Monday, February 25, 2008

What Age Are You Really?

Over the last few days I’ve finished reading several fantasy novels. Some of them—like “Elantris”—I read by myself. Others—like “Nightmare Academy” and “Dragon Slippers”—I read with my two sons, ages seven and ten. One of the things that I noticed as I compared the different novels was the apparent age group for which the books were written.

Nightmare Academy has a very middle grade feel to it. Lots of jokes and a silly style of writing. The main character was thirteen I think, but my youngest son loved that book the best. I think my favorite scene was the “trout of truth.” Silly yes, but so funny me and my boys just about died with laughter. I also like the comedic side-kick, Theodore, who tells Marcus that his fists are machines of destruction that he can’t always control.

Dragon Slippers was really a little too old for my seven-year-old son. He liked the dragons but wanted more action and humor. My ten-year-old liked it just fine. It also had humor, but it wasn’t quite as silly. It was more the kind of humor that you chuckled at. No rolling on the floor.

I didn’t even bother trying Elantris on my boys. It was Robert Jordon type fantasy. Interaction of religion and science, plotting was slower, and the action dragged quite a bit at times. But it was very good and very deep. I enjoyed it a lot. As I did all of the books.

Some books are tougher to quantify. Is Harry Potter middle grade, YA, or adult? Depending on the book and section, it can be all three. I almost didn’t read the whole series after book one. But the fourth book is one of my all time favorites. Clearly all three types of books can be read by more than one age group, depending on the style you like, but you should go in with different expectations.

With that in mind, I have launched a new poll. I’ll post the final results of the old poll and my take on them tomorrow. Good reading!


Brian said...

On your poll, I said "Doesn't Matter" because I usually look for both YA and Middle Age. I've read/heard a few that were adult and liked though. Also, I think that Harry Potter is middle grade, although it is a great book for all 3.

DesLily said...

well.. i'd vote but I have to admit that I've never heard of "middle grade"..????

I've reached the status of becomming "ancient" (that would be way past OLD!) For the most part I assumed I read "adult" books (mostly fantasy fiction).. low and behold I have found out that more and more I am reading YA books! When this happened I cannot say, quite possibly long ago as I never really looked to find out what listing the books had..heh.. well.. that's me. If it sounds good, read it.. do I care the listing? ummm... no. But I still never heard of Middle Grade!

Brian said...

Middle Grade, I think, are books that maybe 5th through 8th graders would read, like "A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Warriors," or The Spiderwick Chronicles." I don't know if you've heard of any of those, but if not, you could try asking Scott.

J Scott Savage said...

Good call, Brian. That's exactly what middle grade novels are, and those are some great examples. In my opinion, the first and maybe the second HP books were middle grade. After that, they aged quite quickly. The last could of HP books were definitely on the upper end of YA.

Typically the difference between middle grade and YA is the age of the protagonist and the type of problem the main character is facing. MG books are usually based on what affects the character directly (moving, losing a friend, getting a pet, etc) YA novels are typically about issues that affect the bigger community.

Julie Wright said...

I'm in the doesn't-matter camp. I want to read a good book. Spiderwick chronicles is clearly middle grade but was delightful to read (the movie did not do the series justice). I don't often read adult fantasy just because i spend a lot of time reading to my kids and don't get much personal reading time.

DesLily said...

Brian: thank you. I thought it might be but I never really had heard of that term before. And yes, I've heard of all those books lol.. I've purchased some of those for my "middle grade grandson" lol.. but he's smart for 11 yrs old and reads above that also

As for me..good characters and a good story are all I ask.. no matter where they fit (YA/ Middle grade etc)

Sean Ashby said...

There's also a level right after picture books, usually called "chapter books" or "early reader" books. These are a kid's first book that they can read by themselves (usually under 25,000 words). They're often short with tons of pictures. Think: Junie B. Jones, Magic Treehouse, Captain Underpants, Time Warp Trio.

Then there's "middle grade" which Brian so accurately identified. These typically run around 60,000 words and may or may not have illustrations. Some others: The Edge Chronicles, Percy Jackson, Sisters Grimm, Hank Zipzer.

I think a lot of people use the term YA to refer to anything from 10 years old all the way through 17 or 18, but I think that's too broad a scope for just one term; I have heard the term "tween" to refer to the 11-13 year old group, though. But YAs tend to push past 90,000 words (the latter Harry Potter books soared past 200,000!) with no illustrations. Think: Ranger's Apprentice, The Pendragon Series, The Bartimaues Trilogy.

Me, I like to read all kinds of levels. Depends my mood, really. Sometimes a quick read that's fun and whimsical is nice; sometimes I need for something more serious with more action.

