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Monday, March 26, 2012

Adventure Books


Where were all the great adventure books for kids when we were growing up? I'm talking about books for the 10-14 year old reader. I'm talking about stories we could have identified with when we were that age. A difficult age. Not really a child but not an adult. There have always been lots of stories for little kids. What happened to the interesting books when we were in fifth through ninth grades?

The adults in our lives told us to read or gave us books like Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Little Women—classics that were written long before our time and in a manner that required so much concentration we lost sight of the story. Where were the books written in our time? The only ones I remember were stories about teen girls in early Michigan by Elizabeth Howard, like Peddlar's Girl and North Winds Blow Free.

Maybe there were other books written then that I knew nothing about. We lived in a rural area where the library for our school (2 whole classrooms for K-8th grades) consisted of a 3-shelf bookcase in each room. The public library was ten miles away. The county bookmobile came to our school once a month, I think, or maybe twice. My grandmother always sent a book for birthdays and Christmas. I know she meant well, but the books were the above-mentioned classics that never held my interest. While I enjoyed my mom's Nancy Drew collection, the books were written in the 1930s—more than a little before my time. A rumble seat? Ri-ight. I could really identify with that.

Where were the Harry Potters, the Katniss Everdeens, the Percy Jacksons, the Gallagher Girls? Today's books have characters who act and sound like contemporary kids. They have fantastic adventures. Their lives have at least a touch of reality that the reader can identify with. More than anything, though, I think it's the voice in which the stories are written that captures the reader's attention. The classics were written in the style of their time—the 1800s. They weren't classics then. They were just good stories. Then.

I am fascinated by all the books available for kids today. How to choose what to read next must be a problem for them. What a problem to have! Maybe an interested teacher or librarian who knows a kid well enough will recommend one—the way the bookmobile librarian did for me with the Elizabeth Howard books. More likely, it's one of their friends saying, "Hey, you gotta read this."

How I envy them this wealth of books. Or not. I can read those books, too.

What books do you remember from your pre- or early teen years?

13 comments:

  1. It was Susie Hinton who started the ya revolution in the early 1970's with The Outsiders. Until then it was teen romance in the 50's nd Little Women. Middle grade readers weren't given real attention until the 1980s with Francine pascal's Sweet Valley Twins and the Choose Your Own Adventure series that we loved as kids. You hit almost all of my favorites. I'd add Anthony horowitz's Alex Rider series, Brian Jacques Redwall series, Watership Down by Adams (I think), Persepolis, patterson's Maximum Ride, smith's Bone graphic novel series, and colfer's Artemis Fowl books. Phew! What a blessing to have so many options!

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    1. Oops I forgot the fabulous panel of authors with whom I had the privilege to present: Janet Tashijian, tommy greenwald, and John coy.

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  2. Now, you all know who steered me to the great kids' adventure books being written today. My daughter, the middle school teacher. Mucho thanks, sweetie.

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  3. I know what you mean, Diane. Mad Magazine wasn't exactly a book, but it showed up in my early teens and I blame reading it for my twisted sense of humor. Desperate as I was, I started writing stories myself. Certainly Harry Potter would have been on my list.

    All the best, Annette

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    1. Ah, Annette. Kindred spirits. I forgot about Mad Mag. Thanks for reminding me.

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  4. I remember Mad Magazine, too! I was trying to think back to middle school and couldn't remember any books I read for enjoyment! But we did have magazines - I remember reading Seventeen Magazine (long before I was Seventeen) and devouring the articles on how to improve myself. But books? Not so much. My kids and grandkids read a lot more than I did back then.

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    1. Did you read the movie fan mags, too? I was (still am) a movie trivia fan.

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  5. I was a horse crazy pre-teen and teenager. I read everything in Walter Farley's Black Stallion series and all of the other horse related books published back then.

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  6. Also being horse crazy, I loved the Misty of Chincoteague series. I still want to visit those islands to see the pony roundup (and sneak a pony home!). I agree there weren't a lot of options for YA readers in our day, and I was happy when I could go into the adult section of the library. I remember reading lots of books by Irving Stone (I think that was the author) who wrote presidential biographies with a bit of a romantic twist. (I think The President's Lady was one.) We were fortunate to have Scholastic book fairs at our school, and I discovered A Lantern in Her Hand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Joy in the Morning. Although those weren't really contemporary books for that time, I loved them. And would you believe my brother-in -law is related to Elizabeth Howard? I believe she was his cousin. I remember him lending me a copy of her book North Winds Blow Free, and he told me about her when I expressed an interest in writing. Yes, there are lots more YA books now; that and romance are probably what's carrying the publishing industry right now. Just think, the last three really big series of books (and the franchises they fostered)were all YA: Harry Potter, Twilight, and now Hunger Games. Sorry to ramble but it's a great topic!

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  7. You all are reminding me of books I'd forgotten. I guess I was one of those odd girls who never got into the horse books. Like Lucy in high school, I read a lot of adult books. I really enjoyed the Irving Stone stories about presidents. How interesting that you are sort of related to Elizabeth Howard, Lucy.

    BTW, that wasn't a rambling post. Good point about YA and romance carrying the industry.

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  8. Nancy Drew. Trixie Belden. Judy Blume. Hardy Boys. Great post, Diane! Thanks for taking me back...

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  9. Nancy Drew and the Little House on the Prairie books are what I remember the most. I still have my beautiful hardcover Little Women with the inscription from the grandmother...while it was hard for me to focus on the book when I was so young, I treasure it today.
    Great post Diane!
    (and thanks for visiting my blog - the saucy scribe!)

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    1. Debora, thanks for stopping by. My grandmother also wrote in all the books she sent. Those are books I'd never give away. Well...maybe to my granddaughter when she's old enough.

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