I was recently charged with a task I thought would be straightforward and fun – assemble five great realism titles, published relatively recently, that will appear on the Grades 6 through 8 summer reading list. Oh, I like realism! And kind-of-YA! Straightforward! Fun!
Yeah, no, it sucked. It was REALLY HARD! I browsed through all my 2012 review journals, blog-surfed, awards list, my own reading… and pickings were surprisingly slim. Where is all the middle school realism hiding, friends?
This struggle could have been due to my strangely particular parameters – no fantasy, of course, but no mysteries, and no historical either. But once you eliminate those, you are not left with much. I know that fantasy and sci-fi have taken over the YA market, but I think that YA has a steady niche for new, contemporary realism authors to squeeze in. I’m afraid, though, that the slightly-younger-YA scene is a little more decimated.
This struggle could also be a product of my own reading tastes. Yes, I adore realism – I do now, and I did when I was in middle school. The 90s, however, seemed to provide a little more fodder for my tastes than these aught-10′s seem to be providing. I’ve told you a million times about how much I love Alice McKinley, who fits neatly into that little bump between MG and YA. I was also a fan of Todd Strasser (How I Changed My Life was probably my favorite), Ron Koertge’s Confess-o-rama, and everything Judy Blume. Some of my favorites did qualify as young-YA, some as definite middle grade. Maybe this is why the 6th to 8th grade range is hard to nail down – it straddles publishing ranges, library shelving arrangements, and my it’s probably just much simple to write/publish a book with “up to 5th grade”age range or “9th and up.” It’s straightforward. Easy. Fun.
Anyway, I wish there were more realism titles published for this age group, more resources for promoting and discovering new books and authors, because it would have made my job easier, yes, but also because I think middle school is an important reading age. At least it was for me – what all of those above books have in common is that someone put them in my hand. Christmas presents, birthday gifts, recommendations from my librarian mother. A grown-up found them for me, gave them to me, and because I wasn’t a competitive reader, had little to no established reading tastes, and because my parents didn’t allow me to own video game consoles, I read them. And I liked them. And they helped me become the reader I am. As much as I love that boy wizard, I think that most boys and girls should enter high school having read something other than Harry Potter, just in case they might like it.
In case you have a 2010s middle schooler to hand a book to who doesn’t want to read any of my 90s wonders above, here’s a rather short list of some of the titles I did manage to pin down:
- See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles
- Drama by Raina Telgemeier
- Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
- Hidden by Helen Frost
- Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
- Wonder by RJ Palacio