29 January, 2016

Coming Late to Children's Books

The winner of this year's Costa Book Award was announced this week. To the surprise of many people, Book of the Year was won by the winner of the Children's Book Category - The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, a Victorian mystery story. It is only the second time the a children's book has won the overall award (the first being The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman).

For me, this marks a trend I've noticed in the last few years - that of children's and Young Adult's books becoming increasingly recognised as works of literary merit and enjoyed by people of all ages Whereas they used to be the domain of under-16s and aspiring authors for that age-group, they are now unashamedly popular. I'm sure some of this has to do with the mass appeal of Harry Potter, but I hope it also has to do with an acceptance that books for children are not books that are written to a lower standard.

When I was a child I devoured books. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton, especially the Famous Five books and Malory Towers, but I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on. By my mid-teens I was mostly reading adult fiction, but thanks to the BBC Big Read in 2003, I ended up reading a lot of books for younger minds in my late teens and early-twenties. And I think I probably got more out of them coming to them later than I would've done a few years earlier.

Here are a few of the books I came to late which I would recommend for readers of any age:

  • Holes by Louis Sachar. I read this when I was suffering from a horrendous cold that stopped me sleeping. Instead of sleep, I lay in bed all night and read this cover-to-cover. I can't remember doing this with any other book. A story of a boy who gets sent to a detention camp where the punishment is to dig a hole of an exact size every single day, it's brilliantly engaging.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I've always enjoyed the romance of books set in "simpler times". I adored Anne of Green Gables as a child! This is a charming and witty book set in the 1930s and was a joyful read.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I'm not the only one here, I know. This book took the world by storm a few years ago and, although nominally Young Adult, has probably been read by as many Old Adults as Young by now, and deservedly so. It's warm and tragic and heart-breaking without being miserable or saccharine. It deserves every accolade it has received.
  • His Dark Materials (trilogy). I did try to read this in my early teens and didn't get on with it. Then I tried again later, and loved every sentence. Lively and gripping, but also chilling and moving. Perhaps the perfect Young Adult books?
Are there any books targeted for younger readers, that you have come to as an adult and enjoyed? The rise to fame of The Lie Tree has inspired me to search a bit wider for my next must-read book. It has been a long time since I read any Young Adult fiction, what do you recommend?


  1. I love Holes and I loved I Capture the Castle. (I've always wondered why Dodie Smith wrote so few books; her writing was brilliant!) I didn't come across Philip Pullman's books until I had foot surgery a few years ago. I like His Dark Materials well enough, although I'm not a big Steampunk fan, but I absolutely love his Sally Lockhart series (where Victorian London is traditional Victorian London.) Like you, I'm glad that fiction for young people is being recognized as literature.

    1. Sorry, Elizabeth - I missed this somehow! Thanks for commenting! I've never tried the Sally Lockhart books although they were made into a TV series weren't they?


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