YA/Children's/Adult Books

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Apr 26 19:28:02 EDT 2003

Hallie wrote

-- and I gather from the end of her post that this is an old argument, and
I may be re-hashing, so people who are bored by arguments about deciding
things for other people, be warned: this is long and it may be old hat to

>>The strange urge to protect children from stuff they've almost certainly
>>already noticed (like "grownups are strange about sex", and "people, even
>>innocent children, do get killed, often in nasty ways" -- kids watch the
>>news, after all), always seems to come in somewhere, but I remember having
>>had to be removed screaming from the cuddly kiddies' film *Bambi*, and I
>>know that it is impossible to say what may upset any given child, on
>>account of each child is a person, not just an interchangeable spare part.
>>I have three, and each of them had a different set of triggers for being
>>upset, at different ages.

>As one of the original people saying 'this is not a children's book'
>*in this go-round* of the discussion of age and books (although from
>prior discussions, I know I'm not alone)

(and that is why I can't just drop this: if I back off merely because I am
told that there are big guns in the background that would be cowardly, by
my code)

>can I please wave a virtual
>hand and say that there seem to be some straw arguments being set up

Not sure what a straw argument is....  *why* is this "not a children's
book"?  You don't say.  Presumably this was covered in detail in the
discussion I now can't get hold of because the archives for that era have
gone belly-up?

I asked a question.  Charlie attempted to answer it, saying that he was
only guessing; I responded that I find it strange to attempt to protect
"children" as a sub-species from things it is entirely futile to attempt to
prevent people under adult age from knowing about.  At least, I would
assume that any child old enough to be selecting books (real books with
small print) to read would be aware that sex is something adults behave in
incomprehensible ways about, and that children in Iraq or in Oklahoma or in
quiet peaceful Sussex villages have had horrible things done to them by mad
adults.  In order to protect a child from potential molestation by strange
men, one must tell the child why one is laying down this set of rules,
surely?  In which case, to attempt to "protect" that same child from
learning about such things through the medium of fiction, a rather safer
way to come into contact with them than in Real Life (TM) I would have
thought, seems to me to be a bit inconsistent.  Better Wicked Uncle Ralph
in *The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant* (not a children's book?  OK for
children because the mermaids are butchered off-stage?  OK because the
murders are only attempted, not actual?) than an unthinking trust of uncles
as a class: after all, statistically, members of the immediate family pose
more danger to young children than strangers in the street do.  Fiction is
one of the ways in which our species instructs the young.  Telling stories
to them about things that *might happen*, nasty things, warns them of
dangers without having to expose them to those dangers, warns them in a
safe way.  If you pretend to a child that everything is nice and safe and
cuddly, that child is going to get some really horrid shocks when it finds
out that this is simply *not true*.

In exactly the same way, I did not have a "baby-gate" on my stairs when my
children were toddlers.  Sooner or later a toddler is *going* to fall
downstairs, and s/he might just as well learn about gravity by experience
on the carpeted stair at home, where immediate cossetting is available and
a safe sofa or bed can be taken refuge in, rather than in a strange house
or a multi-storey carpark with concrete to land on.  Not everywhere has

> and as I'm in the 'they' with their 'strange urge's, feel that
>this has gone a bit away from  my point.  Which started with the fact
>that both Deep Secret and Dark Lord  (certainly the former at any
>rate, I'm only about 90% sure of the latter) were originally
>published by DWJ as adult books.

Er, not so.  Sorry.  DWJ does not *publish* her books; she *writes* them.
The editor who originally got those two published was, I think, a splendid
lady called Jo Fletcher at Gollancz; and she didn't in fact have much
choice about what they would be *marketed* as, since I don't think she was
editing a children's line at the time.  How they are marketed is entirely
outside the author's control, just the way the covers generally are, and
sometimes the words used (see another thread, for the unauthorised nature
of changes to DS in one edition, and see also one edition of *The Ogre
Downstairs*, ditto).  DWJ simply wrote the books she wanted to write about
what interested her at the time, without aiming them at children, adults,
young adults, senile children or any other agegroup in particular --
remember the blurbs saying "fantasy for children aged eight to eighty"?
She has a certain amount of difficulty seeing that DS should be classified
as "not a children's book", when she considers some of her other books that
have been marketed as "children's books".  (I noted some of the things that
happen in other books of hers, marketed as "children's books", in that part
of the post you snipped.)  And as far as I know she did not intend either
of these two books to be "not for children".  She has a high opinion of
children, and reckons they are capable of making up their own minds about
what they read, as she did when young.

