I’ve come to believe it has much to do with the way kids and adults read the books. When adults read a book they encounter a situation, a character, a detail, which enables them to say, “That’s something I have experienced.” Or, “How interesting. I have seen that happen.” “Oh, I’ve done that.” And so forth. That’s to say, they see the fiction as a confirmation of their own lives, something they recognize as true. But when young people read fiction, they absorb the depicted experience as if it were about themselves.
Just today I asked a seventh grader why she liked fantasy so much. “Because I’m always in the clouds, dreaming,” she said. “Those books are what I want to do.”
Years ago, for bed-time, I was reading E. Nesbit’s, The Would-Be-Goods (1899), a charming British Edwardian novel, to my six-year-old boy. As far as I could tell there was absolutely nothing in the book which was similar to his life. But he was enjoying it.
One night—having learned that kids wrote to authors, he said, “Can I write to the author (Nesbit) and tell her how much I love this book?”
Me: “That would be nice, but I’m afraid she died many years ago.”
My boy sat bolt upright in bed. “That’s impossible!” he cried.
“Because she knows so much about me!”
It was a great book—for him—because it was, in some way, about him.