Thursday, February 2, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: I is for Interesting

I'm getting close (well, closer than I used to be) to querying my middle grade novel, and I'm interested in hearing what you think middle graders consider interesting when it comes to books.

I'm gonna keep it short and simply ask three little questions. Plunging right in:

1. What initially interests a middle grader in a book? (title? cover? genre? jacket description? a recommendation? something else?)

2. What keeps them interested if they decide to read it? (characters? plot? suspense? identifying with the storyline? all of these? something else?)

3. What makes them interested enough to say, "I LOVED THAT BOOK!" when they finish reading?

These questions have the ring of a beginning, middle, and end. Sorta like a book. Well, whaddya know. Anyway, I realize these questions have as many answers as there are book readers in the world, but I'm just looking for viewpoints because they are all so interesting. Tell me yours, if you're so inclined.


  1. My kids love twists at the end, but twists all the way through.
    THey also love dragons.

  2. 1. title-cover-jacket description to start with if they are in a bookstore or library. However I want to say recommendation as well because of librarians, teachers, and parents who love to read children literature.

    2. Plot first? (I think), then characters (which could go with identifying with the storyline) and finally suspense (otherwise they get bored).

    3. This answer is a wild guess, but I'm thinking a satisfying ending (first)? Then they get into the details with characters, plot, setting and suspense.

    In the end though I will say all of the above. If your story has a little bit of everything (or most) kids would love it right? At least I like to think so. I will be looking forward to what others have to say.

  3. 1. Title and cover. Also, thickness of the book and size of the type. I remember how my childhood BFF looked for books: She leafed through them to look at the appearance of the pages, and she was a very avid reader.

    2. Plot, specifically suspense or humor. Then character. Funny -- I'm not sure where the all-important "voice" is as far as kids are concerned.

    3. I think the afterglow of suspense, and liking the ending.

  4. Kristen, ahhhh, yes, dragons.

    Akoss, a little of everything in the right doses is what we all strive for, exactly.

    Marcia, interesting comment on 'voice.' You're right. Kids probably can't put a word to it; voice comes in the overall fabric of the story. I love the expression 'afterglow of suspense.'

  5. My daughter is into YA now but I think the same applies to MG. If the story doesn't grab her in the first 2-3 chapters, she's not going to read it. So I'd have to say plot and character are the most important. It depends on the kids but I think dystopian and fantasy are popular for the upper middle grade kids.

  6. Having been a non reader for so many years and now an avid reader both with my kids and reading J Fiction on my own, I have given this quiet a bit of thought. For me personally, I want a book to start with action and only a few characters. I will likely put a book down if I feel overwhelmed by the amount to characters I need to keep track of right away or lots of detailed scene setting. I want to connect with the story before I get bogged down with details.

    Covers are HUGE! However, I have probably read as many great books with terrible covers as terrible books with great covers and alot less great books with great covers. BUT the great books with great covers are the best! Did that make any sense? Now that I know how litte control the author has over the cover art I am less dependant on the cover in my reading choices.

  7. Natalie, grabbing the reader with the story=BEGINNINGS ARE SO IMPORTANT! And so hard to craft.

    Valerie, your thoughts on a book's beginning are so insightful. And covers ARE huge! But yes, authors have little input into them.

  8. I will answer from what I have observed with my middle-grade reader son.
    1. The cover first and then he reads the description. I think the description is what will sell him on a book.
    2. He will finish a book if it is interesting and something he can relate to. He's a very picky reader, so the subject matter is a huge deal for him.
    3. I think overall he loves a book if it held his attention to the end and it ended in a complete, it makes sense, kind of way.

    Hope this helps!

  9. The cover is a huge part of why kids buy books (If it's their parents who are buying, they won't care about the cover so much as "Does it have anything, um, bad in it?").

    I've also noticed kids buying books because their friends have read it or talked about it.

    And I'm beginning to think kids who've spent years on the computer have shorter attention spans. So the thinner the book, the better. Even kids tackling the Reading Olympics will ask me for the thinnest books on the list.

    What keeps them reading once they start? Definitely lots of action right from the first paragraph (a la LIGHTNING THIEF). Humor always helps. But there are some kids who tell me they actually like sad books. So I guess they have to feel drawn into the story right from the beginning. And it has to deliver right up to the last page.

  10. Jennifer and Joanne, such thorough ideas! Thank you so much for the input. Both of you commented on the importance of the book's ending which to me stresses the key concept of how the story is resolved.


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