What are middle-grade readers reaching for these days? Insights from two librarians may give middle-grade writers the courage to try a new form or the confirmation that they are on the right track!
Brittany Thurman is a writer and Children's Specialist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Joanna Marple is a writer, blogger, and bilingual school librarian at the French American School of New York.
They have much food for thought to offer! Let’s dive in...
Question 1: What middle-grade books do you see readers drawn to lately?
Brittany: There's something about graphic novels that kids cannot get enough of, especially those reading on a middle-grade level. Raina Telgemeier has become a hit with Ghosts, a graphic novel about Catrina, who moves to a new town where its residents are obsessed with...wait for it....ghosts. A question that I receive more than once a week is, "Where are the Raina Telgemeier books?"
El Deafo is another popular favorite, about Cece who is hearing impaired, and one day realizes that her hearing device allows her to hear EVERYTHING in the school. What a superpower! Both of these graphic novels feature relatable characters and situations, so I can see why kids are drawn to them. I have to be honest, I've jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon too and eat these books up like candy. I think that another reason why kids are drawn to middle-grade graphic novels is that not all kids are comfortable reading a 400-page book. When parents come in asking, "What can I give my struggling ten-year-old?" I'm more than happy to suggest a graphic novel.
Graphic novels aren't the only middle-grade craze to walk through our library doors. Picture book author Peter Brown's middle grade The Wild Robot has sparked not only calls about if it's on our shelves, but many patrons come in asking for the book and its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes.
I can't finish answering this question without mentioning the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. This is a go-to series for middle-grade readers, and like the Raina Telgemeier books, kids come in asking for books in this series multiple times each week. I haven't read them myself, but they are a hit with the kids here at our library.
Joanna echoes the thirst for graphic novels:
Joanna: If I had to pick one genre my middle-grade readers are drawn to, I would say graphic novels such as, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova or any of Raina Telgemeier's books. I recently added the Lumberjanes series to our large collection of graphic novels, and that is proving popular too. There are perennial favorites like Wimpy Kid for the 6th Graders or any of Rick Riordan's for the 7th and 8th graders. We have over 50 nationalities represented in our school so diversity has to be a huge focus in my acquisitions. I am always happy when I see more than one student pick up books like Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart or The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez. And every student I have given Brown Girl Dreaming by Jackie Woodson has adored it and asked for more by her. I do try and rotate my books on display regularly as I find students will often pick one of those up and give it a try.
Both Joanna and Brittany spoke about aspects of diversity in response to question 2: What middle-grade stories would you like to see, or see more of, to meet the needs of readers?
Brittany: A while back I had a young patron come in and ask, "Do you have any books about girls like me doing magic?" I was at a loss because I knew of all of the books featuring boy protagonists doing magic or being part of a magical world, but one with a girl protagonist who was also African American? At the time the options were slim pickings. That's what I would like to see more of: African American protagonists living in amazing fantasy worlds, doing what they do in those out-of-the-ordinary worlds: making magic, slaying dragons, creating potions, halting monstrous wizards in their tracks, being demigods and then going to their 5 pm swim meet. This is one of many lacks that exist on library and bookstore shelves and frankly, I'm sick of it. While things in terms of representation on bookshelves have improved over the past couple of years, it's not anywhere near where it should be. When a child comes in and asks something as simple as, "Where are the books with kids like me doing cool things?" I should be able to provide an answer.
Joanna: I lose more LGBTQIA+ books than any others in the library, and honestly, I don't mind, and am happy to replace them each year. I would love to see more books like Star Crossed by Barbara Dee and The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey for my middle school library. My queer shelf is expanding well for the high school, but those fabulous questioning and coming out years of middle school need to see far greater representation in my mind, especially with female protagonists.
Thank you to librarians extraordinaire Joanna Marple and Brittany Thurman for sharing their thoughts on what is sought after by middle-grade readers, and what is needed. You can connect with and read more about Brittany and Joanna here:
Brittany J. Thurman is a Children's Specialist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She conducts story times for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children. She is a graduate of Kingston University, London, England where she studied Theatre, and holds a Master of Fine Art in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. When she's not at the library, she is more than likely reading. When she isn't reading she is writing, which she should always be doing since she is a writer. Brittany writes pictures books, middle grade, and young adult.
You can find out more about Brittany at www.brittanythurman.com
Joanna Marple is a European nomad. During her work, study and trips across the continents (she currently resides just north of NYC), she has discovered a passion for storytelling that unites us and helps make sense of our world. She writes books for children and young adults that offer readers mirrors and windows. She believes that equity and empathy should be at the core of our actions and words. She is also a bilingual school librarian at the French American School of New York, and gets a kick out of book matchmaking. Joanna has a lively blog called Miss Marple's Musings where she has become known for her interviews and book reviews, always with an emphasis on diversity. She is subbing an #ownvoices conversion therapy YA manuscript right now called, CAMP OUT.