Stuff for Kids

I found it interesting yesterday that the comments about Wonka seemed to be evenly divided between “I didn’t like the Wilder version because he scared the crap out of me” and “I liked the Burton/Depp version better because the Wilder version was too saccharine and Burton/Depp brought the weird.”

So some folks thought Wilder’s version was terrifying (raises hand, also points to Marilyn Manson, who also clearly found it terrifying, as he co-opted the “rowing song” which may actually be some sort of other literary allusion, but Google’s not helping me out much), and some found it “too sweet.” Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to Burton’s brand of weird. It’s like, oh look, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, and Deep Roy. Must be a Tim Burton film. Or maybe I just had to sit in that boat with Gene Wilder too many times as a young, impressionable film.

I also remember an interview Jack Black did when School of Rock came out where he talks about how folks think that acting in children’s movies is such a step down or whatever, but then cites Wilder’s Wonka as something that may be a tad too intense for the kiddies.

All of this, by the way, segues neatly into my rant for the day, which is about the trend I’m seeing in a certain family of YA reviews that’s making me very hot under the collar. Hey, it’s great that folks are reading YA. But they have done it with a certain level of condescension which is amazing to me.

“XYZ is unique in children’s books, because you don’t often see this level of intensity/horror/consequences/violence.” (False. I’ve seen some pretty horrific stuff go down in YA novels. Read How I Live Now, or Life as We Knew It or Living Dead Girl — or a book without any form of “life” in the title: The Forests of Hands and Teeth — to see some more pretty horrific stuff happening to the characters.)

“XYZ is pretty good, for a book for children, but I doubt the author will be allowed to take it to the next level, because children’s books rarely do that.” (The “that” in question, by the way, is a rebellion against the powers-that-be by the teen main characters, which is so common in YA fantasy and SF books that it’s practically a cliche.)

“It was so obvious to me in XYZ who she was going to end up with.” (This from a romance blogger –the mind boggles, really? You knew who the hero of a romance was? — about a teen romance based on a retelling of a classic romantic plot)

“I read XYZ’s author’s adult work, but the YA is probably too simplistic/uninteresting to hold my attention.” (Insert any of the following authors into that statement: Allegra Goodman, Neil Gaiman, Sherman Alexei, Mark Twain, Robert Heinlein, Cory Doctorow, Scott Westerfeld, John Scalzi, Kelly Link, Richelle Mead, PC Cast, me…)

And then I look at someone like Roald Dahl, who pulled no punches when it came to writing for children, even cutesy, fantasy, genre books. His stuff was dark. It was intense. It was often scarring. Witches scares me to this day. And that’s not even YA. that’s for children children.

Also, have all these folks forgotten what these teens are reading in school? Hamlet. Macbeth. The Iliad. The Sun Also Rises, Farenheit 451. As I Lay Dying. The Jungle. Lord of the Flies. The Crucible. Where are they getting the idea that kids read simplistic/happy-go-lucky/non world-shaking stuff?

What’s so cool about today’s YA is that it’s a response to the fact that, in the past, teens were jumping straight to adult books because so many of the teen books weren’t intense/complex/world-shaking enough to hold their interest.Β  YA imprints get this. There are all kinds of books published in YA now that I know whould have been adult a few years ago (Madapple comes to mind) and all kinds of books that were published adult that would have been (and perhaps are now) being repackaged as YA (Prep and The Lovely Bones, for example and Life of Pi already is).

In honor of that, today’s giveaway is THE HUNGER GAMES, which has already achieved massive crossover appeal from the kids market to the adult market, and was one of my favorite books of the year. It was pretty close to a perfect book; I had a few quibbles with the inclusion of a aliens-land-in-chapter-14 scene near the end (those of you who have read it probably know which scene I’m talking about). But an astounding read. I so can’t wait for the next one! I’m currently making my way through Suzanne Collins entire backlist (Before this, her YA debut, she wrote MGs.)

Leave a comment here to enter.

P.S. Those of you signing up for my newsletter today can check the archives on Yahoo to get the message I sent out yesterday with the prize. There will be another next month.

