November 16, 2012

Should Adults Read Children's Books?

An opinion piece from The Huffington Post made me think about this.  The author's point was that books for children shouldn't have a "Young Adult" designation. 

Actually, her post isn't what got me thinking. 

Scroll past the short post and read the comment by BlackJAC, who states that once you're old enough to vote/gamble/drink, you shouldn't even be reading young adult books.

What?  

There's a hidden (or not so hidden) implication that one's emotional growth must be stunted if one is reading children's books. 

If you're not an educator/librarian/children's book author/parent, should you be reading children's books?

Personally, I read both children's and adult literature.  When I bring our adult children to the library, they head to the adult section and I to the children's section. 

When I research a topic, I always begin in the children's non-fiction section to get a solid overview of the topic before heading to the adult non-fiction section.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from someone who said she enjoyed Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen and flew through its pages.  The author of that e-mail is 31.  

Why limit oneself?  A great story is a great story.

I'm a richer person for having read Patricia McCormick's SoldIt gave me context for watching the documentary, Half the Sky, about abuse and oppression of females turned on its head by hope-filled, can-do people.  Jerry Spinelli's Wringer, allowed me to see inside the cruelty of the annual Higgin's Pigeon Shoot, which used to take place near my home.  And Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls allowed me to have a cathartic cry about my mom's death from cancer.

Children's literature contains a wealth of timeless/ageless themes -- surviving loss, cultivating individuality, creating compassion, responding to injustice, etc.  It would be a great loss to dismiss the entire canon of children's literature because one "should outgrow it." 

Has a children's book made an impact on your adult life?  Is it okay to read children's books at any age?  I'd love to know what you think.

24 comments:

Donna said...

I'm 53 and I still read "children's" books. They're usually better written than books for adults. The writing has to be concise and clear, the characters interesting, and the plot must keep you engaged. I wish I could say that about many adult novels. I read both YA and adult books, and I have to confess that books for younger readers by the likes of Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton, the Olivia books and the Wimpy Kid series still make me laugh. Anyone who puts down children's books hasn't read one in awhile.

Wild About Words said...

Donna, well said! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Jen Swanson said...

The above comment was very well said. I love reading children's books and I don't think it's just because I'm a childrens author. Can anyone imagine not reading Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson series? When my kids get new books, I am the first to troll through the pages after them. I simply adore the Mother-Daughter Book Club, too. As the writer mentioned above, they tend to be well-written and have engaging plots.

And Donna G., I do the exact same thing as you when researching a new book. I go through the children's books to see how a certain topic was handled and also maybe to get a different spin on it- before going to the adult section. I think it makes me a better writer. Viva la children's books!!

Meg Brown said...

Reading should never have an age on it! Do board games? No. They usually say for ages 3+ and so should books (and the 3 is so they don't ingest pieces and books are a little safer). I am reading books alongside one of our teen writers and she has opened me to a slew of new books I am loving that I would've missed. To answer the question, these YA books have left an impact on me in the last year: Fault in Our Stars, Ender's Game, Hunger Games, Olivia Bean and Milo. I cried at parts of all these books! And I'm not ashamed. :) I say read on!

Augusta Scattergood said...

Great topic. I love it when the public libraries I know host Adults Reading Kids' Books DIscussions. Parents, teachers, and just interested readers show up.

Though I think what Monica (Huf Post article) was objecting to was lumping middle-grade and even younger books with the teen books, and calling it Young Adult. That happened to my book on one very big venue and the designation stuck. I got a lot of questions afterwards from people who know the field: Is your book really Young Adult? Hmmmm.

I think some outside our field just don't understand that 9-year-olds aren't "Young Adult," in our book world!

jaimiengle said...

Great post. And I have to agree that a good story is just that, regardless of genre. Look at Ender's Game, an adult/YA crossover book that everyone should read at least once. Let's really heat this up. Should you only enjoy computer animated movies if you're a kid? Should Shrek not be seen by anyone over the age of 16? What about video games, whose target audience is 14-35 year old males? Should anyone over 25 not ever go back to college? Duh... The point? Age-appropriate only refers to toys that present choking hazards to small children. Everything else is fair game!
Thanks for the great post...

Amanda Coppedge said...

I believe there are some books that are very kid-specific--they could theoretically be enjoyed by adults but their audience is solidly children (such as movie tie-ins, Magic Tree House, etc.). But there are so many books that are just as appealing to adults because of beautifully conveyed emotions, laugh-out-loud humor, sweeping fantasy, etc. To lump Gary Schmidt in with the latest Scooby Doo paperback is like saying Annie Proulx and Danielle Steel are the same because they both write adult fiction.

photonz said...

