Today’s books for kids have child protagonists the same age as their readers (or a couple years older – kids like to “read up”).
It wasn’t ever thus.
Fairy tales, the children’s fiction of yore, sometimes featured children, but just as often had adult heroes (and villains). While children’s fiction should by definition be books that appeal to children, today’s books seem limited to stories about children.
But children are fascinated by Spiderman and Superman and King Arthur and Luke Skywalker, and the last time I checked, none of these characters were children. These stories are written about (supposed) adults, but they are most certainly written for children. But step away from the comic books, TV shows, and movies, and children’s literature is bereft of adult (main) characters. In fact, there’s an unwritten rule that not only must the main protagonist be a child, the child must be the one to solve the story problem.
Thank you, Harry Potter.
Of course there are adult mentors in kidlit (where would Harry be without Dumbledore), but they aren’t allowed to take center stage. They aren’t the heroes of the story, and more often than not, the adults are bumbling, evil, or dead.
Note that none of the above superhero stories originated in the last 30 years. It’s almost as if children are expected to be their own heroes these days, rather than dreaming of growing up to be heroes. There’s some fundamental shift in thinking here, but it has only occurred in literature. The fact that adult heroes live on in comics, movies, and TV leads me to think that children still crave these adult heroes.
So why have they been banished from books?* Especially when kids are obviously interested in more than that?
If you have the answers, please leave them in the comments below. 🙂
*I’m not counting book adaptations of movies and TV