What makes a book a children’s book?
Once upon a time, everyone knew what a children’s book was. Adults only read them if they had kids, and only until the kids were reading on their own.
Then came the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling converted millions of adults into readers of books for kids. The success of that series also caused publishers to rethink the definition of children’s fiction, directing more books with more pages, more complex plots, and darker content into the hands of younger readers.
The result has been an fascinating blurring of the lines.
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” is the opening line of The Graveyard Book, in which most of an entire family is slaughtered in the first chapter. For this, Neil Gaiman (who has written everything from picture books to graphic novels to superb adult fiction) was awarded the Newbery Medal for “distinguished contribution to American literature for children” in 2009. Despite the initial gore, it is an amazingly excellent book. Even for kids.
Massive sales of the Twilight series depended on adult readers. Children’s author Suzanne Collins’ superb Hunger Games trilogy, set in a post apocalyptic future, centers around a television reality show in which teenage contestants fight to the death. Though it extremely popular with middle and high school students, I’m pretty certain that most readers have been adults. Her series has taken firm root on the New York Times Best Sellers list, selling 9,200,000 books last year alone. (The film, based on the first book, has dominated the box offices since its release, taking in over $300,000,000 domestically.)
The Book Thief was marketed as adult fiction in author Markus Zusak’s native Australia. Despite the subject matter (Nazi Germany) and the narrator (death), it has spent 238 well-deserved weeks high up on the NYT Best Sellers list under children’s paperback books. Still in hardcover, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with similar themes, has pretty much lived on the Times’ children’s chapter book list since its release.
What great kids’ books have you read lately (even if it’s Green Eggs and Ham)?
Winston Groom, author of Shiloh, 1862, Wednesday, April 11th at 7pm, Carter Library, free.
Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative, Wednesday, April 11 at 7:15pm, Decatur Library Auditorium and hosted by Georgia Center for the Book, free.
Michelle Nelson Smith, author of Cats, Cats! and Dogs, Dogs!, Thursday, April 12th at 7pm, Little Shop of Stories, free.
Mac Barnett, perhaps the greatest picture book author of this century (which, granted, is still fairly young), including the just released Chloe and the Lion, Friday, April 13th at 7pm, Little Shop of Stories, free.
Ann B. Ross, author of Miss Julia to the Rescue, Monday, April 16th at 7pm, Eagle Eye Bookshop, free.
Eric Jerome Dickey, author of An Accidental Affair, Tuesday, April 17th at 7pm, Barnes & Noble in Buckhead, free.
Haley Kilpatrick, author of The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School — Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More, Wednesday, April 18th at 7pm, Decatur High School Performing Center, for moms and their girls, see Little Shop of Stories for information.
Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang, Wednesday, April 18th at 7:15pm, Decatur Library Auditorium and hosted by Georgia Center for the Book, free.