Jan Dohner is a Library Media Specialist who blogs about books for her 5th and 6th grade students at Maltby Intermediate School. She posed a fascinating topic for discussion here on Ink Spells and I'm happy to have her guest posting today. Please chime in to the conversation below!
Susan asked for guest columns and I volunteered. Actually, I was looking for some input on something that has been vexing me for several days. The folks here are good at input.
As background, I’ve been a library media specialist for a long time - too long to admit to online. Obviously I’ve been reading and buying children’s fiction for a very long time as well. After spending the past ten years in a 6th through 8th grade middle school, I’m now at a 5th and 6th grade intermediate school. I looked forward to the change; in fact, I was responsible for dividing the collection of two 6-8th grade middle schools into the current 5-6 and 7-8 buildings.
One of the reasons I liked this new configuration was my continuing dilemma with deciding what was appropriate for my students in terms of language and content. Sixth graders - well - they are really, mostly middle grade fiction readers while the older kids need some YA. Fifth-sixth will be a snap, I thought - middle grade all the way!
Well of course, nothing is a snap and I’ve discovered lots of new challenges in working with kids ages 9 to 11. But that pesky concept of “appropriate” was a bit of a surprise. Although it’s hard to pin down a definition of middle or intermediate grade fiction, I occasionally found myself perplexed with reviews that labeled books grades 5-8 or 5-7. To say nothing of the publisher’s claims of ages 8-12. In the old days, I clearly thought of these books as middle school suitable. But then I started reading with my new 5th-6th grade eye and the old dilemma rose up again.
Here’s my most recent example. In my summer weekly browsing at my local bookstore, I bought a new book (which will remain un-named here). Great cover. Mystery with an interesting setting. Boy character. And some gross-out stuff thrown in for good measure. New author. School Library Journal review was OK, not spectacular, grades 5-8. Booklist, good review, grades 5-7. I happily settled into my favorite reading chair looking forward to a new book to blog to the students over the summer. Several minutes later I nearly threw it across the room.
While the gross-out stuff was not my cup of tea, it was the language that bothered me. First 21 pages and I’d already read screwed, pissed-off, screwed-up, bastard. Really, I wasn’t counting just getting annoyed. And disappointed. I wasn’t going to be able to blog or book talk this title to my 9 and 10 year-olds.
As Susan and I recently discussed it - this isn’t profanity but it is coarse language. It’s also pretty commonplace language, I guess. Is it now so commonplace that it is acceptable in middle grade fiction? Should it be?
Maybe the bigger question is - am I now to old to be doing this job?
As Linda Richman would say on Saturday Night Live - ‘Talk among yourselves.” I’m interested - really I am.
Library Media Specialist
Thank you, Jan! I would love to hear opinions from parents, kids, readers and writers of all stripes. If you are an agent or publisher of middle grade fiction, we would love to hear your perspective as well!