What’s the difference between a book for teens and a book for adults?
I get asked that question a lot.
My friend, Ontario kid-lit author Marsha Skyrpuch likes to say, “YA [the acronym for Young Adult] books are books for adults – but with the boring parts left out!”
Tim Wynne-Jones, arguably Canada’s most celebrated children’s author, has an answer I also love – and which I think about a lot. He says, “YA literature is about getting a grip. Adult literature is about letting go.”
Tim, who lives outside of Ottawa, is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. He was in Montreal recently to do writing workshops and discuss his latest book The Starlight Claim (Candlewick), a sequel to The Maestro, which earned him a GG Prize in 1995.
And lucky me, I got to have supper with Tim. I can’t even remember what I cooked because our conversation was so interesting and fun. I asked him to tell me more about his “getting a grip” theory. Here’s what he told me: “Any book for children, even if it doesn’t have a happy ending, is about getting a grip.” Then Tim grabbed the corner of his dinner plate and said, “I’ve got this much. This piece of flotsam – like wood on the Titanic – and I’ll hold on for now. I’m going to believe it will get me to shore. That’s getting a grip.”
At the end of The Maestro, Burl, the novel’s protagonist, has lost his shoes and gets a new pair. Tim told me that over the years, many kids have written to him, saying they needed help making sense of the book’s ending. “With that new pair of shoes,” Tim told me, “Burl can walk off the train. That’s getting a grip.”
Adults need to learn to let go. The older we get, the more aware we become of the passage of time, and the inevitability of death. But kids are just getting started on life’s journey. They need strength and courage to face life’s challenges. They need to hold on tight and get a grip. Stories can show all of us how to do that.
– Monique Polak