What Makes a Middle-Grade Novel Timeless?

Some books you read once.  You laugh, cry, maybe even both.  You’ve enjoyed the journey, met some interesting characters and hopefully were able to view the world in an amazing new way…but will you ever pick up that book again? 

I’ve enjoyed sharing books I loved as a child with my daughters, and started reading books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary to my girls when they were way younger than the target audience.  The three of us laughed at the silly stunts Fudge pulled and couldn’t wait to see what kind of trouble Ramona caused next.  Growing up with a younger brother, I definitely related to the problems Peter and Beezus had with their energetic and extremely creative siblings.  The characters and worlds these brilliant authors created still feel real and endearing. 

As you can see, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg stayed in our member’s hearts through the years.  Who can resist reading a book where a spunky young girl and her brother stuff their clothes inside violin and trumpet cases, then hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art?  (If you peek at our bios, you’ll see some of the timeless gems that stuck with us the most.)

How can books like these remain popular, when society changes so quickly?  Nobody had cell phones or internet when I was in elementary school.  So how can books written at that time still appeal to today’s kids?  I believe the books that stand the test of time have unique characters readers can relate to, cheer for, and fall in love with, combined with situations that kids still have…like annoying siblings, school issues, fights with friends, and trying to see where you fit in our world.

I’ve asked several amazing authors what they believe makes a book timeless.  Here’s what they had to say:

IMHO, timeless books are ones that say to a reader, ‘Here. Look. This is YOU. And even if it’s not, you can relate, because the author has managed to capture those universal triumphs and struggles all tweens go through. And when you’re done with such a book? You feel empowered and ready to take on the world, girlfriend! As you should! –Lauren Myracle  

I believe the books we read at this age have a certain power. The characters can live on inside us and help us figure out who we want to be, and what we want to do with our lives. I wanted to write for this age to give something back to the next generation of readers the types of books that meant so much to me. Wendy Mass

A timeless book is one that touches the heart. It doesn’t really matter when or where the story is set, if the characters speak to you and draw you into their story. –Lisa Yee

Timeless books focus on emotions that everyone has felt - love, anger, disappointment, happiness, and fear. While some things change, like clothes and hairstyles, certain things never do. –Laurie Friedman

Certain books, like Charlotte’s Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, or A Wrinkle in Time, just hit a nerve with the middle-grade reader and continue to hit that nerve with each new generation of kids. Why? These books have plenty of heart, a sense of wonder, humor in good measure, relatable characters, and a strong voice. By telling a specific story in an emotionally true way, they’ve managed to become universal. –Bruce Hale

There are so many wonderful middle-grade books that I hope will remain timeless.  One that I believe will be around for a long time is Rules, by Cynthia Lord.  It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you reach the last page.  I’ll never forget when my younger daughter lost her voice, and her big sister created a communication book (inspired by the one Jason uses).

I asked authors to name one or two middle-grade novels that are close to their heart, and if there are any newer books they believe will remain popular over time.

Holes is one of my favorites from the past dozen or so years. And right up there with it are The Lightning Thief and The Wednesday Wars. These are books that may well stand the test of time, in my opinion. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is another upper middle-grade book that I love, but it’s too early to say whether the craze over its semi-graphic novel style will translate into long-range popularity. –Bruce Hale

 

Books like A Secret Garden and the All-of-a-Kind Family series, grabbed a hold of me. I can recall reading them as a child, then rereading them as an adult, and allowing myself the luxury of getting lost within their pages.  Some newer middle grade books that fit this bill include Masterpiece by Elise Broach, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. –Lisa Yee 

 
Growing up, I loved anything by Judy Blume.  There are so many great new books.  I really liked Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.   I think kids will be reading it years from now. –Laurie Friedman    

 

Tied with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?, my favorite book from the middle-grade years was Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky. Made me laugh, cry, and want to be a writer. As for newer titles, I hope the Penderwicks books continue to be appreciated for how wonderful and timeless they are. –Wendy Mass

I’d love to know why you think some middle-grade books remain popular for over thirty years, and which current books you believe will become timeless.

**Don’t forget to enter our second summer giveaway – one lucky reader will win three amazing middle-grade books!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her nine and twelve year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

37 Responses to What Makes a Middle-Grade Novel Timeless?

  1. I would also add Because of Winn Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
    and Shiloh.

  2. I just have to keep adding to the list here… two other modern MGs that feel timeless to me–A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban and Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. I just read the latter with a 4th grade literature circle of eight girls, and every single one of them absolutely loved it. A couple girls said it was their favorite book.

    I completely agree with the Giver as well… it’s now in my 10-year-old’s favorite top few books.

  3. Cindy–I agree 100% about Wendy Mass having a wonderful, timeless quality to her books. They definitely stay with you long after you finish the last page. I’d add 11 Birthdays and Finally to that list, too.

    I love the way you describe timeless books! Some of the ones that jump at me the most are:
    A book you can FEEL.
    Books become timeless when a reader wants to swap places with a character.
    The characters are like permanent friends
    It taps into emotional needs.
    Memorable characters and moments where we relate to them and shout, ‘I’ve done that!’

    Thank you all for sharing your favorites! Some I haven’t read in a while and can’t wait to dig into again. Others I haven’t read yet and can’t wait to explore. I probably could write a book about this–there are so many wonderful timeless and soon-to-be timeless books out there. I agree that Jerry Spinelli is amazing and his books are here to stay. Some others that I had thought of including that you mentioned are must-reads are:
    Charlotte’s Web
    Harry Potter
    When You Reach Me
    Harriet the Spy
    Clementine
    Because of Winn Dixie
    Definitely check out the amazing books of the authors I interviewed. I absolutely love their writing, and believe all of them wrote books that will be enjoyed for a long, long time!

    Jodi–I double checked and even though The Giver has a twelve year-old MC, one of the book sites has it listed as YA. It’s so hard to know where the line is sometimes, but I agree that it’s a fantastic one to add to a timeless list.

    I love how some of you are sharing stories of books your children fell in love with, especially when they weren’t avid readers before they found a timeless gem that really spoke to them. There were several that my daughters fell in love with. In addition to an instant love of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Rules, I’ll never forget reading My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville with my older daughter when I was at an appointment and had to stop mid-chapter. She grabbed the book out of my hands and said, “I’m sorry Mommy, but I have to see what happens next.”

  4. What a great blog post, Mindy!
    You interviewed one author who has a wonderful, timeless quality to her books—Wendy Mass is amazing. I think Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, A Mango Shaped Space, and Every Soul a Star are all timeless classics.

  5. My son just finished Where the Red Fern Grows. It was the first book he actually sat down and read every night at bedtime until he was done. It is so wonderful to see my ball of energy just sit and devour a book. I read the first two chapters aloud and he took it away to savor on his own. He’s now reading the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede because he told me he didn’t want to listen when I was reading them aloud with the girls, but snuck over and listened anyway and now wants to do it himself. I also loved the Dark is Rising series, but my girls haven’t as much.

  6. Ooh! I forgot the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. I swear those books taught me to have an imagination, and I re-read them every few years, just like Tolkein. I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough for them!

  7. Also, I second “Anne of Green Gables”!