With all of the talk about TWILIGHT today and how it affected the young adult market, I started thinking about how I came to young adult books. It wasn’t through TWILIGHT–although I wouldn’t be ashamed if it was. Despite whatever flaws those books have, I love them because I care about the characters. Plus, I just love vampires. You could ask my parents about all the vampire shows and books I read/watched as a kid well before TWILIGHT. Anyway ….
I wish middle grade and young adult books had been so prevalent when I was growing up. The only MG/YA books I remember reading as a kid were Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, The Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and the R.L. Stine/Christopher Pike series, and I was a voracious reader. When I ran out of those, I raided my mom’s books, which happened to be romance novels, and I was hooked. I discovered Jane Austen my freshman year of high school–the ultimate romance novel. I went on to study English in college, happily reading my classics interspersed with romance, suspense, and mystery novels.
The first Harry Potter book came out while I was in college, and a few friends told me to read it, but I wasn’t interested. (Crazy, I know.) I didn’t read those until the first couple of movies came out and my husband and I decided to read them together. We’ve just started reading the first one to our kids. So Harry Potter didn’t turn me on to MG/YA, either.
It was a story idea. I had this dream one night for a story about a young boy, and it wouldn’t let go of me. I didn’t know anything about writing for kids, so I started researching. I attended a Writer’s Digest webinar with an agent who listed about a dozen MG/YA books she said aspiring writers should read. I went down the list in order. And as I started writing and researching other agents, I looked up what books they represented and read those. (That’s why I have such a handy list of MG/YA books agents represent.)
Over the past several years, I’ve gotten to the point where it’s rare for me to read an adult book. Usually it’s an author I’ve been reading for years or something an agent or author friend recommends where the premise stands out to me. Although there are exceptions in the adult market, often MG and YA books have more flexibility to move across genres. And I’ve gotten used to the faster pace of the stories. I find myself getting impatient with adult books, wanting them to move more quickly to the climax. Finding MG/YA books has changed my reading habits forever. And I love the conversations I already have with the kids I know about what books they should read :).
So that’s how I discovered the amazing world of MG/YA books. What about you? Was there a gateway book/series that led you to reading MG/YA? Or were you just smart and already knew how fabulous these books are?
As a teen, I worked for years in the children’s section of the local library, so I read a lot of MG and YA books (which were in a section called “teen fiction”). But I didn’t start reading YA again until my daughter turned 11. I was constantly at the library, picking out YA books to feed her reading habit, and I got hooked on them all over again!
I think perhaps the “teen” books existed when I was a teenager. The problem was that I couldn’t find the right books for me when I was around 4th/5th grade, so I got hooked on adult books early and stopped looking once I was in middle/high school.
A friend recommended Harry Potter to me – practically throwing the first book in my face – and I’ve never looked back.
I hope you thanked that friend :)!
I lucked out, timing wise – I was about 9 when the first HP book came out and in my mid teens when Twilight came out. I’ve also read many novels that we don’t think of as young adult, but that fit the bill: The Hobbit, Ender’s Game, etc. But I read adult novels too, and that’s typically what I write. Still, I do have a big spot in my heart for YA!
That’s a good point about books that aren’t labeled as YA because it wasn’t a category when they came out. I think that’s the benefit now–that it exists as a dedicated section we can direct readers to (or find ourselves of course :)).
I really never stopped reading YA/MG . . . oh, there were those few years in high school and college that I had to read “Adult Reading Lists for Literature” classes, but I turned back to my childhood favorites in my early 20s and decided that I wanted to write for children, too.
I’m curious what some of your favorites were when you were growing up. Maybe I should go back and read some MG/YA from the 80s and 90s! I think I missed out.
Oh, goodness, I was reading in the 70s! Gulp. See how old I am? 🙂 My absolute favorite book was THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE by Elizabeth Goudge, which was a very old book when I was a child. My mother found it on a recommended reading list in a children’s magazine and I got it from the library and absolutely adored it. (It’s not actually a horse story; it’s magical realism, an English manor house, adventure, mystery, an orphan girl, humor, drama – it’s awesome! :-)).
My entire life I never knew anybody else who had ever heard of the book – and then a couple years ago I heard J.K. Rowling, in an interview, say that her favorite book as a child was THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE – and I gasped out loud!
I also loved Nancy Drew, read/own about 60 of those, and I read a lot of historical novels as well as a variety of other mystery writers like Phyllis Whitney. Another fave I reread a lot was TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE by Carol Ryrie Brink of Caddie Woodlawn fame – but I also *adored* HARRIET THE SPY and reread that a lot. And THE WESTING GAME. MAGIC ELIZABETH – loved! The Summer of the Swans. Are You there, God, it’s me Margaret? A Wrinkle in Time. The Egypt Game. From the Mixed Up Files. Probably read the Little House Series at least 5 times.
Um, yeah, I read a lot . . . and this is only the tip of the iceberg. 🙂
No, you’re not old. I was born in the 70s :). I have read THE WESTING GAME and A WRINKLE IN TIME only recently, and I have FROM THE MIXED UP FILES sitting around here somewhere. I’ll have to check out some of these others!
I do have to say that when I reread some of these oldies, but goodies, I’ve been surprised at how much better contemporary writers’ prose is today. Some of these older titles definitely have an old-fashioned feel. Like the book, Two are Better than One. Even though it was fun to read after 40 years It didn’t quite live up to my adoring memories. 🙂
I don’t think I ever really stopped reading YA books. Maybe for a while in college and shortly after when I realized my parents weren’t going to see what I was reading. 🙂
Did you ever read any of L.J. Smith’s books? She was writing YA paranormal fantasy back when we were in high school, way before it was cool. She’s the original author of the Vampire Diaries books, even though I liked some of her other series better.
No, I haven’t read L.J. Smith. I’ll have to check her out. The Vampire Diaries is one of those series I’ve also intended to read and never got around to. I’m sure I’d love it!
I’m sure you’d love the original Vampire Diaries books; I’ve heard mixed reviews of the ones published since the TV show started. Also definitely check out the Secret Circle trilogy, about a coven of teenage witches in New England. She also wrote a series called (I think) Nightworld that was intriguing because it has all kinds of supernatural creatures, but I petered out after the first couple waiting for the next one to be published.
Thanks for the recommendations!