A while back I promised to talk about what middle grade novels appeal to me and what I look for in middle grade. I do work with less middle grade than YA, but not because I have any less love for it.
What I want to find when I begin a middle grade submission is not so different at all from what I want in a YA submission. I still want to find good prose, voice, plot, emotion, authenticity. In middle grade, though, I am mostly looking for contemporary stories. Not as a rule-- I did just take on a middle grade fantasy, but for the most part the books I love in the category are contemporary.
What I love about great middle grade is its ability to reveal the inner world of the protagonist and to be internal where YA is external. There are so many exceptions to any rule in fiction, and so many exceptions among books I love, but YA usually has an immediacy that middle grade does not always have because the character is still focused or even newly focused on who they are within their world and not yet as much on finding their place in the greater world. Where YA is driven so much by the protagonist and how they see the outside world, middle grade protagonists usually still see authority figures as the center of their worlds, and so their conflict is often coming to terms with and finding their place in that world. MG characters are often just discovering that authority figures are flawed, that their parents, their teachers, their older siblings are not always dependable. And, more simply, that they have opinions and wants separate from their family and some of their friends. They are figuring out what family means, and finding their unique place within their family or their group of friends.
They are questioning authority -- but authority figures still rule their world. What might be considered MGs limitations can actually allow for more complexities. Often they have adult characters who are just as compelling, and can show us a family in a more complete way than YA can. Where YA can be all about me, me, me, middle grade can show us the big picture of a small world.
I don't like it when I see that a plot has been oversimplified for the audience. Middle grade plots can be just as complex as YA plots, even if they are not always as dark. But often, they are dark. Lisa Schroeder's IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES is not something I would describe as dark, but the main character Isabel's mother is depressed, and its something that Isabel can feel and see, and that complicates her world and that also helps her to see things in her own way. In Kristen Tracy's CAMILLE MCPHEE FELL UNDER THE BUS, there is so much humor (another thing I adore in middle grade) but her parents are having problems in their marriage, and their issues are affecting everything else in Camille's life.
I am still suffering from a tired BEA trodden brain, and this list changes often, but if I had to give my favorite middle grade that is not a book I worked with right now, it would be THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY by E.L. Konigsburg. Please do write and then send me a book like this one. There is so much in this book- humor, mystery, family, secrets, baby turtles, a wedding, a tea party, and an Academic Bowl team called the Souls. But notice too that the teacher, Mrs. Olinski is a character as important to the story as the children.