In Praise of L–O–N–G Books

QWERTY_keyboardWriters conferences, writing magazines, and literary blogs are long on advice for the aspiring writer, and one the things I hear fairly frequently is the admonition to remember that kids don’t have the attention span they used to what with the giddy spin of the internet forever at their finger tips. Kids want fast-paced, gobble them up reads! Or so we hear.

And yet, time and time again the market has proved them wrong. Some of the most popular books in recent memory have been long, including the last four tomes in the Harry Potter series, all the books in the Eragon series, the Wildwood series, the Game of Thrones juggernaut, and many of the Percy Jackson titles. Classics like The Lord of the Rings and the works of Jane Austin have held up rather well in spite of their length.

What’s up with that!? Here are five things that I think make long books particularly appealing to middle grade kids.

1. Middle grade readers have time. Too young to have a job and notBook Ends Beach allowed to roam the neighborhood alone while their folks are at work, the MG reader has hours of time, especially in the summer to dive into a book that really rewards a long stretch of attention.

2. Most long books are long because they carry a reader off into a richly detailed and lavishly described world whether it’s Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or the Hispanola of Treasure Island. Kids who can’t drive, didn’t pick their hometown, their house, or even the sibling they share a room with, love to be swept away.

3. Many long books are fantasy, science fiction, or magical realism, perennial favorites among MG readers.

4. There’s plenty of praise from grownups to be gained from reading a book of weight and substance and there’s plenty of pride in the accomplishment of reading a long story all the way through to the end.

WB Golden Compass5. Among traditionally published books there is pressure from editors to tighten up the story and tell it as economically and gracefully as possible. I tend to have confidence that a traditionally published book that goes on at some length has something worthwhile to say, something that could not be said in a more compact tale. There are masters of the short form who have made a career of writing lean and lovely tales like a long string of pearls, each one a tiny perfection. But many authors at the height of their powers, even if they have written other short books, write a marvelous long story and if they are lucky it stands the test of time.

IMG_1610-3-225x300[1]I am very much hoping Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book Echo is one of these. I reviewed it on my website.

Here are a few other books kids have liked that approach Moby Dick in length.

Harry Potter and the Cauldron of Fire by JK Rowling

Brisigner by Christopher Paolini

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

How about you? Do you have a favorite tome? Can you remember the feeling of accomplishment from the first long book you read? Please share in the comments.

Rosanne Parry
Rosanne Parry is the author of a 4 MG novels and the forthcoming A WOLF CALLED WANDER and LAST OF THE NAME. She is a bookseller at Annie Blooms and teaches in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State. She writes in a treehouse in her back yard.
6 Comments
  1. Thanks for this post. It gives me hope. 😉

    • I’m so glad. Don’t give up!

  2. Even with picture books, many kids I read to feel short changed with such short stories. If a book is enchanting, they want more. My most recent favorite tome is Echo. The ending tied everything together in such a magical way. And it is a beautifully designed book. Thanks for a great post!

    • I reviewed Echo recently and found it marvelous in every way. And I agree, even really little kids have a longer attention span that we think. And all kids have the attention span we train them to have. So I’m 100% in favor of giving kids both longer and deeper books.

  3. Frances Hardinge’s 2009 MG novel, THE LOST CONSPIRACY, comes in at a whopping 130,604 words. I enjoyed it so much I went back to the library to get copies of anything else she’d written (several). When I was a kid, I preferred long books because my mom would only take me to the library once a week, and the library limited how many books we could borrow. A book could always be renewed but it was miserable to run out of stories before the week was over.

    • Right! MY mom once told me that when she was a kid she made a deal with the librarian that 6 book limit meant 6 books at one time and not 6 books a day. She was lucky enough to live a block from the library and was able to go alone. But yes, having a book that lasts until you can get the next one is huge!