“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
― C.S. Lewis
When I wrote The Artifacts I didn’t give a thought to the age of the reader. I just set out to make a picturebook. Of course, the publishing world can’t run properly unless books are connected to the right readers and when it came time to upload the app onto iTunes we had to decide what age the ideal reader would be. We guessed the category of 4+, because younger kids seemed to enjoy playing with the caterpillars. Older kids and adults would understand the themes. But once again we’re about to upload our next storyapp onto the store in the coming weeks, and I’m scratching my head about the age category thing because until the story’s out there, really out there, you don’t actually know how it’s going to be received.
I think Midnight Feast is darker than The Artifacts but it does include some slightly bizarre humour, so I’m not sure if that will override or counterbalance the dark ending, or possibly make it feel even worse.
Do picturebooks need an age category at all? (Excluding board books, of course, which are clearly for toddlers and babies.) To my mind, picturebooks are for everyone except for maybe adolescents, who self-identify as too old for kid-lit and are keen to identify as adults. Adults, especially adults with children and grandchildren, often revisit picturebooks and derive as much pleasure the second-time around.
The ideal picturebook must surely appeal to all ages. Yet it feels like hubris to announce that ‘this is for everyone!’ when we all know that no book can possibly be for everyone.
On picturebooks and ages, Maria Nikolajeva writes:
Even today in many countries children’s books carry age recommendations: “7 to 10 years”. The same practice in mainstream literature would seem ridiculous; no one would suggest recommending an adult novel “for men between the ages of 35 and 45.” These recommendations and genre markers, however, have arisen out of the common prejudice that “children” are a homogeneous group with homogeneous preferences, tastes, interests and previous knowledge.
– from Children’s Literature Comes Of Age (1996)
Philip Nel writes similarly:
Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them.
And in an article headed ‘How Not To Write About Children’s Literature‘:
Children’s literature is quite unique in that it has to appeal to both the ‘adult’ and the ‘juvenile’ reader in a way that, say, Chesil Beach never can.
And that pretty much sums it up.
See also: Children’s Books For Adults from Brainpickings, Cynical Children’s Books For Adults at GOOD, and Are Chidlren’s Books So Stylistically Different From Books For Adults? at Educating Alice, What it means when kids aren’t allowed to know about bad things from Real Social Skills