Saturday, May 21, 2005

Best Literary Line of 2005

From my mom, apropos of The Kite Runner and The Plot Against America: "8-year-old boys must be this year's little black dress."

I think she's onto something. cf. also Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Though I guess he's 9? Not that I've actually read any of these, mind you; mostly I read kids' books, which, strangely enough, also tend to feature 8-and-9-year-old boys. And girls.

Hmm...thinking about childrens' books vs. adult books with child protagonists. What's the difference? And what about "crossover books" that start out as kids' books and "transcend their genre" to become popular among adults (as discussed in this discussion on Interstital Arts, thanks to my cousin Ellen for the link)?

Then there are the children's books with adult (though often disguised as animals) protagonists, like Time Stops for No Mouse, and The Wind in the Willows, and Avril Crump and her Amazing Clones--that does have a little girl in it, though she's not the main character--and the one I'm listening to on my commute these days, The Mayor of Central Park, by Avi, which gets away with being about some really scary things by using cutesy old-New-York argot and casting all the characters as squirrels and moles and rats.

And what about books that cross over in the other direction, that start out being marketed to adults and then get widely read by kids and teenagers? Like Ender's Game and A College of Magics, both of which have been recently reissued with kid-friendly covers, or Persepolis and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: titles (often with teenage protagonists) that are originally published for adults but end up on lots of recommended Young Adult lists. Or even a book like The Lovely Bones: I had middle-school kids asking me for that one, even though politically I felt like I couldn't buy it for a K-8 library. It's all over the map, what people like: the receptionist at our school loved Holes when I recommended it to her, and I've had 5th graders ask if we have The DaVinci Code.

Lots of teachers and school librarians get hung up on making sure kids' books are "age-appropriate." I used to have no patience for that kind of thing. Now that I've been a librarian for a while, and also not incidentally now that I have a small child, I understand it a little better. But I still think age-appropriateness is an extremely rough and idiosyncratic measure, and in some ways protects adults--from dealing with kids' questions, or acknowledging kids' scary concerns--as much as or more than children.

Then there are the people, often writers-- like "adult" SF writer Connie Willis and "children's" writer Polly Horvath--who insist there's no such thing as children's literature or adult literature, that the distinction is entirely a marketing invention. And it's true, a smart kid who's into the Middle Ages could read and love Willis's The Doomsday Book, and Polly Horvath's The Canning Season--which got trashed at my review group at the same time that it won the National Book Award for young people's literature--is dark and sophisticated in ways that adults can appreciate.

Probably I'm an unsophisticated reader but it's just about all the same to me, except that the adult books are more likely to have sex in them. (I was about to write "and the kids' books are shorter," but that's not necessarily true any more, thanks Joanne Rowling and Cornelia Funke for making me plow through 500-page tomes to get my kid-lit fix.) Most of my friends tend to be big kidlit readers-- RW, MG and I each have our own collection of children's books, which will never be merged, thank you very much. I have my copy of The Saturdays, RW has hers, and one day the Mermaid Girl will have her very own.

There's a really erudite post in here somewhere, with a cohesive train of thought and some kind of conclusion, but it's not happening today. Just stream of consciousness and a bunch of unlinked and unglossed titles, most of which I highly recommend in case you're wondering.

P.S. Yikes! It's almost time to start making the summer reading lists! Always an exciting exercise in realizing just how much reading I have failed to do.


Blogger RHD said...

My mother the pre-k/k teacher once told me the difference between good kids & good adults literature is that anyone can read and enjoy a good kids book, but sometimes good adults' books have themes/content that isn't suitable for kids (sex, violence, etc), though there are exceptions ot every rule.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In both my library here in MD and back in CO, Doomsday Book is shelved as YA. (Now I feel like reading it, by the way). I've just been reading The Boxcar Children and have a major yearning to go canoeing in Maine. A major distinction between children's & adult literature is that the former covers a wider and more interesting range of topics. Or am I reading the wrong adult literature?


5:15 PM  

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