Life Style

Children’s literature: the revival of the fantastic

Guess who dominates the top 50 best-selling children’s books in France between October 2020 and September 2021 (1)? Like last year, it is JK Rowling with The Ickabog, his fairy tale for children, followed by the indestructible Harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone then, dispersed in the following rows, of the six other volumes of the series.

In the wake of the little wizard, about fifteen other titles (The Clan Wars, The Mirror Pass, The Hunger Games…) belong to the same genre: the literatures of the imagination, which bring together a whole myriad of sub-genres – fantasy, fantasy or science fiction (read the tracks).

→ TESTIMONIALS. These young fans of fantasy or fantasy literature

For twenty years, the department has continued to grow, with the passing of fashions: vampires, after the success of Twilight in 2005, dystopias, after those of Hunger Games and Labyrinth. “These series are a safe bet for publishers. When they are well written and convincing, they become real hens that lay the golden eggs ”, recognizes Cécile Pournin, editorial director of Lumen.

This small specialized house, created in 2014, holds in particular the rights of Guardians of the Lost Cities, a fantasy saga of which the first nine volumes have sold more than 900,000 copies in France, soon adapted for cinema by Disney and the director Ben Affleck (his children would be fans).

A culture in the process of patrimonialization

How to explain this craze? “In a disturbing world like ours, it is a source of escape”, advances Cécile Pournin. Anne Besson, professor of comparative literature at the University of Artois and specialist in fantasy, offers another explanation: “Children naturally turn to fantastic stories because they are immersed in this cultural environment through films, series and video games. Their parents are less and less reticent, because they themselves grew up with Star wars and Tolkien. It is a culture in the process of heritagization. “ Some adults share with pleasure their own youthful passions, like this father delighted to have the saga read Dune to his 16-year-old son, on the occasion of his theatrical release.

→ CRITICAL. “Dune”, spice and purity

At the Seine-Saint-Denis Youth Book and Press Fair, director Sylvie Vassallo notes a decompartmentalization of genres: “The imagination infuses so-called real literatures and the great youth authors do not hesitate to make forays into science fiction or the marvelous. “ This dimension “Extra-ordinary” would make it easier to tackle the major questions of our world (ecology, power, evolution of our relationship to gender, to the family), which fascinate part of the young generation of authors and readers.

Confront your fears or frustrations

Taking a disadvantaged African-American teenager as a heroine, BB Alston integrates, in Amari and the Office of Supernatural Affairs (released by Bayard, also editor of The cross, in September), from societal issues – harassment, racism, inequalities of opportunity – to an adventure combining secret agents, parallel worlds and magical creatures.

Panic in Gemelia by Betty Piccioli (Gulf Stream editor), Imaginals Prize for School Children 2021, delivers a feminist message. Phalaina by Alice Brière-Hacquet (editions du Rouergue) addresses the animal question, The Dream Looper by Estelle Faye (Rageot), that of pollution. “This literature even appears to be quite avant-garde on the integration of minorities and gender issues”, remarks Tom Lévêque, blogger and author with his brother Nathan of a guide to the teenage novel, Looking for a great maybe.

These books also give the keys to a better understanding of oneself. “Like fairy tales, some fantastic novels allow the child to face the trials of life, by materializing their fears or their frustrations”, affirms Hélène Pasquet, editor at Bayard, whose bestsellers of the “J’aime lire” collection remain the stories signed by Nicolas de Hirsching: 210,000 copies for The forbidden word, 120,000 for Vincent’s Hundred Lies.

The great sagas are often built around an initiatory quest. “There is a strong appreciation of the powers of childhood or youth: it is on this that the balance of the world rests”, notes Anne Besson. The academic sees in this cathartic process something to seduce “Children who have little control over their lives, and adolescents who are told how complicated their integration into society will be”.

Biggest readers

Young audiences sometimes find benchmarks and values ​​in these adventures (solidarity, courage, righteousness, etc.). “This moral dimension, little present in other types of fiction because it would appear as an unbearable lesson, goes unnoticed in a shimmering, exotic universe”, observes Anne Besson.

Unfortunately, all the works do not have the same ethics. For author Silène Edgar, some series that trivialize violence are even toxic: “The vampires of Twilight make mountains of corpses, the hero beats his wife but we are given to understand that this would be justified by his supernatural nature!” “

Another downside: this abundant literature of the imagination does not necessarily play the role of a springboard to other forms of reading. “In the majority of cases, the readers, or rather the readers, remain faithful to this genre while growing up”, notes Anne Besson.

This professor deplores a certain “Invisibilization of these young girls who, questioned about their reading, prefer not to answer anything rather than to quote stories of vampires or dragon girls”. The sales figures show, however, that the literatures of the imagination draw most of the heavy readers, those who read more than 20 books per year.


The different categories of literatures of the imagination

The fantasy. The story takes place in an invented world, governed by supernatural rules. Fantasy can be inspired by ancient mythologies, tales and legends. Its origins date back to Victorian England in the second half of the 19th century.e century (Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll). It can be read in France from the pen of Pierre Bottero (Quest for Ewilan), Sophie Audouin-Mamikonian (Tara Duncan) or, more occasionally, Marie Desplechin (Green) or Jean-Claude Mourlevat (The river upside down, Earthly).

The fantastic. More worrying, the story is characterized by the irruption of the supernatural in a realistic framework and often leaves doubt on the explanation of events (rational or supernatural). This current, born in the XIXe century with ETA Hoffmann or Edgar Allan Poe, is today represented by David Almond or Patrick Ness.

Science fiction. Born in the XIXe century from the pen of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) or Jules Verne, she imagines the future consequences of technical and scientific progress on our societies. A very dark vision in the case of dystopias (Hunger Games, Divergent) or some
post-apocalyptic novels (The rains, by Vincent Villeminot, Lou after all, by Jérôme Leroy, Sirius, by Stéphane Servant).


Six days around the pleasure of reading

The Seine-Saint-Denis Youth Book and Press Fair is held from 1er to December 6
in Montreuil (Seine-Saint-Denis), in the presence of 300 exhibitors, 250 authors and illustrators.

An exhibition and a TV channel. In addition to the large-format outdoor exhibition of illustrations, a television channel, available on TNT channel 34 and via numerous boxes, will broadcast from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. about ten daily shows: live interviews, recipes by the authors (“In the kitchen”), readings by actors (“Qui lit, dort”)…

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