Assigning ages and grades to trade books is real guesswork. Authors and publishers have a general sense of kids, and of the sequence of school subject areas, but both are anecdotal and approximate. Textbook houses are very attentive to state requirements and Lexiles, but that has nothing to do with how we work. So it is always instructive to visit schools to get a more experiential sense of kids. What I’ve seen in the past few days was a great field study in ages and grades: in two schools I spoke with 6th graders, 7th graders, and 9th graders (and in one of the schools, also 5th grade). (Those of you who are teachers and librarians will find this old hat, so feel free to add your own more detailed observations)
Since the schools were the same, I was seeing a similar population aging. The 5th and 6th graders still looked very much like children. They were very active, engaged, sweet, smart, open. Though I am in a quite rural area of Western NY state, some were surprisingly sophisticated, and there was no self consciousness. The seventh graders were proto-adolescent, more concerned with being cool, watching each other, but still lively and engaged. When we discussed myths, both ages were eager to believe that some degree of the magical, mythical, world is real. The 9th grade boys were clearly very much a group, a society, sceptical about anything without evidence, dismissive of the mythical (if they were not fantasy buffs), and reluctant to step forward. There were a few oddball guys, but they clearly sat apart — not so much excluded as aware of being different, separate.
Here, at least, the fabled Middle Grade fall off was not as apparent as the 9th grade clump. I was struck by the 5th-7th graders, who were clearly engaged in gaining knowledge yet with a truly childlike freshness of mind. Perhaps it was also their relationship to adults — a kind of trust, while in the 9th graders there was a need to establish distance, and their own territory (which is, of course, also a healthy deepening of their sense of self).
So how would any of you categorize the differences in kids 5th-9th grades; and, how do you think those differences should be reflected in books, or are reflected in how they engage with books?