It’s Literally Wednesday

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)?

This Week

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.

12 thoughts on “It’s Literally Wednesday”

  1. Just finished the Harry Potter series last night (I waited until my older son was old enough to read them so I could follow right behind him and it would be fresh in my mind for us to discuss). Enjoyed them immensely.

    I think we are seeing the same adult/children blurring in movies, too. Mrs. Token and I look forward to new Pixar movies as much as our children do. Movies like Finding Nemo, Up, How to Train Your Dragon etc. are brilliantly geared towards all ages, and the whole family loves them.

    Media that speaks to both children and adults is an immensely positive thing. I feel so much closer to my children when we consume and enjoy the same media, and we can discuss it with shared enthusiasm.

  2. Dave, thanks for this. I’ve enjoyed many of the books you listed, and converted some doubting adults to the reading wagon as well. Harry Potter and Hunger Games all have deep themes that can be taken to the level of the reader, enjoyable for the adult and mind expanding for the younger set. I think these books help push the young reader to more understanding and consideration of what they are reading- and even better, discussing with their adult family members.

    For those that are still doubters, my book group was NOT enthused about my proposal of the Hunger Games last year, but it ended up being our favorite- and most heated discussion- of the year. Now to convince them that my Book Thief suggestion from a few years ago merits another look!

  3. As comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “Every book is a children’s book if the kid can READ!”

  4. As a fifth grade teacher, I spend a good bit of time reading children’s literature, so I guess I’m not very objective. But it is, without a doubt, my favorite genre. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Book Thief are all standouts for me as well. The Graveyard Book seems to be too scary for most of my students.

    From a teacher standpoint, I love books that get kids to read. Harry was the first series I remember really sparking kids, even kids who hadn’t loved to read before that series. Now I see The Lightning Thief books doing that for my students. They are eagerly awaiting the next Demi-Gods installment.

    Our favorites that we’ve read together this year have been The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder), The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), A Tale Dark and Grimm (Adam Gidwitz), and Frindle (Andrew Clements). I love Andrew Clements’ novels because they always have kids being creative and confounding the grown-ups around them.

    The last YA book that I read just for me was The Scorpio Races, and I really enjoyed it.

  5. Sandra Boynton’s board books always cracked me up. When you have to read the same book a zillion times to a toddler, it’s nice if it’s got some humor the adults can enjoy.

    1. LOVE Sandra Boynton’s books! We have a lot of them and they’re all great.

      I, personally, really enjoyed the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, especially the first one. Laughed out several times.

      1. I’ll have to pick up one of Wimpy Kid books all over our house. Maybe I’m showing gender bias since I’ve never actually read one of them.

        While we’re discussing children’s authors who appeal to adults too……..Mo Willems is a genius for preK-1 level easy reading material. There is nothing more deadly than most easy readers, those books that precede the Dr. Seuss level which actually requires a little bit of fluency and reading stamina. Mo Willems manages to put easy-to-decode words, clever art work, brilliant characters, and adult-level irony all in one easy reading picture book. “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” is a particular favorite. That pigeon’s eye haunts me.

        The George and Martha series is pretty darn good too.

        Gee, I miss having bitty ones. I never get a chance to read George and Bartholomew anymore (On Your Potty!, Be Gentle!, In a Minute!)……..

        1. Love Mo! “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late” isn’t quite as good as “Drive the Bus,” but I still really like them both. Oh, and so does my son.

          Another one that’s a favorite of mine is “It’s a Book” by Lane Smtih. Very entertaining but I do change the very last word on the last page to “Donkey” when I’m reading it to my son. 🙂

          I don’t know the George and Martha series but will investigate. Thanks!

  6. I’d also include the Golden Compass trilogy as one that is hard to classify as either children or adult literature. The themes running throughout that series are arguably tougher for children to wrap their heads around than the Hunger Games, but it’s also written in a very accessible manner, and was clearly marketed to children.

  7. I’m a huge fan of Susan Cooper’s books. The Dark is Rising Sequence is always an enjoyable read–Arthurian legends, good vs evil, wonderful imagery. I shamefully didn’t even discover these until I was an adult. She has another one called “King of Shadows” about a boy transported back to Shakespearean England–very enjoyable too. I’ve loved all her books that I’ve read, and read them all as an adult!

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