Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More on middle grade

I was just rereading Eva Ibbotson's fabulous MG novel Journey to the River Sea this month, and noticed another element of many beloved MG books: justice. In this book, the main character is likable, interesting, positive--and meets with very nasty people who aren't any of those things, who she has to live with and deal with. Because Ibbotson makes you like her, you feel rather incensed at the way her distant relations treat her, and so when they get their comeuppance at the end, you feel the satisfaction of absolute justice. Same in James and the Giant Peach. James's aunts are cruel and abusive--and what is their reward? Why, they get run over flat by the giant peach as it rolls down the hill into the sea. As an adult, you may look at that and go, ew. But as a kid, let me tell you, you are CHEERING. Even Harry Potter, which from Goblet of Fire onward is, IMO, very firmly YA, there is a wonderful sense of justice. Gilderoy Lockhart getting "impaled on his own sword," as Dumbledore observes. And of course, Harry knowing things at the end that Voldemort doesn't about wands, and all of Voldemort's evil plans backfiring on him. Gordon Korman's Schooled (which takes place in high school but which is definitely readable by middle grade kids) has this happen again and again, as kids try to trip up the main character, bizarro Capricorn Anderson--and fail. There are a ton of great books out there that do this, and it is very satisfying.

I don't think it's because kids are bloodthirsty--exactly--but rather that they are often the victim of injustice because they are small. They have less power. They don't know how to point out the injustice. And, they see things more black and white. You can be more ambiguous in YA and adult, but MG is all about straightforward justice!