the boys of middle grade

So lately everyone on the Internet thinks they’re allowed to write about YA even though they a) know nothing about it, b) don’t know its history, and c) think it’s the same as middle grade. It makes me and tons of other people cray cray. And that’s not just because those of us who make YA and children’s literature (the first is NOT an acceptable umbrella term for all things written for people who can’t vote; the other is–get it straight) our lives, our objects of study, and our creative pursuits get sad. It’s also because calling Matilda a YA heroine (is dumb and marks you as a fool and) diminishes what a great and powerful thing exceptional middle grade is. Instead of conflating all things so that you can be trendy and misinformed, why not celebrate TWO cool categories of literature instead of one?

Middle grade is its own thing. And it’s awesome. Whereas YA tends to be a man vs. society thing, all about testing your independence and learning who you are, MG tends to be more about clueless parents, adverbs, and being resourceful and plucky. Like I said, it’s awesome. But seriously, there are so many people out there writing about the difference between YA and MG that I don’t need to repeat them. Go look them up, and until then, assume that if you write for HuffPo or the Atlantic Wire, you don’t actually know shit and you should shut up. I don’t write about NASA because I don’t care–and because I don’t know anything about astrophysics. See how that works?

Anyway, I thought it was high time that we celebrate middle grade, and what better way than by remembering middle school? Which sucked, of course, but also gave us our first crushes. And, if you weren’t me, maybe your first boy/girlfriend. So here are the most swoon-worthy boys of middle grade (because boys of middle grade sounds like a much better calendar–or a much more 20-years-to-life thing….actually, never mind), in no particular order:

Sport. The other bestie of Harriet M. Welsch, cantankerous outspoken bitch spykid, Sport is awesome not just because he puts up with Harriet and because he basically keeps his family together, but also he was played in the movie by Gregory Smith, who we all know grew up to be a less hot (but totally fine) version of James McAvoy. But seriously, movie magic aside, he’s a sweet boy, and that’s really all you need to care about, right? He’s like a kitten. Pet him and hear him purr, and you’ll be happy. That is all. He really has, like, zero personality, but sometimes that’s just what a strong girl needs in a middle school boyfriend/friend.

Guthrie. The Marcus Flutie before Marcus Flutie, Guthrie has a zest for life and just makes you want to be the broken girl to his strong boy. I to this day use Guthrie-isms like “Such the best!” as much as I can. He’s probably a hipster now, but I’ll still love him forever, and secretly he’ll be the only hipster whose smoking habits and fake liberal politics don’t turn me off. Because he’s the best. Forever and ever amen.

Almanzo. Almanzo is most adorable, so even though Laura Ingalls is kind of a bitch to him (and awkward, but that’s forgivable, from one awk girl to another), he wins her in the end. And before that, but also after that, depending on whether you’re going with real time or when the books came out, he is this plucky kid with wealthy parents who lives on a farm, feeds taffy to his pig, raises a pumpkin by feeding it milk, and knows how to bargain the shit out of a horse salesman. I would have wanted to marry him if we were both 10 years old at the same time.

Prince Char. Uh, hi, a boy who will write you letters, tell you you’re a genius but also tell you when you’re getting too hotheaded, and who will send you magical animals as presents? Totes fine with me. Char also instantly secures himself in girl crushland when he enters the book and knows just how to tell Ella how sorry he is for her loss without saying gross, meaningless words like that. The fact that he’s a prince doesn’t hurt, since then you can totally like him for who he is but also live out your earlier childhood fantasy of being a princess. (Pay no attention the girl on the book cover there. The movie sucks. Amazon sucks for making that the default cover. End of story.)

Jeffrey Tifton. This one’s a little weird, because I don’t actually have a crush on him, because this book wasn’t out when I was a kid, and so now that would be gross. But The Penderwicks is awesome, so if I had been able to read it for the first time at a middle grade age, I’d be all over him. And as it is, if I delve into my sixth grade self, I so, so very much want to pat Jeffrey on the back, tell him his mother is a beyotch (I guess I’m a bit of a Skye), and then sneak him into a treehouse and dare him to kiss me. Also, I really want to sing the song “Jeffrey” to him, but that’s probably not very soothing. My brain is warped. And deranged.

In my head, these guys (or at least the first four, as explained) are the permanent calendar boys on the sixth grade bedroom wall I never had (my parents weren’t exactly into the idea of “designing” one’s bedroom, so mine was permanently a mess and devoid of any other personality aside from “packrat”). Le sigh.

Seriously, though, if you think I’m being a bitch about certain journalists, I’m not. And if you want me to prove that by offering you links to the many, many editors/writers/librarians/agents/readers who will happily explain to you why YA=/MG, I’m happy to oblige. This just wasn’t about that. It was an excuse to fall into a swoon.

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4 thoughts on “the boys of middle grade

  1. I agree with your sentiments here. And it’s weird because I don’t recall Almanzo’s book at all. Although I don’t see how I could have missed it. I best look it up to reread!

    • Yes! I think it’s awesome, because it’s everything that I liked best about the Little House books–lots of long descriptions of food preparation, house decoration, and school.

  2. Oh, great examples! I actually haven’t read SPORT, so I can’t make any opinions on that, but I LOVED Guthrie in Bloomability (Sono Libero! Libero! Liberooooo!), I LOVED Almanzo, I loved, loved, LOVED Char in Ella Enchanted (more than I liked Ella, actually), and I really loved Jeffrey Tifton. Well, I really loved all the Penderwicks, but Jeffrey was special. I mean, he loved music. What’s not to adore about that?

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