It can be tricky to define a middle-grade reader. There are a lot of variables but basically kids are on a similar developmental trek from child to adult. Understanding the typical path can help writers twist up a common theme or create an off-road adventure. Today’s post focuses on the middle of middle-grade, ten-year old readers.
There is nothing average about middle-grade readers, but in spite of the huge changes in technology and culture over the past decades, ten-year olds are still tackling many of the same hurdles as writers who grew up in the 80s, the 70s or even back in 1930s when Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie. A writer can tap into his or her inner ten-year old by remembering the changes and challenges of moving into double digits.
The beauty of age ten is its spirit, energy and curiosity. Fourth graders are rapidly developing the ability to think abstractly, make inferences and to be active learners. That enthusiasm is what we are striving to tap into and share at The Mixed-up Files. Imagine the job description for an average ten-year old as written by another ten-year old.
The main thing we are working on is getting better at everything we’ve already learned like reading, riding bikes and cursive writing. That also means not acting like a baby having a temper tantrum over everything. That’s so second grade. A lot of us think it’s fun to try new things like sports, playing an instrument or joining a club.
It’s okay to dress like everyone else and have a favorite sports star or singer’s poster hanging all over your room. You should have your own opinion about some things and know why you think it. Be ready to argue about it.
Parents are all right but friends are awesome. It’s good to have a best friend but don’t think you’re going to have the same best friend everyday. Things happen. It’s okay to have a friend that’s a girl if you are a boy (and the other way around) but most of the time the girls are with girls and the boys are with boys. Get used to it.
If you know some gross jokes—especially about the toilet, you are hired. We love that.
No cheaters. We don’t like it if things aren’t fair so don’t try it. We’ll notice.
Here is a small sample of five of my favorite classic books for ten-year olds. I chose books from different decades representing over fifty years. These books demonstrate challenges and character traits that have lasted through time and changing culture. But each book also includes a twist that makes the common extraordinary.
Stuart Little by E.B. White (1945)
Stuart finds a unique place in his family and uses his small size and big personality to overcome obstacles in his path. Independence, acceptance and a sense of accomplishment are themes that a ten-year old can relate to.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
Charlie is a good boy facing choices of right or wrong. The “bad kids” suffer appropriate and funny consequences that appeal to a legalistic ten-year olds’ sense of justice.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)
Many ten-year olds can relate to constantly dealing with an annoying little sibling and the need to act like the bigger brother or sister even when they don’t feel like it. Peter’s humorous voice brings the reader directly into the story making it easy to keep the pages turning.
Sideways Stories from Wayside Schools by Louis Sachar (1988)
Wacky humor and word play especially appeal to a ten-year old funny bone. And since school is such a huge chunk of life for this age group, this book remains a favorite.
Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)
Nick challenges the status quo as he tries out his own version of right and wrong, fair and unfair and drives his teacher a little bit crazy in the process. What ten year old can resist?
Wrapping It Up
My list is biased toward boy-friendly books since that’s my interest. Please take time to share your favorite book for ten-year olds whether it is an old favorite or new release. And to keep it even more interesting, include a thought about how the author tapped into the unique characteristics of a ten-year-old to create a compelling character or story. Check out the links below for more specifics about the developmental themes of this age group. And if you want to a chance to expand your own library of great middle-grade books, don’t forget to enter our book giveaway http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2010/06/our-first-post…first-giveaway/
To Learn More About Being Ten
Child Development: The Ten Year Old
Child Development Guide: 9-10 years
Child Development: 10-12 years
Joanne Prushing Johnson writes boy-friendly chapter and middle-grade books with humor and heart. You can find her online at http://joanneprushingjohnson.com where she discusses writing in the midst of real life and other miscellaneous thoughts. She’s always looking for good ideas for how to fit thirty hours of activity into a twenty-four hour day.