Middle-grade books mark an important milestone in reading development. While picture books, early readers, and chapter books are also significant, they are normally selected for children by adults and often require some dependence on an adult for understanding. Middle-grade books, however, are for the independent reader.
During this phase, children are coming into their own. They are discovering preferences and interests. They are taking up hobbies and making decisions for themselves. They are becoming more aware of the world and their standing in it. Trends, friends, gender, and personal taste influence their reading selections as much as adults do.
Series are popular with middle-grade readers. Their newfound sense of independence creates a hunger for books. If a child likes one book in a series, chances are he will be pleased with the rest. A series creates a hefty supply of books that a child can rely on, satisfying that hunger with little time needed to find the next good book.
Middle-grade novels are divided into chapters that are longer than those in chapter books, but not quite as long as those in young adult books. The text is not quite as dense as that of adult novels, but there isn't a whole lot of white space, either. There may be a few illustrations here and there, but not normally more than one per chapter. Middle-grade books usually run between 80 and 192 pages. Word counts vary between 12,000 and 30,000 words.
Writing a Middle-Grade Book
The story line of a middle-grade novel is normally conflict driven. The plot should be clearly defined, and the main character should be someone a child can relate to. It is best to try to keep adult characters to a minimum. While including adults will be necessary in some instances, let the main character (a child) solve the problem or handle the conflict. If an adult steps in to save the day, the child loses her sense of independence. The main character is important in middle-grade books and should be well-developed.
Middle-grade readers can handle detail as long as you don't drown them in it. At this age they want to be able to create a visual in their minds of the characters and setting. Be as specific as possible and work in the detail naturally. Don't write out detail in a list-like manner; weave it into the story line so that it doesn't stand in the spotlight. Also, try to stay away from describing everything and everyone in the first chapter. Some writers suggest starting your book as late in the story as possible. Think about how you will get the story moving, even from the first line. You have plenty of time for the reader to get to know your cast of characters and become familiar with the setting. Present the main character pursuing a goal and facing an obstacle.
EXAMPLES OF MIDDLE-GRADE BOOKS
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Deliver Us from Evie by M. E. Kerr