Monday, September 15, 2014

Books with Merit

I will never believe that children's books don't have merit. If I did that, I'd have to believe that children don't have merit, that humans are born with no merit, and that merit can be earned by something simple as passing a birthday.
But I take AP English classes with hoity toity AP English students who try to convince the teacher-and themselves-that they're mature and enlightened readers. "Oh, I read Perks of Being A Wallflower, but I didn't like it. The emotions are too simplistic for my enlightened self, but what should I expect from a young adult book?" "I need an example of a badly written book for this argument. I'll use Twilight, even though I've never read it." "We're discussing commercial fiction that makes money but has no literary merit? Ooh, I've got a clever one! Harry Potter!"
Whenever I hear this, I think of little April Henry.
April grew up in a small Oregon town. She didn't like to hunt or fish, so there wasn't much to do. She scribbled stories to pass the time. After writing one about a six foot tall frog named Herman who liked peanut butter, she decided, "I bet Roald Dahl would like this!" It didn't cross her mind that Roald Dahl probably had Peter van Houten sized stacks of fanmail lining his hallways. She wrote it down in her best elementary school penmanship, found his publisher's address, and sent it off to England.
And he wrote back.
It didn't stop there. Dahl shared the story with the editor of a British children's magazine and got April published. Fastforward to the present. April is now a New York Times bestselling author of mysteries and thrillers-a genre my lit textbook's author used when describing books without merit. Her six young adult books have been finalists for ALA's Top Ten Books for Teens, Barnes and Noble Top Teen Picks, and one of them, Girl, Stolen, is taught in schools. Yes, schools. That means it's read primarily by people who haven't reach the "Pass go, collect 200 merit points" stage yet.
Oh, and she's also got eleven adult books, if that's your thing.
How often does a child who doesn't read become an adult who does? I'd argue that those are the most important kinds of writers, because without them, adult writers wouldn't have an audience. I'm an amateur writer with five complete books hiding inside my tiny laptop. They wouldn't be there without Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, The Bailey School Kids, and every book I picked up after. My hoity toity AP friends started out reading something, and so did the English professor who wrote our textbook.
On Saturday, Roald Dahl day, April shared her story via twitter. It's no secret the Roald Dahl made her a writer-there's a whole section devoted to the story on her website.
So yes, I'm an AP student. I've got The Crucible on hold at the library but only because I need something to read while I wait for the latest Ever After High book. And the latest Heroes of Olympus book. And the latest Ally Condie book. I've read all of April Henry's books for meritless people, so I've got to keep busy. Middle grade, young adult, lit class-friendly adult, I don't care. Just tell me a good story. Then I'll decide if it has merit or not. 

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