Since Harry Potter first hit these shores in 1998, there’s been confusion over where best to shelve it: put it where most kids look for it, in middle grade (ages 8–12), or where the later, darker novels be- long, in young adult (ages 12–up)? But J.K. Rowling’s books aren’t the only ones that fall into a gray area, especially as more kids aspire to “read up” because of popular films
like Divergent and The Hunger Games. At the same time, adults
have begun reading down, not just YA but also reaching for
middle-grade books like Wonder and Out of My Mind, because
they don’t want to miss out, either.
The convergence has gotten so great that when PW recently
compiled its list of the top-selling titles of the first half of 2014
using Nielsen BookScan figures, the top six were YA novels: the
three books in the Divergent trilogy, along with three editions
of The Fault in Our Stars. Hard Luck, which is part of the middle-grade Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, clocked in at #8. With so
many different age groups attracted to both middle grade and
YA—teens, tweens, and adults—does it still make sense for
middle grade and YA to be shelved in separate sections? Is it
easier for readers to find books organized by categories based on
age distinctions that seem increasingly meaningless? Would it
be better to put all preteen and YA books together? Or are the
current categories still the best way to help readers find the right
book? We spoke to several retailers about their strategies.
For Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s and YA book buyer at
BookPeople in Austin, Tex., and program director of the Austin
Teen Book Festival, the “key is simply to talk up the books that
you think are right for the kid in front of you and not to talk
about what age they are written for. We carry a broad variety of
books at a wide range of levels, even within YA or middle
grade.” She points to YA books on the “gentler end of the
spectrum,” like Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes,
Peak, and Michelle Cooper’s A
Brief History of
well as middle-grade titles like
Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy-
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY ■ JULY 21, 2014 24
Fall Children’s Books
land in a Ship of Her Own Making and Jacqueline Kelly’s The
Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which appeal to teens who may not
be ready for sophisticated content.
The biggest difference at BookPeople between middle grade
and YA is the way they are marketed. Middle-grade bestsellers
are driven by the store’s Booktalk program: BookPeople’s outreach coordinator visits more than 80 schools a season to talk
about new books. “Middle-grade readers really respond to an
opportunity to connect with an adult who loves books as much
as they do,” says Goel. On the other hand, YA sales are built on
word of mouth, largely spread by the store’s Teen Press Corps.
This group of teenagers helps the store select a YA Buzz Book
each month, discusses book news on BookPeople.com, and writes
reviews that are featured on shelf-talkers in the store’s YA section.
At six-year-old Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta, N.Y.,
where kids’ books comprise about one-third of the store’s space,
middle-grade and YA books are
shelved next to each other, and new
releases for each age group are featured side-by-side on a display table.
Although owner Michele Barry
would like to see middle-grade readers maintain their innocence for as
long as possible, she won’t deny
tweens a book they want to read. She
will, however, warn an accompanying adult that it may feature
sexual content, drug use, or language they don’t want their child
to read. “Ultimately it is up to them,” she says.
The problem arises when it’s a parent or grandparent who is
choosing what the child should read. “Some parents and kids
have very different ideas about what they want to read more of,”
says Nicole Yasinsky, children’s manager of the Booksellers at
Laurelwood in Memphis. “ I have had to be the decision-maker,
and sometimes the ‘bad guy,’ for families with very gifted readers who may not be ready for the content that YA offers.” She
also has to steer readers at the other end of the spectrum toward
high-interest, low-level books.
One way the store bridges the gap is by shelving middle-grade, or “Intermediate,” fiction along with YA in a separate
room that has two entrances, including a doorway that connects
it to the rest of the kids’ section. And although books are marked
YA or middle grade based on catalogue information, when they
come in Yasinsky will decide if they’re in the right place. Occasionally she will switch them.
MIDDLE GRADE AND YA:
We ask booksellers around the country to weigh in
BY JUDITH ROSEN