Friday, April 24, 2009

Adult Protagonists in Children's Books

On Original Content, Gail Gauthier's writing about adult characters in children's books. I'm convinced that it takes certain childlike qualities to make an adult protagonist (as opposed to just an adult character) work in a children's book. Think of these characters:
They each possess traits that we think of as characteristic of children. Eccentricity. Curiosity. Large hearts. Impetuousness. Lack of real power.

Wait. Apart from Mr. Popper's Penguins, which was published in 1939, the rest are all published in the UK.

American children's books with adult protagonists, anyone?

When I was a child my father told me stories about Tenali Rama, a character in south Indian folklore who is vastly appealing to children on account of his endearing character flaws as well as his position of combination wise man and jester in the court of the 16th century king Krishna Deva Raya. His lack of real power combines with a few good flaws to create the same odd combination that seems to work for adult protagonists in children's books.

In the YA realm, the emergence of adult protagonists isn't such a huge shift, but may simply reflect a trend toward books that are literally about "young adults" rather than teenagers. Look for The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones, due out next month.


  1. How about YOUNGUNCLE COMES TO TOWN by Vandana Singh? Of course, that was first published in India.

  2. Of course--I love that book! And yes, YoungUncle's certainly eccentric enough to fit my theory.

  3. I love the Mr. Putter books by Cynthia Rylant. Mr. Putter demonstrates the characteristics you list.

    One could argue the The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg has an adult protagonist. Mrs. Olinski is the only character (in this multiple pov structured book) who is given many chapters scattered throughout the story. She also changes because of the events.
    Of course, there is a counter argument . . .