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34 Responses to Stuff for Kids

  1. cg says:

    I know exactly what you mean…I worked at a library for 5 years shelving the YA and going to college…People do not want to be seen reading YA…they even released the Harry Potter books with adult covers…

    I read YA because I love it…and I don’t care who knows…

    PS: I have been wanting to read “Hunger Games” for a year…:)

    Thanks for everything

  2. beth says:

    I totally understand what you mean about Roald Dahl, “witches” freaked me out, but “BFG” will always be one of my top books.

    And yay for “hunger Games”! that’s been on my to-read list for quite some time.

  3. JoLee says:

    I loved The Hunger Games. I even dreamt about it at night. However, I definitely agree that that one scene was really strange.

  4. Diana Dang says:

    That’s true, these days YA novels are getting less compelling to me. But I don’t really read the adult novels either because that section of the bookstore is too big and I’m a bit lazy to look around.

    Hm, now that you mention it, Witches is dark. But I liked it when I read it, even when it was eerie.

  5. Dan says:

    I still haven’t seen Burton’s remake, but I find it hard to believe that Depp could be creepier than Wilder. Granted, when I watched the original as a kid, it never struck me as particularly terrifying; it wasn’t until I watched it again some years ago that I realized that Wilder’s Wonka is a complete sociopath (I had similar reactions to THE DARK CRYSTAL–why would anyone let a kid watch something this terrifying?!)

    As for the stigma and misconceptions towards YA, all I can say is “meh.” As the kid who grew up reading comic books and sci-fi/fantasy before it became “hip”, I never really cared what people thought about the stuff I was reading. If I liked it, I read it.

    That being said, some of the best books I’ve read in the last few years have been YA: Harry Potter (of course), Higson’s Young James Bond series, City of Bones. All YA, all amazing.

  6. Tiff says:

    Hey Diana, I think everything you’ve said is true, but do you have examples of some of the articles from the β€œI read XYZ’s author’s adult work, but the YA is probably too simplistic/uninteresting to hold my attention” section? I’ve been trolling the internet for these, and I’ve only found a few. Please help!

    I am of the opinion that the Johnny Depp-Wonka is so creepy that I can never ever watch it again.

  7. Jess says:

    Amen. πŸ™‚

    And I am of the opinion that the Depp version of Wonka is so creepy I won’t even watch it. πŸ˜‰

  8. Diana says:

    To be fair, I did find Depp extremely creepy, but it was in a “pastiche of Michael Jackson” way, rather than a uniquely Willy Wonka way. Combined with his “pastiche of Keith Richards” pirate (which I do admit I loved) I’m wondering what musician he’ll target next. πŸ˜‰

    Tiff, I’ve mostly heard authors talking about this as being a reaction from fans — a sort of “when are you going to go back to writing real books” sort of thing. I’m sure Scott Westerfeld talks about it on his website and I’ve heard it froma bunch of other people too. A lot of folks won’t read books if they are in teh children’s aisle. There was a post about this on John Scalzi’s blog a while back, where all the readers were saying that they would feel “weird” going into a YA section, and they were sure that the YA books by Author x weren’t good enough for them, etc.

  9. Dan says:

    Since Depp is playing the Mad Hatter in Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, I guess the next musician he’ll target will be Tom Petty. πŸ™‚

  10. dulce says:

    i tend to just ignore people who talk smack about YA. YA is too varied to say “all YA is-” and the people who do say that just don’t want to se that…
    maybe their afraid to realize that some teens are reading stuff way more advanced then some adults are…

  11. Fenna says:

    Yeah for the Hunger Games…comment!!!

  12. ILuvLA says:

    Hummingbird with the head of a dragon catching an arrow in its beak?

  13. PurpleRanger says:

    Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME has also been remarketed in recent years for the YA audience.

  14. Teresa W. says:

    I enjoy YA and Hunger Games sounds good!

  15. Meggy says:

    I so agree with you about the YA. A lot of YA authors have posted similar things, too. For example:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/05/02/why-ya/

  16. Liza says:

    I really enjoy reading YA books. Of course they are like any other type of books, you will find both good and bad(I’ve been very lucky with my choices so far). I haven’t heard of The Hunger Games, but would love to give it a try.

