Guest blogger Deb Vanasse here again. Last week I talked about Alaskan picture books, read-alouds typically marketed for children ages 4-8, though most can be read to any child old enough to be propped in your lap. This week I have a few thoughts on books for older young readers, classified in the book industry as middle grade and young adult.

Middle grade books beginning with illustrated chapter books and span through more complex stories for children through age 12 or so. Children like to read about characters slight older than they are, so expect to find protagonists as old as 13 or 14 in a middle grade book. Among the classic middle grade tales set in Alaska are Jean Craighead George‘s Julie and Julie of the Wolves. George isn’t an Alaskan, but she spent a summer in Barrow learning about wolves at the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.

Kirkpatrick Hill of Fairbanks has penned some marvelous books for middle graders, including The Year of Miss Agnes, Winter Camp, and Tough Boy and Sister. Hill taught for many years in the Alaskan bush, where these books are set. Also of Fairbanks is the venerable Arnold Griese, author of At the Mouth of the Luckiest River and The Wind is Not a River. The latter is a poignant account of the Aleutian occupation during World War II, as is Karen Hesse’s novel in verse, Aleutian Sparrow. (Hesse is not Alaskan.)

The young adult (YA) market was more or less created in the 1960s, and for a long time, librarians were the primary purchasers of young adult books. Then came Harry Potter. Now young adult sections in bookstores are bulging with titles, authors who built careers writing for adults are trying their hands at YA, and adult readers are crossing over to read the most riveting YA titles. Still, recent research shows that only 33 percent of books read by young adults are actually purchased by young adults – the rest are borrowed or gifted.

I was happy to learn that Alaska Northwest Books is putting two of its YA titles back into print: War Canoe and Ed Ferrell’s Wolf Brother, revised and re-titled as In the Valley of the Grizzly. My own Out of the Wilderness is out of print, but A Distant Enemy is still available and is used as classroom reading in some Alaskan schools. Renowned YA author Gail Giles was an Alaskan resident for several years, and the early part of her most recent novel, Right Behind You, is set in Alaska. Finally, several titles by Gary Paulsen, who’s not Alaskan but who has run the Iditarod, make waves with middle grade and YA readers alike.

Middle grade and YA novels depend heavily on reviews and awards to get the word out and ramp up sales. Some controversy surrounds awards like the Newberry and, at the YA level, the Prinz and NBA awards, but for the most part the winners are great books. Alaska’s own Battle of the Books competition includes Alaskan titles whenever possible.
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