As a teen I read a few of the Heinlein juveniles about the same time I was getting introduced to Heinlein’s fiction for adult readers. But for their younger characters, I didn’t see that much of a difference between the two.
I’ll ditto what Stefan says here, and add that, as someone who came of “reading age” in the 80s and early 90s, I enjoyed reading Heinlein’s juveniles. They had a charm that I recall being disastrously missing from some of his “adult” novels, which I tried around the same time.
To spin-off a comment from Marie, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “dated” book in the hands of an avid reader. Most of us read anything and everything we could get our hands on as kids, and the next generation of avid readers will do the same. The cool kids may deign to read Twilight because everyone is doing it. The avid readers will read Twilight and The Three Musketeers and Have Spaceship, Will Travel and every other book that’s in their school library, not because it “appeals to their generation,” but because they want to.
Sadly, I remember my son and his circle of grade school friends all moaning and protesting bitterly because they were being forced to read Treasure Island, and it “was too hard to read” and “boring” and they “didn’t understand what was happening.” And both my grandchildren “hate reading,” and read nothing at all except at gunpoint. So not all children are readers.
I should point out that they never were. The percentage of children who are avid readers is relatively small, and always has been.
Guy Gavriel Kay
Gardner’s last two points here seem ‘on’ to me. YA fiction, much as I lament some of the trends, does create norms and expectations. That means ‘classics’ can be too far outside those expectations. Double Star ends up akin to Treasure Island.
The second point about percentages of avid readers is true, of course, but I’ll add a lament. It isn’t about the avid readers. They will read Dickens, Bronte, Tolstoy today as in an earlier day, and do it at twelve or thirteen.
The lament is about the sometime reader, the ‘I don’t mind a good book sometimes’ reader. For them, the classics, variously defined, are increasingly lost causes. The librarians with whom I discuss this sometimes speak of ‘mirror’ books and ‘window’ books, and suggest that the former hold dominant sway today.
I don’t, by the way, agree with earlier comments that science fiction is ‘out’ for YA today. Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness? The one is a megastar, the other is a very good success d’estime, and there are others, of both sorts. I think language and tone play a huge role today, and readers, not just younger ones, need to feel at home with those. That’s part of the ‘mirror’ thing. I believe readers used to be more able, willing, open to moving outside their comfort zones in these ways.
I think American education has a lot to answer for in its disenfranchisement of young people from reading. I remember the stuff they wanted us to read in school, and thought most of it really beat. Did every kid in America have to read Death of a Salesman? What a sad sac affair. Like Nick said, they could have been reading Jack Vance or something that interested them. The message of DOAS was we were all headed for lives of misery, to be sucked dry by the system. Most kids response to that is, “Wake me up when it’s over.” The need for society at large to control the reading of kids squeezes all the excitement out of it. There’s always got to be a lesson to be gotten out of it. Dragsville. Because society squeezes the life out of reading, when it does offer a kid a really great book, there’s no desire to read it. Interesting politically is the fact that schools disenfranchise kids from reading — the perfect tool for teaching yourself and a passport to all the places they never mention in school.
The discussion will continue later on this week.