Should you read middle-grade books?

A handy flowchart from BookRiot.

Click to blow it up.


I really like the choices stemming from the box: Were you once between the ages of eight and twelve? Hah hah hah!

Now, I like flowcharts, and I like SOME middle-grade books, but there are plenty of MG books that simply read too young for me. Also, as it happens, I haven’t read a single title on that flowchart. Oh, wait, yes I have. I read THE LIGHTNING THIEF. I didn’t like it. I was like, “You’re supposed to be the daughter of the goddess of wisdom? Because you seem ridiculously slow to me.” (I don’t remember what was happening in the plot that made me feel that way; I just remember the reaction.)

Also, there are very few titles listed on this flowchart.

I know that some MG strikes me as reading older and being way more fun for adults (or at least me). Like DWJ middle-grade titles, or the JINX series by Sage Blackwood, or I think Merrie Haskell’s books are technically MG. Wait, hey, you know, THE FLOATING ISLANDS was listed as MG in some locations.

Anyway, those are some of the titles that I’d be putting into a flowchart like this. Not sure what else, but I am sure I would separate MG-that-kids-might-like from MG-that-everyone-might-like.

How about classics like Narnia, wouldn’t those work?

I know some of you read a lot more MG titles than I do. Any titles on this flowchart jump out at you as just great books for everyone? Any other titles that you would definitely put on a flowchart like this?

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17 thoughts on “Should you read middle-grade books?”

  1. I love When You Reach Me – it’s about a girl who’s obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time, and I don’t know that I can describe what I loved about it without spoiling things. It comes together beautifully, though. The flowchart has it labeled as realistic fiction, but there’s an element of fantasy to it also.

    Brown Girl Dreaming is on my TBR pile, but I hadn’t gotten to it yet.

    I would have definitely put The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex on there. That’s one of my favorite books ever, which also just happens to be a middle grades read. They made a movie (sort of) based on it recently, but I think it lost a lot of its satire in the translation. It has a lot of great material about colonialism, and is also just a lot of fun.

    Other MG books I’d have included:
    Bone by Jeff Smith – MG graphic novel series, starts out seeming kind of goofy, but turns into a pretty complex fantasy story
    The Westing Game – a very well-written mystery, and a classic MG book.
    The Spiderwick Chronicles and Doll Bones by Holly Black
    Coraline by Neil Gaiman

    Coraline and Doll Bones can both be pretty creepy, but in that way that kids are generally more ok with than adults are, and they’re both great reads. I think maybe The Graveyard Book by Gaiman is also marketed as MG (it’s his take on the Jungle Book, except with his Mowgli growing up in a graveyard and raised by monsters & ghosts & whatnot).

    I think that Merrie Haskell is definitely middle grades.

  2. Oh, and technically, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is middle grades. The books that come after it aren’t, but that one skews much younger, if you recall.

  3. Wow, BONE is MG? I had no idea. The Teen discovered it years ago and still likes it. I’ve gathered it’s pretty complex, but Teen hasn’t made me read it (yet).

    Most MG I can enjoy but doesn’t grab me. Not even Haskell. DWJ, however, always did.

    I did read THE LIGHTNING THIEF. (see Teen, above) Meh. Also bounced HARD off L’Engle’s classic not long ago.

    I wonder how the publisher justifed our hostess’ FLOATING ISLANDS as MG? It read YA to me.

  4. The publisher info on amazon lists Bone as being for ages 9 and up, so I think it qualifies.

    That’s too bad about A Wrinkle in Time. Do you think you’d connect with one of her older protagonists better? What threw you off?

  5. Frances Harginge’s books are classed as MG, but seem to appeal to lots of adults, myself included.

    I suspect that the ending of GULLSTRUCK ISLAND (aka THE LOST CONSPIRACY), which I found wonderfully satisfying as an adult, might seem anticlimactic to a younger reader.

    Given that Hardinge is English and MG is more of an American concept, perhaps she doesn’t even think of herself as a MG writer?

  6. Oooh! Another opportunity for an Arthur Ransome shout-out! Man that guy could write. Dorothy Parker wouldn’t have picked on HIM!

