Guardians and Gatekeepers

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
― C.S. Lewis
It became a dangerous thing when I received the keys to a car and the directions to the book store. It was even more dangerous when I was given a Kindle and found the “Buy” button. For the first time in my life I was given direct access to all the books I could ever want. My wallet suffered, but who needs to eat when you have books, right?

It made be odd to think of adults as a book “delivery system,” but for children, that is exactly what they are. When discussing content in middle grade writing, Marie Lamba points out in her article, “Middle Grade vs Young Adult: Different Audiences, Different Styles,” that, “there are gatekeepers between your book and your targeted audience. MG readers typically do not have direct access to their novels. To get a book, kids first go through a parent, a teacher, or a librarian.”

It is important to remember this when you look at your children’s content to write successfully for middle grade. It is true that children and young teens are often exposed to mature or explicit language and situations in their actual lives; however, it will not help your sales by including that content in your writing. You have to find a balance between still having an edgy, high stakes, or non-patronizing story without alienating most of your audience’s guardians.

Inappropriate content is a surefire way to get your book removed from the hands from your reader, but by writing what also appeals to adults, you are more likely to get that book put in their hands. Even the film industry understands this. Think back to last time you watched a childhood favorite as an adult and suddenly picked up dozens of jokes that went over your head as a child. Film makers know that adults have to watch what their children do, so it is important that it appeals to them as well.

So when writing for young audiences remember, you have to sell it twice: once to your audience, and once to your audience’s guardians.


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