For grown-ups who want to know more about the books kids read there’s a great new resource — A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Edited by Martha Parravano and Roger Sutton of the venerable Horn Book Magazine, this book is filled with smart and opinionated essays, reviews, and information by smart and opinionated children’s book experts on a wide variety of genres, books, and ideas about books. Sensibly starting with books for the youngest in “Reading to Them” they move on to “Reading With Them,” ” Reading on Their Own,” and finally for teens, “Leaving Them Alone.” From Mother Goose and Elmo to The Catcher in the Rye, the range is far-flung and far-ranging. For avid adult readers eager to communicate their love of books and reading to the children in their lives this book is an excellent bet.
Wanting to know more about the book and its genesis I checked in with co-editor Roger Sutton.
I know this book was in the works for many years. What gave you the idea initially to do it and did that initial idea change as you worked on it? If so, how?
The Horn Book had been trying for years to reach a parent audience, but the Magazine is simply TMI for most parents’ needs. When Marc Aronson and Candlewick asked us to do this book, it seemed like the perfect vehicle.
I love the way each section focuses on a developmental reading stage and shows how children move out as they grow up. As you sifted through the Horn Book archives, as you looked through them for seminal essays to include, did you notice changes in societal notions regarding these different reading stages? That is, are there certain assumptions about reading, development, and books for children that have changed drastically over the years the magazine has existed? Or are some more cyclical than we realize when in the midst of it?
The Horn Book has always responded to the times–it was founded just as publishing houses were starting juvenile book departments, so our early years have the spirit of a new adventure. Later we would see editor Ruth Viguers responding to a post- and cold- war world, Paul and Ethel Heins advocating for the richness brought to children’s books by greater artistic freedom (and federal money) in the late 60s and 70s, and Anita Silvey holding steady while the children’s book market became more oriented toward retail sales. Most of the material reprinted from the Magazine in The Family of Readers is from the last fifteen years (my tenure as editor), which I think have been greatly affected by my own reading childhood: get out of the way and let me read what I want!
What about boundaries? Say the recent discussion about kids moving on to chapter books too soon and thus missing out on picture books. Or tweens eagerly wanting to read books like Twilight. What are your thoughts and recommendations to parents on these dilemmas?
See answer above–I’m horrified by the idea of a child being kept away from a book because the adult sees it as too easy or too sophisticated. Every reader, adult or child, needs both. The parent’s job is to make sure that the kid gets to find out about all the riches that are out there.
The YA market seems to be booming at a time when other genres are not. What about high-end teen readers? I know there has been some debate about books that might have been published as adult ending up being published as YA, say The Book Thief. Where do adult books fit in the continuum for teen readers?
From the age of about nine, I read both adult books and children’s books, the great (Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Henry Huggins) and trashy (Valley of the Dolls, The Happy Hollisters) alike. Voracious readers like I was read everything, putting stuff that was (or is) over our heads in the mental box the British writer Francis Spurling called “Don’t Get It.” I hope that today’s teen readers aren’t pushed away from adult books. While it is true that YA literature is wider and richer than ever before, it is largely restricted to coming-of-age themes, and sometimes you want to read about someone who has been there, done that, and moved on. I like spy stories, and even as a kid would have dismissed the Alex Rider books as silly. On the other hand, I still find John Le Carre too grownup for me.
And finally, what is happening to the whole concept of the book? In this time of e-books, Ipad apps, dwindling sales of traditional books, and fear that we are going to hell in a handbasket where do you think things will be by the time you are ready for a second edition of your book, say ten years from now?
I believe that a lot of what we say about books and reading will remain true regardless of where and how a book is read. Is, say, The Hunger Games that different when read on a Kindle? But I think there will always be books that need to be printed and bound, relying on physical features (the die-cuts in First the Egg, for instance), page turns (any picture book worth reading), or collectibility (any beloved series) for their appeal. Plus, people are going to have to do something when the power runs out.
Also at the Huffington Post.