أوراق قديمة: YA vs. Middle-Grade Lit

I have only read the first story from this collection of three (أوراق قديمة), penned by عفاف طبالة and illustrated by هنادي مصطفى سليط. All three stories, I understand, are about the same misfit girl who is shown (after all) to be a strong, original thinker.

The Anna Lindh site bills it as a collection for “young adults” (13+) but I would—certainly on the basis of the first story—call it “middle grade” (8-12).

Why?

Well: The first story, جيوب, is about a girl, around 10 years old, who is obsessed with having pockets in her clothes. She is a girl who doesn’t like handbags or girlie things, who eats unorthodox foods, and who enjoys listening to the talk of her father and his friends. And she doesn’t understand why boys get to have so many pockets for their stuff, but not girls.

After a struggle over their winter clothing—the description of the children at the cupboard full of winter clothes is very warmly done—our heroine sneaks off to school with her brother’s old coat, full of pockets. This is much to her mother’s and sister’s disappointment. They are not a wealthy family, and her mother wants to keep up appearances.

While at line-up, our hero explains to her friend Nani all about her philosophy of pockets. When the girl gets home, her mother is displeased. The pockets from the old coat are snipped off. The girl is devastated. This scene, too, is also sharply done.

But then, many years later, she gets an invitation to a fashion show. It’s Nani’s fashion show, inspired by the protagonist’s coat of many pockets.

… و تاكد لي أن إلا حالم أبدا لا تموت.

Yes, it’s a sweet story. And yes, it feels very nice at the end, when the adult woman is shown as not so crazy after all. Many of us, I think, can relate to a moment in our childhood where we seemed crazy—and the idea of a misfit being “proven right” is very heartwarming.

But I don’t think its tone or topics speak to the concerns of a fifteen-year-old—who is thinking about many of the same things as adults, just not in the same way—so much as those of a ten- or eleven-year-old: fitting in, whether or not he or she is “crazy,” and…well, a simple thing like pockets.

Also, while the language and reading level is targeted to 13+, I think adolescent readers are less likely to want to read about characters younger than themselves. In Fatima Sharafeddine’s فاتن, for instance, we follow our protagonist from age 15 into university, with concerns about love, marriage, work, and social justice.

This article on Education.Com talks more about what YA lit “should do” and “should discuss”; although that is ultimately up to both the writer and the reader, and obviously will be different in different countries, cultures, languages, and times.

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