I’m currently reading Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for an online MOOC. That stands for Massive Online Open Course. It’s an interesting concept, to offer online course for free, in real-time, with instructor interaction. I’m taking the course for two reasons.
The first is that the topic is fairy tales and science fiction. Okay, that’s already a draw for me, given the type of MG books I write. The second reason is that I’m very interested in how a MOOC works. I am a university professor, after all.
Putting that tidbit aside, the theme of this post is how Middle Grade books, books aimed at younger readers, have changed over the years. We speak of classics, and Lewis Carroll’s two books about Alice certainly fit the title of classic children’s literature. But would kids, today, read them if they had a choice?
This reminds me of how my daughter, when she was younger, devoured books by the handful. One series of books she enjoyed was L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. She read them one after the other, enjoying them for their imagination. Then again, as an adult she devours science fiction.
Her reading tastes were quite diverse and, unlike many if her peers, she was willing to try out classics as well as new titles. Can we say the same for those we currently write for?
I’ll admit, as kid, I wasn’t much of a reader. It wasn’t until high school, when I discovered science fiction, that my reading habits, and frequency, changed dramatically. So, I missed reading most of the classic middle grade books, including those by Carroll and Baum.
Today, reading Alice for the first time, I’m captured by the shear brilliance of Carroll’s imagination, and can see how a child in his era might fall in love with the writing. Alice seems, at times, oblivious to the true meaning of the odd happenings she experiences. The plot is both silly and, in its world, believable at the same time.
But the reality being sliced and diced, by Carroll, is not our reality. Alice is a girl of her time, and acts accordingly. She is no genius, no clever solver of puzzles. Neither is she a trickster, someone who’s meant to shake things up. And she is not, most definitely, a rebel.
Alice is unlike most kids, today, yet I feel she can still speak to today’s children. Yes, it may take a bit of work for our young readers to get into the character of Alice, but hopefully not too much work. And this makes me ask whether or not a story such as Carroll wrote would be found saleable by today’s agents and editors. Even the director Timm Burton was forced to turn Alice into an older action hero to make her appeal to today’s audience.
Just the fact that I have doubts regarding the appeal of these wonderful books to our current crop of young readers brings me sadness. Are the books that have been written, are being written, so disposable? Have we created a readership that always wants something new in deference to classic, well etablished titles?
I have no answers to these questions, merely fears. I am afraid of the answers I may find.