“The children of the night. What music they make!”
That seemed like an appropriate way to get your attention to share this most exciting news: The Horror Writers Association recently announced a new Bram Stoker Awards® category for Superior Achievement in a Middle-Grade Novel!
What Is Middle Grade?
Let’s start with the basics, because at least once a week someone confuses young adult and middle grade, and every time you do it, a reader dog-ears a page in a book.
Young adult books are intended for readers 13ish and up. Middle-grade books are intended for readers 8 to 12ish. This delineation is significant because adults have a plethora of opinions about what stories are acceptable for middle-grade readers, and historically, horror has almost never been considered an acceptable genre of children’s literature. For those reasons, and because readers ages 8-12 don’t always have a lot of agency when it comes to choosing their own reading materials, it’s important to distinguish between YA and middle grade.
Coming Clean About Middle Grade
Society has never really known what to do with children’s horror, so adults have done what they do best when they’re afraid of something: They get out their big yellow gloves and scrub, scrub, scrub. Fairy tales weren’t always aimed at children. The original stories were quite gruesome, so they were scrubbed clean and dressed up with happily-ever-after endings before they were handed down to young readers in various formats.
But horror authors have often lurked in the background, quietly sneaking some of the monstrous elements back into fairy tale retellings. Most recently, Soman Chainani has done this important work in Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales, and in the afterword to The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales, Jen Campbell talks about why she restored gore to her fairy tales.
Adults have also tried to wash away the stains of children’s horror by banning books altogether. In trying to “rescue” their own children from books like Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, some adults almost deprived a whole generation of young horror fans from having nightmares about Harold. Not cool.
It should be noted that book banning isn’t exclusive to children’s horror. The practice continues to plague all genres of literature for young people, and many educators and librarians are currently dealing with an influx of censorship challenges, with some adults even suggesting that books be burned. That is its own brand of horror.
The Future of Middle Grade is Bloody Brilliant
In October I settled down to watch Nightbooks, the Netflix film based on J. A. White’s book of the same title, which I had read a few years before. It was a scary and emotional experience. I had no faith that the film would live up to the book. Yes, yes, I know—books and films are separate entities that can exist independently of one another. However, let’s be honest: some children’s films do not approach their intended audiences with the respect they deserve. (See previous paragraphs about scrubbing fairy tales and banning books.) So, I expected the movie to be a flat representation of the book.
Imagine my delight when the film started name-dropping horror classics like The Lost Boys and serving up genuinely frightening monsters. The movie didn’t pander to the concerns of adults; instead, it met young horror fans at eye level and winked. It’s a great movie, but guess what? it wouldn’t exist without White’s middle-grade horror novel. And in case you didn’t know, Gravebooks, the sequel to Nightbooks, is coming in 2022.
Recently, we’ve seen bookstores and libraries create more shelf space for adult horror, so it’s no surprise that this enthusiasm for the genre has trickled down to the children. The past few years have delivered a host of nightmarish new books for kids. With books like Hide and Don’t Seek (Anica Mrose Rissi), Don’t Turn Out the Lights (edited by Jonathan Maberry), Scary Stories for Young Foxes (Christian McKay Heidicker and Junyi Wu), and Only If You Dare (Josh Allen and Sarah J. Coleman), middle-grade horror anthologies are more popular than ever, and these authors are giving kids fuel for future campfires.
The genre is also welcoming newcomers, like Daka Hermon, who weaves an unnerving tale about a classic children’s game in Hide and Seeker, and Lorien Lawrence, whose Fright Watch series will have you keeping a close eye on your neighbors.
And my spooky goodness—the sheer volume of ghost stories would be scary if it weren’t so exciting! Haunting the halls of middle-grade horror are Ellen Oh with the Spirit Hunters, Hanna Alkaf with The Girl and the Ghost, Tehlor Kay Mejia with Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, followed by India Hill Brown with The Forgotten Girl, Ally Malinenko with Ghost Girl, and Lindsay Currie with Scritch Scratch. These authors are carving their names into their desks to let us know that their spirits will live on forever. And don’t forget about class clowns Josh Berk and Saundra Mitchell, who are delivering horror and humor with books like Camp Murderface.
If ghosts aren’t your thing, don’t fret—Ronald L. Smith, Kate Alice Marshall, Joseph Bruchac, and J.W. Ocker, are serving up seriously creepy stories about curses and all manner of monstrous things. (Well… maybe you should fret just a little.)
This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of new children’s horror, but this blog post has a word limit.
Have we hit a point where all adults are comfortable spoon-feeding horror to small readers? Definitely not. But the creation of new award categories from trusted organizations like the Horror Writers Association must mean that we’re on the right path. Hey—Scary Stories for Young Foxes even took home a Newbery Honor in 2020.
Middle-grade horror novels publishing in 2022 will be eligible for the new award and will be presented at the 2023 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony. Read the full announcement here, and if you have more questions about this new award category, contact the Horror Writers Association: firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you excited about a middle-grade horror book that’s publishing in 2022? Tell us in the comments!
Don’t miss Ally Russell on the loneliness of young horror fans.