were "intended" for them. My younger brother and his friends saw the original Ted movie before anyone I knew had, and they were only about eight when it came out. And the same is true of the reverse, as one or two of the articles pointed out. More and more adults are picking up books marketed towards children and finding just as much enjoyment out of them as younger audiences.

As a whole I don't think trying to put these types of labels on books of this nature is effective. The best answer for the difference between the two is the age of the protagonist. Because for a lot of these books I don't think it's necessarily about the relatability of the characters to the reader. That makes a compelling addition but it's not the focus. Bored kids don't read books that mirror their own experiences. Bored teenagers don't really do that either. They read for the escape from their own experiences and from their boredom. Put a kid in the middle of the Jurassic Age and watch them fight robots in it. Maybe I'm biased because that's why I read books. But I firmly believe that putting unnecessary labels on these books inhibits potential readers from getting their hands on wonderful books and falling in love with them.

Susan Lee said...

I agree that it is important to consider what your target audience wants in the story. In the end the purpose of writing a story is to have the story read and it is important to know your target audience. While this is true I feel like it is important to not think of it in a too much of a business-like way. I feel like once you start focusing on selling your story you will loose the innocent that leads to creativity. I think its great that the writer defined what middle grade was instead of just talking about the age range which was what I honestly expected. I think it is true that this is the time that people think most about the world and look to learn about new things.

I think it is so true that a ‘good book is a good book’. As a reader, it doesn’t really matter what kind of genre I read, if it is a good read I will read it. I don’t even know what kind of genre it is because as in this case, the difference is sometimes hard to make sure.

As stated before, I don’t think it is very important to define or spend to much time puzzling over what type of genre to write. If you have a good idea I think one should just go for it and just write. Even I had a small debate with my apartment mate about the fine line in between it.

I think the Harry Potter series, as an example is very accurate. Harry really grows with the reader and as the series progresses. As such, the technical aspects of a genre also change. I also really was able to relate to how the older audience doesn’t really disregard the young adult genre anymore because it has gotten so popular. There are many movies that have been made from that genre and I also still read some books from that category because it is still interesting.

Sam A said...

These articles only made something more clear to me. Listening to people attempt to define where YA and MG and Adult begin and end only makes me want to wipe away the labels as a whole. The labels, as is, seem to only cause trouble in delineating where one starts and the other ends. I think that to solve this the real issue needs to be addressed.

Clearly, a large group of people is interested in separating young adult fiction and adult fiction. So, the real question needs to be, what about a book would disqualify it from the standard fiction category. What does YA have/have not or do/don't do to disqualify it from the broad category of fiction?

The quality that seems to be unaddressed most of the time is that people find YA to be lower brow. They find the quality of writing, the complexity of the plots, the character developments and the general tone of the book to be simple enough that it would require being labeled separately. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as we can all name YA novels written very simply that are great pieces of fiction. However, the fact remains, that the YA book possesses a quality that strikes readers as simple enough for young adults to fully grasp and participate. No one would categorize One Hundred Years of Solitude a YA book simply because it follows characters through growing up and finding themselves (and eventually dying). I am sure there are hundreds of instances of adult fiction books sharing strikingly similar themes and plots to young adult fiction books. So, the delineation cannot be made by theme, character or plot because there is a number of adult books which share a lot of similar qualities with YA and vice versa.

So, it seems the ineffable quality that determines YA/MG/Adult is whether the writing is not accessible to particular age group. Could the average 13-18 year old read this book and not struggle with understanding it? That seems the first question to determining whether its YA or not.

I would start with this question and then move onto any stipulations that about form, theme and plot that are possible to apply. However, this looks to be a particularly challenging problem as YA is known to tackle many themes and motifs presented in adult fiction.

All in all, I find that although asking who can read the book is a rather loose description/requirement, there isn't much else you can use to delineate YA/MG/Adult. So, I agree with publishers focusing more on who can read the book in the first place. If a 14 year old can't read it, then it isn't YA. From there ask the question of what else disqualifies a book? Perhaps for it to be YA it has to be relatable to those of the 13-20 age bracket.

