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What Parents Need to Know About Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels

Here's a breakdown of middle grade versus Young Adult novels.
on May 04, 2015

You're pretty proud that your child has been making big strides in reading, right?  

He's eating up every chapter book he finds? Plowing through books left and right? 


Asks to go to the library and dances on school media day so she can grab a new book? 


Exchanging books with classmates and hanging out in the middle grade or Young Adult sections of the library, feeling like a superstar?


Awesome. We're thrilled and you should be, too. 


However, there are a few things you need to know about the books your child is reading.  Especially if you think your advanced reader can handle books that are "above grade level," parents, you must know what "middle grade" and "young adult" novels really, truly mean. 


There's a whole lot more to these categories of books other than the level of the text. Sure, your child may be able to decode the text—or read the words on the page—but how about the content element? Is he or she really ready to read about physical romantic relationships? What about vulgar language? Heavy topics like death, violence, or betrayal? 


Here's what you need to know about Middle Grade and Young Adult distinctions in literature: 


Middle Grade Books: 

Ages: 8-11 years

Grades: 3-6

Length: 30-50K words

Characters: Protagonist (main character) is around the age of the reader, 8-11 years old or younger

Topics: friendship, family, the character's life and world, external conflict vs internal

Point of View: often third-person, meaning the narrator is outside the story looking in

Content restrictions: no profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality permitted

Examples: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Sisters (by Raina Telgemeier), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Wonder (by R.J. Palacio)


Young Adult Books:  

Ages: 12-18 years

Grades: 7-12

Length: 50-75K words

Characters: Protagonist is older, 12-18 years old

Topics: self-reflection, internal conflict vs external, analyzing life and its meaning

Point of View: often first-person, meaning the narrator is telling the story about himself or herself

Content restrictions: profanity, violence, romance and eroticism permitted

Examples: The Divergent Trilogy, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games


Now, these guidelines are just that—guidelines. Often the lines may be blurry in some books, which makes categorizing them difficult. If ever you are confused or concerned or want to learn more, read the book yourself to see if it's a good fit for your child. You are the best gauge, as the parent. You know best what your child can and cannot handle. 


For more information, visit:

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) site 

Writer's Digest, The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult by Brian Klems

Publisher's Weekly, Middle Grade and YA: Where to Draw the Line by Judith Rosen

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, Part 1 by Malinda Lo


What do you think, friends? What have you learned about Middle Grade vs Young Adult novels?  Share your thoughts with us on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, or find Amy on Twitter, @teachmama, and let's continue the conversation!


Read all posts by Amy Mascott.



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