I’ve read this article recently that quotes and contextualises an essay by Tolkien on how “there is no such thing as writing for children.” It reminded me of an affair in France about primary schools teaching texts deemed too mature for children that age.
A few years ago, there was a controversy in the french education system, and I speak from what I remember hearing from afar, so there might be someone better informed. For background, in french schools, in primary, you often learn fables (stories in the form of poems, mostly) from La Fontaine, which have the story and it illustrates a morale, a lesson, that is enunciated at the end. Or sometimes at the start. So, the controversy was that people said that the lessons in La Fontaine’s fables are too serious for primary-school-age children, and wanted to remove the fables from the curriculum.
Now, that is fundamentally the same thing as the “children’s books” sentiment: adults deciding that children aren’t mature enough to read and think about and understand a certain category of art, and inversely that adults (or YA, or teens, or…) are too mature to read and enjoy and identify with and benefit from another certain category of art.
And there are certainly children who will be completely uninterested by some art, and teens who will lose enjoyment in art they were very happy about in earlier years, and YA who will discover an intense appreciation of art they were in disdain of, or will be in disdain of in a decade.
But these are deeply personal tastes. Children and young people and adults of all ages vary in maturity, regardless of age. Indeed, puberty brings about, sometimes, a decrease in maturity, and it might not recover. Which could be perfectly fine! Some people stay children in some ways their entire lives. Some teens have more maturity than adults five times their age. Disability and mental health also plays a role, and render the age distinction even more meaningless.
As a heavy reader, and I have talked about this very thing with many others, I remember things I have read over almost two decades. Not the very words, but the contexts and situations and scenes. Over the last fifteen years, I have often gone “aha! that’s what that scene was talking about” or “oooh, this passage actually referred, very subtly, to open relationships” or, listening to a discussion with someone who lived during some event too far before my birth and is reminiscing or relating that to current events, “oh wow, turns out that book contained an acerbic commentary on the social condition around its publication date”.
It matters not if I am not able to grasp all the significance of a text or work of art at the time I read it, because of whatever reason, be it age or culture or ethnicity or translation or maturity or keeping up with current events or education… chances are, sometime in the future, I will figure it out.
In the meantime, I’ll have enjoyed whatever I could.