YA/Children's/Adult Books

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Sun Apr 27 09:20:56 EDT 2003


>-- 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

I've realised from your reply that I may well have given the 
impression that I was sort of sighing and saying (to myself) 
something along the lines of 'we long-timers have already hashed this 
to death and are bored to tears with it'.  I wasn't at all, and I 
sincerely apologise for giving that impression if I did.  I hate it 
when people behave like that to new-comers to anything.

>>>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)

"Big guns'?  And backing off?  Again, the opposite of anything I 
meant  to imply.  I merely felt that you were being a bit dismissive 
of people who seemed to hold differing opinions from yours about even 
the possibility that some of DWJ's books might be suitable for 
different age groups.  Suddenly finding myself apparently included in 
this group of narrow-minded, reality-denying, stupid people, I was 
defensively thinking 'well, X said this too, and nobody would 
consider *him* narrow-minded, and all these others said something 
similar a while ago, and *nobody* would consider them stupid!

>>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 did explain it with regard to Dark Lord, when Jenwa asked me, this 
week.  Somebody else said it recently about Deep Secret, and I 
agreed.   In more detail about Deep Secret, yes, we discussed this 
when the subject of the horrible butchered YA copy of Deep Secret 
came 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 general, I agree with you a hundred percent.  But there is a 
difference IMO, between attempting to protect a child from knowing 
that there is anything horrible happening in the world, and between 
saying that there would ideally be a difference in the way you 
present knowledge of those horrible things to children based on their 
age.  Uncle Ralph in The Lives of Christopher Chant is a very good 
example, I think.  That *is* a children's book, if one accepts that 
there is such a thing, and the butchering of the mermaids is not 
shown in any graphic detail.  Yes, the horrors of 'real life' are 
there, but also, yes, they are presented in a  way which is toned 
down compared to the butchery of the kids in Deep Secret.

>  > 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.

Point taken.

>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).

Well, you obviously know a lot more about this than I do.  I would 
have assumed that authors had more control over the age group when 
books were originally published than that.  Possibly I've been misled 
partly by some of her many quotes about writing books for children.

>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.)

I snipped it merely because I'd already explained elsewhere at least 
some of the reasons I saw a lot of difference between the upsetting 
things that happen in a lot of those books and the way similar things 
are handled in books which are classified (by me and others - 
including publishers) as for older readers.

>  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.

Again, you seem to be ignoring the fact that I have distinguished 
several times (in this set of discussions) between saying these books 
are 'not for children' and saying that they are 'not children's 
books'.   I have said that I read Deep Secret aloud to a child, and 
have also said that there is nothing to stop children picking books 
from an age category older than theirs.

>>  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?

In the 'real world', the decision seems to be made by publishers. 
They tell the book shops, who shelve the books in age-grouped 
categories.  At least this is what seems to be the case, combining 
your statement that the author has no say, with what I heard in 

>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.

Our 'ideal' worlds might or might not be very different (obviously I 
agree completely about parental responsibility, and luckily *enjoy* 
the reading necessary), but I started off by talking about the 
situation as it exists now.  Which is that books are published and 
marketed and sitting on shelves in age-categoried groups.   Since 
this is the reality, I think  the distinctions already in place by 
the publishers should be reasonably consistent.  And I still hold 
that putting Dark Lord alongside Wild Robert and Howl makes very 
little sense, and could be quite misleading.   I think, if you have a 
YA shelf right beside the children's one, it's careless to have ALL 
the DWJ in children's.
>*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.

I really don't think this is the place to get into a big discussion 
about the rights or responsibilities one has to one's own child.   I 
would be happier though if you would acknowledge that I have *never* 
said I intend to deny anyone the right to read any book.

>>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?

No, that was all my e-mails disappearing in a crash.  I said in 
another post that I couldn't send Christian's original post on the 
changes made to Deep Secret, because of that crash, and was bemoaning 
again the loss of all my saved DWJ list messages.  Book 
recommendations and discussions on books I hadn't yet read, and just 
lots of other messages I kept because they were interesting.

I shouldn't have attempted to drag Melissa into it though, and I 
apologise for that too.


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