Thursday 30 April 2015

Do Authors Dumb-Down Childrens Fiction?

So to say I've been thinking about writing a post on why I read young adult books still at the glorious age of 25 or why I'm not ashamed, for a long long time would be an understatement. But it wasn't until Darren Shan posted something eye catching on his facebook page recently did I understand that its not just a case of explaining why I love them , half the time we feel like we have to justify the reasons when we can read what ever takes our fancy and if someone doesn't like it then I'm just going to be sticking two fingers in the air from now on. I'm sick of having to explain to people why I read what I read, and I'm sick of feeling stupidly bashful while talking to someone about a 'childish' book..

I don't know if any of you that are reading this has seen in the papers recently but apparently Anthony Horowitz the author of the best selling Alex Rider books and various other things, has basically accused David Walliams of dumbing down books for children, and it's something I feel rather strongly about. So today ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to talk about what he said and why I don't agree with it.

He was quoted saying..

'To some extent, narrative fiction was reinvented by JK Rowling – it's hard to believe that children weren't challenged by books that stretched to 760 pages – and a phalanx of writers crested on her success: Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman, Eoin Colfer, Darren Shan... and me. Today it is Jeff Kinney and David Walliams who top the bestseller lists, with books that are witty and entertaining but nowhere near as ambitious.'

He was also quoted mentioning John Green, whose book we all know are labelled young adult but are enjoyed by everyone of all ages, he said that people should follow in Green's footsteps and 'write up for children, not down to them’. There have been plenty of young adult books I've read and didn't like, ones that I couldn't connect to the characters or just felt it was too childish for me, but the key thing in all of this is the age it was actually intended for. David Walliams books I'm sure are enjoyed by people of all different ages, but are essential aimed aimed at pre-teen kids. The first thing I thought about when I read the article was why aren't children allowed a light-hearted book? Because that's all they are. Young girls have light hearted contemporary or girly books about school and other things relevant to their age group, so why can't boys (I'm just assuming its more boys who read his books, I could be very very wrong) have a light hearted book? And more to the point, just because they are enjoying his stories doesn't mean that they aren't reading more 'challenging or ambitious' books on the side.

I agree 100% with what Darren Shan had to say on the subject:

It's always a fight to a) reach new young readers, and b) hold onto them as they grow up. I love that the fact that there's a market for bold YA writers like Philip Pullman and Patrick Ness (and, indeed, myself and Anthony). But if there aren't writers like David Walliams providing decent reading fare for 8, 9, 10 and 11 year olds, then they probably aren't going to fall in love with reading at a young age and graduate on to the likes of us when they hit their teens, and then even more advanced writers like Vonnegut or King or Joyce or whoever when they're adults.

I haven't read any Walliams books yet, but I read Phil Earle's latest, Demolition Dad, recently, and I think it falls into the same sort of bracket. While it's not going to set heads spinning and stomachs churning the way I hope my books do, it's a warm, clever, funny, moving book that I really enjoyed and I hope to share it with Dante when he's the right age for it. When he's a bit older, I then hope he goes on to find Tolkien and Robert Cormier and Eoin Colfer and lots more. But there's a time for everything in life, and I don't think we should be pushing young readers to run before they walk.'

I think the reason why this really hit home with me, was one because I didn't enjoy reading till I was around 12/13 (and they were Mr Shan's books haha) and because of my nephew, Zack. He's 10 next month and for the past year he has really got into books. Though I haven't read any of David's books (yet) he loves them, he finds them funny and he loves the characters, but he also read and loved books by Darren Shan, Rick Riordan, Michael Morpurgo and recently started the Skulduggery Pleasant. Zack is only a child, he is reading the books aimed at children/teenagers and he is the prime example as to why I don't think it's fair for someone to try and say something negative about what people like David Walliams are achieving. As Darren Shan mentioned, authors like David Walliams are crucial to providing the gateway into the world of reading for many people, if the children deicide to read more serious books as they grow or they stick to the light hearted stuff its their choice, at the end of the day they are still reading. No author, or reader should be criticised for the books they read or write, authors are still providing a story someone can be engrossed in and the readers are still the ones going on the adventure, to a school or to a far away land with monsters and dragons where everyone is green and talks funny, my point is it shouldn't matter as long as they are happy.

