Monday, February 18, 2013

Is it MG or YA?

Some books just can't wear typical middle grade clothing but neither do they look natural in young adult's teenage digs. So . . . where do these books belong? Where should they be shelved in the library? In what section of the bookstore will they get the most attention? How do you properly target market these books? And what in the world books even fit this category?

A few I've come across are these. I'm sure you know others.

 

Most are books whose main characters are thirteen or fourteen, older than typical MG main characters but younger than most YA main characters. Some of them explore issues that may be tough for middle graders (abuse in Okay for Now, a sister who died in a terrorist bombing and a drunken dad in My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, and dating relationships in many). And the storyline of each is elevated above the normal middle grade book.

So, what to do?

The librarian at my local library houses each of these books in the YA section, all except The False Prince. The Cabinet of Earths moves around; I've spotted it in both the MG and the YA section. So maybe the librarian is trying to figure this whole thing out too. The covers of these books may draw a middle grade audience more so than a YA one. And what's under these covers is somewhere between MG and YA.

So, my knowledgeable blog readers, solve the conundrum. Where do books like these fit? Do they need a label all their own? Often they're called upper middle grade books, but YA readers may ignore them just because anything determined middle grade is, in their minds, for kids. Hmmm. It's worth discussing. What's your take? And what other books fit this conundrum?


31 comments:

  1. Not sure, Barbara. When I saw your blog post title, The False Prince came to mind. I think that it's a great thing about a book like it and The Cabinet of Earths (which seems more middle grade to me). They have crossover appeal because they're at the cusp of YA. And that can just increase their following.

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  2. Very good questions, Barbara! In my library, some of these books or others like them, the Rick Riordan books come to mind, have a copy in both the MG section and the YA section. I'm not really sure of a good answer, though. Sometimes, it seems we categorize things too much.

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  3. I wish I knew the answer, Barbara! I don't really know where my own book belongs, because I didn't know anything about MG or YA when I wrote it so long ago. The book is read by a lot of middle-schoolers, but my local library has it in the YA section. I know of several other books that are MG, but they have them in the YA section. A tween category would be nice to have.

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  4. Tough questions. I'm not that familiar with either, but I do have grandkids that read a few years beyond their actual age. My nine-year-old is reading Harry Potter.

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  5. I think you're right in saying "upper middle grade" will still turn off young adult readers. I think we need to shelve according to maturity level, not reading level. The AR level for Hunger Games, for instance, is 5.1 . . . but it wouldn't be appropriate for most 5th graders. I don't limit my 12yo daughter's reading at all. She'll actually read something and after a few pages tell me, "Mom, I don't think this is appropriate for me." LOL. Even though I'm against censorship, I think most parents and grandparents searching for books for their 'kids' could use a little more guidance from the experts.

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  6. I have been asking myself this question too, especially since some of the agent/editor feedback about one of my YA novels is that it "skews a bit young." Gary Schmidt's books definitely come to mind for me too - they are considered YA at my city library. Same with Shannon Hale's books.

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  7. Gosh, this is a great subject and one that plagues me while I'm considering the age of my MC. For marketing purposes it's a tough call; it could make a difference. But for writing purposes, I feel as if a story is well-written it's audience will find it. EM makes a great point.

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  8. Yes, this is a very good question. I always thought MG was from 8-12, and then YA from 13 and up. I agree with the comment above, if a story is well written, the audience will find it. I suppose it really doesn't matter much, and like Jennifer wrote, maybe we categorize books too much.

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  9. No, I don't think your blog readers are going to solve this one for you, but what a great discussion. I never quite know where to put Gary D. Schmidt's books, even his newest which is a little younger than the others. They are for everyone -- middle graders will get them, but probably not all the layers and sophisticated messages, but the stories and characters make middle grade a great starting point. YA and adult readers will really appreciate them. It's a conundrum.

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  10. I've heard they might make a new genre between MG and YA. Personally I'm not a fan of that idea. As an author it's hard enough to fit into a genre without narrowing the definitions. No matter how many divisions we make there will always be books that cross genre. Many of my favorite books do. Yea, it's hard to shelve them, which is why we need experience libraries and store clerks that know what they're doing and are willing to help the customers find the books they want, no matter which genres they do or do not belong to.

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  11. Good question, Barbara! These types of books are my absolute favorite to read, and to write...but unfortunately most agents aren't comfortable with the idea of upper MG for the very reasons you mention. I'm sure that just as librarians have a hard time figuring out how to shelve them, agents have a harder time figuring out how to pitch them to editors...

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  12. A few years back editors and agents were talking about TWEEN books--for this exact issue. Unfortunately, that talk has faded away.

