Two books, now considered YA classics by many, burst on the scene in the 1950s. The first was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, in 1951. I haven't read this one but I know it's required reading in a lot of high schools, and its protagonist Holden Caulfield has become "an icon for teenage rebellion."
The second was Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1958). This book actually apparently didn't sell well when it first came out, but later became a bestseller and was incorporated into the curriculum in schools in the 1960s. (And it still is today...I had to read it in Grade 11). Its message about human nature being inherently violent and self-serving (even in children) made it rather novel for the time.
Despite their popularity among young adult readers, these two books were both written for an adult audience.
|Yeah, this cover definitely wasn't created with teens in mind.|
T.H. White also published his Arthurian retelling The Once and Future King. This contained what became the well-known story of The Sword in the Stone, which eventually got turned into this:
...not quite what I think T.H. White had in mind for his epic tale.
Historical novels for young readers started to gain prominence as well. Several Newbery Medal and Honor novels of that time were historical fiction, including Carry on, Mr. Bowditch (1955) and The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958).
And the 1950s was also the era of the "Great Comic Book Scare." I'd never heard about this before, but apparently, there was quite a commotion. At that time the U.S. was deep in McCarthyism, and communists weren't the only thing that had the American public shaking in its boots. No, there was a far more dreaded enemy out there...comic books.
|A comic book! Run for your lives!|
|Fredric Wertham, looking shocked as he reads Shock Illustrated.|
|Yep, they had their own seal of approval. I bet that didn't get stamped on much, given the rigorous criteria.|
This was pretty huge in that it made a distinction between books for children and books for young adults. Publishing houses still weren't marketing books specifically for teens, but now they were beginning to be recognized as a separate category of readers, and books like Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye were paving the way for changes in how adolescents were portrayed in novels.
Have you read any or all of these books? Were you a fan of Lord of the Flies? Can you convince me to read The Catcher in the Rye? And does Disney's massacre of The Sword in the Stone make you cringe in anguish?