Monday, March 26, 2012

What was your First Middle Grade Novel?


Merry Monday morning, Mayhemers! I know, it's hard to be chipper on a Monday, but I'm here at work, at 6 AM, so I've got little choice. Well, I suppose I could be grumpy, but it's hard enough to make it through the day as is.

Anyway, today I want to talk about what the first book we fell in love with around the age of MG readers (or in my case, a little before, but that's okay). Now, I know, this is a bit of a stretch. There was no such thing as MG or YA when Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, and it's hard to argue it's a Middle Grade novel when the main character is 50 years old in the book (if I remember correctly). But, I think the argument can be made that were The Hobbit written today, someone in one of the Big 6's marketing departments would sell it as a Middle Grade Fantasy.

Now, I could easily be wrong, but I'll try to make an argument for why it might work. For one thing, even though Bilbo is 50 something, he's a Hobbit, and Hobbits, while hale and hardy, and somehow far more resistant to the power of magic rings than men, aren't actually considered adults until they're 33. So a fifty-year-old Hobbit is still somewhat young. And besides, even full grown Hobbits are just cute. They're always sort of roly-poly, optimistic, and clever. They're the perfect characters for young readers to enjoy, even if they do smoke and drink a lot.


Another thing that I think makes this book one that would fit in well as MG is the plot, and the level of adult content it includes. Which is to say: very little. There is some violence, but it is almost always resolved comically or with a pleasant escape, and there is never any death, unless you count the dragon at the end. Bilbo and his Dwarves escape the trolls when the sun comes up and turns them to stone. They escape the Goblins when the Eagles pluck them from the trees. They escape the Wood Elves by riding barrels down the river. These are all clever ways to get out of danger without including something that would frighten young children. Heck, I read this book in like third grade, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I had the read along graphic novel version that came with a vinyl record you could listen to.


So I could probably go on about this book, and Tolkien, forever, but the point here is that this was the first full length novel I read as a boy, and it engendered my love of reading ever since. It wasn't technically a MG novel at the time, but I think it would fit in on that shelf today, and I have certainly let my kids read it, as young as they wanted to. I can't wait until my nephew is 8 or so, and I can turn him on to Middle Earth as well. Are any of you as excited for the film adaptation as I am?


What do you guys think? Have you read The Hobbit? Think it would sell as MG if published today? What MG books first influenced your love of reading?

38 comments:

  1. I was introduced to The Hobbit in high school. It was required reading in grade 9 or 10, but I loved it. But I think I started reading MG books long before that. I was reading the Black Stallion books, the Little House on the Prairie books, The Five Little Peppers, and probably many more. Whatever I could find at our local library.

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    1. Those are some other great examples. Thanks, Andrea!

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  2. I didn't read this till high school too, but I would have loved to read it earlier if I had known of it. Because even if the character is 50, it's definitely a great book for kids who love to read. And yes, I can't wait for the movie to come out. I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. They're some of the few I enjoy watching more than once.

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  3. I'm with Andrea. I was introduced to The Hobbit in high school. I want to say it was my freshman year but I'm not sure. It's always been one of my favorite stories, although back then I didn't appreciate it like I do now.

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  4. I think the MG books I first fell in love with were S.E. Hinton's books. As far as The Hobbit goes, I agree with you on it being really a MG book. It amazes me upon re-reading (which I haven't done in a couple of years now) how different in tone it is from Lord of the Rings. Even with the somewhat whimsical nature of Bilbo's party at the beginning of Rings, there's a darkness lurking at the edges of things that is lacking in much of the Hobbit. I was just thinking that Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit actually reminds me a lot of Pooh Bear.

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    1. That's an excellent point, Jeff, and I completely agree. Even Smaug, as conniving as he is, is never described in any way that makes him feel nearly as evil as Sauron, or even Saruman.

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  5. Extremely excited about the movie!
    I read it in grade school. If it wasn't for Tolkien's excessive description, I'd almost buy the middle grade theory.

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  6. I didn't read The Hobbit until high school, but I do agree with you and think it's more a MG than a YA. The writing seems simpler to me as well as the plot.

    I was about six when I read my first full length MG novel. It was called The Treasure in the Little Trunk. When I was around 11 or 12 the first novel that had a really profound impact on me was Call of the Wild, hardly MG.

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    1. I read both White Fang and Call of the Wild at a young age myself, but you're right, I probably wouldn't call either MG.

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  7. I fell in love with The Hobbit early on. I couldn't wait to introduce it to my 4th grader. She loved it too, and picked it for a book report. I knew she could handle it. Apparently, the student teacher was shocked. He commented snarkily, "A fourth grader read The Hobbit?" But after reading her report, he said, "AND, she understood it!!" (Proud mom boasts here, she received an A+, and I still hangs proudly on my frig.)

