The Magic of Middle-Grade Literature

by Jenny Mattern

C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Throughout all the years I have been reading and enjoying middle-grade literature, I have found this to be eminently true. What exactly is middle-grade literature, you ask? It’s that sweet spot between beginning chapter books with their controlled, simple language and young adult literature, which so often seems to venture into dark places. In middle-grade literature, the main character is a child on the cusp of something else–in that place between childhood and adulthood where magic can still flourish.

Not long ago, I read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. It’s not even twenty thousand words, this little novel, but it’s powerful. I handed it to my fourteen-year-old daughter. “Just read this,” I told her, and she did, very quickly. Afterwards, our conversation went something like this:

Me: What did you think of that book?
Teenager: I really liked it.
Me: It made me cry. How about you?
Teenager: Yep.
Me: What did you like about it?
Teenager: I’m not even sure. It was just so, so beautiful.

I do read books written for actual grown-ups, but I probably read twice as much middle-grade literature as any other genre, because when it’s well-written, few things can rival it. Are there books you read as a child that you’d consider reading again? C.S. Lewis also said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Try to remember what delighted you at age ten or eleven or twelve, and revisit it. If you spend all your time at the library searching through the shelves of the adult books, venture into the children’s section once in a while. You just might be surprised. 

Here are a few suggestions to get you started… 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Happy reading!

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