The books we read and enjoy are presented to us in neat categories. Genres, topics, ages, places—they help us find the books we’re most likely to enjoy. The only downside to this feat of organization is the odd assumption that the stories we write need to have clear division from other categories, especially when it comes to the age of the reader.
Now, there are plenty of books that are clearly for Adults Only or designed to keep 7-year-olds giggling, but I’m of the opinion that really great writing strives to be ageless. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
All ages books are about people. Regardless of whether you’re a plot-heavy writer or a character-centric storyteller, people are an integral part of books with universal appeal. We’re only human, and we like to see that humanity reflected in stories. Even if a fictional character is wildly different or an exaggerated caricature, they become real to us. We like to root for our favorites, adopt a larger-than-life role model, or maybe sneak a peek at what it’s like to be someone else.
All ages books have personality. An author stands out most if they’ve put something of themselves on the page. Take your previous job experience, sense of humor, history, pet peeves, convictions, personal turns of phrase, fears, secrets—use it in your writing. It may feel extremely vulnerable to do so, but the personal touches add realness that can’t be replicated. The books that have taken on a personality of their own are the ones that we remember forever.
All ages books have something for everyone. I often hear it said that children’s books are about exploring the world, teen stories are about self-discovery, and adult books are about our relationships with others. I happen to disagree with the theory, but it does serve as a good measuring stick for all ages writers. Find things that resonate with people regardless of age, but don’t be afraid to throw in things that might not make sense to younger readers right away, too.
All ages books are often children’s books. There are G and PG movies, but funnily enough, there isn’t a tidy category for books that appeal to all ages. If you want to sign an agent or sell your book to a publisher, you have to know where your book would be located in a store. Looking back at classics that I would consider all ages reads, most of them are in the children’s category because they’re as appropriate for a 7-year-old as they are for a full-grown adult.
All ages books don’t baby the audience. In my opinion, the worst thing a writer can do is dumb things down for the reader. Quality writing is found everywhere, from picture books to high literature. We have excellent examples of creativity all around us, so don’t worry about your concepts being too complex. Go ahead and push the envelope, flex your vocabulary, and write to the best of your ability. It’s nice when a book leaves us some room to grow.
What are some of your favorite books with all-ages appeal?