Yesterday saw two YA authors on NPR debating the issue of whether YA is too dark with the author of several essays in the Wall Street Journal that high-handedly suggested that they are. Over and over over the course of an hour and a half of these debates, I listened to people talk about how kids go, in the words of one caller, “from SpongeBob to Twilight, with nothing in between.” And I have to say: Really? REALLY? REALLY?
You’re discounting the ENTIRE realm of middle grade fiction? I guess no one read Harry Potter then, or Percy Jackson, or Lemony Snicket, or The Mysterious Benedict Society, or Artemis Fowl, or The Spiderwick Chronicles, or Wimpy Kid, or James Howe, or Pseudonymous Bosch, or Jonathan Stroud, or Hilary McKay, or Carl Hiaasen, or Kate Messner, or Grace Lin, or E.B. White, or Beverly Cleary, or Mary Norton, or heck, any Newbery winner for the past 89 years!
What enrages me about this lack of attention to middle grade fiction is that those same people who are bewailing the dark tone of YA fiction are deliberately doing their kids a disservice. Can some 12 year olds read YA? Sure! And many do, I’m sure. Is YA aimed at 12-year-olds? No. The wide range of books marketed as middle grade are — books specifically for the 10-14 year old reader.
Of course these age ranges are guidelines, not bold and fast rules, but perhaps if the mother of the ten-year-old who brought home Twilight had sat her daughter down and had a conversation about the book instead of railing on all YA fiction years later, maybe they’d be in a better place.
I was an advanced reader, as was my husband. It looks like our kids will be too. As a pre-teen, if my now 5-year-old stepdaughter starts hearing about a book marketed for a reader five years older than her, am I going to let her read it? Not before I do, and not before I consider if she, personally, is ready for what it may bring up. I bet she will be — at 5, she loved The Hobbit.
But that’s called parenting. And I wish the uninformed who write ridiculous opinion pieces or call in to radio talk shows would do a little more of it, and stop asking publishers to police their children’s reading habits for them.
OK, getting off my soapbox now. It’s exhausting being here. To the comments for further discussion! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.