• Why Do We Adults Read Books Intended For Kids?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 47 comments
    Sep
    7

    Discussion questions: How often do you read YA, middle-grade, or younger books? What do you get from them that you maybe don’t get from books intended for adults? Do you feel self-conscious reading such books in public, or do you let your flag fly? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

     

    I skipped my near-annual July 4th reading of Johnny Tremain this year. First I was busy finishing a book I brought home from Portugal (which someone had originally purchased in England; some books really rack up the mileage), and then I got the new Kevin Barry novel in the mail and suddenly nothing else mattered.

    WriteByNighter Bridget Farr’s new middle-grade novel, Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home, comes out from Little, Brown & Co. later this week, and although you might argue that I’m biased, I think it looks really good, and that I might like to read it.

    Many adults consistently read books for younger audiences, YA in particular. I don’t. But when I do, I tend to like it. So why don’t I do it more? Do I not take the idea seriously? Am I afraid to read YA or younger books in public, which is where I do at least half of my reading? Do I feel like it makes me miss out on more important (scare quotes) stuff?

    What do adults get out of reading books for younger audiences?

     

    There are many reasons I’ll read Johnny Tremain every couple of years. It was my favorite book as a kid, so there’s the childhood connection. But its impact on me played a large role in my decision, at twenty-eight, to move to Boston (something I talked about in the very first episode of Yak Babies), which has caused a ripple effect throughout my life since. So there’s an adulthood connection too.

    It’s comforting, too. I know the story so well I could lay out a map of every major plot point.

    But I also have such a retention problem that there are always surprises with every read, moments of “Oh yeah, I forgot about this!”

    And it’s just a damn good story, and so very well-written. George Saunders wrote an entire essay about his love for the first sentence of the book and its omitted comma: “On rocky islands gulls woke.”

     

    But I’ve also read YA that isn’t from my childhood. The Harry Potter series comes to mind first and immediately. Why did I read all seven volumes of that? Because it was just so stinking captivating.

    And maybe that’s it. A good story is a good story, and good stories rise to the top, no matter for whom they’re intended. Many of our best storytellers are taking advantage of the explosion of YA and middle-grade lit, and readers are inclined to go wherever the best stories are being told.

    I want to know your take. How much YA or younger reading do you do? What do you get out of it that you may not always find in adult literature? Do you ever feel self-conscious for reading books designed for kids? Let us know below.

     

    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

     

     

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    Raymundo

    I seldom read kids or YA books although I have no problem with it. I agree that a good book is a good book regardless of the target readership. I think the best YA books have levels that appeal to adults. That’s why “Alice in Wonderland” is often quoted. Also, “The Hobbit.” The Harry Potter books are an obvious example. I read them when my sons were young and into them. It may be that YA books tend to be less complex than adult books and so have an appeal to adults who prefer less complicated entertainment (nothing wrong with… Read more »

    Raymundo

    Separately. They tended to get through them faster than I did. Of course, we all saw the movies together. It was interesting to discuss the books with them when they reached adulthood and find they have the same general opinion about them as me. Basically, we all loved the four, felt like five and six rambled too much, and were thoroughly disappointed in the final “fight” between Harry and Voldemort (although I did like the epilogue where Harry was sending his son to Hogwarts).

    Raymundo

    I think she deliberately went against expectations and dispensed with the HP/V confrontation in basically a paragraph. Sounds like a subject for Yak Babies: “Bad decisions by good writers.”

    Susan

    Hi David, I recently shared with my sisters a quote from Madeleine L’Engle, and I am paraphrasing it here, but she said that one nice thing about growing older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you have been. I am still seven, ten, twelve… Back then is when many threads began, firmly anchored to the tapestry my life would become Much of what I was taught as a child (and learned on my own) by teachers, siblings, parents, priests and nuns, society, remains with me today. These things I still believe. I have to pick up those… Read more »

    david lemke

    , firmly anchored to the tapestry my life would become. Great line. When my writing group read the first drafts of “Bad Fireplace” a comment I received was that mr protagonist didn’t sound like a kid. I did research and listened to videos of seven to eleven year olds talking. While some were quite immature, others were surprisingly mature. The writing group was wrong. For the most part, I left my dialogue as it was, though I shortend lot of sentences, both within dialogue and without.

    Susan

    I am having all sorts of human/digital interface problems lately. I could be a character in a modern day Charlie Chaplin movie I think sometimes. ANyhow. I wrote this two mintues ago and it disappeared, but what I’d said was that the nine year old I’ve known best in my adulthood had an average, somewhat simple vocabulary but with it expressed some very wise things, beyond his years.

    david lemke

    I had that happen once or twice a while back. I thought it was my computer acting up.

    Susan

    Join the discussion…It is so kind of you to blame the website rather than web inside my brain.

