As children move past the preschool picture book and chapter book stages, their book choices broaden. While in grades 1-4, those choices feel fairly “safe” to most of us parents.
But somewhere around grades 5-8 a shift begins to take place on the shelves. And librarians like myself start to ask, “Does this book go into the Juvenile Fiction or the Young Adult fiction?” Sometimes the line gets blurry.
Debbie Ohi’s blog post MG vs. YA compiles helpful answers from several sources.
I would push an answer just a bit more, though, into the developmental arena.
I believe the Young Adult categorization fits best those books that deal with the developmental issues of adolescence.
What are those? One is the search for identity. Young Adult novels have protagonists who are trying to figure out who they are as an individual. They try on this and then that, not sure what really fits them. Middle grade novel protagonists are developmentally more into the concreteness of life–friends, siblings, the mean teacher, the lost dog, fairly ordinary (to an adult eye) daily difficulties. Discrete episodes are strung together to form the whole.
Another major adolescent issue is that of finding a set of values one can call one’s own. It’s a time of questioning the family’s and especially parent’s values–just because. It’s a time of pushing the boundaries and going against–just because. Combine the values search with the identity push, and the two make for an “I gotta be me” mentality that shapes choices for years. Middle graders, on the other hand, generally want to please, and they worry about being wrong or doing it wrong.
Those broad developmental ideas help me to sort out the books between Juvenile and Young Adult sections. It’s not foolproof, there are exceptions, but it works most of the time. And the closer the book matches a child’s developmental level, the more they will enjoy the book!
Other factors that can influence or determine the placement: If I find a book has explicit sex, drugs, or foul language, though, it goes into young adult. Larger print books usually go into Juvenile. And Juvenile books generally are shorter with shorter chapters.
I also “start” my Young Adult section at about grade 9 or 13-15 years old because that’s when adolescence begins. I run mine a little further up as well, up to about age 20 to cover more of the “edgy” stuff. This is a bit unorthodox but my stats support the approach; it works for our community.
Parents, be aware though, as your child hits about sixth grade, your involvement in what they read is critical. It is a mixed bag between sixth and ninth grade, varying between authors, publishers, schools, and libraries. My 8th grader, now and for the last year, has read between the two sections, but if it comes home from the YA section, I look it over first. You, too, need to evaluate what’s appropriate for your child at each stage. There are bazillions of books out there and librarians who would love to help you find the right ones for your child.
So read on!