  7. I knew you all would have suggestions! Yes, of course Frances Hardinge. I have GULLSTRUCK ISLAND on my Kindle right now. Pete, I still have to take your word about Ransome

    SarahZ, I agree about THE THIEF. To me it read very differently from the rest of the set. I think it’s definitely one-book-and-a-connected-trilogy, not a quadrilogy. You’ve mentioned THE WESTING GAME before and I either picked it up or put it on my wishlist, don’t remember which.

    I . . . really have a hard time seeing THE GRAVEYARD BOOK as middle grade. But then I don’t see THE FLOATING ISLANDS as middle grade either. Maybe the protagonists are the right age and there’s no sex, the publishers tend to list a book as MG? Or even both as MG and YA?

    Kindle Direct Publishing wanted me to list the Black Dog Short Stories as aimed toward a particular grade level. I just couldn’t. I think the whole age-grading thing is silly anyway. Saying a particular book is appropriate for ages X to Y, how can you? Graphic sex and torture aside, appropriateness depends on the kid, not the book. Even then, one of the most horrible torture scenes I ever saw was in a book that I think was marketed as YA.

  8. I’d add Sarah Prineas to the list for sure – even as an adult I adored her MAGIC THIEF series. Laini Taylor’s DREAMDARK books may qualify as well, although they probably straddle MG/YA. (I see SILKSINGER is listed as for ages 10 and up.)

  9. That’s true, I like the MAGIC THIEF series a lot. Also the WINTERLING trilogy . . . though I must confess I haven’t yet read the third book.

  10. SarahZ, it’s hard to remember what was wrong with the L’Engle, other than the actual prose put me off, in a fingernails on a blackboard sort of way. She’s in good company, I react that way to Bradbury and Harper Lee, too. But I used to like L’Engle and never really cared for the others.

    Did you have a chance to check out the 12 Dancing Princess book to see if it was the one you were looking for?

  11. Elaine, things have been crazy, so didn’t get a chance to check yet.

    Rachel, I agree that that rating for Graveyard Book seems iffy. In general, it’s all so variable from kid to kid. There were movies that I loved as a kid that seemed really creepy when I revisited them as an adult (Secret of NIMH, Dark Crystal), and then there were ones that terrified me that now seem totally innocent. My sister was totally upset by There’s a Monster at the End of this Book (the Grover/sesame street one)

  12. SarahZ, yes, every kid is so different. I was trying to remember what I was reading when I was in middle school, and honestly the ones that come to mind were not MG titles. The Riddlemaster of Hed, I’m sure that was one.

    It’s funny that your sister was horrified by the Sesame Street story. Now I kind of want to re-watch The Dark Crystal and see if it seems creepy.

  13. Rachel, she ripped the last page out, because that’s where Grover said the monster was :)

    I still love The Dark Crystal, but the bad guys in that are really scary, and that thing where they suck out your soul & make you into a faded zombie-like thing? I can’t believe I was ok with that, but not Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which my little sister loved).

  14. Sarah, that is SO CUTE. How old was she at the time?

    I seem to have completely forgotten about the bad guys sucking out your soul. Hmm. Maybe I blocked it. I remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though! That was a fun movie.

    I should go on a kid’s movie kick. I only recently saw Tangled, the Rapunzel movie Can you believe I only just watched that one? Such a cute, charming movie, with lots of great subtext an adult can appreciate.

  15. Arthur Ransome—woot!

    Other classics that are still worth reading: Frances Hodgson Burnett, Joan Aiken and Lloyd Alexander. Slightly more contemporary: Katherine Patterson and Natalie Babbit (Tuck Everlasting is wonderful.)

    My not-enthusiastic-reader son read all the Bone books, right after Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I should really try them myself, because I like graphic novels.

    Eva Ibbotsen will appeal to DWJ fans. Really lovely, funny stuff.

    The True Meaning of Smekday is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever read. I’m quite afraid to go see the movie, though it looks cute enough.

    Kenneth Oppel writes great stuff for both YA and MG. His early MG animal fantasy series about bats (Silverwing, Sunwing . . .) is quite deep.

    Oh, and don’t forget Kate Milford.

  16. I have a couple of Ibbotsen’s on my TBR pile, in fact. And I agree that Oppel writes very good YA. I haven’t ever looked at his MG stories, but animal fantasy? I wish they’d been there when I was actually a kid.

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