    KevinW

    …and then Ms. Marital Court Judge sends Mr. Protagonist to see Mr, Anger Management Facilitator and then Mr. Process Server comes to visit…

    Susan

    Join the discussion…One way I’m dealing with the ‘word choice’ thing is that I keep most of the kid language just very basic. There’s that whole thing about writing news “at a fifth grade level” and I feel like I know what that means. It sorta means keep it simple and just talk English. But I also like to use “big” good words, and so I have my main kid being a word nerd. She keeps a journal of new words, so her parents like to use big words to challenge her and then she looks them up and writes… Read more »

    Susan

    Oh, yes I am doing that–even etymologies in some cases.

    david lemke

    I also read all the Harry Potters and had a hard time putting them down for the night. I’m wondering if there is discrepancy with how a YA or Midgrade is classified. There’s difference between a mid-grade written by a teen and one written by a 50-60 year old author despite the fact they both have 9 year old or eighteen year old protagonists. Rowling was 32 when Philosopher’s Stone came out and she had a hard life. Despite the fact Harry was eleven, he sometimes acted like an adult and a wise one at that. There was also a… Read more »

    KevinW

    It’s like Bullwinkle. Funny kid stuff, hilarious adult stuff. Who could forget Boris Badenov, the Kerwood Derby and Bullwinkle’s alma mater, Wassamatta U.?

    Brigitte

    Hmm..you ask about the young adult books I have read and I am afraid to admit, there was more than one book I really enjoyed. When my son was younger, we read together every night. I loved reading The Diary of a Whimpie Kid series. We laughed alot and it was easy reading for both of us. For some reason, many adult books mention crime or are just too long for me to stay focused on. And I lose interest in the topic sometimes, which is not very helpful. In addition, SMILE was a great book about a woman’s issues… Read more »

    KevinW

    Interesting idea…I haven’t really thought of it, but I don’t usually read younger stuff. But I have reread some childhood favorites as an adult. “A Wrinkle in Time” was probably my favorite book as a kid as well as being one of the first science fiction stories I ever read (and no, I didn’t see either of the movies BTW), and I was surprised that it held up for me as an adult (though now it seems a sort of much darker “Wizard of Oz In Space”. Of course I was delighted to discovet the sequels. Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of… Read more »

    Susan

    For Jupiter Jones did you try Alibris or Abe used books? Haven’t ordered from them myself but it seems they have a lot of hard to find old books.

    david lemke

    Just so you know, The Philosopher’ Stone was the least well written of the series. Though it was still a good read. Rowling grew over time as an author. I’ve read all her adult mystery stuff and like them very much.

    david lemke

    I liked Silkworm better then Casual Vacancy, but liked them both. I need to back up and read The Cuckoo’s calling.

    KevinW

    I was always a bit timidly leary about the HP world…I mean I had enough trouble with the IBM world…I figure I’ll be enchanted and thus committed to digesting all the books and movies…a daunting prospect….

    Susan

    PS, David and David, I have on my booklist this one book, The Westing Game, set in Milwaukee, children’s book with a precocious 13 year old ‘detective’ but also very adult, it seems, written by Ellen Raskin of Milwaukee back in 1974, won the Newberry Award and got a very interesting writeup in the NYT, here: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-westing-game-a-tribute-to-labor-that-became-a-dark-comedy-of-american-capitalism

    SusanH

    I will let you know when I’ve got my hands on in and have started. Been on my list a long time. I like the idea of supporting the locals, also like the idea of a dark comedy about capitalism

    Susan

    got it from the library and read the first page. already into it.

    Bobbie

    I read kids books. Every one of the original Harry Potter books, the Wimpy Kid Diary, several Arthur books, etc. They take me back to when I was hiding out in the library reading every book I could get my hands on in the children’s section. They are fun, usually have a moral and you can relate to the main characters and what they do. Ones like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Little Men. (Yeah, I’ll admit to being old with those choices. As to YA books, some are good, some aren’t. I couldn’t get into the Hunger… Read more »

    Hans De Leo

    An interesting question. I do find myself re-reading some of the things I read before I became an adult. I also find myself watching old Star Trek TOS episodes. The re-mastered version steps it up a little in overall cinematic quality. Honestly, my reading dropped off after being married and starting a family. Recently I’ve re-discovered reading, initially because I had to read other author’s manuscripts and give them critiques. Then I decided I needed a more varied diet of reading material, so I started sampling other genres, including YA. I still relate to the ‘coming of age’ thing. And… Read more »

    snowglobe

    Recently, the TV show Jeopardy had a record-breaking winner, James Holzhauer, who, when asked how he acquired such an eclectic body of knowledge, answered, “I read books in the children’s section of my library.” Children’s books break down information, making it easy to understand & remember. As for me, I still read London’s The King of Mazy May to remind me I too can be the hero of my environment:)

    snowglobe

    Thanks! I’ve read Johnny Tremain 3X. His injury kept me awake at night as a child.

    snowglobe

    yeah…that’s probably why;) That and you’re an awesome writer & communicator!

    Janet Schwartz

    Young adult literature is always an interesting topic to discuss. I read about 50/50. Young adult literature and what I call smut (romance novels). Do I read other types of books? Yes. However, very few books that I read are non-fiction or something besides the above. Why? Because fiction makes me feel way better. Young adult literature allows me to do a lot. When I first started reading it, I had returned to school to become an educator for grades 4-9 in language arts and mathematics. So, the reading of young adult literature began in my classes about teaching language… Read more »




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