It's true. I read children's literature. Lots and lots and lots of it. It's far and above my preferred content to read. Now, I'm a writer, an aspiring writer of children's literature, so part of my interest is professional, but let's be honest. Writers write what they love, and I love Young Adult and Middle-Grade fiction.
I've never felt a need to apologize for it, I think I have managed to find circles of friendships where others are reading the same kinds of things I'm reading. It is partly due to the fact that my social circles largely revolve around my children's school and their activities, and are based on the ages of my children, but it's been almost like a secret club membership, too. When I get talking kids books with other enthusiasts, the non-kids-book-readers are left out (for once! usually it's the other way around, where my eyes glaze over while someone talks about Water for Elephants or Lovely Bones or some other depressing romp through the roses.) And we kids-book lovers can go on and on and on.
Turns out there's a lot to read and enjoy in children's fiction! And many different paths to take. I personally take the speculative fiction path, which because of the lack of science fiction published in YA and MG, means mostly fantasy. Nothing wrong with that, but one of many reasons I write YA sci-fi is because there just isn't anything out there to read in YA sci-fi, and I want to read it (I've always wanted to read it, ever since finding my first Heinlein book on the shelf of my 8th grade school library.)
But I have other reasons for reading YA/MG. Here are a few of them:
1) It's less of a commitment to read YA/MG. I read the excellent fantasy series The Assassin's Apprentice early this year and it took me the ENTIRE month of January, plus some, to read 3 books. I prefer to be onto a new topic/book/concept at least once a week, preferably every 5-6 days.
2) I prefer the general tenor and tone of YA/MG. While dark themes are covered (Hunger Games in particular gets very psychological and dark) they generally (though I thought HG was the exception) end in a positive/upbeat way. The authors don't seem to feel the need to fill the stories with "it sucked, then he died" over and over and over, though there are some authors who do this who I tend to avoid because of it (or ones who put the main character in peril time and again with no break. Too tiring to read!)
3) There is some FANTASTIC fiction going on in YA and MG. Truly wonderful stories, wonderfully told, interesting ideas. I read science fiction and fantasy almost exclusively and the YA/MG writers understand how to create an abnormal situation yet make it completely intelligible to the reader. Grown-up speculative fiction writers sometimes forget this slight detail!
My favorites, in no particular order:
The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Anything by Shannon Hale, anything by Scott Westerfeld (including his high-YA stuff about late teens/early twenties kids like So Yesterday and Peeps), Diana Wynn Jones (oldie but a goodie), Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Of course Harry Potter, Twilight, and Percy Jackson series, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, The Magic Thief books by Sarah Prineas, Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Blue Sword and Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (those two are my all-time favorite YA books) and the Princess Bride (the novel is excellent.) .
One way we get the time to read more is by listening to them on audio books. We listen in the car (even short trips - because 5 minutes a day times about 3-6 trips/day equals plenty of reading time. It's also good practice for the kids to be able to pick back up where we left off a day or two before, remembering the plot and characters.) We listen while I cook dinner, or while doing other hands-intensive but mindless chores in the house like cleaning counters or organizing closets.
Shannon Hale's books are generally done on audio by Full Cast Audio, which uses...you know, full casts to do their audio books. Each character is played by a different voice actor (or a good actor using different voices/accents.) Way cool. The Golden Compass audiobook was done by a cast as well and I really liked that. The Prydain Chronicles narrator is EXCELLENT, as is Jim Dale who reads Harry Potter (as well as the Peter and the Starcatchers series, which didn't catch my fancy as much.)
I can't say enough about great children's fiction. Some of my writer friends believe that children's fiction is the only growing category, since a good book or series like HP, Twilight, and Hunger Games will cross over into the adult market (but you rarely see an adult book cross over into children's fiction, The Book Thief excepted, though it's such a borderline book since it features an eleven year old protagonist, but being narrated by death during World War II, it's really an adult work that is appropriate for more mature YA readers.)
Still not convinced? Okay, then I dare you. Try The Blue Sword, or Ender's Game, or The Book of Three (first in Prydain.) Try Dealing with Dragons (First in Enchanted Forest Chronicles) and try not to laugh at the way Dragons keep princesses in that fitional world. Immerse yourself into an ancient setting with Wolf Brother, or try to keep a straight face while reading The Princess Bride. See if you can finish The Princess Academy (Shannon Hale) without your heart racing along with Miri, the main character. I dare you to not get sucked into the Golden Compass. Try not to be surprised at the turns of events in Westerfeld's Uglies. I dare you not to cry at The Book Thief's climax. And honestly, I'm just picking out speculative fiction, there's a ton out there that's more mainstream like Chasing Vermeer and Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (or anything by Sonnenblick,) and mysteries to solve in 39 Clues, honestly at this point you've got to stop me because I could go all night.
So what about you? Did I convince you? What of your favorites did I neglect to mention?
Sidenote: Photo credit: iStockphoto via MS Office's clip art online gallery. I have no idea if I should be crediting/referencing that when I use their images, since I own the licenses to the software through which I gain access to the website. Would appreciate any insights...