Hello, my name is Paul Grecian and I read Young Adult Books. It started when I saw my sister-in-law reading Harry Potter to my brother-in-law while he was driving. I didn’t understand what they were doing, I mean that was just weird! But when my daughter started reading the Harry Potter books I dived in and became a fan. My daughter’s friends thought it was cool that I was reading the series.
Then I read a few “children’s” books written by a Donna Gephart, you may have heard of her. I have a fear that some of the best authors aren’t writing for adults. Maybe young adults recognize quality writing better than older folks. Or maybe the best authors are writing for young adults knowing that “adults” are secretly reading their books?
Not only are some of these young adult books well written, they have great story lines and character development. They can take you back to your own youth and have you thinking differently about what young people deal with now or historically. They can remind you of the wonder of those years and maybe bring some of that to your present.
Over the years my appreciation for art, music and literature has expanded, not contracted. Of course I read children’s/young adult books too. It would be weird not to!

Paul

Marsha Diane Arnold said...

I have always said that the best stories are for all ages. When I wrote my "homegrown treasures" column on family life, the best compliment was when families told me they read it together - toddlers, teens, parents, and grandparetns, all ages. It's the same with children's books. There's so much wisdom in the best. Succinct, simple, timeless wisdom.

I still have adults purchase my picture book THE PUMPKIN RUNNER for other adults, especially runners. And adults adore my HEART OF A TIGER picture book. I recall one gentleman telling me he read it to his housebound wife often. I'm sure there are many open and closeted adult picture book readers out there. Please share.

Lily Cate said...

:D
The only reason to care what the age designation is on book is because of what other people will think if they see you with it, and that, I think, is a bigger sign of immaturity than of "adult" confidence.
If you're reading for fun, then go have fun!

Mirka Breen said...

There will always be those who'd love to tell you what you SHOULD and SHOULDN’T do. It must be in the DNA…

Gaby T. said...

I agree. I think what's important is that we read stories, good stories, any stories!

Becca Puglisi said...

I'm a little confused as to the argument against adults reading kidlit. As you said, Donna: a good story is a good story. Who cares how long it is or the age of the main character? Another reason I enjoy reading YA is because I'm kind of a prude; I don't like to read a lot of gratuitous language and people having affairs and whatnot.

Chris van Soolen said...

I'm a parent, therefore I read out loud to my kids... even though some of my kids have graduated from High School. But hey, Good books are good books! I love the giggles from Junie B. just as much as my kindergartner, and I cry along in Walk Two Moons.

And yes, it's great that my kids and I have books to talk about and discuss, but that's not the only reason I read them. I head to the YA section at the library first, and enjoy good stories and compelling characters for my own sake, not just my kids.

Wild About Words said...

Yowza! Thanks for your passionate and thoughtful comments. I loved reading them. I guess we children's book writers are doing something right if so many authors of books for adults are coming out with books for teens and tweens. I'm talking to you, James Patterson!

Angela Ackerman said...

Even if I didn't write kid lit, my life would be less rich had I not read stories like A Monster Calls ( I agree...so powerful!), or the intensity of The Hunger Games, or the Magic of Harry Potter, the snark and power of Lightning Thief!

Ann Herrick said...

"Why limit oneself? A great story is a great story."

This^^

I read books written for all ages. I think how much I would have missed if I hadn't first read the Little House books as an adult, for example.

Cindy Hudson said...

So many great comments, Donna, you can tell this is a topic that resonated with a lot of people.

I think the most important thing is for people of any age to keep reading and keep enjoying what they read. For me, that can be picture books, early reader chapter books, middle grade, ya, adult, fiction, nonfiction... It also depends on whether I'm reading for myself, for my book club, with my kids, for review, with my husband, or any combination of the above.

Some of the best times in my life with books have been when I have been reading out loud with my family and stopped because we were all laughing so hard.

Reading doesn't need to be a highbrow activity, something that we do to impress other people. It can be fun, informative, emotional, nostalgic, and more.

Thanks for giving us a chance to weigh in.

The Write Now! Coach said...

Love this! Thanks, Donna. BTW--I'd love to see you add social sharing buttons so I can share this to Twitter. :-)

Laura said...

What a shame. BlackJAC has missed out on some wonderful books. Too busy gambling and drinking, I guess.

Debra Feldman said...

I say read children's books.

I write children's books, so I read them at first for research. I enjoy them. There are some good ones and bad ones, just like in any other genre. When I started reading them as an adult, I came across Mrs. Biddlebox. This book is now one of my favorite books of all time, of all genres. Reading children's books can help adults reconnect with parts of themselves suppressed merely through life experience and the process of becoming an adult. I have also read some YA, some of which has me thinking on the messages therein longer than many adult novels.

Another aspect of children's books I enjoy is the illustrations. the talent, imagination and artistry is no less just because it's in a children's book.

Wild About Words said...

I love these comments! Thank you. Btw, Debra Feldman, Mrs. Biddlebox by the late Linda Smith is also one of my forever favorite picture books. I've read it and re-read it and then again.

Wendy said...

Of course, it's not just okay that adults read children's books, but it should be mandated!

Wild About Words said...

Love that idea, Wendy!