    I have to say Johnny Depp’s Wonka is much creepier. I agree that he did channel Michael Jackson a bit too. I think it was his voice more than anything that creeped me out. Of course, I love the original Willy Wonka movie and watch it several times a year.

  17. I didn’t watch the remake, but saw the photos. Depp looked creepy and unappealing. (As opposed to his creepy but appealing roles.) πŸ˜‰

  18. katayoun says:

    i do agree with alot of things you’ve said about ya, what i really don’t get and understand is why have all these genres and then try to fit them in, i mean a good book is a good book and after children get to a certain age they should be allowed to choose what they think they would like to read, what it this need to having ya and chicklit and all these different categories and then trying to put books in them and then someone dimissing them as not really writing (cause chicklit is looked at by most as ya, not really serious and you have to hide and read them). and also on the other side it gives people the chance to write really non-books and to be able to pass them off as ya (or chicklit) as it’s ok for these book to be badly written and to have no plot and story!!

  19. Melinda says:

    Hunger Games is great. I’d love to have my own copy.

  20. Jennifer says:

    I just finished reading Tender Morsels, a difficult book no matter what the age of the reader, between that and Hunger Games I feel well-equipped to argue with anyone who doesn’t think YA books are worth reading. Part of my problem is that I don’t understand why other people don’t understand that in both YA and adult books there is a huge range in both age and reading level. Most popular adult books are written at a fairly low reading level but are geared towards adult experiences. Many YA books are the same, but with teenage protagonists and concerns. But many in both genres are very complex and difficult and I think it’s weird to think that “graduating” to adult books is an obviously good thing.

  21. Lizzy A says:

    I didn’t really like the Johnny Depp version mainly because Michael Jackson freaks me out…and that was ALL I thought about. I however DID like the original version, despite the Cheer Up Charlie song, which wasn’t my favorite.

  22. Kelsey M. says:

    I recommended Secret Society Girl to a friend of mine who just got accepted to Yale ED today! Oh, and this is my comment to hopefully win Hunger Games! Thanks!

  23. Lauren says:

    People really do underestimate YA literature these days. It’s crazy intense!
    I mean, a book I read in Middle School was Stuck in Neutral and that deals with a lot of heavy topics and mercy killing, for example.

    As for books we read in school? Definitely more then “happily ever after” stuff. Just think Titus Andronicus. People were EATING their children without knowing it in that Shakespeare play.

    I’ve heard good things about Hunger Games. I’d love to read it!
    -Lauren

  24. Alyssa says:

    I had just put The Hunger Games on my to-read list. Count me in. I personally found Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka to be much creepier. But I grew up on the old Willy Wonka so that could sway things. I enjoyed the new version but I definitely prefer the older one in the end.

  25. MD says:

    I just read a Hunger Game review by Stephen King –the book sounds like a great read!

  26. Jen says:

    Oh my goodness, I just ranted about this on my blog today before coming over here to see you’d done it, too. Ha!

    I just read a review the other day that was very dismissive and condescending about a YA novel and YA in general. Then, I went on to read other reviews about adult novels. If he didn’t like something, he stated it was written in a YA tone. Can’t. stand. it.

  27. Tez Miller says:

    Eek! Still waiting for THE HUNGER GAMES to be released in Oz… Anyway, would love to be in the running, please.

    Have a lovely day! πŸ™‚

  28. Emily M. says:

    This book look really good!

  29. Aimee C says:

    I have heard great things about this book! Thanks for the contest!

  30. Kaela says:

    Call me crazy (or just plain obliviously stupid) but I didn’t even notice the resemblance between Johnny Depp’s Wonka and Michael Jackson until I started hearing that’s why people didn’t like it or even go to see it…As much as MJ creeps me out, I love Johnny so much I appreciate anything he does…And I can’t wait to see him as the mad hatter :o) Guess it’s too late to enter the Hunger Games contest but i did put a hold on it at the library and I can’t wait to read it!

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  32. Laura says:

    Now I’m sitting at work on a snowy Saturday humming the boating song from the original Willy Wonka to myself. Creeeeeepy!

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