I write contemporary tween books for girls and I’m often asked–what is the difference between contemporary middle grade and contemporary tween books? Tween, while originally more widely used by marketers, has also come to mean literature that is aimed at kids ages, 10-12ish–in other words, the upper end of middle grade. It is considered a subset of middle grade literature and enjoys an avid readership.
The first widely known modern use of the tween was by J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of The Rings, where he used tweens to be mean those hobbits in their twenties before they came of age. In this case, Tolkien was blending twenty and tweens. However, the current usage refers to a kid in their middle school school years, who is no longer a young child but not considered an adolescent. In this case, the word comes from between, and in fact, the term twene was in usage in 14 century England as a variant of between.
Protagonists in today’s contemporary tween books are typically in middle school, and stand at the crossroads between childhood and adolescence. They experience dramatic physical and emotional changes. Often these books have the tone of young adult without the overt sexuality, although romantic elements, such as hand holding, first kisses and dances appear in some novels. In contemporary fiction, frequently friendship issues dominate the conflict (although for adventure, horror, and mystery books the conflict will be more external). Parent/child conflict is visible, although subordinate to other struggles.
I would argue that many contemporary tween books for girls (and some for boys too) are really a 21st century version of the 19th century domestic novel. These are the sorts of books (all with the MIX imprint of Simon & Schuster) that I write, and many publishers now have a dedicated line of books targeting the middle school experience. These books mirror the everyday experiences of girls in middle school. This is not to say that they are devoid of tension. They are not. But the tension is mostly emotional and centered around the security of key friendships. Some of these books in this category don’t use the hero’s journey as their structure. Instead, they can be more episodic, such as Lauren Myracle’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, which are chronicle books or year-in-the-life books. This would also be true of epistolary novels, such as Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, which straddles the YA/tween categories. And books such as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of A Wimpy Kid series, Renee Russell’s the Dork Diaries and the Blogtastic novels by Rose Cooper.
With recent many successes in the marketplace, I predict that the contemporary tween category will continue to be a growing area in publishing. Okay, at least I sure hope so!