Knowing the field

Dear Miss Snark:

I know you are very busy with the crapometer contest, but I still need to ask a question:

What is the difference between middle grade (chapter books) and narrative, upper grade fiction? (aside from YA), where both are fiction adventure? (besides the obvious in age differences).

I asked the below question to a different agent (I know, I didn't ask you first, but you ARE busy) and received the following answer:

Q: When writers write chapter books for middle grade readers, is there such a thing as too many scenes within each chapter? Is there any writer's guideline for maintaining their scenes within each chapter? Or doesn't it matter?

A: "Unfortunately, chapter books for middle grade readers are akin to children's
picture books for me and I don't handle them. I only do narrative upper
middle grade and YA. Sorry, I can't help you with that question." --Agent.

Without this answered, I pose the same question(s) to you.
Thank you for your information!

Mostly it has to do with vocabulary and themes in the book. However, the only way to truly understand this in your bones is to read a LOT of it. If you intend to write for this market, you need to invest three solid months in reading, at the very least.

I was reminded of this when a friend of mine who is a very serious composer told me he'd been working really hard. I asked him what he was writing. He told me he wasn't writing at all. He was listening. He went to the Performing Arts Library every day and listened to every CD they had in the new music category. Every day for a month. Ten to twelve hours a day. He took notes on everything he heard. That's a serious committment to knowing the field.


Elektra said...

oddly enough, I just asked this exact question in the Children's Writing forum over at absolute write.

Bookview said...

An excellent place to ask that question is on the Write4Kids forums:


The differences between a middle grade and YA novel -- and these aren't hard and fast rules -- have to do with length (YA is usually longer), tone (YA can, but doesn't have to be, darker), age of characters (teens or young adults in YA), situations (more controversial situations are more acceptable in YA), and complexity. The best way to understand the differences is to read a LOT of both.

Anonymous said...

Also realize that "Chapter Books" is also used as a separate level of juvenile writing -- think of the Magic Treehouse or Frog and Toad books. They have are for much younger kids than the Middle Grade books.

If you haven't, you should join SCBWI (Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators). There website has great information, an active message board, and solid conferences.

Anonymous said...

To emphasize, chapter books are NOT the same thing as middle grade novels. There are many categories in children's writing:

early readers
concept books
picture books
picture story books
chapter books
middle grade novels (upper & lower)
young adult (upper & lower)

And yes, they all have different parameters that justify them as such.

You must know the genres before you submit your 2500-word picture book and show yourself to be nitwit of the day!

C.E. Petit said...

Might I suggest that an experienced fourth- or fifth-grade teacher at a decent public school is probably the best resource available for this? Those grades have a huge disparity between the low-readers and the high-readers, and the teachers inevitably become familiar with what's out there in that range.

A school librarian might also be helpful, but in my experience less so (if only because they have so many other demands on them).

Bebe said...

Yes, as others have said, chapter books usually have very specific guidelines--literally, most publishers that do those kinds of books have written-out guidelines specifying exactly what you're asking--word count, vocab, how much action and dialogue there should be, how many chapters, even sometimes how many words per sentence and sentences per paragraph. These are for kids who are just reading books with chapters for the first time. If you're in touch with a kids' editor, you can request these guidelines.

Everything above that can be pretty fluid. Low, true, and high middle grade, low and high YA. There's no clear line. But you just figure it out by reading a lot of it and honing a sense for it. If it's just a little too complex or sophisticated or long for a chapter book, but otherwise it's like a chapter book, then it's low middle grade. On up. Think about the difference between the mandatory reading for the different grades. For instance-- I read The Sign of the Beaver in 4th grade, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in 5th, Where the Red Fern Grows in 6th. It's a gradual ascension. (Those are all middle grade, but they're not all the same).

Things like sex and drugs usually push a book into the YA category, but not all YA books have after-school special themes. YA usually could be adult, but with teenage characters. Age of the characters is very important in all kids' book distinctions. One of the most important things.

lizzie26 said...

I wouldn't bother with joining SCBWI--paying 65-75 dollars per year. You can get the same accurate info at www.underdown.org.