I’ve been thinking about kids’ books lately. Young adult fiction, to use the technical term. I’m working on a young adult novel, but really I’ve been thinking about reading kids’ books more than writing them. I miss the total escape of a good adventure or fantasy book when I was, oh, elementary-school age. Books were way more absorbing to me than real life. My mom always fell asleep before I did, and by second grade I was lying in bed reading until 1 or 2 a.m. I’d pick up a couple of books at the school library, read them that night,bring them back the next day, and start the process over again.
I think I may have been the only child I knew whose mother yelled at her for reading too much: “Leave your book at home–you don’t need to take it in the car just to go to the mall!”…No, you can’t take your book into the restaurant…No, you cannot read at the same time you walk.”
I still love reading, and in some fairly obvious ways, Toni Morrison or Jane Smiley or Ian McEwan are actually a better read than, say, James and the Giant Peach. But I have to think so much more now when I read. I can’t fully appreciate adult books without taking time to absorb them, process them, enjoy a lovely line or image. And that thinking process pulls me back into myself.
Back in my days as a nine year old, there was no me left when I was turning the pages of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or A Wrinkle in Time. Bunnicula and The Lost Legend of Finn and Nancy Drew. Anything with alternate worlds or time travel or mysteries or talking animals. I was equally obsessed with more realistic animal stories–Jack London or Jim Kjelgaard–and later with pulp fiction, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I was reading, I wouldn’t hear my own name called. The rest of the world literally disappeared and all I saw was the story. I miss that.
It’s one reason I still love to read great young adult fiction (that and the fact that I like to know what my stepson is reading.) Harry Potter, the Inkheart series, City of Ember, Lemony Snickett–they still have the power to make the real world vanish.