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  13. You've heard of "New Adult?" How about "New Young Adult?" (Kids love to "read up.") ;)

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  14. Wish we could do away with these distinctions altogether, but bookstores and libraries do need to know where to put the books! I too tend to write books that fall in the "tween" category, and it's a problem.

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  15. Figuring out categories like this can be so tricky, to the point where I sometimes wish there weren't MG/YA genres at all, and instead age rating systems, like movies and some comics have!

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  16. I guess the books mirror the same conflict the kids in this age group experience themselves. They want more freedom without having to take on more responsibility. Teeter. Teeter. I say shelve a copy in each section!

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  17. These books are so important because they really do fill that gap between typical middle grade books and young adult. Many young adult books really are too sophisticated for kids in middle school, but they do feel too old for most middle grade books. I almost do think that they need a new classification.

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  18. Many years ago, when I started at the (now defunct) bookstore, MG was ALWAYS 8 to 12, and YA was 12 and up. It was pretty traditional. Most of the publishers included the age level right on the book jacket, so we shelved accordingly. Then books like Harry Potter and The Lightning Thief started to blur the lines. When the Percy Jackson books first pubbed, we shelved them in YA. Later, we moved them to MG.

    MG these days more often seems to be 10 to 14 (with the younger books aimed at 7 to 10). And a lot of YA is edgier and more mature than it used to be, so a few years back we created a "mature YA" category for 14 and up in the bookstore (before B&N did, mind you). But publishers still come out with "8 to 12" books too. It was tough for us to shelve when the publishers didn't include that helpful info on the jacket! We had to make our own decisions, and at one point we had Okay for Now in MG, and at another point, it was in YA.

    I kept trying to start an "in-between" category, but the owner wouldn't go for it. The Graveyard Book is much too scary for an 8 year old. But we shelved it in MG. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine went into MG. For us as booksellers, if there was any sex in the book, it automatically got shelved in YA. It could be violent or scary as all get out, and still be MG (which I didn't always agree with).

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  19. It's a tricky dilemma, possibly one that you can't quite answer resolutely. My guess is that none of these are right for all MG readers or all YA readers. It may depend on the maturity of the individual reader, and it would be up to the parents, librarians to help the children figure it out for themselves.

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  20. You send these books my way, that's what you do. lol. These are exactly the kind of books I gravitate towards and blog about. I call them Upper Middle Grade and I've, too, heard the term "tween" bandied about, but I've never seen it as an official category anywhere. You cant' get away from categorizing, though. Parents and kids and teachers are going to want to know where to find age-appropriate material.

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  21. I feel like consumers need a clearer measure of the content of these books. I find knowing the lexile level of a book is helpful for reading level, but of course that does not address maturity of theme. I'm sure a better rating scale could be devised, I just wouldn't have the foggiest how to do it!

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  22. I love MG books that blur the line between MG and YA. For me an upper MG remains a legit MG as long as there is no sex or romance in there. But then you have upper MG books that come with some kissing like ABOVE WORLD and you're like "ugh!" even though the story is perfect for the 10-14 age range.
    I actually find the conundrum entertaining. :)

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  23. I'm glad I'm not the only one confused about this issue.

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  24. Ahhh... Subgenres! :P

    I guess if there's a new "NA" category now, we could have "Teen" and "YA." Although, I think NA should really be YA and there should be a separate Teen category that encompasses what used to be YA...

    If we did that, these could be "teen," yes? :o) <3

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  25. This is such a great question! I went to a workshop once called "YA's Younger Sister: Upper Middle Grade Books." It talked about some of this crossover. Many who want to read and write new adult have the same question. It's just becoming a thing now.

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  26. I think the style of writing and type of story dictates where it goes, not the age of the MC. Cabinet of Earths is def MG to me. (And I think the publisher agrees, given what kind of cover they made for it.)

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  27. LOVE reading all the views and ideas. If you had an email attached to your comment, I responded (hopefully) to them all.

    One last thing...I adore reading books such as these--these in-betweeners. They reach readers in a way that neither MG or YA does, and they do it so well.

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  28. Great question. I struggled with this as well when I wrote an upper MG and really wanted it to be lower YA. I think content is key. As for the shelving area? Maybe moving it around a but is the best solution. Kinda cool!

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  29. that's a good question. I have heard of TWEEN being used as an in-between genre. The MGers would like that, but you probably wouldn't get the older teenagers reading them. They could be shelved in a nearby section and let the kids decide after reading the back cover.

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  30. What a great question! I noticed at my local library that they shelve some of the books above in both the YA and the MG sections. I also noticed that with other books, like Elsewhere. I think the content probably plays a role in the books that are only shelved in one area. Fascinating to read everyone's comments.

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  31. Oh, libraries shelve these all over the place! To me, Okay for Now is MG. But I just finished The Apothecary, which I adored, and I think it's YA.

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