Children and Young Adult literature (which has its own Library of Congress acronym!) has come a long way since I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed the books I read as a young person, but there are many more choices that use a lot more imagination these days. I’ve been reading Robert Repino’s books since Mort(e) appeared in 2015. Spark and the League of Ursus is his latest and it continues his trademark use of animals (and stand-ins) to get at very human situations. Spark is a carefully crafted story based on the idea that teddy bears do more than provide cuddles at night. They are, in fact, a force for good, protecting human children from monsters.
As usual when I discuss books, I won’t give too much away. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t even like to read back-cover blurbs because I’m afraid they’ll spoil the story. Instead, I’m going to applaud the use of imagination in a world that seems stuck on a limited number of plot points. Books like this, which stretch the imagination of the young without talking down to them—why does it cost us so much effort to admit that kids are smart?—are a great addition to CYA literature. I was exploring this concept with another friend who writes when I read Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. A story’s intended audience is often signaled by the age bracket of the protagonists. I’d suppose ‘tweens might be about the age here, based on that metric. (Green was more like New Adult, a category that lasts until about age 30.)
Reading material written for younger readers makes me feel younger myself. I read Ransom Riggs first three Miss Peregrine novels (also published by Quirk, the house that publishes Spark). You see, I’m really encouraged by this growth in younger readers’ material. If we can get kids into books with such engaging stories I suspect there’ll be less chance that they become unimaginative, straight-laced adults who want to keep things just like they were when they were kids. Imagination has that kind of liberating ability. Besides, who doesn’t want their teddy bear to come to their rescue once in a while? It’s not just children that can take a lesson from imaginative story-telling. Repino’s War with No Name series was intended for adult readers but it is good preparation for getting a sense of the possibilities for readers who might, in all hope, never have to face wars at all.