No need to grow up just yet

The rich and com­plex world of chil­dren’s and young adults’ lit­er­a­ture is in good shape, writes Rose­mary Neill

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

MARK Twain de­fined a lit­er­ary clas­sic as ‘‘ a book which peo­ple praise and don’t read’’. This doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­ply to chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, a field in which au­thors who write mod­ern clas­sics can com­mand the kind of sales that would make most writ­ers of adult lit­er­ary fic­tion weep.

is the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple: Her Harry Pot­ter se­ries evolved into such a lu­cra­tive fran­chise that her epony­mous boy wizard is prob­a­bly known to ev­ery 10-year-old in the West­ern world. This week, Rowl­ing re­leased The Tales of Bee­dle the Bard ( Blooms­bury, $ 16.95), the first book she has pub­lished since com­plet­ing the Pot­ter se­ries. Tales is a slim col­lec­tion of ‘‘ wizard­ing fairy tales’’, fea­tur­ing il­lus­tra­tions by Rowl­ing and notes by Pro­fes­sor Al­bus Dum­ble­dore. The pro­ceeds are to go to char­ity.

An­other chil­dren’s writer who com­bines mus­cu­lar sales with crit­i­cal ad­mi­ra­tion is

The press release for Base’s lat­est pic­ture book, Enigma: A Mag­i­cal Mys­tery ( Vik­ing, $ 29.95), re­veals the Mel­bourne au­thor was once sacked for in­com­pe­tence while work­ing in a de­sign stu­dio. Base clearly can af­ford to dine out on this story, as his pic­ture books — in­clud­ing the clas­sic An­i­malia — have sold more than five mil­lion copies.

With sumptuous il­lus­tra­tions and an en­ter­tain­ing story told in rol­lick­ing rhyme, Enigma fol­lows the hunt for a miss­ing ma­gi­cian’s rab­bit. While Base’s prose is witty and orig­i­nal, it’s his draw­ings that trans­fix, rear­ing up from the page as if they are three di­men­sional.

As highly re­garded as Base is an­other of Aus­tralia’s best-sell­ing au­thors. The award-winning cre­ator of the Del­tora Quest se­ries stays faith­ful to the fan­tasy genre in her new release, The Wizard of Rondo ( Scholas­tic, $ 29.99). This hard­back is set in an en­chanted but haz­ardous world within a mu­sic box and is graced with cred­i­ble char­ac­ters, lively di­a­logue and more un­ex­pected twists than an Olympic div­ing rou­tine.

Of course, there are many chil­dren’s books that de­serve de­cent re­tail ex­po­sure and me­dia cov­er­age and will be de­nied both. This year, the young adult ( YA) mar­ket launched sev­eral lit­tleno­ticed ti­tles that are as so­phis­ti­cated and well writ­ten as any­thing found in adult lit­er­a­ture. Among them is The Ab­so­lutely True Di­ary of a Part-Time In­dian ( An­der­son Press, $ 19.95) by Na­tive-Amer­i­can au­thor True Di­ary won the US’s 2007 Na­tional Book Award for young peo­ple’s lit­er­a­ture but has re­ceived scant pub­lic­ity here, de­spite its acute rel­e­vance to Aus­tralia’s in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. It’s the best ti­tle I’ve re­viewed this year. By turns side-split­ting and heart-break­ing, it tells the story of Ju­nior, a geeky Na­tive-Amer­i­can teenager who tries to es­cape the crush­ing dys­func­tion of life on a reser­va­tion by at­tend­ing a largely white school. An­other stand­out YA ti­tle is New Zealan­der

Gen­e­sis ( Text Pub­lish­ing, $ 19.95). Though its nar­ra­tive form ( a kind of marathon de­bate) is aus­tere, this philo­soph­i­cal thriller seethes with com­plex, un­set­tling ideas. It’s set on a fu­tur­is­tic is­land where refugees are shot on sight, and its shock end­ing stays with you long af­ter you have turned the last page.

A YA novel that would ap­peal to adults and teens is Ge­or­giana: Woman of Flow­ers ( Loth­ian, $ 17.99). Part fic­tional bi­og­ra­phy, part so­cial his­tory, it tells the story of Ge­or­giana Mol­loy, wife, mother and pi­o­neer­ing botanist who in 1829, traded a comfortable home in Eng­land for the West Aus­tralian fron­tier. While oth­ers could see only a khaki waste­land, Ge­or­giana found beauty and in­spi­ra­tion in the ri­otous Aus­tralian bush.

Pic­ture books are no longer just for preschool­ers, as lat­est of­fer­ing, Tales from Outer Sub­ur­bia ( Allen & Un­win, $ 35) demon­strates. Tales de­picts the mys­ter­ies that throb be­neath the com­pla­cent fa­cade of subur- ban life. It fuses the sur­real with the everyday through a se­ries of cap­ti­vat­ing im­ages that wouldn’t be out of place in an art gallery.

A con­fes­sion: I had as­sumed Max­i­mum Ride: The Fi­nal Warn­ing ( Ran­dom House, $ 27.95) was about one of the world’s big­gest-sell­ing au­thors, cash­ing in on the YA mar­ket. I was wrong.

The fourth in­stal­ment of Pat­ter­son’s Max­i­mum Ride se­ries is a taut, in­tel­li­gent hy­brid spawned from the thriller and sci-fi gen­res. In it, a flock of mu­tant bird kids, cre­ated in ex­per­i­ments mix­ing hu­man and an­i­mal genes, must sur­vive fre­quent as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts in or­der to fight global warm­ing. Pat­ter­son has a hard-boiled bird-girl as his pro­tag­o­nist, an ex­cep­tion in fan­tasy-ad­ven­ture sto­ries where boys usu­ally rule.

Younger read­ers aren’t ne­glected this year. The slyly hu­mor­ous The Floods: The Great Out­doors ( Ran­dom House, $ 14.95) by

sees the wizard clan go on hol­i­day. First, they must dig up granny ( born in the 1800s) from the gar­den so she can ac­com­pany them. Need I say more about why eight to 12-year-olds can’t get enough of the Floods?

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