    His initial reaction does lead me to believe, however, it's all relative to the individual child. Some can read "up" without a problem. Some may not even comprehend Tolkein's vocabulary, or simply refuse to read it because of the length. In my house, it's a definite YES, Tolkein is Middle Grade. I'm just not so sure about the others.

    PS My daughter and I are very excited for the movie to come out!! We will be there opening night.

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    1. So glad she enjoyed it, Jaybird! My eldest read it around age ten, so probably fifth grade, but my younger daughter has not. She's not as much into fantasy, even though she does read up, and has already read The Hunger Games.

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  8. I might be one of the only people who couldn't quite get on with the Hobbit. I don't know - something about little creatures didn't quite appeal to my junior self! I did love sci-fi, though, and I read quite a bit of Monica Hughes.

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    1. I've never heard of her, Talli. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  9. Well crafted Matthew. I read that series as a boy as well--it opened my eyes to a whole new world of reading that has never left.

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    1. That's wonderful news, Slam. I'm sure it was my first fantasy as well.

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  10. The Hobbit is one of my top favorite books if no The Top! It hooked me on reading and the rest of Tolkien's books followed.

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  11. The Hobbit is such a wonderful book! Definitely one of my early loves as well.
    The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye was one of my other favorites at a very young age. (It's early middle grade.)

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    1. I haven't heard of that one. I'll have to look into it.

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  12. Great post, Matt!!

    Back in third or fourth grade I read "The Boxcar Children." It's not a big name title like "The Hobbit," but that is my earliest memory of getting happily lost and carried away by a story and it definitely influenced and developed my love of reading. :-)

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    1. I've read that one! It's very good, thanks, Paul.

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  13. Does Charlotte's Web count?

    Can't wait for this movie. I'm so glad Peter Jackson's the one who's making it.

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  14. I always saw THE HOBBIT as MG. And yes, it would (and does) still sell today. As for which MG book influenced my MG self, I mentioned it before, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Just spoke to me as a MG reader.

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    1. I remember you saying that, Mike. I think I've read that one, but I have to check my memory.

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  15. I don't recall ever reading age appropriate material as a child. I recall reading Asimov's Foundation books, the Riverworld books, and even Clan of the Cave Bear when I was a kid. All of those were intended for adult readers, I'm not sure I knew Middle Grade books existed.

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    1. I too mostly read above my age, but there was some younger stuff like Roald Dahl.

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  16. We were assigned The Hobbit in seventh grade, and I just loved it. Kept reading far ahead of where we were supposed to be.

    And of course I adored the Rankin/Bass production.

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    1. I would have love to read Tolkien for school.

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  17. Nice review, Matt. I read The Hobbit in 6th grade and loved it. Of course, part of the reason might have been that it was considered an "adult" book -- the first "adult" book I ever read. I'd have to agree that published today it could be MG. But they'd have to cut out some of the description.

    The first book that I remember carrying me away was James and The Giant Peach, which I read in second grade. That's when I knew I wanted to be a writer. It's just taking me forever to get the hang of it and write.

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    1. I LOVE James and the Giant Peach.

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  18. I read The Hobbit when I was in middle school... I think. And I think absolutely it's a MG, besides all the descriptions and stuff. (i think someone mentioned that already)

    Stoked for the movie!!! Can. Not. Wait!

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  19. My little one (eight) is now re-reading The Hobbit for the third time...which is about what I was doing at the same age, so yes, I'm firmly the mg camp on this one!

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  20. I loved The Hobbit in elementary school -- along with anything by Edward Eager or E. Nesbit. Any fantasy, actually. I have high hopes for the movie!

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  21. My first middle grade novel (Though I didn't know it was when I read it) was
    "A Rat's Tale" by Tor Seidler. I was 14 the first time I read it, and it was one of the first books I bought with my own money, and after years of not being into pleasure reading for various reasons, this was an event, my grandma couldn't believe I practically BEGGED her to take me back to the Barnes and Noble where I discovered Tor Seidler and buy the book.

    She's used to it now, though.

    Plus, being one of the few male authors I love, it gives me hope there are more readers like me out there. His use of details and poetic turns of phrase are enviable as they well written, and while some find him too slow-paced, I love his style, and it's not like it's action or plot-free, you just have to be willing to be open of stories that aren't the pace of a thriller. Plus, I love that his male characters aren't mindless pranksters and girl crazed nimrods, there as carried and unique as any modern day heroine. At least the ones I've read, there a couple I bought but haven't got to yet.

    His books inspired my last MG novel, what higher compliment can one writer give another? Well, apart from loving the book in general, but you writers know what I mean, right?

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  22. I don't think that the Hobbit could even get sold in today's market even though it's brilliant. He defined the genre. But that being said...going into today's market, he'd be expounded as a knockoff of something and get rejected.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!