Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Crossover Books

This post is sort of a continuation from last week's.

If there had been a section called Young Adult back when "To Kill A Mockingbird" was first published, according to today's rules it would belong there. I've read more than one literary agent's guidelines that state something like, "If the protagonist is a child or teen, the book is for children."

Well, what if the protagonist is a hobbit...or even a rabbit? When I ran a children's bookstore, we kept a copy or two of "Watership Down" on the shelf. I can't recall selling a single copy of it. The general bookstore across the street from my store carried it too -- in their fiction section. They didn't carry books for children.

But what about this year's "The Book Thief?" It was marketed originally in Australia as a book for adults, even though the protag is eleven. Here, it's called a young adult book, but I've seen it in both children's and adult's sections of bookstores. This book is a successful crossover book - it appeals to an audience of many ages.

Harry Potter -- another obvious success in the crossover department. And Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" was a surprise crossover. Adults love Edward just as much as teenage girls.

Because I write for teens, I read a LOT of middle grade and young adult books, both new releases and some of the old favorites I read as a teenager. Just finished Judy Blume's "Deenie" the other day...ah, the memories. There are many, many young adult books that I think adults would love. Pick up just about any Newbery Medal or Honor book and you'll find yourself engrossed (I said 'just about'! There are a few that make me shake my head and go 'what were they thinking').

I don't really like compartments, but I can work with them. I'm not sure why the industry has turned in this direction, but for a need for organization - everything in its own defined space. Or maybe the intent was to show kids, "Here -- this is for you. A section, a space, something to which you can claim ownership, in hopes that it will make you want to read more." Did this all begin when R.I.F. began? I have no idea. I never really spent much time thinking about it before.

I wish, though, that calling something YA or MG doesn't somehow 'alienate' adult readers, or cause adults to decide that YA books are for kids, not for grown-ups. Because the adults are really missing out on some terrific stuff!

I'm hoping to see a larger, growing trend of 'crossover' books. Books with child or teen protags that adults will read, even if they have to go to the YA section to find them. I'd guess most bookstores will double-shelf the crossover books, with a few in YA and a few in whatever special adult section it belongs.

Your comments are encouraged.


Sharon Hurlbut said...

When I go into a bookstore for myself, I ignore categories. I could care less if a book is labelled for kids, adults, teens, whatever. All I want is to find a book that will engage me, will show me something new, transport me, and yes, entertain me. I discovered Richard Peck a few years ago and consider him one of my favorite authors, period.

On the flip side, I'm the parent of a gifted child who began reading fluently at age 3. She was reading at a junior high level by age 4. There is a big gap between what my daughter is capable of reading and what she is able to comprehend, both intellectually and emotionally. Categories in the children's section are mildly helpful to me in finding books that are challenging and engaging enough, yet still appropriate in content, for her. You'll notice I say mildly. Despite the fine-tuned categories, it's still up to me to read a book first and determine if it's right for her. Many of the books I get for her are Caldecott and Newbery winners, classics that I read as a child and that I know will help her stretch and grow without taking her into an adult world where she doesn't belong. It seems to me there's a gentleness to those older books that is missing in much of the modern stuff.

Finally, as a writer, I know that I would love to write books that appeal to both kids and adults. I think kids have a greater sense of story than adults, and if I could write stories that capture the imaginations of children, then I would consider myself a success.

Thanks for opening up such an interesting discussion Lisa!! I hope you don't mind my lengthy post.

Anonymous said...

Not to insult you Sharon but I don't believe in censoring/prereading, even for four year olds. Yes, had two who read at that age. Just have lots of Shakespeare around and they'll cope.

And, in the same vein I guess, I would never give a YA or MG book to a young person. As I believe I said to you, Lisa, according to those rules Romeo and Juliet is an MG book/play. I just hate hate hate the boxes. And in my heart of hearts I suspect it is for the convenience/profit of the corporation rather than the children or parents.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Hi Cat! I have to agree with you - I think the categories have to do with selling more books. By compartmentalizing things, they create more niche markets.

And no, I'm not offended by your comment at all. Shakespeare is great! But my girl is incredibly naive (we don't watch tv in our house) and there are definitely concepts she's too young to handle emotionally, like murder, sex, etc. I'd love to hear more about how you deal with such smart kids!

Anonymous said...

I dealt with them as if they weren't smart :) I know that sounds flip but I was too smart and skipped grades and the like. But I missed so much social stuff. So I treated mine as if they were average.

As for the reading, it is my experience that if they read everything and -- a huge and, I admit -- nobody makes a big deal out of it, they mostly skip over the disturbing stuff or stuff they don't understand. Mine would read stuff later and SWEAR that it had been changed.

Anonymous said...

YA is a strange market. Unfortunately a lot of people consider it fluff. I've known teenagers who refuse to read anything from the category,as they have moved onto "adult" books. My experience is that there are a lot more teeny-bopper books in the "adult" section. Young Adult needs more sub-categories. Why do adults get the choice of Mystery, Chic Lit, Classics, etcetera, while YA gets clumped together under one genre? There are great literary novels squashed between The Olsen Twins and Goosebumps.

I don't know about the young protagonist= young adult thing, but I have seen "If writing YA, your characters must be at least 14."