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Identifying with Contemporary Realistic Fiction (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The importance of identifying with one’s own life is a reason children’s books have children as the protagonists. The age of the main character is approximately the age of the reader. For this reason, The Endless Steppe (1968), Esther Hautzig’s memoir about her childhood in World War II Poland and Russia, eventually was published as a children’s book even though she did not have a child audience in mind when she wrote it. Because the main character is a young girl, its market and audience are the same—young readers. The rule of thumb is that children will read about characters who are slightly older than they are, but are hesitant about reading books with characters who are younger.

A small but important type of contemporary realistic fiction does not fit the pattern of having children as the main characters, but these books still offer enough humor, adventure, or entertainment to draw young readers. Examples are Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia stories about the maid who takes too literally her employer’s instructions (told to “ice the cake,” she puts ice cubes on its top and sticks the cake in the freezer); Cynthia Rylant’s books presenting the day-to-day adventures of an old man and his cat, Mr. Putter and Tabby; and Carol Otis Hurst’s picture book about her rock-collecting father, called Rocks in His Head (2001). Sometimes the main character isn’t even human, as in Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey (1961), the story of two dogs and a cat as they travel 250 miles through the Canadian wilderness to reach their home.

Familiarity helps explain why many children who have not yet discovered the pleasure of books often find their first successful reading experiences with contemporary realistic fiction. Trying out a new book is a risk for the reader, and those not steeped in personal reading are less likely to take big chances. Contemporary realistic fiction offers less of a gamble because the book contains elements familiar to the reader. Much of the groundwork already exists for a relationship, or even a friendship, to develop between child and character.

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