Saturday, 29 March 2014

Over on "An Awfully Big Blog Adventure" there is

a passionate discussion going on about "at least they are reading" - or the idea that it is better to be reading "trash" than nothing at all.
I have actually heard parents say of their children "well at least s/he's reading something" when they watch their children reading comics or some of the very lightweight books available in our local library.
And several days ago I had an interesting conversation with the librarian who organises some of the children's activities in the library. I was returning several of the books on the Carnegie long list and she wanted to know what I thought of them.
This librarian has a senior colleague who is in overall charge of the YA and children's books for all the libraries in the group. I know her views are very different and her approach is very different from that of her more junior colleague.
Her junior colleague then said, "You know all that vampire stuff doesn't really get read. Kids borrow it but they don't read it. Some of them start but they don't finish it."
Before I could respond two more of the library staff agreed with her. Soon they were telling me that there were (a) books on the shelves that have never been borrowed, (b) books that get borrowed because the kids have been told they are good, (c) books that are borrowed because they are books the kids are supposed to like and (d) books that are borrowed and read.
Allowing for generalisations and exaggerations I suspect that is true. The library is having the annual book sale today. I know I could walk in and pick up "as new" books that sat on the shelves for several years. They might have been borrowed by one or two readers because the YA librarian "suggested" them. They might, just might, have been read by the borrowers but they haven't passed the information on to their friends - and recommendation from your peer group is a pretty powerful recommendation.
There will be other books that the YA librarian has enthused about. These will be books like those on the Carnegie long list. Are they the children's and YA equivalent of "literary" writing? Perhaps some of them are. If so, they may not get read in much the way that many people never read the books that win adult awards for literary writing.
Then there will be books like the Twilight series and the Hunger Games which some borrowers will read avidly and others think they should read. These are books that have been incredibly well marketed - to the point where films have been made. They are supposed to be "wow!" books. I have talked to avid readers about these books. Opinions vary but I think it would be fair to say that the success of these books is as much about the marketing as it is about the reading experience. Of the several hundred teens I have talked to only a few were genuinely enthusiastic - and many had started but not finished the books.
And then there are the books which actually get read and re-read and passed around and genuinely enthused over. They are the books which kids who do read will queue to read. Are they trash?
In the comics stakes the books which fall to pieces soonest are not the Japanese style manga with particularly simplistic story lines but Asterix and Tin-Tin with the more complex story lines. (Yes, I recognise that some Japanese comics are more than simplistic but many are not.) I think that says something about reading choices.
Adults have the advantage when it comes to what children and YA readers are able to read. They write the books. They sell them to publishers. Publishers choose to buy. They sell them again. Librarians buy. Bookshops buy. Adults buy for children and YA readers. Even in a library children and YA readers will be "guided"  by adults. Often adults want children to read "modern" books about "issues" or - at the other end - to read the "classics" they remember or believe they remember are good.
But the first "Harry Potter" was eventually published because a young reader thought it was "marvellous". It had been rejected by adult after adult before then. That suggests that sometime adults can get it very wrong.


Helen Devries said...

The adult who rejected Harry Potter got it dead right...meretricious rubbish.

Anonymous said...

I read the first Harry Potter - my grandchildren gave it to me when I asked what the fuss was about. Predictable? Yes. Plot? Not that imaginative. Characters? Some of them were memorable. There were touches of humour and the overall message of the book was fine.
I wouldn't have called it meretricious rubbish. I would reserve that for the Twilight books. I tried and failed to read one of those. I also found "The Hunger Games" repulsive.
Cat has just put me on to another book she found disturbing - the Bunker Diary. It is so unrelievedly gloomy I may not finish it - but some people seem to think it is worth short listing for a medal. I wonder what my grandson will think of it. Theories about what young people want to read obviously vary. Bob C-S

jeanfromcornwall said...

From the perspective of one selling books to children:
Harry Potter:- Did so well because it was written in a simple direct way, which helped the less confident readers to keep going. The same could be said of Enid Blyton, which still sells so well.
Anything that comes as a series is likely to sell well, since children love to collect the set. I think for this kind of stuff there should be a title "Kid-lit! similar to Chick-lit!
When it comes down to it, anything that can tempt a child to read because they can't put it down is good in my book. Once they discover that pleasure, they are ready to be hooked by something good, but if reading is always a chore, they may as well read something simple - if it doesn't demand too much of an effort, they are a bit more likely to get hooked.

kristieinbc said...

This is an interesting post. I've just had my first book published. It's a reader aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. I wrote the kind of book my kids and I used to like to snuggle up on the couch with and read aloud. The kind where they would beg "please, just one more chapter."

The reality is though that the book I wrote will never sell more than a couple thousand copies, and that is only if I am very lucky. My story doesn't have the elements you see in so many books aimed at kids nowadays - broken families, dysfunction, vampires, zombies, etc.

Also, while my book would be the same length as the classics our family used to read together, kids now don't spend as much time reading, and most books aimed at that age range are much shorter than they used to be.

So there's my two cents as an author. :-)

catdownunder said...

I take it you do not like HP Helen?
I wasn't going to mention that book by name Bob - but, since you have, I did not like it for a number of reasons. I'll wait until the awards are announced before I make further comments.
Jean I suspect you are right. I looked at an EB the other day - and I read a good many of them as a child - and yes, straightforward language. There is almost no character development and the story lines are flat and predictable but as a five and six year old I thought they were "big books"!
Kristie - congratulations! And I think that, given the time and the opportunity, more children would read what you have written because they keep telling me that a "good adventure story" is still what they want to read. (And look at the length of Harry Potter!)