Friday, June 11, 2010

YA in the UK

I've blogged before about the disparity between successful children's books in the US and the UK. This week the literary agency Upstart Crow has a fascinating blog post from their intern, who has worked in both countries.

What do you think?

I definitely agree there's a cultural difference which may influence reading habits between the US and the UK. I'm not sure I'd agree it's caused by things like driving and the drinking age, but perhaps those are indicative of a larger, systemic difference.

One of my tutors asked me about middle grade and YA books being taught in US classrooms. It's rare, and should be done more often, but it definitely happens. I personally have taught or required my students to read from a selection of YA books. But apparently that doesn't happen nearly as often in the UK.

I wonder if it's not so much that the UK isn't interested in American YA as that the UK (at least British adults) aren't interested in any YA. I've heard more than once that Brits are not as interested in childhood as Americans (for example, Camila Batmanghelidjh on Britain's distorted view of childhood). That seems a damning statement, but I think Americans tend to worship childhood, especially the teenage years. Think of cultural icons like Grease, Rebel Without A Cause. Even Twilight. There aren't many British equivalents (except of course Harry Potter).

But perhaps there could be. My publishing course tutor pointed out that there hasn't yet been a big British dystopian. But it's coming. He knows someone whose dystopian novel has just been accepted for publication. One of my classmates is writing an INCREDIBLE dystopian. Maybe the Brits would get on board the YA wagon if they had more of their own books to tout, their own authors to go on tour. That could help bridge this divide.

But would Americans read a British dystopian?


  1. Well, that's one vote!

    Actually, I think most Americans would, if it was marketed well and if it was a good book. Harry Potter is SUCH a British book, but how many people have you heard say, "I just couldn't get into Harry Potter, it was too British"??

  2. Interesting question. INCARCERON has been doing pretty well in the US, but that seems to be largely due to word-of-mouth. Dystopian is so popular now that I think as long as it's good, we'll probably read it no matter where it's from.

  3. Oh, Incarceron is a good example! I find it strange that it has had to rely on word of mouth publicity, though. But I think you're right, it's popular enough that people are seeking it out.

  4. What Anne said -- I not only would read one, I've gone to book stores in a vain search for them. Our local book shop has such a pitiful YA/MG selection and there are almost no American books available in either genre.

    Adult readers in the U.K. definitely do not tend to read MG or YA, and it's seldom read at school. Although one of my daughters read 'Skellig' in class, it took them ages to get through it (which wasn't much fun for her since we'd all read it a year previously) and no one seemed to enjoy it much.

  5. Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is a pretty amazing UK dystopian novel, but that was 1980!!
    but yes there's scope for a new title.
    Author visits generate some reading in schools, YA authors like Helen Dunmore and Kevin Brooks feature in school book reviews and in voting for Regional 'YA Book of the Year'.

  6. I got to hear a children's editor from Bloomsbury speak yesterday, and surprisingly she echoed some of this conversation, that there is much less scope in the UK for YA novels. However, she thinks the tide is turning and it's a good time for British teen writers.

    Thanks for stopping by, Mary and Ni. Interesting to hear more about the YA culture in schools. Though, Ni, good point about author visits. We know Julia does a tonne!

    And Russell Hoban... how funny! I've never read Riddley Walker, but you had me wracking my brain trying to figure out how I knew his name. Then I googled him. Of course, Bedtime for Frances!

  7. {waves hand} Riddley Walker is fantastic, Anne. You have to track it down before you come home; there ought to be plenty in jumble sales and second-hand bookshops. It was so good I bought it years before I ever thought about writing YA myself!

  8. Oh, must find myself a copy, then! Thanks, Anne!


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