Dave Morris, author of a number of successful 1980s titles for youth, writes about the coming of fantasy gamebooks:
It was the early 1980s, and children's publishers really didn't know what hit them. For decades they'd been turning out nice cozy books based on their mental picture of a short-trousered scamp with a cap gun in one hand and a bottle of ginger pop in the other. In fact, even that view may be too generous. Hardly a single children's editor was male, or under forty, and mostly I think all those nice ladies just wrote boys off as not wanting to read books. Their ideal reader was sweet, quiet and mild as milk. So, not really like most girls at the time either.

They got a rude awakening. Boys did want to read books, and tomboys too - just not the books the publishers had been churning out. They wanted blood, guts, gore, mayhem, violence, and gutsy action. And most of all they wanted to be the hero.
Any reason to think that a similar situation doesn't obtain today -- in not only children's literature, but young adult literature?

My usual preferred response is to say that there are plenty of wonderful titles for boys, they just are older. But being older, they are better! As indeed they are.

But these gamebooks serve a role as a gateway to reading, and a bridge to the older titles for children whose elders think of themselves as categorically different from the generations that came before. Why then read a 19th century redaction of a 15th century work? Why read chronicles of the Hundred Years War? Why even read about hobbits and Rangers?

Well, perhaps because you were introduced to them, and found yourself at home in their company.


Eric Blair said...

When I was a kid, and I mean like, 2nd grade, I was reading Guadacanal Diary. And Clarke, and Asimov. Treasure Island. White Fang. Alas Babylon. I guess Stevenson counts, but I don't think I ever read "children's" books, per se.

Grim said...

My favorite book as a child was The Hobbit. Now that is real children's lit -- Tolkien wrote it for children he knew and cared about. But it's not the stuff they're talking about.

I didn't get around to reading White Fang until I was an adult. Nobody suggested it to me as a boy, though I would have loved it.

Anonymous said...

I was reading everything I could grab off the Science Fiction shelf, which still remains huge at the local Borders, at a time when "girls" were supposed to grow up to be mommies and nothing else (ha! none of my aunts did that!). Anybody who thinks boys don't read should just mention "Wheel of Time" to any group of male college students, and stand back.

I also read Stan Lee's books about comics. Stan Lee discovered that the themes of great literature sell. To kids. Boys. Hence the success of Marvel Comics, a wildly successful American enterprise.

I have observed my own sons, and while one was bookish, the other was more into video games. The best video games turn on intellectual content, too, typically the strategy to beat the game. The one that loves video games has a fine strategic mind.

Meaty intellectual content sells. Boys and girls love the great themes of literature, and they love to figure things out. The big trick is how to slip something in that will hook them.


Anonymous said...

There's a hot argument going on in the writing world over YA books, what defines them (age of protagonist, not propriety of content), and do we need a new rating system for them or should we start sticking G-PG-PG13-NC-17 labels on them. (Yes, there are some "young adult" books that I would rate R for violence and sexual torture, in one case involving enslaved 13-year-olds in a brothel in Mumbai. That book I found on the "borrow me" shelf in a 6th-7th grade classroom.) Fewer YA books have much meat, or plots and characters that interest everyone, than they used to. Oh, and this year the "trending" themes are: suicide, chronic illness and disability, and more books with post-apocalyptic and dystopian settings. Vampire romances are out.