This is a tale of two fairy tales: Snow Song by Sally Gardner and The Left Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix.
As I’ve been involved in a massive fairy tale set, as well writing a story with a large fairy tale and mythology element, it’s been fascinating reading these two very different books with heavy fairy tale influences. And no, they’re nothing like either of my stories. But they are interesting.
And here’s the bit where it gets interesting. Which do you think is the adult story?
Well, if you’re like me, you’ll be thinking clearly it’s the Left Handed Booksellers of London. And, like me, you’d start reading and get a bit of a surprise. Fortunately, I love kids books, and this one is quirky and clever and hugely fun. So yay!
But it did get me thinking.
What makes a children’s story? I mean, what truly makes a children’s story? The Left Handed Booksellers has teenage protagonists, and yet it’s clearly a children’s book (It was produced by A&U Children’s) So, the teenage protagonists can drive—and yes, that gives them more freedom than modern children. But in the old days, for example, Susan Cooper would have put the children on horses. Job done.
In fact this connection, once I wrote it down, so much so that I looked up Left Handed Booksellers of London and Susan Cooper and discovered this tweet.
Not a children’s fantasy?
Yeah, nah. Guys don’t just get to decide they’re not writing children’s fantasy because they think it isn’t cool. Sorry, Garth, but you’re wrong.
Okay, that was a rabbit hole. Let’s look at Snow Song—but before I do, here’s an update on Garth Nix’s feelings about The Left-Handed Booksellers of London and it’s relationship to children’s books. Even better, I think it adds to the general conversation. What is a children’s book.
Snow Song is a traditional fairy tale told with Sally Gardner’s spare style and distinct lyrical quality. It’s packed with the adult themes, including incest and alcohol. Not light matters, but perfect for a dark fairy tale with a feminist edge.
Now, if you’re not aware of Sally Gardner’s work, she’s best known for her children’s stories. Books I admit I haven’t read on account that they’re the sort of worthy books my mother likes *shudder*. At least that’s what I thought when I looked at the covers—but having seen the blurb I, Coriander looks amazing and is now on my very long “to read” list.
Snow Song was brilliant, but with those themes I don’t understand why it’s sold with formatting and a cover that scream children’s book (to me). So much so that it was weird to read. And I’m feeling the same disconnect with Left Handed Booksellers—but the other way around.
Anyway, I’m completely confused. Two fairy tales. Two completely opposite publishing takes. And I’m starting to wonder if I know the difference between children’s and adults writing. right now it’s starting to feel like it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Am I missing something (that’s not just outright sexism)? Or am I just do darned influenced by the cover?
Feel free to tell me in the comments.
Want more? Check out my thoughts on Children’s Books for Adults
Or: The Secret Story: Fairy Tales are More than they Seem