Michael Cart opens From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature with the following:
If it was in Victorian England that “a separate state called ‘childhood’ was envisioned,” as Canadian critic Sheila Egoff has argued, others would agree it was neither there nor then but in America, instead, where another separate state, “young adulthood,” was to be envisioned. (3)
By and large, America was also the site of that precursor to canonical young adult literature: the junior novel genre.
For a long time, I questioned this American dominance. Was the US really *that* dominant when it came to the genre, or was it just that no one had searched out or made the connection to other, non-American junior novels?
The answer is, I think, a bit of both… but mostly the former.
I recently came across a 1954 letter from junior novel writer Anne Emery to Mont L. Haible, the administrative assistant to the general manager of the Westminster Press. In it, Emery ponders publishing her novels in the UK. She quotes a fan letter, in which the fan acknowledges that “here, from the ages of 13 to 17 there is nothing for us to read… Well, I hope you will write more books even if it is only for the benefit of those lucky American teenagers, while we have to be content to suffer the classics.”
Emery then quotes an English librarian that she had met a couple of years earlier, who noted that “there are almost no teen-age books published in England.”
The junior novel genre would, indeed, appear to be almost entirely North American, and particularly American. Looking at my bookshelves, however, I realized an important distinction I was forgetting to acknowledge: the English-language junior novel genre is almost entirely American.
I’ve already seen numerous hints that junior novels were popular worldwide. Mary Stolz’s and Anne Emery’s international publications suggest it. Betty Cavanna’s fan mail from girls in Japan suggests it. Still, these hints are all based on American-published junior novels in translation. Were there original junior novels published elsewhere, in other languages? And how would I find them?
Imports, my bookshelf advised me, and I reached for my translated 1972 Scholastic copy of Aimée Sommerfelt’s Miriam.
This first image is from the original 1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover (I think), from Norway. The illustration design is typical of late 1950s/early 1960s painterly illustration found in American junior novels and Whitman-style series books.
The following three images are from the 1972 Scholastic reprint, from the US.
While the original cover emphasizes the teen setting that forms the base of the junior novel genre, the 1972 Scholastic cover–appearing, importantly, within the early period of the New Realism–contextualizes the story with the conspicuous red of the Nazi flag.
In the end, searching for imported (and translated) junior novels isn’t a full or ideal solution to the question of whether or not the genre existed in its own right in other countries, but it’s a start.
Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, HarperCollins, 1992.