A couple of recent reviews of The Order of the White Boar set me thinking about who might be reading it.
One reviewer, Anna, said she doesn’t usually read children’s novels, but she loved The Order. Another, Cecily Anne, said it was ‘one of the best works of children’s historical fiction’ she had ever read and that she would keep it for when her own children were ready. A third, JA Stafford, said she had bought it as a gift for her niece and nephew but had to read it first herself.
This seems to be a theme with readers of The Order of the White Boar – adults, perhaps already with an interest in King Richard III and medieval history (although not always), buying the book for their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, children of friends, but first reading it themselves. Several of the readers who were kind enough to offer me feedback on the book when I first completed it were themselves adults who enjoyed it – so this hasn’t come as a complete surprise to me.
But should it have?
There has in the past been a certain amount of ‘snobbishness’ about children’s books in the adult literary world, and it has been demonstrated in the tiny amount of space dedicated to reviews of children’s literature in newspapers and magazine – I seem to remember even the Guardian and Times Literary Supplement being called out on it recently.
Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree was a very rare case of a children’s/young adult book winning a major non-children’s book prize when it was awarded the Costa Book of the Year in 2015, following Philip Pullman’s success with The Amber Spyglass back in 2001 (which won the Whitbread prize and was shortlisted for the Booker). Between these two came the enormous peak of success for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, with accompanying films from 2001 onwards. Soon to join Pullman and J.K. in enjoying the Hollywood treatment is Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go (following the triumph of the film of A Monster Calls, a book co-written with Siobhan O’Dowd).
All these books – and many others released in recent years – are masterful treatments of very important and often dark themes and ideas; they write of triumph and tragedy, life and death, extreme violence, loyal friendships, war, illness, religion, ethics, injustice. Sometimes a little romance too. All subjects for people of all ages.
Yet why did Bloomsbury feel the need to release the Harry Potter books in ‘adult-friendly’ covers? Did some adults really feel embarrassed at being seen reading a ‘children’s book’?
I like to think that this is no longer the case (if indeed it was back in the early 2000s). Personally I’ve never stopped reading children’s books throughout my adult life. Susan Cooper, David Almond, Malorie Blackman, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff have always rubbed shoulders with Austen, Tolstoy, Mantel, Rushdie and Philip K. Dick (to mention just a few on my bedside table at the moment). Is this because I write for children? I don’t think so. Maybe, conversely, I write for children because I have always read such books – and understand their value.
I’ll leave it to others to discuss and debate the true value of books for children and young adults – there must be plenty of PhD students and lecturers in universities researching into the subject, gaining far greater insight and knowledge than I ever will.
Or are there?
What do you think about adults reading children’s books? Do let me know!
(My thanks to Yuko, Bloomsbury and RosemarySutcliff.com/Library Thing for the images.)
Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK).
Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at: