Summer is all about recreational reading, but everyone’s idea of light reading is different. Some like John Grisham, or Patricia Cornwell, or Stephen King. I like young-adult stuff.
For me, “young adult” is any chapter book not directed to an adult readership. Some are perfectly appropriate for bright eight-year-olds, and some aren’t.
Young-adult literature is unassuming, and it gets right to the point without dithering. There’s very little padding in most young-adult books. Sometimes the authors pander – they lay it on too thick, or they get the atmosphere wrong – but there’s some pretty good stuff out there, both old and new.
Let’s acknowledge J. K. Rowling right at the top of the list. I hope she figures out a way to continue her story. What about Harry and Ginny’s kids?
Still have your set of Narnia books? I’ve purchased them and gotten rid of them twice over. I like the characters and the storytelling, but C. S. Lewis’s drippy Christian moralizing makes me feel sticky after a while. I can’t even touch “The Last Battle” anymore, although Neil Gaiman has written a wonderful short story about the flip side of that story.
(Lewis, for all his faults, was a pretty good writer. If you haven’t read the space novels - “Out of the Silent Planet,” “Perelandra,” and (especially, and weirdest of all) “That Hideous Strength” - do it. Great stuff. Nasty stuff here and there, too. If you don’t wince a couple of times while reading these, you’re not reading very carefully.)
If you like surreal whimsy – and who doesn’t? - try Tove Jansson’s Moomin books. My favorite is “Moominland Midwinter”: the Moomin family is hibernating, but the little Moomin boy wakes up and discovers that, during the winter months, their house is completely taken over by all kinds of peculiar creatures. It has the creepy stillness of a deep Scandinavian winter, and it’s lots of fun: perfect ice-cold reading for a hot New England day.
P. L.Travers wrote “Mary Poppins,” and “Mary Poppins Opens the Door,” and “Mary Poppins in the Park.” Her original Mary Poppins is not Julie Andrews: she’s ferocious, and truly scary sometimes – the cobra in the London zoo calls her “cousin”! – and Jane and Michael worship her.
Thornton Wilder wasn’t really a young-adult writer, but some of his novels – especially “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” – fit perfectly in this category. I read it in high school, and was moved to tears, and I still quote it endlessly. If you haven’t read it, read it immediately.
And finally, here’s a writer who’s still among the living: Rick Riordan. The Percy Jackson books were a Greek-mythology knockoff of Harry Potter, but Riordan can really tell a story too. He left the Percy Jackson story to tell a sort of parallel story involving Egyptian mythology instead, but it doesn’t quite have the energy of the Percy Jackson books. He seems to have realized this, however, and has gone back to Percy, with a side twist through the Roman version of the Greek myths; he’s written two of these, and they’re both wonderful, and I’m looking forward to number three.
There’s your summer reading assignment, kids.
And it’s fun.
So get reading!