Monday, August 29

I Can't Read That, It's For Children!

Children are a massive media market. They are large consumers and they always have their eyes open for something interesting a new.

Kids are picky. Kids are easily amused. Kids get bored fast. It's a tough but rewarding market to be involved in.

What about when it comes down to books?

Books plus children equals hard, right?

It's so difficult to get those little children to sit still and read.

No? You disagree?

Children are so imaginative and willing to be captivated by worlds outside their own. If they're encouraged and read to by adults, they'll come to love it.

So, while children are experiencing the wonders of these books, adults can too, yes?

This is where I hit a roadblock. While it might be a different situation if you're a parent, plenty of adults seem to think that children's books...are for children. I don't know where they got a crazy idea like that!

Adults reading children's books? That is so unrefined. You can't be caught in public reading things for kiddies, and reading them at home is just shameful. Besides, aren't these books dumbed down for children? Reading one might make people question your intelligence level.

Even if these thoughts aren't often voiced, plenty of people avoid things targeted at children because they are mature adults and such things would not interest them.

I disagree.

While I'm not suggesting adults embrace every aspect of the child-targeted media – some of those preschool shows are frankly traumatic and parents have my pity – children's books are an example of fantastic reading opportunities that are often missed.

What plenty of people fail to realize is, that – apart from rare case scenarios – these books may be written for children but they are not written by children. They are written by grown-up-type people with the capacity to write a novel. Oh yeah, top that.

Exactly what age-range are we talking about?

Anywhere from eight to young adult.

When I first came across the term "young adult" in book stores, I thought it mean an adult...who was young. Like me! Then I discovered that the target age range was twelve years old. Twelve? How embarrassing! What a blow to my self-esteem.

So, let's say we're talking eight to twelve and twelve to eighteen. These are the target age ranges for plenty of books, but I think all adults should see fit to disregard that and read them all anyway.

Here is a motto that I use a lot:

A good book is a good book is a good book.

It means that if it's written for eight year olds and it's written well, I'm going to pick it over a book that's putting me to sleep, even if it did win the Pulitzer Prize or made it into Oprah's Book Club.

Some of the best novels I have read this year are middle-grade (8-12) and young adult (12-18) books.

While young adult fiction is in a massive boom right now, and is doing a fair job to break the wall between books marketed at children and adults, books that say clearly on the cover – whether on the back or the inside flap – that they are for ages 8-12 can make people a little reluctant.

I'll admit, it even puts me off. Okay, okay, I understand that there are target age ranges so that little kids don't read things that are deemed "inappropriate" or that they wouldn't understand...but does there need to be an age cap on some of these books? It seems to stunt the book's potential.

The first great book that I read this year was 'The Lightning Thief' by Rick Riordan. The protagonist is twelve years old. The reason I like this book so much (I've read it twice and am now on the third installment) is because it is a clever, imaginative and engrossing reinterpretation of Greek mythology. The humour isn't crude or childish, the plot isn't simple, and the characters are flawed and fantastic. Most important of all, the writer has excellent skill.

The best book I have read this year is 'The Manny Files' by Christian Burch. It's another that I've read twice and immediately ran out in pursuit of the sequel. It inspired my new age-range label: Eight to Awesome.

Not everyone is willing to believe that children or young adult books outsideof Harry Potter can be enjoyed by such a wide audience, but the truth is that some of these books register on multiple levels, and there are plenty of things children won't understand (or at least not in the same way) that adults will.

Something akin to this is animated films. Nowadays there is such a huge market for them, and the humour and story registers on an adult's level as much – if not sometimes more so – as a child's. There are films I watched several times when I was young, which I then re-watched years later only to think, OH, I get that now! I felt so smart. Animated films (or just films marketed at children) from decades past have humour and references that fly over the head of a child but are grasped by adults with delight.

I'm always in search of a great book to read...and plenty of them just don't make the cut. They're okay, they're a bit dull, or maybe they're even too tedious to get through. It puts me into a slump when I keep finding these results again and again.

Good books are out there. Great books are out there, but we have to be willing to read outside our comfort zone to find them. I guarantee that plenty will have labels that might make you shirk away. In the end, though, you'll find that some of them are more than worth it.

Have you read any great books lately, marketed at someone younger than your years?


Emma Michaels said...

I write and read Young Adult. (Though my current series is very cross-over) I think there is somethign so special about a genre where the characters are experiencing so many things for the first time.

Anneliese said...

I read childrens/young adult fiction all the time. Ignoring the obvious (Harry Potter), I love the Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman, and the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke. I also read John Green books (though those are much closer to my age, with them being late teens, and how could I not being a Nerdfighter?), and I still enjoy reading the Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, I enjoy them more so now than when I was younger. I'm also much more likely to write young adult. I just love a wide range of fiction, in every shape of form, and I can not just write of childrens and young adult fiction.

Skyring said...

A good book is a good book is a good book.

Too right! The best books are ones that you want to read again to catch the stuff you missed the first time around, and kids' books that are any good will have some deeper levels worth exploring.

One reason why Huckleberry Finn and Harry Potter are so good - they might be aimed at young audiences, but they have so much other stuff going on.

Books that are written for kids as though they are idiots are not worth reading, but books that take their young readers seriously and serve them up a meal instead of a sugary snack are pure gold.

Semoy G said...

This is amazing, considering that a friend of mine just gave me an earful yesterday about YA books and their many, many (in his opinion) shortfalls. He's the kind of guy who loves to read what most would term "highbrow" books- and really, taste is taste.

Didn't mean I didn't feel like hitting him over the head with the copy of TFiOS I had in my bag.

Keri Payton said...

There are many shortcomings in YA literature, but the same can be said for any category of fiction. There are those who will criticise a book for simplistic sentence structure, and then drown themselves in adverbs and descriptors. Like you said, taste is taste.

Semoy G said...

True. The books he has such a high opinion of, most of them I can't stand. Especially his favourite author: V.S. Naipaul. I honestly can't stand most of his books.

I think we're kind of even there, as he can't get through TFiOS and has a rather low opinion of John Green's writing skill. XD

I always find it so strange, the differences between people who all love to read, who love literature. But the great thing is that the market is so big that there's room for all of us to read what we like to read.

Keri Payton said...

It infuriates me when someone underestimates a reader's intelligence. Whether that is someone criticising books marketed at younger readers, writing down to children, or even a writer of literary fiction over-explaining every single detail.

Keri Payton said...

As long as we're not at each other's throats, the love of literature is what makes it so easy to converse and connect with each other, even if what we enjoy reading is entirely different.