Grown-ups who read kids’ books

Here’s what I think.  Yes, technically this blog is for parents to recommend books to their kids, or read along with them, but there are a lot of adults reading children’s books out there, whether their kids are reading them or not.  And not just Harry Potter and Twilight (oh please, not Twilight).  But a lot of other good stuff, too.  And I wanted to celebrate that!  Take the cover off the book you read on the train and come out from under the covers at night.  I think these are great reads for adults!

Middle grade books are my favorite.  I’ve always taught middle school, with a few forays into elementary and high school, but I always come back to middle school, so maybe whatever it is that draws me to these kids also draws me to these books.  But I really do think that middle grade books often tackle much more complex issues than adult books and tend to be much more honest. The Golden Compass, anyone?  Who has read an adult book lately that talks about stripping our souls away from us?  (And for more thoughts about what it means to take away your soul, just look at Harry Potter‘s Voldemort.)  And what about The Hunger Games?  Katniss is such an honest character—she’s tough and likeable, brave and resists authority like any Tom Clancy hero, but she’s also unsure of herself, unsure of love, and unsure of her role as a heroine.  She’s a real, complex personality.  And Ender’s Game?  Ender is only six when the book starts, but his journey is one we can all learn from.  And all of these books have a lot to say about our own society as well.

Almost every time I read adult fiction, which is rare, but I make an exception once in awhile for a notable book (most recently for A Reliable Wife), I regret it.  In A Reliable Wife, for example, the writing was superb, the plot interesting and complex, but the characters.  “Ah humanity,” as Bartleby would say.  Oh good lord.  None of them were at all likeable.  I get it, the world has evil people in it.  They do weird and bad things.  But please, it’s almost as if to be considered good adult fiction it has to be dark and subversive—happiness is thought of as a childish emotion and not part of reality.  (Frankly, I loved Gretchen’s Rubin’s point in The Happiness Project that happiness is actually very hard to achieve in the modern world and people who do so are usually shot down by the rest of us, who take the easy, cynical route, and take it too seriously.)  There’s plenty of dark, subversive things to be found in kids’ books, but kids’ authors don’t have to put on a hoity-toity pretense that it isn’t good writing if someone doesn’t get raped or murdered.

Honestly, I think the characters in kids’ books, because they are going through that awkward time in their lives where they so outwardly try to “find themselves” are much more honest portrayals of reality.  Because really, has any of us actually found ourselves?  No, I didn’t think so.  If I’m going to read an “adult” book, it usually has to be nonfiction.  Or a Jonathan Safron Foer book.  Maybe Jonathan Franzen.  Or the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  Because seriously, Ma Ramotse is a great character.

2 Comments to “Grown-ups who read kids’ books”

  1. I totally agree with you about “adult” books. I love that my work right now gives me an excuse to devour middle grade and YA books, but I would be reading them (albeit at a slower pace) anyway. I agree with you about Twilight, too… I haven’t gotten into the paranormal romance YA genre spawned by Twilight, but I worry sometimes that all new YA will try to be like Twilight… and then I go back to reading middle grade books.

    • Yes–I am right there with you. I read the first Twilight book and enjoyed it, but not enough to read the rest, and definitely shy away from YA in general. Middle grade is where it’s at! 🙂

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