Cerucee just posted about her difficulty figuring out what books kids will like. She notes:
as a selfish adult reader, what I’m constantly looking for is glimmers of adulthood in those books–complex plotting, elegant art, darkness, sophistication–and I get excited when I see them, so excited that I sometimes forget that what makes a book a good grown-up book isn’t necessarily right in a kids’ book. The first service of children’s comics is not adult readers like me, but to children.
That’s a reasonable enough stance, certainly…but it’s not one I share. I mean, I’m happy enough to tell other adults what they should read and why; I don’t know why it should be different for children. I don’t always agree with my son about what’s worthwhile, but I don’t always agree with my wife, either. (Steve Earle…blech.)
The truth is, I think a lot of the things Cerusee points to: complex plotting, elegant art, darkness, sophistication — can easily be things that kids like too — especially if you’re talking young adults. Many of the great young adult series, in fact, are extremely dark and complicated. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Madeleine L’Engle…and for that matter Dokebi Bride, which I was just rereading. They’re all aimed at tweens, or even younger, I’m pretty sure. The Harry Potter books, for that matter, are quite complicated and plenty dark.
Obviously, when you’re dealing with 5 year olds (as I am) you don’t want anything too scary. But still, I think there’s often quite a bit of overlap in taste…and I guess, moreover, I don’t see why I shouldn’t have an opinion. The point of children’s literature isn’t solely to entertain children. I have to read the stuff, after all; that makes me part of the intended audience, surely. The best products for children often keep in mind that there’s an adult audience as well — not too many kdis are going to get Alistair Cookie, but it’s thrown in on Sesame Street because they know that there are a lot of folks out there who *will* get it. And lord knows, if you’re home with the kid all day, it’s not selfish — or, at least, it’s very reasonably selfish — to want to be able to interact with the entertainment without being hideously bored or irritated.
Besides, it’s not like all adults hate all kids books. I like a lot of what my son does — Sesame Street is great, obviously (though he’s a little beyond that now.) So were the Teletubbies, actually — pretty visuals, tripped out plots, what’s not to like? And of course there’s Peanuts, which is probably about the best comic ever, for kids or adults. And there’s Dr. Seuss and Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and on and on.
Cerusee says she tends to like adult books for their adult qualities. There are definitely things that kids aren’t going to like that much — explicit sex, explicit gore, complicated dialogue that references stuff they don’t know about. But the things that are fun in children’s literature are often things adults can and often do like too…imaginative goofiness, slapstick, fart jokes, cute animals, pretty art, entertaining wordplay. In short, I don’t think there is or has to be an aesthetic barrier between children’s comics and adult comics. Let there be commerce between them, as some adult said.