Siming Hsu said...

Reading these articles made clear to me that there is no one obvious definition for MG or YA. It is extremely difficult to separate the two from each other and create hard definitions to classify each genre. Yes, there are certain traits that may lend to more of the YA genre than the MG one, but books targeted for young(er) audiences are often populated with many of these traits that can sway into either category.

I think one of the important issues that comes up in these articles is when business and marketing is factored into the creation of these stories. Mixing business and the arts is always a tricky venture; a writer may not necessarily want to brand their work as strictly MG, YA, adult or any other category that separates their readership. It is also difficult to categorize these organic ideas that flow from the mind into hard genres, and it can limit the creative process. A great idea is a great idea, and if when written down it bends the definitions between genres or suggested reading ages, in the end it is still a good piece of writing. However, authors must still consider the fact that they are trying to sell their books, and to do so, the books must appeal to a target audience and do well on the market.

It is also interesting how so many people are critical of those who read MG or YA but do not fit into those age categories. I agree that YA books tend to be more inward-facing, but people are different stages of their lives are constantly evolving and changing from the past versions of themselves. "Coming of age" and realizing ones true self can happen at any stage in life; just today I read a Humans of New York piece about a woman who talks about coming into her own and discovering herself after divorcing from her husband of twenty years. The age generalizations for MG, and particularly YA books, are helpful, especially for deciding what kind of content younger pre-adolescent audiences should consume, but beyond that, they should not be a limiting factor in the kinds of books that people read or be considered a detriment in one's reading repertoire.

Zakiya C said...

I don’t think of Middle Grade or Young Adult as a type of category. It seems too restrictive to those who want to read above or below; however, I do see the need for it in the editorial or publishing department. To really catch a reader’s eye, a book must appeal to them on a more subconscious level. I remember reading my favorite book in 10th grade and to his day I still have no idea of the protagonist’s age. The content is what spoke to me.
So with that, I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that the protagonist has to be close to the reader’s age or in a certain age range. I am also skeptical of the idea that books stores would strictly categorize MG YA and the other “age ranges”. The categorization of a book store should be by genre. Perhaps some subliminal categorizing, like the younger books towards the bottom of the shelf because of how we see things that are eye level, but never so out right as to separate the content. What a child, or adult, should or should not read is up to them, and if need be their guardian.
I do believe the Brooklyn Arden page does a good job of giving a basic outline to how a YA novel will really be considered a YA novel. The definition, being broad, leaves room for interpretation, but also being precise with certain information. I still find YA to be a difficult concept to follow, so this was very helpful.

Syeda Khaula Saad said...

I read Brooklyn Arden’s “A Definition of YA” and it made me think of my own three-page submission that we workshopped in class. I was worried right after writing it that it would not necessarily be considered YA, and I was correct. Because I set up in a dorm room, it implied that the girl was in college and this was not okay with YA requirements, because as Alex said, “younger people don’t really care about college kids.” And he’s right. Sierra had the suggestion that I change it to a boarding school instead, not changing anything about the plot except for providing a little bit of background that would tell the reader that they were in a dorm room. But this made me think: If such a little change could warrant an entire shift in genre, what exactly does this genre imply? This brought me back to Arden’s post.
Sometimes I would feel as though I am not really capable of writing YA. I like to focus on darker themes and this often gets portrayed with older people. But Arden’s question at the end of “do we limit the art of the genre if we say it can't go fully into the darkness?” is one that makes me realize that I can.
The answer is yes. Not “fully going into the darkness” does limit YA and in fact, it is not even necessary. Children and those who qualify for the YA age group do experience dark things. In fact, some face darker things than other adults. And because they are younger, oftentimes these darker things are earth shattering. And we need to stop the thinking that younger people do not understand things. I always find it funny when adults believe that because they are older, they are always wiser. I know plenty of adults who are just as confused about their lives than a teenager. In fact, I know some teenagers who know exactly what they are doing and they are so sure of themselves. That is why it is okay, if not necessary, for YA to cover the dark things too. Children experience it and they need something to read that tells them that they are not too young to be questioning certain things, even if they seem too intense.