The Family Genre: Stories For Everyone

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“Do you think Captain Platticus will make it this time?” the eldest girl said as she leaned closer.

The eldest boy leaned back and folded his arms. “He has his trusted triceratops.”

The mother shushed the youngest two as they acted out Captain Platticus’ last swashbuckling battle and then tapped the father on the shoulder. “Do read on. I can’t bear to have the man dangling from a cliff.”

The whole family leaned closer as the father’s baritone voice read out the next daring adventure of Captain Platticus.

A few years ago, I went to a Pink Martini concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The outdoor concert hall was sold out and filled with a mix of conservative grandparents, children, a few drag queens, and everything in between. Thomas Lauderdale, the band’s founder, spoke briefly about how families used to gather around the piano, and later the radio, and sing together. Part of his goal with the band was to create music multiple generations could gather together and enjoy.

Just as Pink Martini’s Lauderdale has defined it, the family genre is really about the stories, regardless of media, multiple generations can enjoy.

The stories are simple enough for children to follow (though, children are often smarter than we give them credit for), but complex and emotionally developed enough to draw in the adult crowd. These films and books aren’t listed as ‘family films’ or ‘family books’. They are listed as children or young adult stories, things written for that younger crowd. However, there is a youthful innocence which these stories tap into. This innocence draws an adult’s heartstrings and makes them want to play again in the sandbox of wonder and imagination.

Pixar’s Up gives us a lifetime of story in the first few minutes, drawing our hopes, our laughter, our fears, until at last we are left with reaching for some tissue to clean up the mess of emotions we are left in. Yet, what follows is a light, fun journey across a fantastic world.

Disney fairy tales and animated films have music and princesses, but a core of real emotion drawing us into the world. Confession: I usually tear up when the Beast is about to die in Beauty and the Beast.

Young adult novels may be marketed to teenagers, but are built on a teenage angst and heartache we remember. The core problems they face aren’t too far from those of adults, even if many may end with a dance at prom or in a post-apocalyptic-robot-battle. While The Fault In Our Stars is grounded in the modern world and The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future, both deal with friendship and discovering a larger world beyond the self.

All of these stories capture universal experiences and emotions, the human experience. However, because the violence and other graphic content is relatively low (possibly excluding some parts of the Hunger Games), these are named stories for “kids”.

If these stories are “kids” stories, why did Pixar’s “Inside Out” just pass the billion dollar mark for worldwide ticket sales?

For another example, look at Harry Potter.

Harry Potter begins as a children’s story. The Sorcerer’s Stone is an engaging, but relatively simple book. Yet, each of the rest of the books builds layers to the characters, the world, and the story, ending with this massive tapestry of wonder. The main characters may be children and then young adults, and the books may be housed among children’s literature in the bookstore, but the audience is everyone. In England, the books were released with ‘adult’ versions of the cover so adults wouldn’t be ashamed of reading a children’s book in public.

Over the years the Harry Potter series was released, I volunteered at many Harry Potter midnight release parties (my sister may have worked for the bookstore and been in charge of said parties). Whole families dressed up – infants, 10-year-lds, 40-year-old parents – along with teenagers, single adults, and a few grandparents, all unified in their love of J.K. Rowling’s magical world, wanting to know the next adventure in young Harry’s life.

Admittedly, the Harry Potter series is a phenomena, similar to Star Wars. I believe part of that is due to its ability to bring together multiple generations.

I have given a lot of thought to what I choose to write and who my market is, who do I write for. We need more stories to share between grandparents and grandchild, to be read as bedtime stories, not because they are children’s stories, but because they are fun. My hope is to create stories that spark family conversations, even if it’s, “Don’t say anything! I haven’t finished it yet!” My hope is to draw the family together into a magical world.

In the end, however, it isn’t about me or my book. It is about finding the special books where age does not matter, where the imagination is intrigued, and everyone will sit closely together, wondering what comes next in the adventure they are sharing.

  • What books or other stories do you feel cross generations and bring families together?
  • What stories do you like to read or share with your family?
  • What is the most recent story or series your family has gotten excited for?

Related Links:

For a chance to win a doodle from children’s book writer Mark Allegra, click here.

For thoughts on reading Young Adult fiction past the young adult life, click here.

And just because I think this video is a great example of imagination and the family:

Exciting Side Note:

My book signing in Provo, Utah  is THIS SATURDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you’re in the Provo/Utah Valley area and want to visit, click here for more information.

For those of you a bit further away, here is a mockumentary / trailer for my book, The True Bride and the Shoemaker. I had a lot of fun putting it together, with the help of my editing consultant:

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4 thoughts on “The Family Genre: Stories For Everyone

  1. Oh goodness, I totally miss debating about what would happen in the next HP book between all my siblings. For a little reference there are 14 years between the oldest (my sister) and the youngest (my brother) and there were 4 of us. So even though my parents didn’t read it, it brought us siblings really close. I’m not sure we’ll ever see the like again. Right now, my two brothers and I are wondering what will happen next in GoT but it’s not really the same because one hasn’t read the books, just seen the show, and the other is like me and has read/seen both.

    I also love this line you gave: “Young adult novels may be marketed to teenagers, but are built on a teenage angst and heartache we remember.” I have been really angry at all YA novels I’ve been reading lately because it’s the girl falling in love with the boy, some angsty fighting, and magically getting together at the end, though very implausible. I’ve seen a few books divert from this (These Broken Stars was wonderful), but mostly it just drives me up the wall how a book can start so strong then end so lamely. But your sentence made me rethink of it from a pre-teen, young teen perspective. Perhaps you’re right and obviously it’s selling well because teenagers want to relate to a book where someone feels like they do…I definitely remember a lot of angst and love heartsickness when I was that age. I just don’t want to read about it now. So maybe I should remember that next time I get annoyed.

    • I think your feelings about young adult novels are similar to my issues with Romeo and Juliet. Others see a glorious love story, I see that they only knew each other for three days, and he’d just been rejected by some other girl. I suppose that’s where the suspension of disbelief comes in.

      • LOL as I’ve grown older, I definitely see it that way too. But some of the lines are absolutely beautiful.

        I also wanted to say that my weak point/teary eyes comes at the end of Pocahontas…every time. I love that she stays behind and he waves all injured from the ship. Tears me up.

  2. Great post. I think regarding “Inside Out”, it proves that story is everything. Pixar knows how to tell a story. They’re experts at it and I admire them for doing that. I wish the sequels would take a backseat, however, Pixar’s single title movies are awesome.

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