Sunday, January 22, 2012
from the BRG archives: Does anyone do both brilliantly?
Quite often when adults hear that I write for children their first question is,
“Are you going to write an adult novel?”
This is always said very nicely, even eagerly, or in a slightly encouraging tone – as though children’s books are training wheels for the real thing.
I thought it was just something about me – but on NPR a few days ago Katherine Paterson said that people often asked her that, too. Why do people do this? Obviously, they think it's easier to write for children -- but do they realize how insulting the question is? That it implies that people only write for kids because they aren’t good enough (yet is often implied, too -- that's where the encouraging tone comes in) to write for grown-ups?
It’s not easy to write ANYTHING good – but I don’t think the age group that you’re writing for has anything to do with a book’s difficulty. It just takes a different kind of talent, or set of interests – and if anyone doubts this, think of how few people there are who have written great children’s books AND great adult novels. I really can’t think of anyone!
The closest is probably C.S. Lewis – I at least really like That Hideous Strength and Out of the Silent Planet; but are these books as good as the Narnia books? Louisa May Alcott and E.Nesbit both wrote trashy books for grown-ups, I’ve never been able to even finish any of them, and I’ve read their kids books over and over and over.
If you think this just proves the point that kids books are easier: Thurber's adult stories make me laugh (and still are read in literature classes), but I don't think anyone would still read the book about the Princess who wanted the moon(Many Moons ) if it weren't for the great illustrations. And Dickens and Thackeray would be out of print today if their children's books were their only books.
Robert Louis Stevenson did write for adults, and actually, some of his adult stories are pretty amazing (if you like well-written, well-plotted adventure stories) – but are they as good as the best poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses? I don’t think so. If you count YA, then I can think of one person: F.Scott Fitzgerald. His Basil and Josephine stories still make me laugh out loud. I especially love the ones about the ten-year old, totally obnoxious Basil (based on Fitzgerald himself), with his best friend who – no matter how crazy and impossible Basil’s ideas were -- responded to each one with an immediate:
“Let’s do it!”
But those aren’t BOOKS. Maybe there are people who write brilliantly for both age groups that I just haven’t read. If you can think of any, please put them in the comments! And another question: what do YOU say when adults ask if you’re going to write for adults? I usually just mumble no. No child has ever asked that question, by the way: they just say “Have you written any other books?” and of course, “other books” means – for kids. As it should.
Originally published February 24th, 2007