Confessions of a children’s book lover

I’ll just come right out and say it: I love reading children’s books. I do. And not just for work, or for industry research, or for educational purposes. I read them for fun, and I am not embarrassed about it.

That’s not such a revolutionary thing to say around here. Working in children’s publishing, you get spoiled – in this world, everybody knows how good a good children’s book can be. But out there in the “real world,” not everyone is so enlightened. Some people think that children’s books are only for (gasp!) children, and there’s a stigma attached to adults who read children’s books without some kind of excuse. It’s ok if you’re a teacher, or you work in publishing, or you’re studying to be a librarian. Then it’s work-related. But despite what the newspapers are saying, for those adults who have no excuse I think that being a regular reader of children’s literature is still very much looked down upon.

It drives me nuts. Once an aunt of mine asked me what great books I’d read recently. I had just finished Melina Marchetta’s wondrous Jellicoe Road and recommended it to her wholeheartedly, albeit with one caveat: it was a teen book. “You read teen books?” she said with a face. “Why?”Jellicoe Road

“Well, I work in children’s publishing,” I said, but I felt like a traitor. What I was really thinking was, I don’t need an excuse! A good book is a good book no matter what shelf it’s put on. Plenty of other times I’ve recommended YA books to people and not even told them they were YA. Once I was on a public bus reading one of John Green’s books and laughing my head off. The man sitting next to me asked what I was reading. “It’s called Looking for Alaska,” I said, “and it’s hilarious.” That’s all I said, because I was afraid if I told him it was YA, he would disregard my recommendation. But if I, an adult woman, find John Green to be laugh-out-loud funny, I don’t think there’s any reason why a middle-aged man won’t.

Looking for AlaskaWhat it comes down to is that people still think children’s books are just easier. Easier to write, easier to read. In a great article on the anti-YA prejudice, YA author Mary Pearson says she often gets asked if she is planning on writing an adult book next, as if writing YA were just “a stepping stone to the ‘grown-up stuff.'” But anyone who’s ever tried to write a picture book, or read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, can tell you that children’s literature is neither easier to write nor easier to read.

I really think there are many adults out there who would be happier in their reading lives if they’d include some children’s books in the mix. So what I propose is this: while Children’s Book Week is about children, it can also be about adults. And not just adults who write for kids, or work with kids, or read to kids. It can also be about adults who love children’s books, without any excuse. Here are just a few that I recommend to my friends who are not regular readers of children’s books:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak

Feel free to add your own in the comments. And if it’s been a while since you picked something up from the youth section of the library or bookstore, let this be the week. Read it in public! Recommend it to your friends! As CS Lewis said, “A book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.”

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15 Comments

  1. Posted May 11, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Amen to that!

    My recommendations for adults who need to expand their horizons (and for kids and teens, of course):

    Madapple by Christina Meldrum
    When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
    A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
    Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

  2. Keith Kron
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I teach an online children’s literature class (range 0-18 yrs) and invariably the students (adults studying for the ministry) discover two things. One, it’s a lot of work. Two, they are amazed by the range of books from Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and Baseball Saved Us to Warriors Don’t Cry to The House of the Scorpion.

    I end feel like what I do is give people permission to experience the world of children’s literature without apologizing for it. Because it’s an amazing world.

  3. Jen Croup
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that I enjoy reading children and Young Adult books more then adult books sometimes.

  4. Karin
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Every time I return from the library I always have a handful of children’s books, middle-grade, YA, and a few adult ones.

  5. Posted May 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Great post. There are so many fantastic children’s books out there. I would add Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH your list.

  6. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    SO MANY. How to pick?

    Definitely Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. And The Maze Runner. And anything by Tamora Pierce, but especially the Beka Cooper books. And Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, starting with Sabriel. And anything by Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, When My Name Was Keoko). And Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce.

    Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is haunting and made me want to go out and stock up on canned food.

    And so many more…

  7. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Stacy, I’d actually recommend Will of the Empress as the best “If someone is going to read just one Tamora Pierce book” book—I find the journal-style of the Beka Cooper ones a bit clunky, especially in Terrier (it smooths out a lot in Bloodhound, and I do agree that Bloodhound is one of her best).

    I second your mention of Sabriel.

  8. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I second: Life As We Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Awesome!

  9. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Ysabeau Wilce’s Flora Segunda series
    Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
    Marie Rutkowski’s The Cabinet of Wonders

  10. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Miriam, sacrilege! But I haven’t read The Will of the Empress yet. I thought I needed to read the Circle of Magic books first, so it’s good to know it stands alone.

  11. Posted May 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Stacy, it does work as a stand-alone, but since you already know you love Tamora Pierce, why not read the Circle books first?

  12. Hannah
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Ohhh, so many good recommendations! @Keith – yes, that’s exactly it- I think adults feel that they need permission to love children’s books. But if they can get over that hurtle… well, clearly there are lots of excellent books to choose from. And now I’ve got plenty more for my to-read pile thanks to you all!

  13. Posted May 11, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m currently in the middle of The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily, and I *loooove* it.

  14. Posted May 12, 2010 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    and lets not forget picture books! There are many adults who collect them and re read them!

  15. Posted May 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I knew I was a children’s story lover when I went to see The Lion King with my (then) boyfriend (now husband). I had no excuses, and made none.

    Him: “Uh, this is a kid’s movie, right?”
    Me: “You have a problem with that?”

    🙂

    But you are right about the bias – I was just recently defending YA in general, writing it in particular, on a fellow writer’s blog. There is a pure storytelling aspect to kidlit that I love, and I think those who are biased against it should definitely give writing it a try. They might be surprised. 🙂

    Thanks for a wonderful post!


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