The day I realized that my stories are best suited as middle reader fiction was perhaps the only true epiphany I’ve ever had. I was working on short stories, all of which naturally emerged as quirky tales that soon grew to novella length, populated with creatures and other characters who were characters in both senses of the word. Kids popped up often too. Then one day I read an interview with a kid lit author in Writer’s Digest, whose name I’ve since forgotten, and the proverbial light bulb went on. They’re not short stories. They’re kid’s books.
Then I realized that I hadn’t read a kid’s book in decades. Easily fixed, in the years since I’ve read a huge swathe of kid’s literature. I discovered a world of amazing books, often with challenging subjects all of which are simply told and clearly written. While I have my gripes with Harry Potter, there’s no denying that he has indeed done much to make this a grand time to be scribbling for kids. The Los Angeles Times recently went so far as to proclaim our day a golden age of young adult fiction. The numbers back up this assertion. While adult hardcover sales dropped 17.8% during the first half of last year, kid’s hardcovers are up 30.7% in an otherwise stagnant economy.
Kid’s books quite obviously appeal to a lot more than just kids. Why?
There’s no pretension. The literati claim that it’s lowbrow to read mystery, nerdy to read science fiction, and downright inexcusable to be caught reading romance, but they no longer offer any such restrictions on kid’s books. This is one of the appealing things about writing kid’s fiction, and probably why so many adults enjoy reading it. There’s no literary scene where the beauty of the words alone is expected to carry the novel. No one blames the readers for failing to be smart enough to recognize “good” books. The pages turn quickly; sense of accomplishment builds.
Kid’s fiction needs to have strong characters, gripping plots, and exotic settings. The same elements we find in the classics. If Dickens were to publish Great Expectations today with dear Pip, we know what shelf it would end up on. This is also why the classics and kid lit make great movie fodder. And there’s no need to break books down by genre. Kid’s books are kid’s books. They can all sit quite happily next to each other on the same shelf. Twilight, which has sold more than 85 million copies, doesn’t need to figure out if it’s horror or romance. It can be both.
Perhaps this is even the answer to obesity in America. If kid’s books have become fashionable for grownups, how about we make the kid’s menu next in line. Mac and cheese anyone?