Darren Shan (and J.K Rowling ) were my gate way authors into the something I now have no idea how to live without, apart from my family and my little girl, my passion for reading is the biggest thing for me and I wouldn't have had that it if was for the like of The Saga of Darren Shan, a light hearted paranormal (with heaps of depth) that had me hooked very early on. After I finished the series I was in search of more like it and when I had found and finished it my search continued some more after, thus creating a spiral of me going from not reading anything much to completely devouring book after book. Caitlyn really enjoys books right now, and I couldn't be happier, but when she gets old I can't imagine ever trying to discourage her from whatever book she's decided to read (with it reason obviously). I just think we should be embracing the fact that kids want to read in general, instead of telling them they should be reading something different, but that's just me.

*I would like to point out that Anthony Horowitz hasn't actually stated that he didn't like the books, or really say something terrible, I just think it was completely unfair and unjustified for him to say what he did.

Do you agree, or do you think authors dumb-down?


  1. Ooh, this is an interesting post. Details, gory, descriptive details of death or sex, or whatever are obviously going to be watered down for kids. I recently read The Spook's Apprentice and personally felt like the writer's writing style felt too, too "dumbed-down" (for want of a better term...) for that age bracket and that children are capable of reading a more complex style of writing--but then I thought: how do I know this? I don't know that the author has intentionally simplified his writing--just for the sake of kids. Maybe that's just the way he writes! And maybe I just wasn't a fan of it. That's okay. Plenty of people love his series, and even though I wasn't one of them, that doesn't matter. The moral of what I think: regardless of whether authors may or may not have "dumb-downed" their writing for children--what does it matter? Any reading a kid is doing is GOOD reading, right? If they feel like something is too childish, too young for them, then they're going to move on. Sometimes, a book doesn't always need depth to be "good" in my eyes. (Eighteen here, and I still LOVE reading kids books. :))

    Great discussion!

  2. I pretty much agree with what Darren Shan said, too. And I don't think it's a matter of author intentionally saying "oh, they're not smart enough to understand this, better dumb it down" most of the time. I think it's just a matter of their writing style. Like he said, you've got plenty of writers who don't do anything like this and plenty that have a little more simple writing styles, and that's so important because then there's something for everyone.

  3. Oh, haha, I see diaryofateenwriter and I had the same thoughts about writing styles! Oops.

  4. I think some authors, not "dumb down," but keep things simpler. Even though some YA characters are aged 16-18, their plots are more for younger teens moving up to those age brackets as opposed to the teens that are moving up to college soon. (Or older readers who still have good taste in novels.) Others pull out the heavy stick and beat your emotions to pulp and destroy your hope of the future. But I think all that is a matter of taste. When I was 12 I wasn't a big reader. Now I read an exceptional amount. But my tastes have changed over the years I have been reading. So I think all that simple or deep, is just a matter or reading taste and writing style.

    Dreams @ Once Upon A Dream Books

  5. Great post Stacie! I think kids should be encouraged to read in general - it's getting them started reading things that they enjoy in the first place that can build them up to reading something more 'complicated/sophisticated' in future if they choose to do so. Books are books at the end of the day. If they are 'simpler' in the children's book section, then who can blame authors for writing them that way? It depends on the child and what they feel comfortable reading, or what the parents have some control over what they are exposed to.

  6. Wow, this is a fabulous post! I agree with everything you said here. I think there can and SHOULD be books for every age, every preference, every topic that a writer feels like writing about and/or a reader feels like reading about! Plus, let's be realistic- not all kids, or even adults, can or even WANT to read "sophisticated' literature. I stand by the whole "it doesn't matter what you're reading as long as you're reading" adage. There's a takeaway from every book, and I don't think that Anthony Horowitz has a right to say which books are or aren't worth reading, because they are ALL worth it.

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight


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