YA/Children's/Adult Books

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Mon Apr 28 15:41:46 EDT 2003

On Sun, 27 Apr 2003 00:28:02 +0100, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>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

It's not so much a list as a series of discussions on the subject of
children's literature.  (Hmmm.  I suppose there was a list in there...wonder
where it went. I have about 2500 messages in my box, so probably somewhere
in there.)  The gist of it was what Anna has expressed so magnificently in
her own posts--the difference between "children's literature" and "books
that children can/should read."

First (and it occurs to me that we may be due for another round of
introductions) let me say that my perspective on this is from a critical
and/or scholarly sense, and not a marketing one.  When people study
children's or YA lit, they are referring to a kind of literature that
ironically has little to do with the age of the the reader.  In other words,
calling a book "young adult" is more like calling a book a "fantasy" or a
"Western."  It is absolutely NOT proscriptive, except where insecure people
think they need to bolster their self-esteem by not reading "kiddie books."
Such people deserve their fate.

There are certain characteristics usually associated (again in scholarly
circles) with a young adult book.  The main one is erroneously assumed to be
"age of protagonist."  This is true, but not a given; _To Kill a
Mockingbird_ is not a children's book, and neither is _Ender's Game_ (the
subject of our first discussion) regardless of how old the
narrator/protagonist is.  Notice that I haven't said anything about whether
or not children could read such books; that's irrelevant to this

Having talked with others who actually do study this stuff (one of whom is
the English department chair at BYU, and I strenuously disagree with a lot
of his assumptions, but he is at least current on the literature) this is a
partial list of those characteristics, NOT in any particular order of

1. Singularity of plot line
2. Age of protagonist
3. Well-defined themes
4. Importance of character development, particularly growing up or learning
to change
5. Relative simplicity of prose style--NOT overly simplistic
6. Age-appropriate content (not really very important, given that nobody
agrees on what "appropriate" for an age means; but many mainstream YA books
feature teenagers in typical (or atypical) home and school situations)

The real point is that in calling something a young adult book, or a
children's book, you're really not commenting on the *appropriateness* of
the book for any one age group.  Particularly since most of us are well out
of our teens and yet we're all still devoted to DWJ.

Now, Minnow's point (as I understand it, and forgive me if I over-summarize
your meaning out of existence) is more about whether or not children should
be protected from some blanket category of literature, especially since each
child is at a different stage of understanding.  I'm a homeschooling mom and
I'm very aware of the truth of this.  It *is* a one-on-one process.  But I
agree with Anna (who is clearly a very bright person) that not every child
has access to mentors who can guide them appropriately, and that changes how
we should approach literature for young people.  I've been working on a
basic list of fantasy titles for young readers because I have personally had
three kids come to me in the space of as many months, asking for books.
Their parents have no clue.  (One parent wouldn't let her son read _The
Black Cauldron_ because of the evil witches and the cauldron--witchcraft,
evil, unclean!  But she was just fine with her kid reading ANYTHING by Orson
Scott Card because, you know, he's a Mormon, they're Mormons, he must be
safe, right? <shudder>)  The local librarians are useless when it comes to
young adult titles of any kind, especially fantasy.  So I think it's better
that I and the members of this list come up with a helpful resource than
that they be left to founder on the rocks.  Would I prefer to get to know
them all personally?  Of course!  But realistically, this is the only way I
can help all of them.

Here's another example of something I'm doing.  My sister-in-law has this
problem with her oldest boy, who's 11.  He's an avid reader, but any time
she suggests a book, he refuses categorically.  So I am sending him Thomas
Lynn packages done up in brown wrinkly paper.  It's been very successful and
both mother and son are happy.  Problem:  His mother is one of those
hyper-concerned parents who doesn't want her sweet little boy exposed to
anything Bad.  She really hated the fourth Harry Potter book because of its
intensity of subject matter, and she worried that she shouldn't have let her
boy read it.  (I did my best on this one, honest, but she hasn't reached the
stage of enlightenment where you distinguish your reactions from the
intrinsic quality of a book.)  So I am extremely limited in what I can send,
after a point.  But it's not my responsibility because he's not my son.  I
totally disagree with her philosophy, but that's all I can do.  And that's
how parenting works most of the time, up to the point of abuse or neglect.

That doesn't really speak to the point, I suppose, except as an example of
how some adults choose to exercise their responsibility.  My sister-in-law
is a loving mother, willing to sacrifice for the sake of her kids' needs,
and she's being responsible with regard to her child's reading habits--she's
aware of his interests and his reading habits, to the point that she could
tell me where he was lacking.  And yet she's also being more paranoid than
she needs to be.  On the other hand, she's not making decisions for everyone
else, and my kids get to be raised the way I see fit.

Melissa Proffitt

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