The Age of KidLit

Parents lament that their children don’t read enough, but occasionally, I have parents who tell me that their child reads “too many storybooks”, reading past bedtime and under the blankets with a torchlight, even!

In recent years, we have indeed had an explosion of really exciting stories and it doesn’t hurt that many of them, including The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and Divergent has been adapted into a movie. Some of these titles have even made it into the official reading list of many schools. However, beyond the story and occasional outbreak of violence, is there any merit to having children read young adult fiction?

The answer, from various sources, myself included, is a resounding yes. Mary Kole, an established literary agent in the United States, writes that children need to have a shared imaginative landscape, reading what their peers read and being able to share in the triumphs and tribulations of the characters within the story and to identify with the characters. If I might add, books such as the Percy Jackson series also serve to introduce young readers to some of the most ancient stories we can find: myths. In a way, these books give a modern reinterpretation of mythology and provides a critical introduction where the original sources have proven too daunting.

John Green, who recently published a gripping story featuring a protagonist diagnosed with cancer (The Fault in Our Stars, 2012), responded to criticisms that he was writing exploitative “Sick Lit”, opined that young children are often much assumed to be “not smart enough” or “not critical enough” of a reader to understand difficult issues of loss, grief or terminal illness and thought these assertions were rather condescending. Kidlit makes these serious issues accessible for young readers and allows them to form their own thoughts and opinions about the issues.

One student recently recommended the Divergent series by Veronica Ruth to me. I am no publishing agent, so I had to take Mary Kole’s word for it and share in the imaginative landscape of my students and I was pleasantly surprised. It proved to be such a gripping read that I finished the first two books in one sitting! It is accessible, features a protagonist that has the same worries about her identity as many young children her age tend to do, and while the book can be violent or sappy at times, I can understand why children would love the series -it speaks to them in a unique manner and entertains them along the way. Given the opportunity, Kidlit could even be a viable teaching tool – I can see it as a way to introduce the idea of complex villains (the antagonists in Divergent aren’t cardboard “I-want-to-dominate-the-universe” baddies), or continually raising the stakes so that we want to know what happens next and so on.

We are in a golden age of excellent fiction for young children, and it would be remiss of us to stop them from accessing these books.