Recreational Reading, children’s literature and adultness, Or, why the children’s literature community suddenly hates the editor of the Horn Book

Lately, my real life has been a little crazy, so I’ve been behind in my blog life. Of course, the day I return to the kid’s lit blogosphere is the day that everyone’s totally up in arms and crazy about something that’s happened.

Last Wednesday, Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book (the magazine for children’s literature) said on his blog,

Whatever whoever chooses to read is their business, of course, but adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up.

You can imagine the outrage. Tea Cozy has an excellent post. As does MotherReader. As do a million other blogs, all railing against Roger.

I, however, totally agree with him.

Now, I have argued time and time again for adults to read YA and children’s literature. I loooooooooooooooooooooooooooove YA and children’s literature. I read a ton of it. I think more adults need to stop snubbing it, but…

Just like we want teens to eventually read some adult books, maybe adults should sometimes read adult books too. I think the operative words in Roger’s quotation is “ends with” as in, if you only read YA and children’s literature, then grow up.

Damn straight. I like to read books that deal with marriage from a participant’s perspective. I like books where people have full time office jobs. I like books where dating doesn’t involve having to meet the parents until it become a capital R Relationship. Books where drinking isn’t a big bad deal because the people doing it are over the age of 21. Books with a little less angst about sex. Books where having a kid is a normal thing and therefore isn’t the focus of the book. Books where high school and college are things of the past. I like reading books about people my age who are having the same issues my peers and I are having.

For the same reasons teens and kids need books about them we need books about us. And we need to read them.

Now, I’m not saying adult books are better and that you should only read adult books, but holy moly people, read a few. If nothing, you are missing some quality literature.

Last year, I read a whopping 219 books. Only 57 of those were written for adults–obviously the majority of my reading is in the children’s/YA age ranges. That said, the majority of my all-around favorite books that I read? Were adult books.

Now, there have been some very good points about “recreational reading” and how a lot of kidlit professionals don’t have time for such things. This is sadly true. Yes, I have time for it, but I don’t really have a life, so there’s some trade-off there. But, everyone needs to make time for recreational reading. I can’t really read at work outside of my lunch hour, so I know the stacks of books that get taken home to read. I know how many books I get to read because technically, it’s work-related. Harry Potter isn’t recreational reading! It’s work! (Yes, my job rocks.) I can’t mow the lawn, I’m WORKING! (And by working, I mean lying on the couch reading Babymouse. Like I said, my job rocks.)

But seriously guys, everyone needs to find just a wee bit of time to read something just for them. And, every so often, that book should be written for your age range. And, if you can’t quite let go of your kidlit preference, try reading Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy, because nothing is better than a hard-boiled detective trying to figure out who pushed Humpty Dumpty off that wall.

–Jennie

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4 Responses to Recreational Reading, children’s literature and adultness, Or, why the children’s literature community suddenly hates the editor of the Horn Book

  1. Roger Sutton says:

    Thanks, Jennie. I would argue–if I weren’t tired of arguing–that it especially behooves children’s librarians to make room in their own reading for adult books. It helps us understand what it’s like to be a new reader, how some words are hard and some sentences require re-reading. It’s also good for children’s librarians to remind themselves that children’s literature is part of all literature, and that child readers deserve a librarian who can open doors to that as well. And, as you say, it’s always salutary to come face to face with something like oneself in a book–not that this doesn’t sometime happen for an adult reading a children’s book, but it’s generally a less immediate experience. I’ve just started Middlemarch, and have the odd feeling that George Eliot has been peeking into my brain . . . .

  2. MotherReader says:

    I was going for more of an amused annoyance than outrage on my blog. It’s so hard to hit the right tone.

    I have the most problem with the statement itself than the sentiment it represents. Do I think that adults should also read adult books to round out their reading life? Sure I do. That’s all I read in my adult years before I started working in the public library, and I squeeze in an adult book now even with all my kid lit reading. If Roger had been more diplomatic in his opinion, I probably wouldn’t have even cared to respond.

    What annoyed me is that he professes not to make a judgment (what people choose to read is their business) but then makes a judgment anyway. (they need to grow up). I didn’t like that professional reading of children’s books (like his) is okay, but recreational reading (of only kids books) is not. Well, for a lot of people – children’s book authors, librarians, teachers, booksellers and probably more – our professional reading may also be our recreational reading.

    Most of all, I think the editor of a magazine of children’s and young adult literature should be more accepting of all the readers, ie purchasers of that magazine, even if it’s by toning down his wording to be less incendiary. But as I said about my blog, sometimes the tone doesn’t convey. It was probably too hard to pass up a good line like “grow up” about reading children’s books.

  3. Liz B says:

    It’s funny… in that for every childrens/YA librarian I know who reads the lit, there is one who doesnt, because, being a librarian isn’t about the books, to them or to their library. The blank faces as I talk about a certain book would be funny, except it means that those blank faces are the ones the kids see.

    And those of us who do read the books, of course, cannot read on the job, so I’m wondering in part — when is it we are supposed to do all the reading Other People are telling us we should read?

    I think we are more complex than one small area of our lives. And, yes, reading is one small area of my life. Not my entire life. (Hey, I need some time for bloggign! Kidding!)

    So, for some people? Yes, they “need” to read something more; But for some people, that “something more” is foreign films; or cooking classes; or sports. Any judgment made on that one part of a persons life (the books they read for fun) is going to be lacking, in that it doesn’t look at the persons entire life. Just as for some people, a stretch is reading a different type of book; for others, the “stretch” to remember what it’s like to be a child is taking a physical challenge — rock climbing class. Or, learning a new language, whether its Latin or ASL or German or Elvish. Or, if we need to see ourselves in story, we may do it via film. Or TV. Or music.

  4. kidsilkhaze says:

    Thanks Roger!

    MotherReader– I got your tone, I just didn’t convey it well when linking your post. Also, I where I agree that the dichotomy of “I don’t want to judge, but watch me do it anyway” is a legitimate bone to pick, I think we (the royal we) do it a lot anyway.

    Everyone– I fully understand having to combine recreation reading and work reading. (I mean, 75% of the books I read are YA/children’s, so I do it all the time.)

    All I’m saying is that just once in a while, it’d be really awesome if readers were able to pickup a book solely for them that’s written for adults. Just like I’m always trying to sell adults on the benefits of YA and children’s fiction, I’m now trying to sell YA/children’s librarians on adult fiction… šŸ™‚

    (Also, put this on your radar– BiblioFile turns 5 in December– there will be an online party that we involve reading a book JUST FOR YOU that’s not for work, or review, or book club… with prizes!)

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