Since I write in two genres, at book events focusing solely on books for adults OR solely books for children, I often find myself the only author wearing two hats.
That’s what happened last weekend.
While it felt as though most of the mystery writers in the United States were in St. Louis at Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, I was in the little town of Warwick, New York, at a children’s book festival with 50 other authors and illustrators of books for children.
Typical of such gatherings, most of the attendees were teachers, librarians, and parents with children under the age of 10. The youngest attendees happily picked out books about trucks, baseball, dinosaurs, and pink birthday parties. Older children were clearly either a) addicted to reading, or b) being dragged by a parent.
The most popular author in the room? No contest. The one who’d brought a giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach in a cage for “show and tell.” How could any mere book compete with live action?
I write historicals for ages 8-14. Maryrose Wood, who sat next to me, also writes “middle grade” books, as they’re known in the trade. Across from us was an author who wrote YA titles with dark covers. Most of our customers were librarians and teachers.
With the exception of one book.
Those ordering books for the festival had, in addition to my books for children, ordered (in error? I didn’t ask) copies of my latest mystery. It sat on my table, apart from my historicals, behind a large “ADULT BOOK” sign. Shadows of a Down East Summer might not include any on-camera violence or sex … (in fact I suspect some of the YA books in the room contained more of both) but it was not written for children. In this room of books about piglets and airplanes that talked, this book was clearly “R” rated.
Time and again children, usually aged 11-14, picked it up, sometimes surreptiously, and then begged their parents to buy it. And, bless their parents, most of the time they won. One young lady whispered that she’d like me to sign her copy to “Detective Sarah, please,” because she was going to be a detective when she grew up.
A man, overhearing me discussing the book with a parent, interrupted to ask, “But would your book be appropriate for a 40-year-old?”
“Good,” he said. “I’ll take one. My wife and I like children’s books like yours.”
He winked as I signed his book.
I hope both he and Detective Sarah enjoyed their purchases.
I remember being about 12, and feeling very grownup (and a bit sneaky) when I managed to elude the librarian and settle into my favorite windowseat at my local town library and devour science fiction and mysteries shelved on the second floor — in the adult department.
Funny thing. By the time I was old enough to take those books home, I’d moved on. Mysteries and science fiction no longer interested me. Maybe I’d been fascinated with them because they were forbidden.
I hope those, of all ages, who bought Shadows of a Down East Summer at Warwick last weekend enjoy it. And that they continue to seek out books that have enticing labels and covers. It’s not the only way to discover new worlds. But it’s a beginning. And no books should ever be forbidden.