Young-adult books? Or kids’ books?

What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? asks NPR in its summer books poll. Votes are coming in from adults as well as teens, reports Atlantic Wire.

Readers can choose 10 books from a list that includes “Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat series; Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson; Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; the Betsy-Tacy books; the Anne of Green Gables series, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese, Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy; and Judy Blume’s Forever.”

In a post, NPR’s Petra Mayer explains she cut A Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie, many Judy Blume books and Where the Red Fern Grows, as  “too young” for the category, which includes readers 12 through 18 years old. But A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I read in sixth grade, was excluded for being too mature.

The panelists aimed to include books like Catcher in the Rye, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which have been essentially “claimed by teens” but weren’t initially intended for them.

I‘m not sure Catcher and Lord of the Flies have been claimed by teens. They’ve been assigned to teens. (Count me among those who thought Holden Caulfield was a whiny brat, even when I was 16.)

The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (teens with terminal cancer fall in love) are front-runners in the poll, so far. The top 100 teen books as selected by readers will be posted on Aug. 8.

Is Encyclopedia Brown Young-Adult Literature? asks Ed Week Teacher, responding to a Flavorwire list of the 10 greatest young-adult series of all time.

The cultural news site included The Time Quintet, the Redwall SeriesThe Earthsea Cycle, and the Artemis Fowl books among their top picks, but excluded The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lord of the RingsHarry Potter and The Hunger Games because, according to the editors, they’re already “so well established” and don’t need to be on a “list like this…”

Commenters are debating the line between children’s books and young-adult books.

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  1. (Count me among those who thought Holden Caulfield was a whiny brat, even when I was 16.)

    Preach it.

    Lord of the Flies is assigned, but not enjoyed. A much better example is Ender’s Game.

  2. OK, you cannot – absolutely must not – place Hunger Games and Encyclopedia Brown in the same category as Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies. That actually makes me physically ill.

    And Lord of the Flies is immensely enjoyed when taught well. The same goes for Holden.

  3. Obi-Wandreas says:

    I was assigned “Catcher in the Rye” as summer reading in high school. I have a great deal of respect for Salinger. After writing “Catcher” he had the common decency to never show his face in public again.

    Oddly enough, “The Basketball Diaries” had a very similar plot. The primary differences being:
    1) It’s a true story
    2) The kid had the excuse that he was on drugs

    The greatest generation grew up in the depression, then came of age fighting to save the world. Their desire for their children to have a better life resulted in an explosion of self-indulgent invented hardships, the likes of which the world had never seen, and the consequences of which we still suffer. This book captures the zeitgeist of the whiny perfectly.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Now there’s a “transgressive” reading.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Do you dislike the character Holden Caulfield, and thus judge the book based on your dislike of the character? Similar types of criticisms have been levied against Franny and Zooey because of reviewers’ dislike of the Glass family and how “perfect” they were and superior to the great unwashed with whom they were forced to mingle. The Glass family lived in their own world as did Holden Caulfield but their imperfections are there for all to see and consider as well as their own thoughts about themselves, and of course, their observations about the world.

  4. Cranberry says:

    It’s a very uneven list. The Betsy-Tacey books are far too young for 12-18, as is _The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of her Own Making_.

    There’s a great deal of self-indulgent fantasy on the list, which might be fun reads, but shouldn’t be on any list of “best” novels.

    I’m at a loss as to why _Ender’s Game_ was deemed too mature for the list. _Crank_ and _Unwind_ , _The Giver_ and _Wintergirls_ are fine, but _Ender’s Game_ is too adult? Really? I suppose the fact that most readers read Ender’s Game before the age of 18 would be beside the point?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Catcher is sold as a coming-of-age book, as if ending up someplace other than a rubber room is a shortcoming, indicative of lack of sensitivity.
    If it were sold as a companion to “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, it would be about slowly going nuts, which is a different issue altogether, and if were sold that way, those who thrill to deflowering young minds would probably ignore it.

