“The Kids’ Books Are All Right”

“The Kids’ Books Are All Right” (NYT 8.8.2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/books/review/Paul-t.html
found me chuckling to myself, as if the cat was finally out of the bag—disclosing the fact that the best of childrens’ and YA (Young Adult) literature is quite simply, great literature.  And to correct the erroneous notion that it was the Harry Potter books that started this phenomen—let me set the record straight. The Harry Potter phenomena did indeed lure many adult readers into the world of childrens’ literature but before Harry, adults were already reading, perhaps secretly, the best of that genre. To name a few, Bridge To Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, The Real Thief, Abel’s Island, Dominic, Sun and Spoon, All Alone in the Universe, Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Chocolate War, Because of Winn-Dixie, Crazy Horse Electric Game, Crazy Lady and the list goes on and on.

I have been reading and teaching children’s/adolescent (YA) and adult literature for over 20 years and I am continually struck by how superlative the best of childrens’ and YA literature is. These are books with compelling plots, with characters you care about—offering no easy or simplistic answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

I sit on many an airplane reading childrens’ literature, and I am continually asked, “WHY are you reading a kid’s book?”  I love the opportunity to launch into one of my favorite subjects: “What is the difference between a great book for children and young adults and a great book for adults?” I say very little. The question that great literature asks—“how do I live my life and on what grounds do I accept life as I know it?”—was first asked by Plato, and Alice and Gulliver and continues to be asked. To be sure, the perspective and the point of view changes but the question remain the same.

I never met a reader who came to a book too late. They just bring more to the experience. As E.M.Forster said:  “I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”

For those of you who do not yet read books written for children, you are in for a treat. And for those of you who do read books written for children …well, you already know the riches they offer.


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