Sunday, September 21, 2014

YA or MG - Does it matter?

Hello writers and readers! 

As this is my (Kate) first blog for YAtopia, I wanted to centre it around me. That’s right, me me me me! And, although I read almost anything, when it comes to writing I’m a middle grade monster. (However, I plan to challenge myself during NaNoWriMo with a YA novel, but more on this in November.)
For those unfamiliar, we’re talking 8-12 year olds. The bit before YA and the bit after first chapter books. Yes, it’s a tricky group to define but in my eyes these are kids who are getting ready to grow up, who are about to experience a lot of first times. Yet still so preciously innocent, still hand-holders. So writing for these guys is a big responsibility. It’s all about balance.

Because of the huge divide in potential reading abilities, there’s a definite split: lower MG (Spiderwick Chronicles) and upper MG (The first Harry P’s, Percy Jackson). Word count and voice are the best ways to spot the difference but something as simple as the cover art is a good indicator too. My writing voice leans toward upper. However, what I’m seeing more and more these days, is YA themes in MG books, and I’ve got to say, I don't like it.

I'm a lover of rules (probably an important fact to bear in mind with me) so I have strict guidelines that I adhere to. And, as a grown-up who buys for this age group, I think every MG author should make sure they’re setting similar boundaries to avoid poisoning these pristine little minds.

Swearing: Leave it out. If it’s absolutely, 100%, unbelievably necessary then stick with B class words and the smallest smattering. These kids will learn the A class soon enough.

Death: Yeah, it’s life, I know, but kids should only have to deal with this subject as and when. It depends on the genre of the book, of course, but personally I avoid it. If you’ve got to put it in, touch on it delicately, no gory or intricate details.

Sex: Obviously not. A peck on the lips, the touch of an arm. That’s it though. All in good time.

Drugs and alcohol: Definitely not the kids but, maybe in a contemporary novel, the main child character could be viewing an addiction or user secondhand. Best not to spell out exactly what's going on. 

Happy ending: Always. Pamper to this age group’s dreams, keep the mystery of the rainbow ending alive. Don’t destroy it.


Generally the dark, edgy, risque themes are not needed at this age: they can come in YA books, when a child's mind is ready to deal with them. Life throws enough at youngsters, nasty realities are abundant. I think, let them escape from all this in a book. Tell a fun, happy, inspirational story that leaves them hopeful and with their youth intact. I implore you to love these kids as I do, don’t make them grow up before they’re ready.

So, until next time, happy words!


  1. I love that you tackled this subject! I chimed in on it from the other end last fall: that of the difference between chapter books and middle grade. An important topic, for sure. You go, middle grade monster--and best to your efforts with a YA in NaNoMoWriMo

  2. Thanks so much chapterbookchat! I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.