Today our guest is editor Gillian Levinson. Gillian edits books for young readers at the Razorbill imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. We wanted to talk to her because she’s an expert on Middle Grade Fiction, one of the Young Adult categories that is getting more and more popular within the Book Country workshop. Check out what she has to say about her work and its place within this fascinating genre.
LS: You are a passionate editor of Middle Grade Fiction at Razorbill, which to me says you are the perfect person to define for Book Country what “Middle Grade” really means. What’s your working definition?
GL: Well, technically, a middle-grade book is one for readers 8-12 years of age in which the protagonist of the story is also around that same age. One mistake that rookies often make is thinking that because children regularly read up, a novel’s protagonist can be quite a bit older than the target readership (say 14 or 15 years old). Unfortunately, however, that’s typically not how books are shelved in stores. If a particular novel’s protagonist is in high school, for instance, many stores will not stock that book in the Middle Grade section.
In terms of genre or subject matter, Middle Grade can really be anything, but all the best Middle Grade books give the reader a real sense of escape—it could be into a fantastical world or into a historical period or into the life of a child whose life experience feels somewhat removed from that of the reader—while integrating universal emotional experiences (e.g. wanting to belong, wanting others to heed one’s opinions, wanting to feel loved, etc.). Of course, the argument could be made that most great works of fiction, irrespective of target audience, offer that same combination of the personal and the unfamiliar, but in Middle Grade, it’s absolutely central.