Saturday, February 14, 2009

Adults Reading Children's Books

I'm curious as to why so many of us adults are reading YA or kids' books these days. I can't count how many fully grown people have told me I MUST READ the Harry Potter books or the Twilight series. I don't think I've ever encountered so much enthusiasm behind a recommendation for a book geared towards adults. What's the source of this mania?

Personally, I don't read kids' books. For me, there are too many amazing books out there for adults that I don't want to give up any of my reading time. For those of you who like kids' books, I'd be interested to hear what you like about them. I'm also wondering if this is a new phenomenon or have adults always read kids books, and I just haven't noticed?

14 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I took Young Adult Lit in library school and was amazed at how good the books were, although admittedly we were mainly reading prize winners. I found them every bit as good as adult books, full of depth and layers of meaning, but without the (offensively portrayed) sex and (serial-killer-type) violence. Yet not without hardship, disease, brutality, and all the rest. I have not been so enamored of the fantasy books that I have read. I think for me, YA lit is like watching a movie like Casablanca, and seeing that you can have all the range of emotions and even sexuality and violence without the often explicit and gratuitous parts of contemporary adult fare. I also like trying to figure out what I would have gotten out of it as an actual YA. And here's the best part: after struggling through "chunksters" and James Joyce and William Faulkner and so on, these books are so *easy*!!!! It's a nice break from time to time!

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

I like the fact that they are entertaining and interesting without the sex and violence. As rhapsody said, they are every bit as good as adult books. Some more than others.

Patrick Murtha said...

Adults have always read children's books, and have kept many such alive after the kids lose interest (since most children are interested only in the current). I guarantee you that The Wind in the Willows has ten adult readers to day for every child reader.

Great children's books get absorbed into the adult canon because good writing is just good writing. As examples, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game, and Alan Garner's The Owl Service are just flat-out great novels that no reader of quality fiction should miss.

Jena said...

I was an English teacher, so part of my job to was read books to recommend to my students, and sometimes a YA book just hits the spot. As Sandra Cisneros said, when we're thirty, we're also still twenty-three, seventeen, twelve, eight and three. well, that's paraphrasing.

I know some adults read them because they're not particularly confident readers, and the stories are still good.

I would still highly recommend you give Harry Potter a shot, though I'd advise staying away from Twilight (it's full of angst). When the 5th movie was released, my sister (24), my mom (53), my dad (55) and me (29) went to the midnight showing--because we all love the Harry Potter books, even though my parents aren't inclined to read so-called kids books at any other time. There's a reason HP books are still so popular, as I told a couple of high school students when I was their sub librarian. (One of the resisters agreed to humor me and give them a try, and as I knew he was a prolific reader, I insisted he take the first two for the long weekend, and he brought them back that Tuesday and checked out #3 & #4...)

Gwen Dawson said...

"YA lit is like watching a movie like Casablanca...." Good analogy. I think I see exactly what you mean, and I can see why that would be entertaining.

claire said...

I agree with everyone's comments. I read kids' books as a breather, in between heavy reads. They're light and easy, but still deep and insightful. Some kids' books are even better-written than a lot of adult books out there. Also, kids' books are the epitome of literary escapism, especially the fantasy ones.

Stephanie said...

I've always found that YA books are more emotionally driven than adult books. They don't bs the reader the way some adult books do. While lieterary symbolism and high brow writing are nice, sometimes you just want a straight story with real, honest, raw emotion, and a lot of YA novels offer that.

Hagelrat said...

I don't think Harry Potter or Twilight are particularly good examples of books that bridge the gap between YA & adult. The reason I read some YA is simply that some of my fave authors also write YA, but with all the hallmarks of their adult books. Also, some publishers remarket adult fantasy as YA because YA is a strong market at them moment and the protagonist is a teen. Poison Study is an example of this, I read it as an adult fantasy, but it has recently been re branded and re released for YA. This reflects the fact that many books don't fall so clearly into one group or the other.
Add to that frankly I quite enjoy some stories that are aimed at kids.

An Anonymous said...

Much as I respect other readers' opinions, I absolutely hate when people say things like this. Meaning absolutely no disrespect, I think you're saying something remarkably silly. I've long hated the distinction between young adult fiction, kid fiction and adult fiction. It is, for lack of a better term, fictitious. A book is a book. If it's good, it deserves to be read by everyone, no matter their age. Just because a book CAN be read and appreciated by a ten year old doesn't mean a fifty year old can't ("The Giver" is a splendid example of this).

I think the whole idea of labeling books as young adult, kids, is wrong because then readers precisely like you ignore truly great literature. For instance, "The Book Thief" is marketed in some places as a young adult book, in others as an adult book. Does it matter? No. It can be appreciated by anyone from age 10 to age 90 for its greatness alone. I disagree that these books are necessarily "lighter". Some are, perhaps, lighter than Faulkner, but many (MANY) are much heavier and better than most vapid "adult" fiction. To judge hundreds of books simply by the way they're marketed is just sad and you're missing out on a lot. There are some wonderful books you're overlooking simply because they're "kid books".

Gwen Dawson said...

Anonymous wrote: "There are some wonderful books you're overlooking simply because they're 'kid books'."

I don't doubt that you're right, and I appreciate your strong feelings on this point. However, with tens of thousands of books being published every year, there's not enough time to make it through them all. We're forced to make (sometimes crude) decisions about what to read next. Without a few "rules," we'd all be frozen in indecision. One of my rules happens to be "no kids' books" because I'm not able to invest the time to separate the great literature from the Sweet-Valley-High type books. Other people have different rules.

Amy said...

Well, there are Sweet Valley High type adult books, too. So in that case it would simply help to read bloggers reviews who separate it out for you. :)

I thought all YA would be like Sweet Valley High as well, so I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much I've enjoyed it and just how much depth and great storytelling there is. As far as children's books, I use them with my adult students in adult literacy and I've also been impressed by good some of it is.

I like what anon said...a book is a book is a book. If you love story, you'll probably love it no matter its intended age range. But preferring to choose adult novels is okay, you're right, we only have so much time.

Dave at Read Street said...

I enjoy a YA book occasionally, but would not want to make it a steady diet. Our book club recently read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Those who knew it was YA enjoyed it more; the others thought it was simplistic and far-fetched. Maybe that's a big difference: Does YA have fewer nuances and complexities, as well as fewer references to other works?

cynical ben said...

How do you know you aren't reading children's books? Over time books frequently get categorised differently. Some works by Twain, Swift and Kipling for example, are constantly being re-defined as being for adults or for children. In fifty years time your favourite books may be sitting on the Young Adult shelf. In a hundred they may be back in the adult section.

Even the definition of what is a child and what is an adult is only temporary both in time and location. A fifteen year old in 1500 was an adult. A fourteen year old in Sierra Leone may struggle with Georges Perec but equally they may well be a father and be able to dismantle an AK47 blindfolded.

All I'm really saying is be wary of labels and of labelling. There is nothing grown up about rejecting children's fiction.

If you do get tempted to give children's books a try I strongly suggest starting with some of the recommendations made by people leaving comments as opposed to Harry Potter (which is pretty run-of-the-mill genre fiction albeit well written) May I add to the list Lady by Melvin Burgess and The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with cynical ben's comments...in 50 yrs many of the books we consider as great "adult reads" are likely to be recast as YA.

Another point worth mentioning is that despite the quality of the literature, it is a way that many adults are able to connect with their children. I would much rather take the time to read a YA book and be able to discuss it with my children than discuss Guitar Hero or Sony Playstation with them. Best, A. Hollis