I was so excited to hear about MG Strikes Back, because for years YA has dominated the headlines. It’s about time that MG received the attention it deserves. Why is this publishing category so important? Because the MG years (8 to 12) are golden! This is when children start defining their reading habits and refining their tastes in genres. It’s also when they get to experience some of the most incredible books ever written.
In fact, I would argue that Middle Grade is far too drab a term to describe such an exciting branch of literature. It’s only marginally better than using Chapter Books to classify these wondrous adventures. MG is not a ‘middle’ sibling or a school class, but a thrilling way to meet colourful characters and experience new worlds. It should stand for Mental Gold or Mind Gripping, or better yet, Magic Gateway.
How many of us got through Watership Down by Richard Adams without a lump in our throat or a tear in our eye? Author SF Said blogged that this thrilling pager-turner changed his life, but it was only when he re-read it as an adult that he realised its true depths. In his opinion: “Some of the richest and most imaginative contemporary literature is being written for young readers.”
Perhaps this is why children’s books account for one in every four books sold in the UK, or why MG novels regularly feature in the greatest books of all time.
However, it’s not just about magic and talking animals. MG books span such a wider range of genres, covering everything from science-fiction to historical drama. There are few topics that escape the imagination of MG authors. Elen Caldecott has compared these books with being a time lord, because they allow you to “travel back in time, whiz to the future, and travel across continents.”
I can recall the thrill of Chas McGill finding a crashed German bomber during World War II in The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall. Even now, I get excited thinking about sailing with the Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, or building a den out of rubbish with Stig of the Dump by Clive King. I sometimes wonder which parts of my own novel, Spacejackers, will children remember in their adult life.
What makes a good MG book? Is there something that children look for in their novels? Author Abi Elphinstone blogged about how there is something magical about being 8 to 12 years old: “I was full of wonder at the world and I craved adventure.”
It turns out that she was not alone.
As a Patron of Reading, I set the students of Writhlington School a competition to win some of the latest MG books. All they had to do was write what they liked best about reading in 140 characters (or less). Most of the children wrote about books being doorways to exciting new worlds, where they could experience thrilling adventures without leaving their bedrooms, whether it’s solving crimes, riding dragons or battling space pirates.
The winning student thought beyond her personal reading experience and conveyed the impact of reading on others: “I love books because they inspire people to feel confident and give company when people are lonely.”
It’s not only children who crave escapism, there are plenty of teenagers and adults who read MG novels, perhaps to revisit those magical worlds and rekindle their childhood memories. Author Jenny McLachlan told me that losing herself in a book felt “like magic” and that “reading makes life feel like an adventure, where anything is possible.”
I write MG novels because they are fun and exciting, because they contain colourful characters and strange new worlds, because they entertain and exercise imagination, because they inspire confidence and give company to people who are lonely, but most of all, because I get to engage with hordes of children who enjoy a good story.
Author Jason Rohan put it best in his blog post about MG audiences: “Why would I want to write for anyone else?”
I may be a big kid who refuses to grow-up. However, you could do a lot worse than to forget your worries, pick up a good MG novel, prepare yourself for an adventure and step through the Magic Gateway!