With books like The Hunger Games dominating the bestseller lists and The Fault in Our Stars being reviewed by Slate and the New York Times, there’s no question about how popular children’s and young adult literature has become for readers of all ages.
At the Globe and Mail, Jeet Heer has an interesting post about why these reading groups seem to be merging. He looks at Victorian literature, which bridged that age gap as well, and finds a focus on reading as a family activity:
“What accounts for the curious populist reading culture of the Victorians, which assumed that kids could read Moby-Dick and adults could enjoy Little Women? Partly, there was the enduring power of the family. This was an era when many people read together under the roof of domesticity, complete with recitals and theatrical performances based on books. Given that families shared novels, books were assumed to have a multigenerational audience.
But beyond the role of family life, which we see echoed in President Obama reading with his daughters, there was the unstated but widely held idea that reading is a democratic act, open to anyone who applies effort. Every child aspires to learn more, so she can push herself through difficult texts. Conversely, every adult was once a child and can, through reading, recapture some of the wonder and purity of earlier life.”
I find this as a very interesting connection, and one I very much hope to be true. I liked being able to share books with my parents when I was young. Once, on vacation, my mom and I swapped our beach books–she read The Outsiders and I read Sophie’s World. It was great to be able to have conversations about both books that we ended up really enjoying.
I would add that this crossover of adult and children’s lit also comes from there being a greater acceptance of content in children’s books. It’s not all just Sweet Valley High or The Hardy Boys anymore. Children’s and YA writers are allowed to take greater writerly risks now. (Just pick up The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing if you want proof of what YA writing can be. Stunning.) Boundaries are being pushed, and adult readers are increasingly realizing that there are some arresting, engaging stories over at the YA section.
Also, I think YA and children’s writers manage to balance pushing boundaries with telling a compelling story. Young readers don’t necessarily want to see literary gimmicks. They want a compelling story with compelling characters. As a result, writers can play with genre but still need to have a grounding in the literary basics, which all readers can appreciate.