What Characterizes Tween Literature?

You found us! Emblazon is a BRAND NEW website that celebrates tween literature. Please browse our pages to see who we are what we’re all about, and tune in each Wednesday as we add new content. This is our very first post!

In celebration of our launch, we’re giving away signed paperback copies AND ebook copies of books written by Emblazon authors. Click here for details. Thanks for stopping by! 

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.

A little boy reads a big book with grass at background

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.


0451111When 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

About Michelle Isenhoff

MICHELLE ISENHOFF has been reader-nominated for a Cybils Award, the Great Michigan Read, and the Maine Student Book Award. She's also placed as a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review Book Awards and been named a finalist in the kid-judged Wishing Shelf Book Awards. A former teacher and current homeschooler, Michelle has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work, which is regularly purchased for classroom use.

72 thoughts on “What Characterizes Tween Literature?

  1. I am very excited by this blog — always looking for books for my 11 year old to read. Thanks!

  2. Congrats on your new blog — I love the concept! Looking forward to future posts. Off to tweet about you now.

  3. Pingback: EMBLAZON! |
  4. I’m so glad I found this site! This is just the kind of thing I’ve been looking for 🙂

  5. Great post. What a challenging time frame, and equally challenging to write for. I look forward to reading more and to following this great blog. You did a super job of outlining the elusive “tween” reader.

    Paul R. Hewlett

  6. Hi, Michelle,
    Found out about the blog today and finally got here. Good post. I was particularly interested in the ‘developmental landmarks’ you listed and have noted that it’s sometimes hard to gauge appropriate subject material for tweens. I look forward to following along and will help spread the word. Good job.

    1. Thanks for checking us out, J.L. Tweens are tough to pinpoint. They all develop at different speeds, and only parents can make some judgement calls. But here we ere on the cleaner side of “appropriate.” 🙂

  7. Yay! I’m so happy your site is here!
    I am starting a new link-up party this week for all things book and reading related on my blog, Mommynificent. I’d love to have you join us with this post and any others you’d like to share. Hope to see you at Booknificent Thursday this week and every week!
    Tina @ Mommynificent

    1. We would love to join you for posts on your blog! Maybe each author could do a feature there or something like that! Let us know what works for you! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us! We’re excited to be here!

  8. Congratulations on launching the new blog/site! I’m a bookseller (treasure hunter) in San Mateo California, always on the lookout for titles that promote peacemaking, gender equality, and sustainable living so I look forward to catching up every Wednesday to see what’s new. One of our greatest joys is watching a person walk out of our shop clutching a book!

  9. I’m so glad you’ve defined this age group! (And, duh! Why didn’t I think of that? 😉 ) I’ve been calling my book “Middle Grade” but sometimes thinking it’s a little bit YA, too. Then I gave that up and just called it a “Teen/Tween” novel. But I love the term “Tween Lit” – very cute.

  10. I like how this will be specifically tween lit. Makes it more unique. Love the colors you used for the site! 🙂

    1. Thanks, C. This is a great age group. I know I’d make more money writing YA, but Tween is my true love.

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