On the sophistication of young readers

In the process of tackling my first project, a book for 9-12 year-old readers, I have decided to include an illustrated component to lend some visual interest to its pages. I have always been a lover of artfully-illustrated stories. I believe the images enrich the tale for young and mature readers alike.

Although I have some skill as an artist, I’ve elected to hire someone to devise the illustrations. This will allow me to concentrate on crafting the tale, and I’ve found an illustrator who blows me out of the water, hands down. I am quite happy with the partnership which is developing. The artist is original, highly creative, and has a great sense of humour, which translates directly into his artwork.

A fascinating discussion took place while I was seeking a freelancer to aid in this task. A few of the more experienced artists were trying to nail down the style of illustration which would be most suited for my readers. Surprisingly, the general commentary indicated that a simpler look would appeal more to the kids I am trying to reach.

I was quite taken aback by this. I had assumed that young readers possess a more sophisticated eye than some of these veteran artists believe they do. When I was ten, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. One of the few sources of entertainment I was able to bring with me was a massive paperback tome, the entire Lord of the Rings collection in a single book. I may have been somewhat intimidated by the challenge of reading a three inch-thick book packed with microscopic type, but once I set my mind to it, I avidly tore through that book. I also remember being engaged by the beautiful cover illustration. There was no compromise made for a purportedly young eye. I would always take a few minutes before reading the book to explore the haunting landscape that played out before me. I no longer have the book in question, but as I remember, this was the illustration: http://www.tolkienbooks.net/php/details.php?reference=46200

I also recall feeding my imagination with beautiful fantasy artwork produced by the stable of artists that populated Games Workshop’s products with lively material. Although the state of the art has evolved somewhat since those days, it still does not strike me as having been simplified for a younger crowd.

I am uncertain where to stand on this issue. I doubt that I was gifted with prodigious maturity at an early age, allowing me to enjoy  what others of my generation could not at the time. Have tastes simplified due to the abundance of mass media? Or do we underestimate the refinement of our youth? Authors and artists, what has  your experience been at this level?


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