I have a friend on Facebook - well, really a friend of a friend but, in the way of social media, she has become my virtual friend as well - who reads a lot. She is always posting her delight at receiving another delivery of books. The odd thing is that much of what she reads seems to be stories for adolescent girls, stories set in boarding schools with names like Mallory Towers or St Botolph’s.
I remember really enjoying such stories when I was about nine or ten years old and really liking the idea of being sent away to school to have adventures solving mysterious crimes and then having midnight feats in the dormitory.
Now, I have long assumed that this fondness for children’s literature was a bit of oddness on my virtual friend’s part. After all, don’t most people grow out reading such stuff and move on to proper murder-mysteries or even established works of great literature? You don’t even need to spend all your time reading Tolstoy and Dickens. There’s a whole lot of grown-up but a bit less weighty stuff out there.
But now it seems that my virtual friend is not alone.
UK book sales monitor Neilsen says that in 2018 10.5 million works of children’s fiction were bought by readers aged 17 or over. 39% of children’s literature is bought by readers over 16 and millennials have been identified as the biggest adult consumers.
I am not totally averse to reading books aimed at children. Some of them are very good. When our children where 9 or 10 I remember reading to and with them some really good books: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Moondial by Helen Cresswell, goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian to name but a few. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
But these are not the kind of thing that the millennials are buying. They seem to prefer Paddington Bear and similar books that I always felt were for much younger children.
A lecturer in English one of the Cambridge University colleges explains it in this way:
“Adults who read children’s fiction can glimpse the beauty of thoughts pared down to their most naked and vulnerable. Adult literature often revels on complexity, ambiguity and doubt. But some of the most enduring children’s works reveal the world as we seek to view it, in a distilled and clear, focused. They provide us with the narrative tidiness we yearn for and the clarity of focus that so often eludes us in adult life.”
So there it is!
I am off the reread The Tiger who Came to Tea and then maybe Bear Hunt.