The Difference Between Middle School and Middle Grade

Despite my best efforts to quelch it, there has been a general consensus among my family and friends that I write young adult books (YA). This even happens with my fellow writers. The only ones who seem to understand that I write middle grade (MG) are other children’s writers. I was starting to get very frustrated, as there is a very big difference between YA and MG (and, in fact, this is actually a large part of my Masters thesis). Then I realized why people were so confused, and I felt the biggest *facepalm* ever.

Middle Grade sounds like Middle SCHOOL… which is YA age.

Oi. No wonder everyone thought I wrote for middle school teens and not kids! So here’s the deal…

YA books are generally geared towards ages 13-17. They are the teen books. Examples of this are Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume.

Young Adult:

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MG books are generally split into two age groups. There is Lower MG for ages 7-9, and Upper MG for ages 8-12. Lower MG are books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, and Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar.

Lower Middle Grade:

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Upper Middle Grade are books like The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, and Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine by… me. 😉

Upper Middle Grade:

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Of course, there are overlapping titles. MG itself overlaps between the ages of 8 and 9, for differing reading levels. But the biggest overlap is between Upper MG and YA. This often happens when a series begins as Upper MG and, as the characters and readers grow, becomes YA. A great example of this is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Upper MG:

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YA:

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There are also single titles that are difficult to put into a certain age group. For example, many people in the publishing world aren’t sure whether Charlotte’s Web by E.B White is Lower or Upper MG, or whether Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is more appropriate for Upper MG or YA. Still, generally speaking the difference between YA and MG is all about the age of the main character(s). If they’re 7 to 12, it’s probably MG. If they’re 13 to 17, it’s YA. This is only according to general publishing world consensus, which means there are plenty of exceptions.

So, to wrap up. Middle School is Young Adult and Middle Grade is Elementary. But only sometimes.

Wow… I can’t blame you for being confused. Too bad “I write books for ages 8-12” is such a long explanation compared to “I write middle grade”…

9 Responses to “The Difference Between Middle School and Middle Grade”

  1. brassweight Says:

    And then there is the new genre of “New Adult” a category that targets the late high school and college-aged adults (16-23 or 24 year olds). There is a slew of these post-high school aged books coming out now.

  2. […] Oi. No wonder everyone thought I wrote for middle school teens and not kids! So here's the deal… YA books are generally geared towards ages 13-17. They are the teen books. Examples of this are Twilight by Stephanie …  […]

  3. How about just ‘I write kids books’ because some kids like to read outside their grade level. I loved picture books well into High School, hey, I still do, but I like to write about kids who are about 11 or 12. I think content has a bigger part in this discussion than word count or age of the main character. But I love your posts and I learn tons!

    • I completley agree. Obviously there is a lot of cross-age stuff out there. However, when I’m in a conversation with people outside the writing community, I’m often asked what age group my books fit in with, or else it’s assumed, when I say I write for children, that I write picture books. There is nothing wrong with that – I very much respect what picture book authors can do – but these are usually asked / assumed in relation to the speaker’s own children or children they know, and certainly don’t want them to buy an upper middle grade book for a two-year-old if they’re not aware of what they’re buying. And of course, there’s the marketing and publishing aspect. Who to market to? Where to shelf it? It all comes into play.

      On a personal note: I’ll admit that I’ve never enjoyed YA books, (with a very few exceptions) which is probably why I get annoyed when people say I write them. 😉

  4. Declan Casey Says:

    Your categorization of Harry Potter is wildly incorrect. The first two Harry Potter books are Upper-Middle Grade. I don’t know why so many people are blind to the material Harry Potter depicts. People will place it in Middle Grade alongside Percy Jackson and The Underland Chronicles, for example, but it’s widely known that those series are for a younger audience than Harry Potter. The Harry Potter series is a Young Aduly series. The scope, the writing, the age of the characters, the ratings of the adaptations, the themes and the content are all geared towards tweens/teens and up. It’s lexical rating is 15+!

    • Yes, and I did say it begins as MG and moves to YA as the series continues. I’m not sure how there is a disagreement there, unless you feel I should have differentiated more between upper MG and lower MG? I hope you’d agree that “Percy Jackson” is by far more detailed and in-depth than “Captain Underpants”.

      • I’d agree, but Percy is still fairly light weight and comedic, sometimes childishly so, as well as really simple when compared to Harry Potter. So there’s an obvious step down in age categorization. I’d argue that Captain Underpants are more chapter books, maybe even more akin to early readers.

        Harry Potter is, overall, a YA franchise that just gets more adult the deeper you go into the series,

      • The early Harry Potter books are much more lightweight and comedic than the later ones. Besides Harry’s age at the beginning making it Middle Grade instead of Young Adult at the beginning. Teenagers (for whom YA is written), don’t tend to want stories about children. As for Chapter Books, that is one-in-the-same with Lower Middle Grade, so I’d agree. It just depends on what you call them, I suppose.

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