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What Characterizes Tween Literature?
Here on Emblazon we love tween literature. That’s the unique subgenre that falls between middle grade and young adult and can lean either way. You know, the one every reader of children’s books can sense but nobody really names or defines. Well, we’ve named it and defined it. We’ve even put an 11-14 age bracket around it. But what goes into a tween novel? What makes this genre so special? To answer that, let’s first look at the kids who read in it.
Middle schoolers, that’s basically who we’re talking about. Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, maybe even fifth and ninth. These are the kids transitioning from grade school to high school, all at different rates. Their bodies are changing, their minds are developing, they’re becoming more independent, yet they’re still in need of adult guidance. Here are a few developmental landmarks characteristic to this age group:
- Striving more for peer acceptance than parental approval
- Moving from concrete to abstract thinking
- Losing childish egocentrism; strong desire for fairness, justice
- Understanding morality in shades of gray rather than black and white
- Taking an interest in real world problems and issues
- Changing body, changing emotions, becoming aware of sexuality
So how does this translate into literature? In all sorts of ways. Now is the time to start introducing tweens to tough topics they will face as adults, as Lois Lowry does in The Giver. Yet these topics must still be handled appropriately. Tweens are ready to empathize, to problem solve, to experience real life in a sheltered way.
Tween literature generally contains a positive world view. Kids this age are beginning to think of others. They’re idealistic. They appreciate satisfactory resolutions because that’s how they want the world to work. They have a strong sense of justice and resonate with plots that see justice done. Tween literature almost always celebrates honesty, loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, etc.
Tweens are also looking forward to high school and greater independence, so protagonists tend to be at least age twelve and as old as fifteen or sixteen. Stories are often adventurous, with protagonists acting in peer groups with limited adult interaction, as in Harry Potter. The strongest adult characters tend to be mentors who provide a measure of wisdom. Books may contain some romance, but sexuality is generally toned way down. Portrayals of violence and substance abuse, if addressed at all, are portrayed in a negative light. Language is mild.
Middle schoolers are beginning to comprehend abstract ideas, so their books can be rich with metaphor, hidden meanings, and deep thoughts. An example of this would be the gentle lessons about life and death in Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. But these guys still appreciate the absurd and can understand a higher degree of humor, which makes Percy Jackson so popular.
All these characteristics make the tween genre so dynamic and rich. Kids this age are discerning and they demand quality writing. As tween authors, we need to deliver it. By understanding what makes tween literature so unique, we’re better able to recognize it, appreciate it, and create it.
Photo of girls courtesy of Jaimie Duplass via Photoxpress. Photo of boy courtesy of Stepanov via Photoxpress.
When Michelle Isenhoff is not writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters and swimming in big waves. She’s currently training for a triathlon. She likes big dogs, high school football games, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer break as much as they do. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Email