Children and young adult’s book markets are increasing, and according to a Writers and Artists article by Chris Kloet, editor at Walker Books, around 10,000 new children’s titles are published in the UK every year, and there is also a current vogue for “young adult” novels.
But can this be only attributed to the children and teenagers’ reading habits? Siobhan Curham, author and writing coach, said: “Young adult books blur the line between children’s and adult books because there is a big cross-over, with many adults reading them.”
What distinguishes a children’s and a young adult’s book? Joshua Cartwright, who works for Wealdstone Library and also is a writer of children’s books, defined it as “books with stories or information which is understandable by the age group that they are adapted to”. Siobhan Curham gave a more specific answer: “A children’s book is written for people up to the age of 11 and young adult books as 11 or 12 plus.” However, and as a young adult novelist, she said: “I know that a lot of adults also read my young adult books.”
Books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’s works win high popularity among adults. Sanchita Basu De Sarkar, who runs Children’s Bookshop, believes that children’s books have always been an essential part of people’s lives. Some picture books are favourite among young adults as well. Sanchita recommended: “Not only would grownups buy a picture book for the beautiful illustrations, but also because the story that is being brought up can be explored as adults.”
Even though adults read children and young adults’ books, the bookshops and library areas are different. As Clare Zinkin explained: “When a children’s book is successful with both adults and children, it’s usual for the publisher to release the same book but with a different cover, to split the market.” That happened, for example, with Harry Potter books and Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree.
This trend has also been driven by the market, which launches new versions of books that adults used to read when they were younger. Harry Potter books are one of them, and there are others, such as the recently launched book My Mum Tracy Beaker, by Jacqueline Wilson, which reaches out to adults who read Tracy Beaker’s stories as children.
Another example is Matilda, a book published in 1988, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, which is now commemorating 30 years of the first publication. To celebrate this milestone, three new books have just released, called Matilda at 30, each one of them imagining the careers that Matilda might have at 30 years old: world traveller, astrophysicist and chief executive of the British Library.
Do adults understand children’s books differently? Clare Zinkin said: “Different people access different things in the same books. So, it may be that a child and adult reading the same book will glean different information.” For example, while on one occasion, the content may be emotional for the adult reader, the child will take away more about the adventure. But she also mentioned: “Some children’s picture books have in-jokes for adults.”
While a book is a good source for entertainment, Siobhan Curnham also writes young adult novels with educational purposes. There is one thing all her young adult novels have in common: the importance of daring to follow your dreams. Siobhan also likes to use her books to raise awareness of issues that mean a lot to her.
“In my latest novel Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow, I tell the story of a teen refugee from Syria arriving in the UK and the friendship he forms with a music-loving British girl, who is living in poverty.”
Clare Zinkin believed that “it can only be a good thing for people to read, no matter what they are reading.” However, she thought that “children’s books can be equally rewarding in providing escapism or teaching empathy as adult books.”
The calibre of children’s books is also very high at the moment. Clare Zinkin mentioned: “The quality of children’s books means that they can sustain into people’s adulthoods and prove to be rewarding readings.” In addition, Siobhan Curnham believed that adults read children’s or young adult books probably because they feel nostalgia for their own childhoods or teenage years. She herself read children’s books: “I love revisiting the favourite books from my childhood, like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”