On what makes a children’s book for children and a grown up’s book for grown ups.

There are plenty of books around at the moment that are marketed at both young adults and ‘grown ups’ – the so-called ‘crossover books’. However, there are few books that are placed in the children’s fiction and the adult’s fiction section, and one of these in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ books. These books appear all over a bookshop – in the classics section, in the crime section, in the children’s classics, children’s fiction – and all different editions, with different covers to match the market of each section. What makes a book able to ride so many different labels, so many different genres?

I am currently reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, which is one of the books in ‘1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up’. Earlier this year, I read several other Sherlock Holmes books for the first time, in an attempt to read some classic ‘grown up’ fiction. I find it so interesting that this book can be classified in ‘1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up’ as a classic for children, when it wasn’t written for children, and is still read by many adults as a classic crime novel.

The bridge between children’s fiction and adult’s fiction is often straightforward – children’s books have children as protagonists, adults have adult protagonists. But lately this rule has been broken – ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ and ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ are both told from the point of view of young boys, but are very popular with adult readers (‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ was originally written for children, while ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ was marketed towards adults). There are other examples of older books doing similar things, such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

I think it is interesting, however, to note that, out of the books being published now, I cannot think of any that are marketing for children with a grown up protagonist. The only ones that are on the bookshelf that fulfill this description are books that were originally published a long time ago, like Sherlock Holmes and Jules Verne’s books.

The idea of books written especially for children is quite a recent one. Books for children used to only be educational, and once they had learnt to read, they moved onto grown up books. Perhaps Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels were read by children when they were first published, because they didn’t have their own special books full of excitement, intrigue and adventure. Although these books have special children’s editions, like the puffin classics, of these books, they are still seen as ‘adult books’ but most people. I had a mother in the shop today with her two twelve-year-old sons, who were avid readers, and had read pretty much all the children’s books in the shop. She was keen to move them up to the adults section, and was asking for books that would be suitable for them. ‘Maybe Agatha Christie, or Sherlock Holmes?’ she suggested to me.

Maybe classic books like the ones written by Arthur Conan Doyle are the true crossover books – theyenable children to read about life as a grown up, but in a way that they can enjoy. Most crossover books, after all, are about teenager characters. Or maybe these books are universal books – suitable, and enjoyed, by everyone.

As you no doubt know, I enjoy children’s books immensely, and the cover, or the label placed on a book does not stop me from reading it. There are so many children’s books that could cross over into adult readership. Maybe we should stop encouraging children to grow up so much, and read adult books, and encourage grown ups to read more children’s books, and see the world from a child’s eyes.

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4 comments

  1. What a thoughtful post. I particularly liked your last sentence “Maybe we should stop encouraging children to grow up so much, and read adult books, and encourage grown ups to read more children’s books, and see the world from a child’s eyes.” So true. It really is good to go back and read the books from childhood. I did that recently with the Narnia series and interpreted the stories in a whole different light than when I was a child.

    • Thanks Jane! I think rereading books that we read as a child is a great idea, as there is always things that we miss when we were a child. Narnia is a great example of that. When I read them as a child, I didn’t get any of the allegory in the books, and now I can see the stories in a new light, while still getting the same wonder and excitement as when I read them as a child.

  2. Pingback: On books for all ages « 1001 Children's Books

  3. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

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