Sunday, October 11, 2009

For Whom the Books are Written?

I was intrigued by this New York Times article, and I got to thinking about who loves or hates certain books and why and what age has to do with it, if anything.

Earlier this year there were several interesting posts like this one and this one, that debated the merits of "great literature." More recently Nathan Bransford reminded us why it is silly to ask if any number of these "great" pieces of writing would be publishable today.

Such discussions are usually limited to the realm of adult literature, but this morning's piece in the Times brought the debate to children's books.

Are there books out there pitched as "children's lit" that you think are actually for adults? As a writer of children's literature I'm biased toward believing nearly all such young lit is universal and offers something to readers of all ages, but are there books that are written in such a way that they might captivate adults but leave children befuddled at best and bored to tears (or in Edward Gorey's world, to death) at worst?


  1. Good link to Mr. Bransford, Andrea.

    I know there are movies pitched to children that are full of inappropriate adult situations and innuendo. Grown men and women guffawing in their seats, certain little Johnny and Jackie eating their sweet tarts and popcorn don't get the sexual undertones and double meanings. Good children's literature would never bore a child to tears yet would intrigue an adult. I think of Swiss Family Robinson and Island of the Blue Dolphin. I know that the line between YA and adult is sometimes blurred. But if a book is actually for adults why would it be pitched as children's lit? Silly question, I suppose.

  2. Hi Yvonne,

    Thanks for the comment - it was interesting to see because when I wrote the post I wasn't thinking in terms of content, but more of voice, nostalgia, and melancholy: sentiments that weigh heavily on adults but might not resonate with children who are just beginning their worlds. With movies, much in the way of books, I'm not so much worried about content appropriateness (I'm thinking back to the BBW posts here). I'm going to use myself as an example. When I was about 10 one of my favorite movies was Clue. I just thought it was a bunch of silly adults caught up in a ridiculous murder mystery based on a board game I liked. When I watched it a few years ago I couldn't believe the amount of sexuality and totally awesome Cold War references in the film (it's a great teaching film about Cold War politics, who'd of thought?) But when I was ten that stuff just went right over my head, no harm no foul. I love the movie just as much now as I did then, but for a lot of different reasons. On a final note, I don't think your last question was silly at all. My answer: who has the money to buy said books? :) Wow, epic comment.

  3. What does it mean that that is my favorite ghastly crumb tiny? Of all time?

    Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

  4. I have a quick question for you... not comment worthy... drop me an email?

  5. I see what you mean. And it would be interesting to me to go back to the Blue Dolphin to see if it still has the same melancholy feel. It had a profound effect on me in fourth grade when the teacher read it aloud to us, a few pages a day. It was probably one of the highlights of my elementary education! I Sometimes think we underestimate the feelings of lonliness and melancholy that children have. But back to books vs movies and content vs. voice and in lieu of our celebration last week for banned books (that was great fun), I cringe at the word inappropriate. Did I say that??

  6. Oh and congratulations on fifty. I thought I was kicking it with fifteen. ha

  7. Yvonne,

    No I didn't think you meant inappropriate (also a cringe word for me), I was just musing about the content of my blog and whether I'd conveyed the message I wanted to in the original post. I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins but it has been two decades since I read it; would be very interesting to revisit.


    Email is on the way