A question for the masses. If you worked in a bookstore or library and were creating a section containing middle grade fiction, would you actually label it as "middle grade" or would your sections signs feature some other moniker?
At Wellesley Booksmith our children’s fiction sections currently run in this order (youngest to oldest): Beginning Readers, First Chapter Books, Intermediate Fiction, Young Adults, with "Intermediate Fiction" being home to fiction the publishing industry would call "middle grade." This "Intermediate Fiction" name was inherited from our Brookline store, which I’m sure coined the name years ago, and it’s always seemed a bit confusing to me, but then so does the term "middle grade," now that we also have something called "middle school." And so the "Intermediate Fiction" designations in our store have remained, just as the section signs at the Dartmouth Bookstore continued to be labeled as "Middle Readers" during my days there, even though customers frequently asked me what the name meant — were those the books for kids in middle school?
I’ve asked a number of other booksellers what they call the middle grade section of their stores, and most seem to either label it "Middle Grade Fiction" or label it according to ages, e.g. "Fiction Age 8-12" as I recently observed on the section signs at Books of Wonder. The former seems to mean about as much to the general book browser as "Intermediate Fiction" or "Middle Readers" (meaning, not much). The latter imparts more specific information and seems apt to steer most customers in the right direction, but it makes me grimace on behalf of those kids who aren’t reading at grade level. The 14 year-old reading books intended for 10 year-olds is frequently book-shy enough without having to be reminded that he’s reading books written for kids many years younger than him. Imagine browsing at age 14 and realizing that 8 year-olds are browsing the same books as you — ouch! And then there’s the confusion of stating that books are for ages 8 to 12. Your average 8-year-old may be able to handle the content in a lot of those middle grade books, but be much better suited to the reading level in our first chapter books section. Likewise a lot of 12 year-olds are ready for the content of many of the books we call young adult. I don’t want the parents of either child to mistakenly say, "But you should be browsing HERE, because the sign says that this is the section for you."
So, what’s the solution? Is there a name that could possibly suggest "ready for Sharon Creech but not Edward Bloor"? Something that means "Moderate Content for Fluent Readers"? How about "Neither baby-ish nor grown-up"? It’s so easy to see how someone arrived at "middle" grade, as these books are rather betwixt and between… Hmm… Of course the section could be called "Betwixt and Between" but the question would be the same asked by "middle" or "intermediate" designations — betwixt and between what?
Send me your wild and not-so-wild section name suggestions, and if our store adopts yours for use I’ll send you a lovely reward (read: gift certificate and totebag).