Ten Children’s Writers Who Also Wrote for Adults

Cat hanging out with books and Christmas cactus.

This cat prefers to read Heinrich Boll

The cat pictured is very fond of Heinrich Böll.

The others were raised on George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie. (I read them a couple of pages once.)

Lilith george McDonaldThe great thing about MacDonald is that he also wrote for adults.  I discovered Lilith when I was 12 in one of those Ballantine ’60s fantasy editions with the pretty covers.  Amazon says:  “First published in 1895 …, this is the story of the aptly named Mr. Vane, his magical house, and the journeys into another world into which it leads him.”

So I started thinking:  what other children’s writers also wrote for adults? After MacDonald I came up with:

2.  Madeleine L’Engle.  L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a classic, but she also wrote adult books.  I very much enjoyed her novel,  A Live Coal from the Sea, a sequel to her children’s book, Camilla.

a-live-coal-in-sea-madeleine-lengle-paperback-cover-artCamilla, now an old woman,  is an astronomer who has had a rich life as a college professor at her alma mater. She adored and was adored by her late husband, Mac, a minister.  Her children, Taxi and Frankie, and granddaughter, Raffi, are more complicated.  After Camilla wins an award for astronomy, Taxi, a neurotic actor, stirs things up.  He hints to Raffi that Camilla is not really her grandmother.  The narrative goes back and forth in time so we know what happened.

L’Engle fans may like this:  I’m not sure about anybody else.

kingfishers-catch-fire3.  Rumer Godden wrote many children’s books, among them A Doll’s House and An Episode of Sparrows.  But her adult novels are especially good:  my favorite is Kingfishers Catch Fire, an autobiographical “pre-hippie” novel in which Sophie, an impoverished young woman, moves with her two children to Kashmir to “live simply.” The misunderstandings between her and the villagers cause an unexpected crisis.

4.  Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, wrote some good adult books. Are you familiar with Hospital Sketches, her chronicle of her nursing in the Civil War?

5.  I enjoyed Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes and The Summer Birds (now available from NYBR), and I hanker for her out-of-print but wildly overpriced adult novel, Glasshousees.  According to Amazon, it is “An intense novel of three characters, Grace, her husband Jas, and her young apprentice, set in the suggestive, obsessive milieu of a glassblowing workshop.”

6. I grew up on Eloise Mcgraw’s Mara Daughter of the Nile and The Golden Goblet.  She also wrote an adult novel, Pharaoh.  It’s going for $30-some at Amazon, so I’ll have to pass.

7.  Did you read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers books?  How about her adult fiction, The Bread and Butter Stories?  According to Amazon, these are period pieces about being an upper-middle-class woman in the 1940s and early 1950s.

8.  E. Nesbit was my favorite writer when I was a child.  Though I’ve found her adult books disappointing, The Red House, the story of a married couple who inherit a large house, is very funny–and the characters also meet the Bastables (characters in three of her children’s books).

9.  L. M. Montgomery, best known for Anne of Green Gables, wrote at least one adult book, The Blue Castle, about a 27-year-old spinster who rebels against her family.  I haven’t read it.

10.  John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, a stunning science fiction novel, made me want to read more of his books.  I haven’t read The Chrysalids, available from NYBR, which is apparently a children’s novel .  The book description says;  “Like everyone else in the nuclear-wasted world he lives in, David is loyal to his kind and on the watch for anyone who deviates from the ideological or genetic norm. But what would happen if it were revealed that David himself was a mutant?”

It sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

What children’s writers do you know who wrote for adults?

Are any of them any good at it?

11 thoughts on “Ten Children’s Writers Who Also Wrote for Adults

  1. Finnish writer Tove Jansson is a marvelous example. She wrote books about Moomintrolls for children for a while, then retired to write books about human trolls for adults.

    This is her centennial year. Someone should throw her a book blog party.

    A couple of years ago I spent a week or so writing about George MacDonald, mostly about Lilith and At the Back of the North Wind. Wonderful books

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  2. Interesting! I wasn’t aware that The Chrysalids was regarded as a children’s book as I thought it was just one of his sci fi titles. The Penelope Farmer Glass Houses book is not too pricey on sites over this side of the pond so maybe you will strike lucky if you search. I love her children’s books so maybe I should snap up a copy!

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  3. I am not sure whether Jules Verne is considered a children’s writer or not, but his books seem to me to be adult books.

    Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for children and adults, as did Rudyard Kipling. The list grows.

    Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott is very good and some of her blood-and-thunder tales, written for the pulps, are still fun to read. Of her adult novels I did not care for Moods but did like Work. The Louisa May Alcott Is My Passion blog has some excellent posts on all these books.

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  4. Contemporary Canlit author Caroline Adderson writes for all age groups and equally well, I think. Also, off top of head, there are two aboriginal authors who write for adults and have some charming illustrated books for young readers too: Thomas King (of An Inconvenient Indian, most recently, for adults) and Richard vanCamp (of Godless but Loyal to Heaven, most recently, for adults). Oh, and Penelope Lively too!! Okay, maybe this is like the poet=novelist thing. Perhaps it’s quite common!

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  5. Fascinating lists! I know some of these; others not at all.

    Tom, I have long meant to read Tove Jansson. I do vaguely remember something about Moomins from my childhood, and will have to look for one of the NYRB copies of her books, which fortunately my library seems to subscribe to.

    Karen, NYRB is billing The Chrysalids as a children’s book, but it’s probably all-ages. They just have to sell it, right? When on your side of the pond I’ll find too many books, I’m afraid…

    Nancy, I haven’t tried Moods but I did like Work. And thanks for the recommendation of blood and thunder tales. I’ve always meant to get around to them, but somehow haven’t.

    BIP, I’ve never heard of Caroline Adderson, and, as always, my knowledge of Canlit is abysmal. What a good idea to come up with adult writers who write for children. Penelope Lively is the only one on your list I know, and I’ve never read any of her children’s books. Once again I must read some Canlit: Why don’t I know Thomas King or Richard vanCamp?

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  6. “NYRB is billing The Chrysalids as a children’s book” – Kat, that’s so bizarre! It’s a Penguin Classic over here which is definitely not aimed at children!!

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  7. Karen, now I’ll go right ahead and read it!

    Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, which I also thought was an adult book, is also billed by NYRB as a children’s book.

    No idea why they’re not aiming these at adults

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  8. I can see why The Chrysalids might be advertised as a children’s book (its protagonists are children!) but I agree with the other comments – there’s no difference in tone or pitch between it and, say Day of the Triffids. I love Wyndham! Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Wakes …even the little-known Trouble with Lichen is great. Have just looked him up on Wikipedia and found that his full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris. Very posh!

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    • I have enjoyed her adult books, though they are not as good as her children’s books. Still, she was a thoughtful, lovely person, and I love her books for that reason.

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