Christopher Healy is the author of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and it's sequel, The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle. You can find more about his books at www.christopherhealy.com
First off, let me applaud you for even wanting to read middle-grade literature—because it does not sound appealing. It needs a new name. To the uninitiated, it can too easily sound like “mediocre literature.”
Person: “So, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m a middle-grade author.”
Person: “Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure you’re not so bad.” Pats on the back and overly sympathetic smiles follow.
“Middle-grade” brings to mind gasoline that won’t make your car run at optimum quality, or maple syrup that’s thinner and less flavorful than the good stuff. So thank you for looking beyond the label.
And congratulations. Because you will be very happy with your decision to give MG a shot. Middle-grade fiction is exciting. And fun. And full of surprises. When I first wrote The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, I had no idea it was middle-grade. I’d seen “middle-grade” defined somewhere as literature in which the protagonist is between the ages of eight and thirteen—but all my central characters are adults. Some are even married. And I’ve come to realize that that’s part of makes MG so wonderful—it can’t really be defined.
• Middle-grade can be suspenseful. Matthew Cody’s cape-free superhero books Powerless and Super have enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the final pages (and great payoffs on those final pages, in case you were wondering). Same thing goes for one of my favorite books (and one of the greatest mysteries) of all time, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.
• Middle-grade can have a wicked sense of humor. Geoff Rodkey’s Chronicles of Egg books excel in dark wit, even as they dole out the thrills. Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is just as funny as it is heartbreaking and thought-provoking. And let’s face it: There’s a reason why those Wimpy Kid books are so popular.
• Middle-grade can be lyric and beautiful. Like Caroline Starr Rose’s nail-biter of a pioneer tale, May B. Or Sonya Hartnett’s haunting WWII refugee allegory, The Midnight Zoo. Or even Neil Gaiman’s shiver-inducing classic, Coraline.
• Middle-grade can be edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Try going to bed at night before you’ve finished Jeramey Kraatz’s The Cloak Society. Try finishing Emma Clayton’s The Roar without immediately picking up its sequel, The Whisper.
• Middle-grade can be dramatic. It’s not the presence of magic in Laurel Snyder’s “be careful what you wish for” fable, Bigger Than a Breadbox, or Meg Wolitzer’s Scrabble tournament tale, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, that make those books such great reads—it’s seeing how the otherworldly elements affect the characters.
• Middle-grade can be uplifting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made me want to stand up and cheer more than R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.
• And any of the books I’ve just mentioned can fit into more than one of the categories I’ve listed. And this is only a random sampling of the truly amazing reads you’ll find in the MG world. Look, they’ll probably never change the name to “awesome-grade fiction” (and admittedly shouldn’t), but that may be a better term to describe how you come to feel about it after you’ve explored and enjoyed everything MG has to offer. So explore and enjoy.