Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Books for All Ages

When I worked at the bookstore, we had a children's book section. Libraries, also, have books categorized by adult and children (also sections for teens and Young Adult). Yet as Deidre Baker argues in "Not a childish pursuit: Children's literature a vital part of our literary tradition" from the University of Toronto Bulletin, we should resist such labels. Many authors - such as Ursula LeGuin and J. K. Rowling - have written books that are popular across all age groups. Says Baker: "It never occurred to my father that he shouldn’t read children’s books just because he was an adult." And I agree -- a good book transcends age groups and categories.

Baker continues:
So many friends of mine — doctors, lawyers and business executives — take avidly to the practice of reading children’s books that I am always surprised when someone balks at it. It seems especially peculiar if that person is involved professionally in the study of literature. "Thanks so much," someone will say when I make them a gift of a novel by Brian Doyle, Sarah Ellis, Alan Cumyn or Julie Johnston or perhaps Leo Yerxa’s Last Leaf First Snowflake to Fall. "My children/grandchildren will love reading this." Maddening, absolutely maddening

Do some people feel "too grown up" for these books? I heard that the early Harry Potter books were issued with both children and "grown up" covers, lest adults should feel awkward. Baker explains:
When Harry Potter took off in the U.K., its adult audience merited a special, more "mature" looking cover — and it wasn’t just more marketing. The lively characters and cheery colours of the original cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were, I guess, thought to be professionally compromising to some of its readers, adults "shamefully" engrossed in a children’s novel.

After the first one or two novels, however, I should think that became unnecessary. In fact, it may be that older readers want to look (and be) really hip and up with pop culture! Though I think Baker's point is partly -- and I agree -- that the books are classics (whereas I guess I think - am I wrong? - that pop culture is not classic or at least classic in a different way). Or maybe the classic books supersede categories. Consider C.S. Lewis's Narnia novels. As I think, I'm noticing that the classics are often fantasy/allegories. And that may be because "human societies need myth and legend" according to Kyl Chhatwal's article in The Record. And in fact Chhatwal's article focuses on Rowling and Harry Potter, connecting that to University of Toronto professor Northrop Frye. And since Baker is also from the Univ of T, we come full circle.



Blogger Michael Faris said...

Sorry it took me so long to comment on this, but when I read about this, I was reminded of Jack Zipes's book Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. Part of the focus of his book is on the culture industry, in Adornan terms, and the creation of the children's literature genre, which is in fact, not children's, but made by and for adults. I think it's a pretty good critique, if you ever want to check out Zipes's work.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Marieke said...

I've had many enjoyable conversations with other adults about our shared love for the Harry Potter books. In fact I just borrowed Number 7 from a friend of mine here who adores them (and owns them all)--and she's in her 70s.

4:12 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home