Not long ago, someone wrote an article for the Huffington Post that I think is best described as…let’s just say controversial. Basically, Lynn Shepard claimed that J.K.Rowling should stop publishing, because Rowling’s success is making it hard for everyone else to sell books. Yeah, that really happened. You can read the article here.
Look, I’m not going to spend any words here ripping apart this article, because the internets have already turned it into tiny shreds—this lady’s probably had lock her computer in another room. But I would like to respond to one particular sentence from this article:
“I did think it a shame that adults were reading [the Harry Potter books] (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”
This is a sentiment that drives me batty: the idea that books for children and young adults are not as stimulating or as important as books for adults. BATTY. I could go on for hours about why this sentence is categorically unfair, ignorant, and small-minded. Instead, I’ve decided I’ll let the books do the talking for me this time...and share 13 BOOKS FOR CHILDREN/YOUNG ADULTS THAT SHOULD BE REQUIRED ADULT READING BECAUSE THEY ARE SO STIMULATING, INTELLIGENT, AND IMPORTANT.
A few quick caveats, first.
For one thing, these are not in order, as this should not be construed as a “top thirteen” list. I’m not David Letterman, and I would have picked a much rounder number if I was going for something like that. Also, to keep this blog from taking ten years to write, I had to keep this list on the shorter side. Which means I left A LOT of books out. Please share ideas for other great books in comments, so that adults out there reading this don’t have to miss out on anything. And finally: I was going to include picture books, but then I couldn’t stop writing about novels and things got longish. So picture books will probably have to get their own post, and someone who is better versed in picture books should probably write that one. But rest assured—I strongly believe there are plenty of picture books that should be read by adults.
And yes, it’s time for the books now.
The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
I’m putting these two in as one entry because they go on the list for the same reason: they are both a critical commentary and cautionary tale about our society. Sometimes I can’t actually believe that The Giver was first published in 1993—it was so far ahead of the rest of the dystopian craze we’re currently living in AND so far ahead of its time in its messaging. I can only bow down to Lois Lowry and wonder if she has a time machine. And where The Giver keeps its message about our society’s present and future someone tame, The Hunger Games brings that message to new and shocking heights. Both should be required reading for all adults.
The God Box by Alex Sanchez
So if you’ve been paying attention to Arizona lately, you’ve realized there’s a lot of rhetoric in our country about LGBTQ rights being at war with religious rights. In the face of this conversation, it’s more important than ever that all adults read this book, which is about a teenager struggling to find a balance between his devotion to his faith and his burgeoning sexuality. I’m not going to lie: the overall plot arc of this book is not my favorite of Sanchez’s...but the amount of research and time he must have put into making sure his characters could fully explore the tensions between religion and sexuality? Well, that more than makes up for my minor plot concerns. Read this book before you even think about weighing in on the Arizona debacle. Then take a moment to be grateful such stimulating literature is being written with an eye for teens, so that the younger generation can also be part of this conversation that will surely determine the world they live in as adults.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
So, I'm actually not a big fan of graphic novels. I know, I know…these days, you’re not supposed to say that. Well, it’s too late! I already did. But it doesn't matter, because THIS graphic novel is different. It’s got everything even a graphic novel-skeptic like me needs: beautifully and thoughtfully created plot lines (note the plurality there), intense and multi-dimensional characters, and important thematic messaging. Oh, and the illustrations are pretty awesome as well. Adults, it’s time you admitted you like pictures with your reading just as much now as you did when you were twelve.
The Circuit by Francesco Jimenez
Excerpts from this book show up in LOTS of textbooks. You know why? Because every story from this collection has a profound impact on readers. It’s a series of connected autobiographical stories by a man who lived his childhood as a migrant farmworker, and if the stories themselves don't get you, the power and beauty of the writing certainly will.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I know John Green gets a decent amount of criticism that sounds like “he only sells that many books because he’s built up that ginormous internet following.” First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due: that internet following has taken hours and hours and hours of writing and creating and world-helping to build up. Second of all, John Green also sells a lot of books because he’s a really good writer. I’ve read a lot of “adult books” dealing with the subject of death; I did the Tuesdays with Morrie and the Conversations with God gambit. But you know what? No book has had as profound an impact on how I think about mortality as this book has. It should be required reading for all college courses on death and dying.
Witness by Karen Hesse and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Once again, two books in one entry: both because I’m a cheater who secretly wanted this list to be longer AND because they’re on the list for the same reason. Both of these books must be required reading for all adults who want to be able to thoughtfully consider and be aware of the history of institutionalized racism in America. Perhaps you already read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. You know what? READ IT AGAIN. (I was recently shocked to discover my husband has never read it. Won’t he be confused when I tell him his first son is named Jem.) Then read Witness, and see multiple perspectives on this country’s history with talking about race (and anti-Semitism and class).
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Well, Sherman Alexie mostly writes books for adults, and this book often gets censored from schools for being too mature, so it’s awfully close to being for adults anyway. This book tackles how human beings form their identities, and it does it with openness, honesty, and unbelievable humor. Adults, let’s all just admit we’re still trying to figure out who we are and embrace some young adult lit on the subject. Face it: nobody tackles identity discovery like the YA author crowd. And if you’re a parent of a teen, PLEASE give this one to your kid, too. I promise, they’ll actually read it. (Although talking about some of the scenes together might be a little embarrassing. But you’ll see what I mean.)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I had to throw this one in because I’m a little worried some of you might just see the movie and skip the book and THEN YOU WILL MISS ALL THE AMAZING WORDS. And oh, there is so much amazing in those words. And they are stimulating, and important, and all sorts of other things that are considered adult-y by many people.
Holes and Small Steps by Louis Sachar
You know when you’re watching an episode of Sherlock (BBC version, of course) and you have that moment when you’re like OMG that is so clever how can anybody actually be that clever that they came up with that plot and character arc and married them so perfectly together? No? If not, watch Sherlock. The point here, though, is that reading either one of these books (Small Steps is the sequel to Holes) has a VERY similar effect. I still make a “huh” face every time I even see the cover of Holes. If you’re a writer, you especially need to read these books.
Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo
I can’t think of too many adult novels that have left me this horrified with the world we live in. Iqbal is the story of Iqbal Masih, a child laborer in Pakistan who was killed by the Pakistani carpet mafia for speaking out against child labor practices in that country. The book is brutally honest, painting a picture of child labor that is so real and gut-wrenching you can’t stop turning pages. If you don’t immediately start Googling organizations against child labor the second you finish the book, I’m pretty sure you’re dead inside.
So there you have it. Thirteen books make the argument for why you should never write off an entire section of literature. Check 'em out, and hopefully you'll come to the same conclusion I came to years ago: when it comes to great literature, there are no age limits.