So, What is the Purpose of YA and Middle Grade?

Sometimes, you get into an argument–it was a very polite argument, by the way–and it just gnaws at you for the rest of the… Well, what is this? Thursday? Well, week, then.

A Middle-Grade Writer on Twitter was grousing about Middle Grade literature making references to (things she considered to be outside a MG-er’s frame of reference.) She thought of this as the author flaunting his own intelligence at the dear children’s expense. She called this something like “above the head winks” and thought of it as very disrespectful.

And, obviously, I disagree. I have no problem with a child having to pick up a dictionary from time to time, and none with having him pick things up from context. I don’t think children’s literature should be dumbed down to the point that the snot fountains **ahem** dear children never encounter so much as a word about anything they don’t already know.

I’m also incredibly concerned about the idea that somewhere–somehow–someone gets to be the Universal Arbiter of the Standard Childhood Experience. I mean, are we talking about an Airforce brat? A San Francisco hippie’s kid? A Korean immigrant? At what point do you hit the “Children don’t know anything about THAT!!!” Button?

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I’m no expert on children. I don’t have any. I hardly ever borrow any. And for the purposes of this post, I’m pretty sure I never was one. I also don’t write for them. Note the disclaimer on my stories page: Any resemblance to children’s literature is purely coincidental. I mean that.

But the comment got me thinking, and within a couple of hours, I’d run the question past a couple of people (one is raising children, and the other intends to be at some point. And one of them writes for children, as well.)

The writer’s general thought was that in fact, young adult and middle grade fiction do exist to insulate children from certain things. (Vocabulary in general was not on the list.) That it presents better morals, and a…well, somewhat selective window into the world. Less cussing.

Yeah. Well. I suppose they do learn enough cussing in school. But I’m not convinced. Wasn’t there a death match in some of those books? And again… whose morals?

So… here’s my question. Well, Questions, maybe.

1.) What is the purpose of Middle Grade or Young Adult as a separate thing? Protect the morals? Indoctrination? Strictly marketing? Something else?

2.) Why do you believe that MG or YA is better for children than popping over to the library and just choosing books that interest them? Or vice versa?