Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Children’s Books

with 4 comments

So, considering the amount of snark I got yesterday when I said I didn’t want children’s books in my search for an astronomy book, I think I’d better expand.

First, yes, YA is indeed for children, just slightly older children.  I’m willing to concede that there’s a vast range there, but the old Sweet Valley High series was YA, and so were  the Goosebumps books. 

And YA has all the things I don’t like about children’s books–restricted vocabulary and simplification of concepts being the biggies.

But my animus to children’s books didn’t start recently, not even as recently as my own adulthood.

I can’t say I’ve always rejected children’s books.  I had one I remember to this day and loved dearly, a Little Golden Book about a duck billed platypus.  It was the first book I ever knew myself to read by myself. 

And I bought my children children’s books when they were small.

But by the time I was about ten, I had no use for them–I felt actively insulted when librarians tried to steer me to the children’s book room.  Eventually, I had to have a parent come in and okay my ascent to the classical novels on the second floor. 

In fact, the various attempts by teachers and relatives to get me to read children’s books infuriated me–I felt as if they were denigrating my i ntelligence, calling me stupid in a coded way, downgrading my status as a human being about twenty notches every time they did it.

But my requirement for the astronomy book isn’t about that.  It’s about the level of difficulty I was looking for, because the level of difficulty determines the completeness of the explanations and exposition.

I don’t need an absolutely rock bottom explanation–I read enough already so that I’ve gotten past that point.  What I do need is something coherent that will pull a lot of things together. 

But I do think I am seeing something in what still seems to me to be the ever increasing resort by adults to children’s books.

In novels, I think it has to do both with the prose–the sentence structure, the vocabulary–and the use of literary devices that I can tell from my own students aren’t being taught in schools any more.

With other things, I don’t know.  If you haven’t watched Cosmos, you should–both because it’s good, and because the I’m-teaching–a-bunch-of-bright-sixth-graders tone is very, very obvious.

You’ll notice that I’m not STOPPING.  I watched it this week, and I’ll watch it next.  It’s very well done and very interesting. 

But with the astronomy, I want something that will take me up and beyond the level I’m already at.

Written by janeh

April 23rd, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Children’s Books'

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  1. If you don’t mind a book intended as textbook, this one seems to be on the level you’re looking for:


  2. Oh, and doesn’t cost a century and change.

  3. You know, I can’t remember ever being pushed towards children’s books. My First Grade teacher sent me home with an adult short story collection, and all a children’s library card ever meant to the librarians was that I shouldn’t check out more than seven books at a time. So I’d read Mark Twain and the “Mushroom Planet” books at the same time.

    Looking back, while I had the vocabulary, I often lacked the context. CS Forester’s THE GENERAL made a lot more sense once I knew more about WWI, for instance. But literary devices were worse. I was some time realizing that viewpoint characters didn’t always have the author’s sympathies, which was troublesome with Wouk and Drury, and I can still remember the shock of my first unreliable narrator.

    The push for me–and I’m STILL pushing back–was to get me out of that nasty science fiction and fantasy and those escapist adventure stories and into something “realistic.” “Realistic” seems to have a distinct meaning in literature: danger without heroism, sex without romance, work without accomplishment and, always, behavior without principles. I sometimes wonder what alternate dimension our critics come from, because that’s certainly not realistic where I come from.

    Combined with that was the notion that superior people read superior books–or maybe that the books were superior because superior people read them. I was never sure about that. I was only sure that neither the books nor the people were ones I’d want to spend time with.

    But a rant for another day.


    23 Apr 14 at 6:25 pm

  4. I was allowed to read practically anything I wanted. Our local library – an unusually good one for the size of the town – of course had its shelves separated into children’s, Grade 8, and adult sections, but the librarian (a family friend) never stopped me from borrowing books from the ‘wrong’ shelves. She, like, my mother, didn’t encourage me to read things like Harlequin romances and books by Grace Livingston Hill, but she didn’t stop me from reading them either. (My mother did try to stop me, on the grounds that books like that gave girls the wrong ideas about life, but I read them anyway).

    What I disliked from an early age were the children’s editions of various classics. I thought they were cheats, with stuff left out. I wanted the real thing, and I was never intimidated by long books or unfamiliar words and writing styles.


    23 Apr 14 at 6:44 pm

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