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What's Wrong With Middle Grade Fiction

The middle grade fiction genre is booming—but something's amiss. And it's our fault.

It began one day as I wandered past the fiction section at Costco. I do this regularly to get a quick feel for the health of the book market—scanning to see what is successful, what is working.

As I examined book after book in the middle-grade section, which is a much more popular market than you might think, I had an idea hit me almost all at once. A lightbulb moment. A revelation.

My soda cup was empty.

Okay, I don’t really remember if my soda was empty or not—I was too busy getting inspiration to notice. But I’m thirsty, I’m actually going to get a drink really fast.

I’m back.

The Original Idea

So I had this idea for a middle-grade novel hit me from nowhere, and it was a complete story—starting with the main theme, but also the main idea that perfectly meshed. I jotted it down as a note on my iPhone and let my mind keep going on the idea as I continued shopping.

But here’s what I noticed about the middle grade fiction selection at Costco, something I’m still noticing as youth fiction authors keep churning out best sellers.

What Middle Grade Books Have In Common

Almost all of the recent, popular middle-grade novels are very spiritual. Deep spiritual meaning, revelation, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. Magic, true good and true evil, divinity, paranormal experience, spirits, alternate planes—every book has something of it.

Every protagonist has a supernatural magic in their being that they discover on page 4, and spend the rest of the book discovering their power and warding off the evil side of the magic. Of course there’s Harry Potter—but there’s also Percy Jackson, Sophie Foster, Owen Conners, Aru Shah, and Jake Portman, just to name a few. They all discover magical worlds where they have supernatural/spiritual powers that make up for their natural weaknesses.

Pretty cool, tbh.

In other words, the kids are never “just human.” They always have a Greater Power inside them, guiding them, giving them purpose.

Sound familiar yet?

The Christian Dilemma

Meanwhile, Christian novelists have clumsily been trying to hide Jesus behind mundane, everyday themes so that their books don’t get labeled “preachy” or “religious”. No wonder Christian kids are reading Harry Potter. I would have too, if I was allowed.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to step into another world with special powers. When I read The Chronicles of Narnia, I was enraptured. That’s a good thing.

Because no child of God is “only human”. We all have supernatural life inside of us, and there really is another world with special powers—the Kingdom of God!

We all have supernatural life inside of us, and there really is another world with special powers.

There is a gaping hole in Christian middle-grade fiction, and that hole is spirituality. True spirituality. There are themes begging to be explored about God and our relationship to Him as His children, yet we’re shying away from the supernatural.

The Power in Writing the Supernatural

We were designed for a life of love, beauty, and power—but we live in a world of hate, darkness and fear. Kids inherently crave a superhero, a Greater Power, to help them escape the everyday into a special world where they feel at home, in control, empowered. 

I think that avoiding the supernatural in our writing is like waving a white flag to the darkness. I want to see more and more Christian authors let the Holy Spirit back into their books.

And it doesn’t always have to be literal. If you are careful and wise, it is possible to infuse a fantasy with spiritual truth, point to Jesus, change somebody’s perspective. And I’m not talking about allegory—I mean the real deal, actual competitors in the YA market. Let’s get nitty-gritty here and pen some powerful fantasies that point to God.

Not everybody is called to write this. Not everybody wants to read it, either. But if this is resonating inside you, take it to Jesus. What story is burning inside you, but maybe you felt hesitant or even guilty writing? Let the Holy Spirit give you wisdom on it and see where it takes you …. Remember, God doesn’t lead us through guilt.

What are your thoughts? Share your perspective in the comments and continue the discussion!

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2 comentarios

Yes! I've never seen anybody else talk about this! I've always wanted to write a fantasy series that brings God to life in a generation that is turned off by church but are discipled by what they watch, listen to, and read!

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Joshua Sword
Joshua Sword
09 jul 2022
Contestando a

The real challenge—for me— is deciding how explicitly Christian to make any particular story. On one hand, you’ll find a small but hungry market for Christian kids lit; on the other hand, you’ll find a massive secular market where most parents—Christian or otherwise—are shopping. So how do you solve the dilemma?

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Joshua Sword

I'm twenty-six and work as a livestream producer by day. I'm highly facetious. It's very hard to take me seriously, a fact that I carefully nurture and protect, because I don't want people calling me Mr. Josh and kissing my hand and handing me scotch or whatever they do in the serious world. I like my own world just fine.

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