More and more adult novels are being written at an 8- or 9-year-old reading level, if my research is an indication. So what’s the difference between children’s books and those for adults?
Humphrey Carpenter wrote in his trailblazing 1985 study of Victorian children’s literature, Secret Gardens, which has become modern classic:
“All children’s books are about ideals. Adult fiction sets out to portray the world as it really is; books for children present it as it should be.”
That may have been true when the first edition of Secret Gardens appeared and may still be true of the best children’s books. But in the two decades, children’s fiction has become far more likely to portray “the world as it really is” and to deal with subjects once found only in books for adults. Not everyone agrees that this change has been beneficial, I’m posting this quote as a reminder of it. Children need to have hope for the future. They get it partly from imaginative literature that shows an ideal world, or life as it could be, not as it is. The title of Carpenter’s study was inspired by a classic novel in that category, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which you can download for free on its page at the Project Gutenberg site.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.