La Mesa Reads: Dabbling in children’s literature

Posted: January 22nd, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, La Mesa Reads | No Comments

By Jake Sexton

The world of American novels is increasingly populated by a small number of incredibly popular, incredibly prolific authors. One statistic floating around the internet claims that one in 17 novels bought in the United States is by thrill-merchant James Patterson. But Patterson, as well as a number of other well-known authors of fiction for adults, has decided to conquer the rest of the age spectrum, including writing for children and teens. So let’s take a brief look at adult authors who started secondary careers in teen and children’s literature.

51KQihg1QYL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_I should start with one local author known and renowned for his children’s books, who got his start writing humor and comics for adults: Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Before writing about cats and hats and foxes and sockses, he spent the 1930s and ’40s publishing political cartoons (often railing against the rise of Nazism) and illustrated joke books for adults. Some of this early work can be seen in person at UCSD’s gallery “The Dr. Seuss Collection.”

Back to Mr. Patterson. Several years ago he began a popular series for teens called “Maximum Ride” about a group of young people on the run from evil scientists who want to use them for test subjects. He also writes at least four series of children’s books (often with co-authors and illustrators), including “I Funny” about a middle schooler who wants to become a stand-up comedian, and “Treasure Hunters” about a family of adventurous archaeologists.

Best known for his political thrillers like “The President’s Shadow,” Brad Meltzer recently broke into the world of children’s picture books. Feeling that his daughter needed more books about real-life heroes and role models, he created the “Ordinary People Change the World” series –– short biographies about people like Lucille Ball and Jackie Robinson. Each book focuses on one of their positive traits and is illustrated with fun, cartoon-style artwork.

51J6lF2JD2L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_John Grisham has also jumped on this bandwagon, moving his legal thrillers to middle school with “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.” This 13 year old is a lawyer the same way that Encyclopedia Brown was an encyclopedia, but seeing whip-smart kids outwit adults in the fight for justice never really gets old.

The list goes on, with plenty of writers unexpectedly (or sometimes posthumously) showing warmer and more whimsical sides of themselves through their work. Ian Fleming of James Bond fame wrote the original “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Toni Morrison worked with her young son Slade to make a picture book called “The Book of Mean People.” After her death, Sylvia Plath’s humorous poems about magical beds were collected into “The Bed Book.” And Langston Hughes sought to educate young people with his illustrated “The First Book of Jazz.”

Although the library has access to all of these books, we also offer presentations and education on more pragmatic subjects as well. In early 2016, the La Mesa Library is offering Financial Wellness Wednesdays, a series of lectures about everyday financial concerns. These lectures will cover topics like recovering from a personal financial crisis, student loans, and credit reports, and will be presented by members of the San Diego County Credit Union. These will take place on Jan. 20, Feb. 24 and March 30 at 5:30 p.m. For details or to RSVP, write to Melissa Adams at

News from our friends

The 2016 Friends of La Mesa Library membership drive is underway, and you can join for just $5. What does that get you? A 10 percent members-only discount in the Friends of the Library bookstore, a voice to support the library in the community, and the good feeling of knowing that your membership funds books, magazines, DVDs, and events at La Mesa Library. Join today at or by depositing your contribution in the Friends mailbox inside the library.

––Jake Sexton is librarian at the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151, visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave. or get information online at

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