Saturday, February 24, 2007

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.


Grace Lin said...

I get this often. Most recently, a nice gentleman told me he had read my book by accident (he had wanted "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" but somehow it had gotten mixed up) but had enjoyed it. He concluded by encouraging me to "move up" to adult books as he thought I had ability, that he could tell from my children's book I could do it. I know he meant it kindly but it was hard to swallow the unintentional insult. In the end, I just didn't respond--figuring silence is golden.

Little Willow said...

For years, as I would assist kids who enjoyed fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, I would think, "You will LOVE books by Christopher Golden . . . in ten years." Oh, how I wished I could recommend his books to the 8 to 12 year old group!

A few summers ago, my wish was granted. Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski released a quartet of juvenile fantasy novels entitled OUTCAST, starting with the book THE UN-MAGICIAN. I was able to put these books in the hands of kids, teens, and adults alike.

Already, I had been selling his books to teens and adults, since he has books in both teen fiction and fiction/literature (note that some stores with genre shelving also feature his works in the horror and fantasy/sci-fi departments).

In short, Christopher Golden has successfully written for adults, teens, and kids.

Anonymous said...

A lot of established writers for adults have been jumping into the kids' lit arena lately, I've been noticing. It's the whole HP phenomenon. (You know what I mean!)

Some of the resulting books have been excellent!! Though, I confess, I personally have not read the books for adults written by these same authors--so I can't vouch for how equally well they really pulled off both arenas; so I'm not going to list their names here.

What? Many Moons isn't a classic through and through??


Libby Koponen said... ME it's not one of the best children's books ever written. But, I did like it well enough as a child to still remember it and buy it as an adult. And it's still in print.

Christopher Golden I hadn't heard of: thanks for the recommendation.

Grace, that's really funny about him mixing the books up....& that is exactly the kind of comment I meant --"move up." And it IS well meant, even (to the speaker) a compliment.

Anonymous said...

Ray Bradbury - he wrote short stories for adults and children, novels for adults and YAs (Something Wicked This Way Comes is for sure for YAs), nonfiction essays, and picture books.

But then again - his talent is pretty much beyond all of us.

For a more contemporary author I would point to Neil Gaiman. I think Coraline proved his YA writing chops and he's at work on another YA book right now. (Plus he writes graphic novels, screeplays and picture books....)

Colleen aka Chasing Ray

Anonymous said...

I'll second Neil Gaiman and add Roald Dahl, Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket, and Julia Alvarez.


ElsKushner said...

I haven't read "Many Moons" in a long time. But kids (and I) both still enjoy Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks." And Jane Gardam (British) has written some lovely kids' books and some books for adults that I hear are quite good (though, actually, I haven't been able to get into them, come to think of it.)

Oh, wait: Alice Hoffman! "Aquamarine" is genuinely good and appealing to kids.

web said...

Terry Pratchett comes to mind. Terrific books for both adults and kids. I suppose Jules Feiffer doesn't exactly count... he did write one novel, but it was pretty lousy, IIRC.

I actually really enjoy Alcott's adult writings, but I love trashy romance. :-)