What’s in a Name? Middle Grade vs. Tween

Technically, the books I’ve had published fall into the “middle grade” category. Mention “middle grade” to anyone in the children’s book world and they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about: Books intended for the target age of 8-12, between chapter books and young adult. Not so in the rest of the world, though. So, let me tell you why I’m sticking with the term “tween” instead, even though that might have a slightly older and sometimes female connotation.

Incident #1: I’m sitting in a Broadway theatre with my friend, Steve, and his friend, Amanda, waiting for “Fiddler on the Roof” to begin. (I think that was the show – yeah, “Fiddler.”) Amanda’s asking me about my first book and I describe it as a middle-grade novel. This is the response I get: “Oh, don’t say that! I’m sure it’s very good.” HUH? WHAT? EXCUSE ME? So I have to immediately launch into an explanation of what middle-grade is and how it doesn’t mean mediocre, middle-of-the-road or second best. Can’t blame Amanda. It was an honest civilian response. Still, I was so shaken, I didn’t really care if Tevye granted his eldest daughter, Tzeitel, permission to marry Motel, the tailor. Ah, he’s such a wimp anyway – she’s better off on her own. Right? Of course, right.

Incident #2: I’m in Cold Spring, NY with my friend, Dana, leaf-peeping and doing a little research on another novel I’m working on (called Boondoggle, about a brother and sister from a small town spending the summer in NYC – and a mystery in Grand Central Station.) We stop into a charming bookstore and Dana mentions to the woman behind the counter, who owns the joint, that I’m a writer with a book coming out. The woman is thrilled and congratulates me; then naturally she asks me to tell her all about it. “Well, it’s a comic, contemporary, middle-grade novel. . .” “Oh, don’t say that! I’m sure it’s very good.” AAARGH!!! Are you kidding me? And from a bookstore owner, no less!

So, to avoid Incident #3, I started describing myself as a “tween” novelist instead of “middle-grade” even though it may not be right on. Urban Dictionary has seven murky definitions for “tween” depending on who’s using the term. Between the ages of 9-14; between the ages of 10-13; between the ages of 8-15… Make up your mind! My protagonists so far have been around 12-ish, mostly male but one female, so I think they fit the bill. Besides, I couldn’t call this blog “Middle-Grade the Lines.”

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6 responses to “What’s in a Name? Middle Grade vs. Tween

  1. I usually say tween also, but people without kids sometimes don’t even know what that is. I also just say “I write books for teens” and if the person really wants to know more I get more specific. But usually their response is either, “Like Judy Blume?” or “Is it a series?” They always think it’s a series for some reason.

    How were the leaves in Cold Spring? I’m going back the first of Nov and hope they’re in full fall mode and I don’t miss them.

    • Or if you just say “children’s book author” they immediately think you write picture books. I guess there’s just no escaping a full explanation.

      The Cold Spring incident was last year — I think that bookstore’s gone bust. I need to go back soon! Love leaf-peeping in Cold Spring.

  2. Interesting blogs Mr Bonk.

    I find the moment I say I am an author to anyone who isn’t in the industry they come over all sad looking! But the great thing is we write for kids! Who can still believe in magic!!

  3. Even tho’ I’m not yet published, I’ve written a lot, in various genres and often say when asked what I do, “I write for young people.” So far I haven’t had a consternating moment. Would that help anyone?

  4. And the long short answer could be, “I write books for 8-12 year olds.”

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