Compare and Contrast Middle Grade Novels and Those for Young Adults

I am currently enrolled in a course that examines the life and writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book is sponsored through a Missouri University and it is taught by author-lecturer Pamela Smith Hill. I am absolutely delighted with the course, and I have learned far more from the course than I expected to learn.

I did expect Hill’s scholarship about Wilder to be thorough, but I did not expect to find the following two videos, which expertly differentiate the various types of youth literature from each other:

Hill defines a Middle Grade Novel as One for a Reader between the Ages of 8 and 12


The Newberry Award is Given Each Year to a Book Selected as the Best Middle Grade Novel of the Year.

The book that most believe now to be the most representative of a Middle Grade Novel is Charlotte’s Web, but when it was published in 1952, it did not win a Newberry Medal. It only won a Newberry Honor Award.

Several of Wilder’s books won Newberry Honor Awards, but none won the Newberry Medal.

Unfortunately, awards often represent trends of the year that they are awarded. Charlotte’s Web transcends trend. It is a classic and its content has a timelessness about it .

Young Adult books are generally aimed at readers who are 12-years-ol and older.

The Harry Potter book series begins as Middle Grade Novels, and as the characters get older, the later books are Young Adult Novels.

Wilder’s books also have a timelessness and an agelessness about them.

On her 5th Birthday, in 1872, Pa gave her a copy of the book

The Floweret: A Gift Of Love (1842)

. It had been written in 1842.

In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura mentions how she and Mary and her cousins loved to look at the pictures in the book Polar and Tropical Worlds.

She also enjoyed hearing Ma read Millbank to Pa.

By the 1890’s books that we might recognize as being appropriate for children had begun to be published.

The early part of the 20th Century became known as the beginning of the Golden Age in Children’s Literature and great illustrators began to emerge: Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, Maxfield Parish, and Jessie Wilcox Smith.

The genre of fantasy began to emerge, and with it came The Wizard of Oz.

I want to congratulate Hill for her outstanding videos that distinguish the types of youth literature from each other. All three videos are exceptional. I actually have a master’s degree in painting, and discussion of illustration is serious talk for me. I personally prefer the Garth Williams illustrations for Charlotte Web to those that he did for the Little House books. I do acknowledge, however, that Little House no doubts needs a less 1950’s and more frontier tone to them than what we see in Charlotte’s Web, and I concede that his illustrations for Little House are more rustic.

I salute the discussion of the early 20th Century illustrators, and Arthur Rackham is my all-time favorite illustrator from that era. His illustrations have proven to have a timelessness about them.

Allow me to add that there is another type of middle grade “literature?” that is heavily illustrated now–and that is the Diary of the Wimpy Kid and all of its offsprings.

I wrote my master’s in English thesis on William Blake, and I truly support the need for a correlation of text and image. Some of us are both verbal and visual. For the hurried, 21st Century reader, who is highly influenced by video and film, I believe that illustration will be more and more important. In fact, I believe that we’ll soon see picture books for adults, and I am beginning to address that need in my own work.

©Jacki Kellum July 7, 2016

[You can register for Smith’s course Laura Ingalls Wilder Here.]

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2 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast Middle Grade Novels and Those for Young Adults

  1. Wow, you wrote on Blake! Fantastic! His work certainly stands for blending visual with textual.

    Distinctions between age groups is often helpful. I tend to think of what I call the Newbery range, which I see from ten to fourteen. Frankly, I impose this when teaching literature for children as the first audience. After that, it’s young-adult, though frankly I don’t know what real teens are really reading. All the Gothic stuff can’t appeal to everyone. While at the bookstore, I try to see what teenagers actually choose to read. Inconclusive search, so far.

    I’m happy you’re having a such fine experience in this course!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Young adult readers baffle me. I hate most YA lit. I have a few teen friends and I let them select the books that I buy for YA at my library.

      Like

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