MGM: When a Middle Grade Series Becomes a Young Adult Series (plus writing exercise)

(For those who want to skip straight to the writing exercise, it’s at the bottom of the post)

We saw it happen with the Harry Potter series. In book one, Harry is 11 years old. That’s 6th grade. I remember the first book carried a lot of humour. It was  whimsical. Little Harry is more interested in magical candy than snogging a girl.

But by the time we get to the end, it’s a dark bloodfest with some serious snogging. This makes complete sense to me. What matters to a 6th grader is much different than what matters to a 12th grader. If you recall what it’s like going through high school, there were probably some dark and scary times. I know I experienced a lot of emotional turmoil.

For those kids who read along as the series was published, this was a very personal journey. Harry grew as his fans grew and they all lost their innocence together. What a magical experience that must have been for them.

But now all the books are out in the world. On Amazon, Harry Potter is listed in the description as “for ages 9 and up” for ALL the books in the series. Really? If you were taking the 7th book as a stand alone, would you give it to your 9-year-old?

(as a side note, this is an interesting description because rarely are books listed for “X and up.” They are usually very specific about age groups for children’s books)

When I was at the SCBWI Conference last summer I asked an editor at a large publisher about this phenomenon. If one is writing a middle grade series, “is it all right” or “what happens if” the characters grow older and suddenly they’ve stopped playing hide-and-seek and are now into young adult shenanigans. (Okay, so I didn’t use the word “shenanigans”)

All she said was, “Yeah, that happens.” She didn’t say it was wrong to do, but she did imply that it was a bit of an issue for publishers.

The reason I asked her is because I’m coming up against the same issue with my own series. Originally I was going to follow my young protagonist up until the point when she became a mother herself. I have since changed my mind and decided to only have her age a few years. However, something I find harder to address is that the story is getting darker as I go deeper into it and I’m already afraid I have isolated my youngest fans.

Are there any other series where this holds true? Where it starts as a MG read but creeps into the YA category as the series continues and the MC ages?

I only read the first 2 books of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I started to wonder if Kinney had written a book for every year of school and the summers in between, wouldn’t that mean the MC was 15 at the end of the story? Does this ever become an issue?

For a list of more Middle Grade Mondayers, CLICK HERE

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Inspired by this idea of “what matters” to your protagonist. . .

Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: The most precious person in my protagonist’s life is…

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist hurts/disappoints this person when . . .

(if that startline doesn’t work for you, try My protagonist can’t bring herself to tell this person that . . .)

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist redeems him/herself when . . . (or My protagonist reveals the truth when . . .)

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.



  1. Deb Marshall
    Jan 2, 2012

    Hmmm, this is really good food for thought. Kinney’s books take him to grade seven and not sure about the latest one. Can’t think of other series where the protag ages throughout. One to look at might be The Penderwicks? Not sure how the sisters age in that one, or if they do.

    I’ve read a couple fo middle grades where the aging is all on one book–both were historical and the issues weren’t therefore contemporary. One was Kit Pearson’s THE WHOLE TRUTH (which I loved, btw!).

    If anything else comes to mind, I’ll be back!

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 5, 2012

      I haven’t read the Penderwicks, I’ll take a look at that and The Whole Truth. I was thinking of other MG book series I read as a kid: Ramona? She always seems about the same age. Encyclopedia Brown? Same thing.

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 5, 2012

      Oooh, I just thought of one! Anne of Green Gables. Doesn’t she age dramatically in the series? Is the first one considered MG or YA? I’m going to have to look into that.

  2. msyingling
    Jan 3, 2012

    This becomes more of an issue for parents who push their children to read far above their maturity level. I never thought that Harry Potter was appropriate for 7 year olds. There are so many good books for elementary students that it makes me crazy when a 3rd grade teacher reads a class The Giver. A good book, yes, but for about 7th grade. I’ll have to think about the series crossover issue.

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 5, 2012

      I just found out that some parents read my book to their 5 year old. I suppose that might be all right, but my second book I wouldn’t read to anyone under 9 years old I don’t think. Personally, I don’t think the later HP books are appropriate for anyone below 6th grade. But it’s tough – how do you tell your enthused kid to stop reading a series?

  3. Barbara Watson
    Jan 5, 2012

    I always enjoy your writing workouts! Thank you.

    The aging of an MC in a series is an interesting thing. I think you’d haveto evaluate your audience carefully (who are you writing for and who do you want to write it for) and keep the series geared to that audience (which seems to be what you did).

    People became so wrapped up in Harry Potter and so many kids read the series at such a young age that I think they missed the true beauty of that series–concepts such a sacrificing for those you love, choosing the difficult over the easy, walking your own unique path…I could go on and on.

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 5, 2012

      I particularly liked book 5 because I thought it was politically relevant, something an 8 year old isn’t going to get.

      The publisher I asked the question of acknowledged it was definitely something to think about. I was just trying to figure out if it was unique to Harry Potter.

  4. miki
    Jan 6, 2012

    It’s really a good question. It’s sure harry potter isn’t for young children and my brother has a problem with that when he choose a a book for his class (10/11years old) some parents thought it was too childish other too dark
    Now i want also say that we have to be realistic…some books for 9years and+ can only be read by older children ( with exeption) why? not because of the story itself but because of their reading level…you can write really wel, with perfect vocabulary and such and they will find it too hard, saying they don’t understand the words and such

    It’s becoming very difficult to give an age level to a book now

    all the best

    • Danika Dinsmore
      Jan 6, 2012

      Thanks for your comments, Miki. As well, the term Middle Grade generally means 8-12 years old. That’s a huge reading discrepancy right there. In those few years children grow exponentially as readers.

  5. Krysykat
    Jan 12, 2012

    There was this series called ‘Star Shards Chronicles’, by Neal Shusterman. The first book ‘The Scorpion Shards’ is for ages 12 and up, the second book has no recommended age that I can find and the third is 15 and up. The books steadily grow darker so at least they upped the ages. Don’t get me wrong they were good books but I the age ratings on the last two should have been changed.

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