Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting to the heart of kidlit



Kidlit is hot. We all know this. Stores rearrange displays to showcase best-selling children's books. Authors of adult books have added YA and middle grade to their oeuvre, while others hope to debut in the market.

Most interesting to me is that adults, as well as children, are reading kidlit for pleasure. What is it about youth that stimulates our imagination long after we grow up? Is there some part of us that never grows up? Most adults say they shudder at the thought of returning to high school days, and yet we crave stories delving into the uncertainty and pain of those years.

Today's children and teens have never known a world that didn't include the Internet, cell phones and texting, and the reality of cloning and genetic engineering. It's an astounding thing to consider.

But there is something at the core of a successful children's book that can appeal to any age. That is wonder--the sense of freshness that comes with experiencing something new, and when you've only been here a few years, there is much that fits this description. I think the best stories honestly portray suffering and fear but also show the excitement and adventure provided by life on this planet (or an alternate world of equally fascinating possibilities).

What do you think makes literature for children enchant and resonate?

13 comments:

MeganRebekah said...

I think I like the unabashed simplicity of YA and MG. Not to say that they don't deal with difficult subjects, but children's books are so much more straightforward.
When I read (or watch a movie or TV) it's an escape for me. I love to get lost in a plot or characters. I've never been a fan of intense literary books because even if they are amazing, they often just get too deep and try so hard to be smart that it makes my head hurt. I want an easy escape, not a mind-workout when I read.

Donna said...

Reading kidlit takes me to a part of myself that is fresh, new, and yearning for adventure without the pesky worries of an adult.

Laura Canon said...

When I read adult fiction I generally read a lot of classics and when I read contemporary books its not anything super recent. A lot of adult literary books are kind of dreary or they "try too hard." YA and MG are escapes for me. They serve the function for me that mysteries do for others. I'm not saying this dismissively, however. I've read YA that I've enjoyed more and will love longer than many a highly recommended work of lit fiction.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Megan: Ooooo yeah, I don't want any head hurting or mental gymnastics when reading a book. Escape is what I seek in books and movies.

Donna: Indeed, a good book can evaporate our worries while taking us somewhere we've never been and opening our eyes to things we've never experienced.

Laura: I'm hearing an emotional connection with the YA you read, and I agree that such an impact lasts longer than a cerebral one. That is not to say I don't enjoy thinking about things just as we are doing here but I don't want a novel to be so clever that the adventure is lost.

Robyn said...

I always read MG. Picture books too, because I write them also. And YA. No adult books for moi! I use to but since I write the kidlit, I read it too. Great post Tricia! :)

Stephanie, PQW said...

I read just about everything, even the backs of cereal boxes. I try to balance between grown-up books and YA & MG. Sometimes the kidlit is so much better.

Davin Malasarn said...

I think there's an open mindedness that I experience when reading children's literature. I'm willing to accept more in the store, to learn more. I feel like writer's of children's literature are trying to teach (or maybe show is a better word) rather than trying to show off. There's an innocence associated with it.

Sybel said...

I saw a documentary about Eric Carle years ago. He said people scoff at children's books, but he goes back to the text again and again, looking for exactly the right word to reach his young audience.

I just called up his blog. Not surprisingly, wow!

http://www.ericcarleblog.blogspot.com/

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks for so many great comments.
Robyn: And you won't get an argument from moi...
Stephanie: Now, I picture you reading cereal boxes--critiquing them, no doubt. :-)
Davin: Welcome, so nice to have you visit. I love your lab. That's an interesting line--show rather than trying to show off. I think we sense when a writer diverts from the story to be clever with words. It's such a fine balance, because I love freshly-wrought description, but I don't want to lose the story.
Sybel: I love Eric Carle and the colorful sense of wonder he brings to his stories. I haven't checked his blog but will now. Thanks for the headsup!

MG Higgins said...

For me, it's the every-word-should-count quality of YA and MG writing that makes it more appealing than adult lit. I recently read THE SPECTACULAR NOW, and while it's subject matter is mature and could cross over to adult lit, not a single word is wasted--no extraneous description, writing that tries too hard, etc. And that is so appealing.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

MG: Love what you say about making every word count. Definitely one of the tools to keep handy in revision. I haven't read The Spectacular Now but shall put it on my list. Thanks.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I've always been a kid at hearty. I still set out cookies for Santa, I still get excited at the rides at Disney (even though I've rode them 1,000 times or more--seriously--not exagerating). So although I don't read much MG, the YA stuff keeps me in that drama excitement filled world where most of the time, I can find a bit of magic or paranormal elements that my real life lacks.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Karen: A bit of magic. I like that, and I think it's something we all long for in one way or another.