I’ll just come right out and say it: I love reading children’s books. I do. And not just for work, or for industry research, or for educational purposes. I read them for fun, and I am not embarrassed about it.
That’s not such a revolutionary thing to say around here. Working in children’s publishing, you get spoiled – in this world, everybody knows how good a good children’s book can be. But out there in the “real world,” not everyone is so enlightened. Some people think that children’s books are only for (gasp!) children, and there’s a stigma attached to adults who read children’s books without some kind of excuse. It’s ok if you’re a teacher, or you work in publishing, or you’re studying to be a librarian. Then it’s work-related. But despite what the newspapers are saying, for those adults who have no excuse I think that being a regular reader of children’s literature is still very much looked down upon.
It drives me nuts. Once an aunt of mine asked me what great books I’d read recently. I had just finished Melina Marchetta’s wondrous Jellicoe Road and recommended it to her wholeheartedly, albeit with one caveat: it was a teen book. “You read teen books?” she said with a face. “Why?”
“Well, I work in children’s publishing,” I said, but I felt like a traitor. What I was really thinking was, I don’t need an excuse! A good book is a good book no matter what shelf it’s put on. Plenty of other times I’ve recommended YA books to people and not even told them they were YA. Once I was on a public bus reading one of John Green’s books and laughing my head off. The man sitting next to me asked what I was reading. “It’s called Looking for Alaska,” I said, “and it’s hilarious.” That’s all I said, because I was afraid if I told him it was YA, he would disregard my recommendation. But if I, an adult woman, find John Green to be laugh-out-loud funny, I don’t think there’s any reason why a middle-aged man won’t.
What it comes down to is that people still think children’s books are just easier. Easier to write, easier to read. In a great article on the anti-YA prejudice, YA author Mary Pearson says she often gets asked if she is planning on writing an adult book next, as if writing YA were just “a stepping stone to the ‘grown-up stuff.'” But anyone who’s ever tried to write a picture book, or read The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, can tell you that children’s literature is neither easier to write nor easier to read.
I really think there are many adults out there who would be happier in their reading lives if they’d include some children’s books in the mix. So what I propose is this: while Children’s Book Week is about children, it can also be about adults. And not just adults who write for kids, or work with kids, or read to kids. It can also be about adults who love children’s books, without any excuse. Here are just a few that I recommend to my friends who are not regular readers of children’s books:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak
Feel free to add your own in the comments. And if it’s been a while since you picked something up from the youth section of the library or bookstore, let this be the week. Read it in public! Recommend it to your friends! As CS Lewis said, “A book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.”