I think that there is a common misconception surrounding children’s literature that it is somehow less worthy of reading time than fiction written for adults. But, I think anyone who has spent some time exploring the genre of fiction for children would tell you otherwise. Throughout my English Degree, I have taken numerous children’s literature courses. I took the first of these classes last year, picking up the unit so my friends and I would have a class together, thinking to myself that children’s literature would most likely be a pretty bludgey subject. I fell in love with the class instantly. The course gave me my first taste of the brilliant writing of Terry Pratchett with The Wee Free Men (An amazing novel from Pratchett’s Discworld series which I highly recommend). We also read Fire Eaters, a beautiful novel by David Almond, which for me bore a strong resemblance to The Catcher in the Rye. The semester provided me with a plethora of beautiful narratives for children, and reminded me that age should never be an obstacle to reading. After all, many of my fondest childhood memories are of my parents reading me the Harry Potter series every night before bed, Mum and Dad as engaged in the story as I was. To this day Mum and I still like to appreciate the fictional hotness of Oliver Wood, captain of the Gryffindor Quiddich team.
Although, like any genre, children’s literature has its down sides. I think that possibly one of the biggest flaws of the genre is that authors feel they can get away with producing sub-standard works as they believe that their audience does not have the capacity or intelligence to see their short-comings. However, I think this is both a gross underestimation of the intelligence of children, as well as a lack of understanding of the importance of reading in one’s formative years.
I think when we speak about sub-standard literature for children and young adults; most people’s first example is Twilight. After an unfortunate arm-breaking incident in year 9, I spent the entirety of the winter holidays reading the Twilight saga, and I’m embarrassed to say I, like almost every other girl my age, was dragged into Twilight hysteria (an affliction which I have thankfully since recovered from). This book is certainly the pinnacle of terribly written fiction for children. There are parts of the novel that I still believe were not edited at all, and the fact that Stephanie Meyer could have even stomached writing a novel for young girls that basically condones this type of unhealthy, obsessive, ‘I love you so much I’m going to die for you’, relationship still sickens me. This, in my opinion is where the stigma surrounding children’s literature comes from. Adults seem to believe that because a narrative is constructed for children it must focus solely on children’s issues. Although, the way I see it, children’s issues and adults issues are the same, they’re just coloured through different lenses.
In the sense of developing a long-standing relationship with books and reading, children’s literature is essential. My love for reading emerged through the myriad of books I would devour as a kid. The Tomorrow When the War Began series, by John Marsden, is an incredible Australian series that follows the story of a group of teenagers who are forced into guerrilla warfare after their town, Wirrawee, is invaded by a foreign power. As I worked through the series, I raved about the books, encouraging my father to read them also. I think Dad got just as much enjoyment from them as I did, and it developed a strong literary bond between the two of us. Lemony Snickets’ A Series of Unfortunate Events was another series that helped to form my endearing love of the written word. The 13 books series followed the grim adventures of the three Baudelaire children after the mysterious death of their wealthy parents. I’ve always had an affinity for somewhat depressing literature. My mother often commented on how she was unable to get past the first three books as they were simply too unfortunate for her liking. However, both these series really stick out in my mind. Both books created intricate and exciting worlds for me to fall into, drawing me into to their constructed stories. I can safely say that without these books I would not be who I am today. And there-in lies the beauty, and importance of children’s literature.
In children’s literature, kids should be given the opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult situations; cruelty, death, racism, sexism, the unsettling truth that life isn’t fair and people don’t often get what they deserve. Through children’s literature we have the opportunity to present our young audience with life obstacles, to educate them. And why is that something that adults shouldn’t want to cash in on to? In the last year, the best novels I have read have all been children’s fiction. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, and Genesis by Bernard Beckett, are the two that really stood out. Both books are beautifully written and deal with obstacles surrounding humanity, what it means to be alive and the ability to discover who we really are. These themes are addressed in a way which doesn’t overwhelm the child reader, allowing them to come to their own conclusions, while desensitising them to some of the truths they will inevitably have to face. I believe these stories are just as fascinating and educating for an adult reader.
I think it’s common practice for us to underestimate children’s literature. To believe that something written for children can never truly engage an adult. Obviously, I think this is assertion is absolute crap, and I hope I’ve provided you all with enough examples of quality children’s literature to inspire you to engage in the genre. It’s well worth it, and you may learn a lesson or two yourself.
This blog was originally posted on annablackie.com