Brian said...

As I said, I read both Middle Grade and YA books. I've read Percy Jackson, Hank Zipzer, and Bartimaus. I also have Pendragon and Ranger's Aprentice, although I haven't yet read them. I also have read a few books that are a little over the level of YA, like The Belgariad by David Eddings and The Lord of the Rings. I'm reading the Fellowship right now.

Anna said...

The Fellowship is wonderful! I reread that recently and I was so surprised and delighted at all the little bits and pieces of poetry Tolkien wove in...(btw, wouldn't 'tweens' be for people in the twenties? I chose YA because that's my age, although that's probably inaccurate now that I think of it. I just started Warriors and I love them. They are the best modern fantasy/animal stories since I read Harry Potter and the Inkworld Trilogy....(can't wait for Inkdeath.) Leven Thumps is actually kind of slow compared to the Warrior books...I never finished Spiderwick, although I wanted to. Series of Unfortunate Events is hilarious and creative. I see what you mean about how Harry Potter 'ages.' I thought that each book got darker and darker (Deathly Hallows was obviously the darkest). However, Warriors is actually pretty dark to...I got shivers and was actually a little spooked when I read The Darkest Hour. That was by far the Darkest of all six of the first cycle. BTW, when is your book going to be released to book stores Scott?

Brian said...

You're right. Leven Thumps was really slow. I read the first book and thought it was ok, but never bothered to read the next two. I also read Inkheart. I also started Inkspell, but stopped, needing a break from those characters for a while. I'll probably pick it up again in a few weeks. And thats a good question. When is your book coming out Scott? I know it's coming out in August, but what day?

Anna said...

I think I like Leven Thumps a little better than you...I own all three. I hate to not own all of something like that even if I wasn't crazy about it if I started it. I didn't even know that it was coming out in August....I'm surprised that you were able to put down Inkspell. I was captivated by both books! I didn't read them back to back (cover to cover) though. I read one and then several months later read the second one.

J Scott Savage said...

Hey, all, thanks for the great comments. I'm enjoying the poll. It's cool, because I can see where on a map different votes come from. Apparently Texas is YA country. Sorry I haven't posted for a while but I've had a really nasty stomach virus most of the week.

I don't have a firm date for the release yet. Just sometime in August. But there will definitely be a multicity tour with school visits. So start talking to your schools and I'll see if I can get out there.

I need to read Warriors. It sounds great. I've got a writing thing to teach tomorrow, then I'll log on and tell you all the latest stuff on the book.

Lauren said...

So, Mr. Savage, did you get to choose any artist you wanted for an illustrator(who agreed to do it, of course), or did you have a group of artists working for your publishing company you had to choose from? I've always wondered how the illustrator thing works.

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

As the resident guru on children's fiction, I'm going to burst one of your classification bubbles. Kids who are in the middle grades (ages 9-12) usually are interested reading books about kids who are 11-14. If the book is too silly, only the younger kids will get into the humor; the older kids are annoyed. Kids who are 13-15 like to read about kids ages 15-18, and kids who are 15+ start reading books that are actually meant for adults. Don't forget, there is also a group known as Chapter books for upper level elementary-aged students. Those readers like silliness. With that in mind, I'll say I haven't read any of the Nightmare Academy books, but Amazon lists them as ages 9-12, which means some kids who are 7-8 will enjoy them, especially when they lsiten to them rather than read the book independently. Kids older than 12 may not find them funny or think they are too simple. My students (grades 7-9) were evenly divided by those who loved and those who hated the Series of Unfortunate Events, which was classifeid MG but most often enjoyed by the younger set, and abandoned by the older students. Harry Potter, always the anomoly, started as MG but moved to YA by the time the series was done. Rowling admits she did this because not only was Harry growing up, but his readers were as well. Elantris was written for the adult audience, yet I've had several 9th grade boys recommend the book to me as a "Must read." Spiderwick may have been classified as MG, but in reality the books fit more comfortably in the Chapter book category with its target audience. Children's lit is relatively new, having only come of age in the 1970s. Editors have a hard time knowing exactly where the lines should be because they don't hang out with kids. That's why sometimes they get it so incredibly wrong. Also today's young readers are much more willing to try books because of familiarity with the movie than kids were in previous generations. This makes the delineation between age grouping even harder to distinguish, so what it all comes down to is this: a good book is a good book, no matter what the target age and who decides to be its reader.

Anna said...

I think it still depends on the kid. I prefer reading about kids that are my age or older, but I don't mind reading about younger ones. I would like to be able to write my own age, but I find that my characters tend to be two years older than I am at the very least.