> To say that they are not children's
>books isn't to lose sight of the fact that children are not just
>interchangeable spare parts!  Please, give me some credit. :-)

Yes, but when you say "children", which children do you mean?  Who decides
what is and isn't a children's book, or a book not for which children, and
on what basis do they make their decision, and how is their decision to be
implemented anyhow?

It seems to me that this comes down to opinions, doesn't it.  Yours, mine,
the author's, the editors', the marketing departments', the librarians',
the school boards', the parents', maybe even the child's?  Whose should be
the deciding voice?  (Who decides whether Huck Finn is a children's book,

>I quite agree that there's no way to impose a universal set of
>standards which will protect all kids from too much upsetting
>exposure.   It doesn't mean that there is no distinction between
>children's and YA and adults, surely?

I would contend that there should be none made at any level other than
one-to-one, someone who has read the book and knows the child advising that
individual child that s/he thinks the known child will probably not enjoy
that book (or failing to put that book into the child's way, and any parent
who leaves *Sex-Antics of Gor* on the settee in a house with children in it
should be kicked anyhow!).  One child's good read is another child's boring
pap.  Your ten-year-old may love and understand stuff my fifteen-year-old
flounders in; and I have a better chance of judging for my own child, as
you have for yours, what book or books s/he may be put about by.  Me, I
enjoy reading Georgette Heyer and John Buchan; either or both of these may
be regarded as utter, juvenile rubbish by other members of the list.  Who
gets to decide what is a book for children?  (Or a child.  One of mine
loves Buchan, two don't; one loves GH, two don't.  One is into Judy Blume
and Philip Pullman.)  I would contend that this is not a decision that
should be the business of strangers.  I would also contend that if one is
going to have children, one should accept one's responsibilities, get one's
head down and skim-read the book if one doesn't already know it (or else
trust one's child's judgement and accept that one may have got a sensible
bratlet).  One will get most things wrong, of course, that's what parents
are *for*, but if one doesn't even try one will get *everything* wrong.

*The Weirdstone of Brisingamen*, in the 1963 Puffin, is recommended as "for
boys and girls over eight".   I know plenty of people who loved it at age
ten or younger; I read it when I was about ten, hated it, admired it
greatly, and some of it still turns up occasionally in my nightmares.
*But*, and this is the big point, *I am not entitled to tell anyone else
they should or should not read it*.  Not my child, not your child, not
anybody's child.  I may (and in the case of one of my children, though not
the other two, I did) suggest that it is a book I think someone may not
enjoy, or may like better if they read it well before bed-time or when they
are a bit older, but the key word is "suggest".  God forbid that I should
think I am so all-wise I can possibly know how someone else feels, inside
his or her own head, about being trapped in enclosed spaces, or big green
nasties who hunt by smell, or precariously-balanced planks over an
indeterminate drop.  Particularly forbid that I make this judgement for a
whole class of people I have never met.

>Maybe I should request help from Melissa at this stage, who recently
>addressed all this far more lucidly than I'm managing.  (Lost, all
>those Words of Wisdom.  Would somebody please hand me the weed-killer
>so I can express my feelings?)

That would be the archives having vanished?

If Melissa kept the post she made, and could send me a copy off-list so
other people don't get it twice, or something, since this is obviously a
stale argument, would that be a good plan (please Melissa?).  I've put my
feelings on the line and may not find I am convinced by counter-arguments,
but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in what other people have to put
forward.  People and their views on things almost always interest me,
whether I agree with them or not, unless they are just saying "because I
say so" and not giving me reasons.  As a child I always ignored "because I
say so" unless I could see there was an emergency and I had better just do
as I was told and ask questions afterwards -- which may be why, if Mama
didn't want me to read something until I was older, she always told me what
the book was about and why she thought it would bore me.

Sometimes she was even spot-on right!


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