It starts out as the most wonderful, thrilling, intriguing children’s book you could hope to read. Then “IT” happens. The most unforgivable event in a children’s book. It’s down hill all the way from there. I read The Ask and the Answer, hoping it would recover itself, but no. It is just relentless in it’s depressing brutality from page one to the bitter end. I determined I was not going to read book three and was somehow put off reading fiction altogether!
Until I saw a tweet from my publishers, Orchard Books, famous for Daisy the Duck, Rainbow Magic and beautiful collections of traditional stories.
The tweet was thrilled that a video had achieved a hundred views before publication day. I clicked to see what it was about and was, well… shocked.
see for yourself: click here
Boy Nobody is a teenage assassin. I could cope with that, I can see how you hang a plot together around that, but he does his work by befriending the children of his targets! “How morally corrupt!” I tweeted back.
I got a copy of the book to read, in the hope that there would be a moral angle to it. After all, it’s published by a very well respected children’s publisher. Thankfully, for the second book in the series, our hero manages to brush off any moral twinges by the end of the book. Committing murder and treachery, he vanquishes any niggling doubts, any concerns for right and wrong, ending strong, fit and healthy for the next book in the series. I gather, from the acknowledgements, that the film rights have been sold.
Something is wrong here. I keep finding myself saying, “When I was a kid…” and then the alarm bells go off in my head. “Oh no! I’m turning into a grumpy old git!”
But… when I look back. I read something similar when I was about 13. It was James Bond. The Boy Nobody plot is so similar to a James Bond plot in every way, except that he is a boy. But when I read James Bond, I knew it was a grown up book. I knew there would be things I might not understand. I was peeking under the covers of adulthood. It was a fantasy world somewhere up ahead, not a tangible career option for an early school leaver.
Boy Nobody, has a sixteen year old hero who has been trained to kill since he was twelve, but this is not a children’s book. It’s a standard, adult action thriller, with a boy as the hero, wrapped up for kids and sold to kids in the marketing genre we now call “Young Adult”.
The trouble with “Young Adult” as a marketing angle is that chidren want to read them as a peek under the covers of a teenage world. They find them in the Children’s section of the bookshop or library after all. But that’s not what they get. Young Adult books are really the books that adults crave so much but can’t find.
Unlike books for the adult market, particularly the literary fiction market that gets all the attention, Young Adult books have a beginning, a middle and an end. They tell satisfying stories based on truly wonderful ideas and are generally written by great writers and and are still properly edited.
After James Bond, I discovered Lord of the Rings, science fiction, Agatha Christie and more. Adult books that told great stories about fantasy worlds and ideas. Nowadays they would be given a teenage protagonist and be wrapped up as Young Adult books.
In writing this article I also read Sally Gardener’s Carnegie winning Maggot Moon. Wonderfully written, brilliant idea. I’d only just returned from visiting the Stazi Museum in Berlin, so it rang lots of bells. Adults should read it. They will love it. The hero is on the side of good and the side of evil is awful and banal and good fights to the bitter end for what it believes in. However, I’m not sure I would give it to a child.
I also decided to read Patrick Ness’s Monsters and Men, the final instalment of The Walking Chaos Trilogy. I’m a third of the way through and have decided to give up. I cannot relate what I am reading to the joyous and truly breath-taking opening of the first book that literally made me gasp!
I feel cheated, it’s not what I signed up for. Maybe I’m meant to feel cheated. That’s the point – life is hard and war is more so, and I should be told so and never allowed to forget it. No one ever gets what they signed up for in war. But let’s call this an adult book, so we can have a heads up?
The Chaos Walking books are adult books disguised as children’s books. I don’t understand how they were ever entered for the Carnegie Medal let alone won!
Why are we no longer surprised when kids join gangs and shoot each other on the streets? They’re conditioned to it by playing killing games on their consoles and watching endless serial killer stuff on TV. So why not put it in children’s books too? How else are publishers going to compete and make a buck other than by joining in the slow moral decline? We are conditioning ourselves to accept that it’s okay for kids to kill each other.
What has happened? Is it a loss of innocence or a loss of morality? I say morality. Morality is the guardian of innocence.
Look back at the Carnegie Medal list and remember – The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. …children – did you notice that word?
Arthur Ransome was the first winner – there is no question that he wrote books for children. The Borrowers, Narnia, Tom’s Midnight Garden these are what we all agree are books for children, so what has happened? Over the years, The Carnegie medal has strayed further and further away from what it was set up for.
The Carnegie Medal is not given to writers of books for children anymore. The prize has lost its way, caught up in the glamour of hollywood – for that is what Young Adult publishing is really about and also the main attraction for writers of Young Adult fiction.
We seem unable to see children as children anymore and want them to grow up as soon as possible, to witness and learn stuff way beyond their years. The grown ups do their best to stay teenagers, so they are indistinguishable from the young adults.
Children are children – always have been and always will be. When they stop being children, they want to be adults and will want to read books for adults to find out how to be one. Reading Young Adult books only teaches them to stay young adults for the rest of their lives, just like their parents!
Young adults need to grow up to be adults.
Children need to be allowed to be children.
Can children have their prize back please?
Sites That Link to this Post
- Young Adult fiction, violence and childhood | Kenichi's Blog | July 9, 2013
- Sunday catch up | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? | July 14, 2013
- Are Teens Too Young for Teenage Books. | Bibliotropic | July 15, 2013
- Maggot Moon | crossreferencing | July 15, 2013
- Daily 07/19/2013 | READINGPOWER | July 19, 2013
- Adult Anxieties Over Young Adult Fiction Endure | Comic Book Legal Defense Fund | July 24, 2013
- Why You’re Never Too Old to Read Children’s Books | prettybooks | September 13, 2013