Do Weird Characters Work in Middle Grade?
When offering books to read to middle grade students one might wonder Do Weird Characters Work in Middle Grade? Of course they do!
About the audience
Let’s consider the demographics of this reader audience. We can split the category of “middle grade book” in two. Lower middle grade readers are aged 9 to 12 years old. They are in grades 3 to 6. Upper middle grade readers are aged 11 to 14 years old. They are in grades 5 to 8.
Middle grade readers are typically past reading picture books. They are ready for longer books with age-appropriate themes and vocabulary.
What about those weird characters?
Long story short, middle grade readers feel weird themselves. So yes, they want to read about weird characters. It makes them feel less weird. Readers want to see rich and diverse characters. It helps them understand and navigate the real world.
Why do you think Spiderman has been so worldwide popular? Because he’s kinda weird. He’s not the typical “epic hero.” He messes up. He’s awkward with friends. He has homework.
In Kat Hawthorne’s The Boatman, main character Isabel Wixon is weird. Just look at what the book synopsis says:
“Not only does she see dead things, but her list of friends consists of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.
Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though.”
Reviews of The Boatman
“With a smidgen of Tim Burton's touch of horror, The Boatman will tug at your heartstrings, especially if you live in the dark side like my friend Kat. She crafts her stories in such way that will grab your curiosity the moment you pick up her work. Disastrous and dismal stories are her forte. She thrives in them. And The Boatman is a shining piece I adore. The characters move the story along masterfully. The story itself kept me up for several nights. I couldn't get enough of Izzy, Monty, and all the others. Dora Mitchell, the illustrator, perfectly captures these characters and brings the story to another level. So if you have an affinity for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, pick up this book. It's a cleverly written story that will show children they can be whoever they want, so as long they stand up for their convictions and never back down from anything. But I warn you now: don't grab the oar.”
--Siobhan Bothwell, Novelties Book Reviews
“Talk about deliciously creepy! This book grabs right away, gives tons of goosebumps and threatens with sleepless nights. But it isn't only the creep factor in gothic form which has a fun allure, the characters (especially Izzy) are a treat. It's written at a level kids will enjoy, but still can even draw in adults. The author opens up a dark world, and manages to nicely tie the knots by the end.
In other words, it's a great read for ages nine and up who are into gothic feelings with a lot of moments which send shivers down the spine.”
– Amazon reviewer
Not everyone is a jock. Or a cheerleader. Or a straight-A student. Creating imperfect characters in middle grade books allows readers to embrace their own imperfections.
In addition, books with haunted story themes are popular for the MG reader. Weird, creepy, strange stories match well with weird characters. For example, 16 Spooky Middle Grade Books for Young Horror Fans from Junior Library Guild presents a ghoulish assortment of titles to read for Halloween (or any day). Spooky, scary, and even horror middle grade books are available all-year-long for readers to enjoy.
Find a scary story like The Boatman where you buy books.