  6. Ted Craig says:

    A book I never see on these lists, but that my friends and I loved in middle school, is “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel,” by Robert Heinlein. And for readers of this blog, it has an interesting critique of modern education, circa 1958.

    • Sean Mays says:

      Have Spacesuit is great, but Tenderfoot in Space also would do nicely, plus it has more of that critique you reference. Tunnel in the Sky, THAT’s where you get a great critique of education. Although written as a juvenal 60 years ago, it’d almost certainly be “too mature” for today’s kids.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heinlein’s juveniles, ending with Starship Troopers, are good. In addition, looking backwards, there’s the perennial Rosemary Sutcliff.

    • Rosemary Sutcliff’s books can be hard to find, both in bookstores and in libraries. I went online to order those I didn’t already own (for grandkids’ future enjoyment), through Barnes and Noble’s network of used bookstores, and found that most of the ones I received were library (school and town) culls, particularly her historical fiction. I wish I could think that they had been replaced by something of similar quality. Her versions of classic myths and legends were easier to find in new versions. Some of her books are out of print

  8. I never heard the term “young adult” until after my older kids left HS – what grade level is it? For example, I sometimes find Rosemary Sutcliff (my kids loved) in the kids’ section at the library and sometimes in the YA section.

    • Richard Aubrey says:


      Most of my Sutcliff acquaintance is in various libraries. For reasons too irrelevant to go into here, I was familiar with every library in the county where we used to live, and one of the things I did was look for the Sutcliff selections. Usually had one or two. Many of the libraries out in the sticks were too small to have YA sections. It was adults and kids.
      I found a trilogy brand new in a bookstore a year ago, including the one from which the movie “Eagle” with Channing Tatum featured. Lent it to some very bright nieces, but since they’re Science Olympiad STEM types in HS and Jr. Hi, I wrote three pages of history and how Sutcliff uses conventions familiar to mid-20th century Brits. Ex. the young centurion coming from an old military family. Not true, but that’s how the Brit readers would expect it. Actually, she fleshed out Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, and Rewards and Faeries. Fab for kids, too. Q E I explaining that what she didn’t want to do as a woman she had to do as a queen and explaining it to a couple of children.
      “See you the track that dimpled runs,
      All hollow through the wheat.
      O,that was where we hauled the guns
      That smote King Phillip’s fleet.”
      But I keep my eyes open in used bookstores and antique stores.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      “Young adult” is basically middle school. The idea is that kids this age don’t want to be in the children’s section but they aren’t really ready for books that adults would read. YMMV.

  9. palisadesk says:

    Who seriously considers a 12-year-old a “young adult?”

    I saw nothing amiss with the former category of “Teen” books. Middle-school kids are not young adults, however much they fancy themselves such.

    I have to second momof4’s Rosemary Sutcliffe recommendations. I’ve used them with 7th and 8th graders, who were enthralled by Warrior Scarlet, Knight’s Fee and The Eagle of the Ninth

    I find most of these easily available at the public library still. Sutliffe’s language is challenging, not because of rare or hard-to-decode words, but due to complex and more lengthy sentence structure. Her style is lyrical and laced with strong visual imagery.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Second Sutcliff’s visual imagery. But she does something Poul Anderson said he did. He would reread his manuscript and if he didn’t have a smell every third page, he’d put one in. That’s why his characters are forever smoking pipes, drinking whiskey, going past straining electrical devices, having the desert wind blowing over them, smelling themselves in spacesuits.
    Sutcliff’s characters smell the harvest, the sea wind, the smutch of an old fire, the horse lines, baking, thyme in a woman’s hair….
    Smell is the most evocative of senses and using it is a good literary technique for drawing in the reader. What guy at the age of, say, fourteen, wouldn’t take an instant to wonder, to want to smell thyme–or rose petals, or something–in a woman’s hair? Or alert to the smell of horses coming from over the hill?