YA/Children's/Adult Books

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Mon Apr 28 12:36:56 EDT 2003


I love 'furiously agreeing' - what a wonderful expression!  My mother 
and a friend used to call this their 'Yeahbut' discussions.  :-)

>>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.
>Well, maybe I was.  I can see it might have looked that way.  Actually I
>meant the specific instance of the book *Deep Secret*, which was the one I
>was talking about, not the possibility that each of DWJ's books is
>different from each of the others.  And I *still* don't see why it isn't a
>children's book if some of the others are!

I've tried to reconstruct Melissa's original list from a Uni. course 
on Children's (or possibly YA or some combination of the two) lit. 
and contributions from SallyO on the different ways kids look at 
things from the way adults do, and Dorian, with respect to Card's 
_Ender's Game_, and Christian, and probably lots of others I've 
forgotten, who have now been mortally offended, but I gave up in 
despair anyway.   Certainly one of the aspects was the age of the 
protagonists - again, it's not chiselled in stone - even that a book 
*about* children will be for children, but it's a big factor. 
We/they definitely agreed that the fact that some kids could read and 
enjoy a book didn't make it a children's book, and the related idea 
that an adult book wasn't necessarily inappropriate for any/all 

Specifically with respect to Deep Secret, I think the age of Maree 
and Rupert, combined with the far more graphic violence than is in 
the children's books, and probably much  less importantly (and this 
is only my personal take on it) more adult sexuality than is found in 
any of the children's/YA books, combine to make me feel it's probably 
better on the adult shelves and then all the lucky kids whose 
parents/friends/relatives/fairy godparents, whatever have read it can 
present it to them if they think it'll be fine for them.  I don't 
have any problem with it being shelved in YA, but would have a 
preference for adult.  After all, if we don't keep *some* good stuff 
on the adult fantasy shelves, what are all the teens going to find 
when they want to grow out of YA?  :-)

I understand that you don't agree about the violence, and am merely 
giving you my take on it.  We don't aim for complete, unadulterated 
agreement on the list, luckily!

>>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've looked, now, at what Christian says were the changes, and frankly my
>dears, those changes seem to me to be piffling fiddling with frills.  Darn
>instead of damn, turds instead of testicles: big deal!  It doesn't look as
>if they have touched any of the things that are of real importance or
>impact, from that (but I'd need to read the bowdlerized edition before I
>can be certain).

Well, absolutely!  But this was the feeling the list on the changes: 
that it was pointless to change such minor things - offensive to 
censor the book in the first place, and still not doing anything to 
make the book more appropriate for younger readers.  What I said at 
the time was pretty much what I've said to you:  If I *were* going to 
change DS to make it a YA book (which I wouldn't!), I'd leave the 
language alone and tone down the violence of the description of the 
kids being murdered.

>[massive snip of my comments, and replies in which we are pretty-much in
>agreement, I think]
>>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.
>There I would certainly agree.  Even so, I think children are not as
>squeamish about graphic horrors as we who are no longer children might like
>to imagine; generations grew up on Grimm and such, unexpurgated, and seem
>to have grown up to be really quite well-balanced in spite of a literary
>diet of eg people being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until it
>kills them....  Yetch!

Well, I'd have to respectfully suggest that the idea that children 
are not as squeamish .... etc, is a bit of an over-generalisation. 
You may have found it true for you and your kids and for their 
friends, but I haven't found the same.  (And FWIW I am quite sure 
that my present lack of balance is due to Grimm & Andersen!  :-)  I 
can still vividly remember the horror of being with a friend (or 
rather the child of friends of my parents') who would beg to hear the 
stories I detested  - like The Little Match Girl and the original 
Little Mermaid .  Yetch indeed!)

>When DS appeared in 1997, its author cheerfully gave a copy to be read by
>her god-child who had just turned nine.  So presumably DWJ herself didn't
>think it was "not a children's book".  (I had to check this as fact before
>I could state it.)

Well, that's fine, as she knew the child in question.  But it doesn't 
necessarily mean that it's a good idea to shelve this as recommended 
for age 9 to 12s.  And furthermore, were DWJ herself to say 'in my 
opinion this is suitable for all 9 year olds', I would quite 
cheerfully argue with her!  Subversiveness has to apply to own's own 
authority as well, after all.  :-)

>It may also be relevant to remark here that *The Merlin Conspiracy* is
>dedicated to someone whose fourteenth birthday is next month.

Um, why?  Because it is a children's book and 14 is an older age 
group?  I'd be delighted if she dedicated it to me, even though I'm 
oooold.  Not going happen of course....

>>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
>Yup.  That is about right, as far as I have ever been able to see.  That I
>think it sucks doesn't stop it from being the fact.
>>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.
>There I agree with you.  OTOH, that carelessness is nothing to do with what
>the *publishers* decided, because it doesn't go along with their categories
>either...  So in Real Life the system falls over anyway.

Well, I think it does, actually  (go along with their categories). 
The point is that Dark Lord was, AFAIK, published as an adult book. 
You've said that was because there was no children's imprint 
available at Gollancz, right?  Now, three years later (sorry, three 
years later than the paperback edition anyway), the book is 
recommended by Gollancz as for 9 to 12 year olds.  Whose carelessness 
do you think it is, if not the publishers?

  What worries me is that the real deciding factor about this and the 
DS bowdlerized YA edition may be entirely mercenary, and almost 
anything that is fantasy, especially anything by an author who is 
recognised as mainly a children's author, will go automatically 
beside Harry flippin' Potter, with no regard for anything other than 

>My position probably could be summed up as "I think censorship is
>frequently misguided, I don't trust the judgement of the censors, I don't
>think categories are all that much better, I don't trust the judgement of
>the categorisers, and anyway as far as I can see it doesn't work, either in
>general or in particular cases -- and I can't see why it would, really."

I certainly agree with you about the censorship.  I wouldn't go with 
you so far as to deny the usefulness of all categories - what would 
the world be like without big, cozy children's sections in bookshops? 
I cry - but agree they don't often work all that well.  I wish the 
They responsible would  try to be more sensible, but happily enough 
accept the need for some kind of distinction between books based on 
age categories.

One final Yeahbut:  Your system (at least as I understand it) of 
never denying any child any book, or seeing it in terms of having no 
right to deny any child any book, obviously works fine for you, and 
I've no desire to argue with you about it.   But you have rather 
categorically stated that no one has the right to deny any child any 
book, which I think is heading too far in the direction of saying 
that your beliefs should hold for all families and all situations. 
You've given examples in which your behaviour and approach were 
extremely sensible, but there may be other situations for which an 
equally sensible parent may feel it is a responsibility to withhold 
or deny a particular book to a particular child.

Oh, and I am not at all defensive about this, you understand, but not 
*all* baby stair falls are on carpeted stairs: we had a baby-gate 
when living in a house with extremely high ceilings and a long 
stair-case down to Saltillo tile - beautiful to look at, but surely 
the most human-unfriendly domestic surface known to man!  :-)


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