Is Middle-Grade Fiction Really an Adult Reading Trend?

I stumbled upon this interesting article over at PW’s Shelftalker: Is Middle-Grade Fiction Really an Adult Reading Trend? Which is itself a rumination on a Wall Street Journal Article See Grown-Ups Read.

The WSJ article posits the trend that PW is responding to:

Middle-grade books have become a booming publishing category, fueled in part by adult fans who read “Harry Potter” and fell in love with the genre. J.K. Rowling’s books, which sold more than 450 million copies, reintroduced millions of adults to the addictive pleasures of children’s literature and created a new class of genre-agnostic reader who will pick up anything that’s buzzy and compelling, even if it’s written for 8 year olds. Far from being an anomaly, “Harry Potter” paved the way for a new crop of blockbuster children’s books that are appealing to readers of all ages. Recent hits include Rick Riordan’s mythology-tinged fantasy books, which have sold have sold some 35 million copies; Rachel Renee Russell’s “Dork Diaries,” which has 13 million copies in print; and Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which has sold more than 115 million copies. The eighth and latest book in Mr. Kinney’s series, “Hard Luck,” which came out last month, sold more than a million copies in its first week, and had a massive first printing of 5.5 million copies. It’s currently No. 1 on Amazon and tops The Wall Street Journal’s fiction best-seller lists.

Elizabeth Bluemle isn’t so sure this is right

I think what’s happening with middle grade books is a little bit different. At the Flying Pig, we don’t see adults coming in to buy Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries books for themselves, at least not yet. And while many adults are reading and loving middle grade books like Wonder, those adults are still, by and large, teachers and librarians and parents. In other words, as has long been the case for middle-grade books, our observation has been that adults who read middle-grade titles are still reading them primarily because they are sharing them with children. I don’t think our bookstore is alone in not seeing a marked recent shift in the middle-grade-book reading habits of the average adult reader. So what is this trend, really?

I think what is happening is that these books are finally on the radar of the general adult population, both because of bestseller lists and because many adults’ own favorite authors are venturing into the children’s realm. These forays by adult authors perhaps spark interest in and lend credibility to a genre previously overlooked by adults not in the know about children’s books. It’s sort of similar to the spikes we see with many celebrity titles. Those books get enormous amounts of publicity, and so reach into the nooks and crannies of the normally distracted adult brain. Unlike celebrity books, which all too often are preachy and not very well-written, many of the adult authors writing for young people today know how to spin a great story.

I will confess up front I have no hard data other than my own experience.  And the plural of anecdote is not data, etc.

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Wall Street Journal attacks young adult literature; book burnings to follow

Well, not really. But if you are at all plugged into the literary side of twitter, and the young adult community in particular, you would have thought that was the case.

The culprit was Meghan Cox Gurdon’s posing of this question:

Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

The result was a flood of vitriol, hash tags and quite a bit of rather ridiculous posturing in my humble opinion.

I read the article a number of times and I just don’t see it as the all out attack on young adult literature many make it out to be. To me it instead read as a complaint that yet another area of our lives seems to be becoming dominated by the dark side of life; and that maybe we should rethink this direction. There are caveats and acknowledgments that the issue is complex throughout but it is clearly written from the point of view of parents not an art critic.

To me the fundamental issue at the heart of this little internet controversy lies instead in the inability of many fans of contemporary young adult fiction to understand that there is a whole world out there that does not share their ideology or worldview when it comes to art, literature or raising children.

Sure, I think many in the YA community (reviews and authors) are overly sensitive and thus over reacted to what was really a rather standard response to popular culture. To be fair, I read YA fiction and can be sensitive about it myself but I don’t come from that world nor do I indentify with it strongly. There is a feeling that the genre or label has come of age in a sense and attacks on it in any form are attempts to snuff it out just when it has achieved something good.

But this article was not an attack on young adult literature or fiction for teens as a whole. Articles of this length are by nature made up of large generalities and Gurdon was simply asking whether it was a good thing that the hottest books for teens seem to be getting darker and darker; full of violence, language and sexuality that would have shocked previous generations.

Surely, this is not a shocking thing or a new complaint.  Are people unaware that this sort of thing disturbs parents; always has and always will?  It can’t possibly shock you that some parents are doubtful of the value of their kids reading about rape, incest and murder on a regular basis. Put aside whether you agree with it or not, why the anger and vitriol at what is a rather common belief and argument?

I think it is because it goes to the heart of the liberal view of art. More below. Continue reading

Wall Street Journal attacks young adult literature; book burnings to follow

Well, not really. But if you are at all plugged into the literary side of twitter, and the young adult community in particular, you would have thought that was the case.

The culprit was Meghan Cox Gurdon’s posing of this question:

Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

The result was a flood of vitriol, hash tags and quite a bit of rather ridiculous posturing in my humble opinion.

I read the article a number of times and I just don’t see it as the all out attack on young adult literature many make it out to be. To me it instead read as a complaint that yet another area of our lives seems to be becoming dominated by the dark side of life; and that maybe we should rethink this direction. There are caveats and acknowledgments that the issue is complex throughout but it is clearly written from the point of view of parents not an art critic.

To me the fundamental issue at the heart of this little internet controversy lies instead in the inability of many fans of contemporary young adult fiction to understand that there is a whole world out there that does not share their ideology or worldview when it comes to art, literature or raising children.

Sure, I think many in the YA community (reviews and authors) are overly sensitive and thus over reacted to what was really a rather standard response to popular culture. To be fair, I read YA fiction and can be sensitive about it myself but I don’t come from that world nor do I indentify with it strongly. There is a feeling that the genre or label has come of age in a sense and attacks on it in any form are attempts to snuff it out just when it has achieved something good.

But this article was not an attack on young adult literature or fiction for teens as a whole. Articles of this length are by nature made up of large generalities and Gurdon was simply asking whether it was a good thing that the hottest books for teens seem to be getting darker and darker; full of violence, language and sexuality that would have shocked previous generations.

Surely, this is not a shocking thing or a new complaint.  Are people unaware that this sort of thing disturbs parents; always has and always will?  It can’t possibly shock you that some parents are doubtful of the value of their kids reading about rape, incest and murder on a regular basis. Put aside whether you agree with it or not, why the anger and vitriol at what is a rather common belief and argument?

I think it is because it goes to the heart of the liberal view of art. More below. Continue reading