Middle-Grade Novels Have Gotten 173% Longer over the Last 40 Years

Blog Post ARCsAs the editorial assistant for Booklist’s youth department, I work with hefty ARCs (advanced reader copies) on a daily basis: unpacking and bringing them up from the mailroom, logging them in to our database, moving them from place to place, and sending them out for review. The sheer, physical size of these books is undeniable—and sometimes seems inescapable, when the piles of books grow together into a wall surrounding my desk.

The surge of recent series, from Ivy Pocket and The Books of Ore to The Keepers, continues the trend of narratives that are as captivating as they are prolonged. (The second novel in Sanders’ Keepers series, The Harp and the Ravenvine [2016], for example, logs in at 672 pages.) And though completing a novel of that length is arguably a serious undertaking at any age, the intended audience for these behemoths is predominantly young—appealing to children anywhere between grades 3–8.

According to a survey conducted by interactive publisher FlipSnack, today’s books are growing at a rate of 80 pages per year. The data was drawn over a 15-year period from approximately 2,500 New York Times bestsellers and Google’s annual survey of most discussed books. Though undoubtedly expansive, the survey left one major question unanswered: is the trend exclusive to adult books—or does it extend to children’s books, too?

Blog Post ArchivesI wanted to find an answer. Luckily for me, Booklist—being the 111-year old review journal that it is—is a rich source of records. Booklist Online, whose archive dates back to September of 1991, holds roughly 24 years of data while our in-office print archives reach as far back as January 1905. What’s more, each review record contains a wealth of information, from genre to, you guessed it, grade range and page count.

I collected data from seven issues of Booklist: the January 1 and 15 issues of 1976, the January 1 and 15 issues of 1986, and the double issues from 1996, 2006, and 2016. In each issue, I focused solely on reviews of middle-grade fiction. Because intended grade ranges often fluctuated by decade, I decided to allow a handful of varying combinations—so long as they fell somewhere between grades 3 and 8. Common grade ranges included 3–5, 4–7, and 5–8. Though the 6–8 range was ambiguous, I ultimately excluded it from my data because it’s commonly categorized as YA here at Booklist.

Here are the results of my sampling, expressed in average page count:

Year Average Page Length Average Increase in Page Length
1976 106.25 n/a
1986 137.08 + 30.83
1996 137.13 + 0.05
2006 174.5 + 37.38
2016 290 + 115.5

The decade-by-decade increases (with the exception of 1996) are noteworthy, as is the total, 40-year increase of 173%!

I asked Booklist’s own Ilene Cooper, currently a contributing editor but a longtime former Books for Youth editor (as well as a picture-book, middle-grade, and YA author in her own right), and Carolyn Phelan, a veteran contract reviewer and librarian, for their thoughts. They both offered the same two words: “Harry Potter.” Originally published in September of 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—the infectiously enchanting entrance to the magical realm of Hogwarts—is both the first in the series and its shortest book (still a solid 320 pages). Interestingly, the series as a whole follows a pattern similar to the one reflected in the chart above. With only two exceptions (one being the 768-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) each installment in the Harry Potter series is lengthier than the last. The seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) boasts the second-bulkiest page count of them all: a whopping 756 pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneOne look at the timeline of either survey may only further cement the power of the Potter Effect. After all, Verve Search began their research with the year 1999, not even one full year after the birth of The Boy Who Lived. My own, smaller survey, flares in the aftermath of HP’s release, too, with the average page length increasing by approximately 60% between January 2006 and January 2016. But why? Both Ilene and Carolyn say the genre itself skews the average. “Fantasies tend to be really long,” Ilene explains. “Authors are building another world. Readers of fantasy want to get lost in those worlds.”

And the ability to lose ourselves in a complex, dazzling, and boundless realm, if only for the duration of 756 pages? That might be as close as we ever get to making time stand still.

CORRECTION: The original post claimed that the 756-page Deathly Hallows is the longest in the series. The fifth installment, The Order of the Phoenix, is in fact 12 pages longer.

About the Author:

Briana Shemroske is Booklist's Marketing Associate. She graduated with a BA from Lake Forest College where she studied English Writing and Art History. In her free time she can be found eating cheeseburgers, frolicking with her schnoodle, Moritz, and feebly attempting to play board games. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Briana.

11 Comments on "Middle-Grade Novels Have Gotten 173% Longer over the Last 40 Years"

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  1. “According to a survey conducted by London marketing agency Verve Search ”

    You can’t really trust that data. VerveSearch is hired to boost companies’ SEO, not do market research.

    We have no reason to trust their data.

  2. Are you sure that the last Harry Potter novel is the longest? Other sources say that Phoenix is longer:

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