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Expectations for books for younger readers

26 Sep

girl readsEver since I started my blog, I’ve had middle grade and young adult book reviews mixed in with the other books I’ve reviewed. Most of these books have been ones I’ve selected to read for myself. Some are books that I’m reading with my daughter in mind.

I have no problem reading books for younger readers.

In her memoir A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle is asked “Why do you write for children?” She answers:

My immediate response to this question is, “I don’t.” … If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children. If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grownup, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books. And words.

Sometimes I answer that if I have something I want to say that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children. This is usually good for a slightly startled laugh, but it’s perfectly true.

I have several books I’ve read recently, but am waiting on the review while I try to figure out what standard I should hold them to.

Some of them have language that seems noticeably simplified. Some have characters that are acting all too age appropriate. I can imagine that I’ll come across books that back off on subject matter.

Young Adult Books

The issues are different for YA books than for young adults.

I’ve had the issue of teenage characters acting like teenagers, and annoying me.  That’s appropriate for the audience, and I feel I should give them some leeway on that.

On the other hand, the language should not be simplified, and subject matter should not be restricted for this age group.

I use my normal rating scale and call out any issues in my review.  I’ll let the reader decide.

Middle Grade

I’m having a harder time with the middle grade books.  I don’t know that it is fair to hold them to Madeleine L’Engle’s standard.

The best of children’s books clearly are there.  Even when reading the Harry Potter books, I never stopped to worry about any of these issues. I didn’t  need to remember I was reading books written for kids. I just enjoyed reading them, even if I recognized flaws later. This has been true of other books as well.

It isn’t always the case. On the other hand, things that bother me can be complete non-issues to my kid’s book review partner, my 11 year old daughter.

I’ve decided not to assign a numerical rating to middle grade books, because I can’t reconcile decide what scale to use.

I’ll try to call out in my review whether an opinion is relative to an adult reader or a child reader. If I read the book because I wanted to, I’ll represent both views as best I can.  If I read it as a book for kids, I may not bother with the adult view.

Books for younger audiences

In general, I’m not expecting to review books aimed younger than 3rd-4th grade.  There are always exceptions, and I’ll deal with them individually rather than coming up with a general policy.

What do you think?

Is that enough? Is there anything else you keep in mind as a reviewer, or would like to read in my reviews?  What do you do?

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5 Comments

Posted by on September 26, 2009 in blogging, books

 

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5 responses to “Expectations for books for younger readers

  1. Maureen

    September 26, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Laura, what an interesting post. I write fiction books for 9-12 years olds and even I don’t know exactly what makes a story good, I certainly couldn’t give a number rating, way too may factors. I do agree with Madeleine L’Engle’s comment that if it’s not good enough for an adult it’s not good enough for a child. I suppose ultimately if a child is eating their meals with a book glued to their free hand it must be a good one.
    Maureen Hume. http://www.thepizzagang.com

     
  2. Literary Feline

    September 26, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I really like Madeleine L’Engle’s philosophy on the matter. 🙂 I think what you’ve decided on sounds good, Laura. I definitely see where you are coming from with the Middle age and below books. And your plan for YA is fair too. Especially given the diversity in writing and topics that are out there.

     
  3. Debbie

    September 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve run into a similar problem with some of the YA and MG books I’ve read. Sometimes the writing style is so simplistic I can’t stand it and debate if it would have been better if I really were a YA or MG. It’s hard but I usually just try to mention what bothered me and the people who read my review can make up their own mind about it.

     
  4. Cheryl Malandrinos

    September 27, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I can’t say that I treat YA, MG or younger books different than the adult books I read because I agree with L’Engle’s philosophy that if the book isn’t good enough for someone my age, then it’s not good enough for children either. I do, however, keep in mind the target audience and the other titles that I’ve read that are targeted for that age group.

    I’ve read books that claimed to be for certain ages, but I considered them talking down to that age group. I’ve also found that the young characters in some books don’t act in a way that is appropriate for that age group. While each child is unique, children shouldn’t act like mini-adults and speak as if they are 30 instead of 13.

    I feel lucky that I have a full-grown son and two little ones at home. This makes me feel comfortable reading books in many genres and age ranges because I’ve been reading with my own kids for over 20 years. I also hope that I will have hit the mark with my readers when my first children’s book comes out next fall.

    Excellent post, Laura. Keep up the great work!

    Cheryl

     

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