You may have noticed I changed the header image of my site. That was actually sparked by the comment of a close friend. Why have a random photo of books when I can display the ones I loved most growing up?
I actually had a lot of fun choosing exactly which books I would include in that photo. And of course it was an extremely difficult task – I was and still am a voracious reader, and being forced to exclude some books was heartbreaking. But I do think I managed to capture many of my favorites! You’ll probably notice that most of the titles are well-worn (“Island of the Blue Dolphins” is barely legible), and I guess that’s the true mark of the countless days I spent reading as a child. I have distinct memories of pretending to be Karana, stranded on an island and making a skirt of cormorant feathers.
I still love reading children’s books. Sometimes it seems to me that novels written for older audiences underestimate the value of a good story and try too hard to evoke a deeper theme. The adult is more sophisticated, the author feels. I must write something intellectually stimulating; I need some heavy prose. Some deep emotion. And in the search for something profound, the good story falls by the wayside.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying every novel written for older audiences fails to tell a good story. It’s just that due to the nature of the genre, middle grade books don’t feel the need to wow their audience with anything more. In children’s books, we’re more likely to find adventure and the hero’s journey. We get unforgettable characters with runaway imaginations. And more than anything, the stories are just plain fun. As we journey into young adult, we (understandably) get into more angst, and before long we reach the adult section, where a good story is simply not enough. No, we’re too old and wise for that now; we’re no longer children. We expect more.
I think the best books, regardless of their audiences, are well-written, tell a good story, and leave us with a meaningful message. Does it have to be over-the-top brilliant? Heck no. But if it makes us feel, makes us laugh, cry, or smile – well, that’s enough for me.
I’ll leave you with a quote by C.S. Lewis that I absolutely adore. It has to do with growing up and the fear of being childish:
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence… when I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”