Children's books without children
June 2, 2012 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Our child was reading The Pushcart War and it occurred to me that it is the only children's book I know of that does not feature any children as characters. Can this be correct, or am I just suffering brain-freeze?

(Tintin, I suppose, and any number of comic books, but I'm thinking more words, fewer pictures.)
posted by IndigoJones to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on how you define it, I suppose? Plenty of folktales, historical legends, etc don't have kids as characters.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2012

Lots of fairy tales don't have children as characters -- Cinderella, Snow White, etc. It seems that when authors want to address adult issues in books for young kids, they often use animals to stand in, like in Watership Down and the Redwall series.
posted by apparently at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2012

Wind In The Willows (even the animals are adult animals)
The Hobbit (which was originally written as a tale for a child)
As said, any of the "prince/princess" fairy tales
For films, the original Star Wars trilogy
posted by The otter lady at 9:06 AM on June 2, 2012

Plenty of folktales, historical legends, etc don't have kids as characters.

This 100%. Robin Hood, King Arthur, etc.

Also, while it's not a book, kids love Star Wars, and there are Star Wars books, and there are no important kids in the original trilogy that I can recall. Red Letter Media made the excellent point that kids would rather aspire to be a cool adult than watch kids their own age. Think about what kids go as for Halloween - not too many characters who are actual kids, although of course there are exceptions.

Chris van Allsburg writes some books without any kids whatsoever.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:10 AM on June 2, 2012

Nancy Drew is at least a teenager, isn't she? Kids often like to read about teenagers. Teenagers are like "grown-up kids."
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2012

Some of Dr. Seuss's books don't involve child characters. Green Eggs and Ham, for example. Sam I Am is diminutive, but I don't think he's meant to represent a child, especially since he's the one pestering the other character to try something new, which is usually the role of a parent.
posted by jedicus at 9:27 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

my kids' shelves are full of books without children in the stories. The Monkey and the Crocodile, Strega Nona, etc. (Stuff based on folk tales and legends, as pointed out above.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:35 AM on June 2, 2012

Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats has only an elderly couple and cats as characters .
posted by munichmaiden at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2012

Frog and Toad, and George and Martha, are pairs of presumably adult friends.
posted by expialidocious at 10:28 AM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: All fair points, and thank you. Here's further definition

Folks tales one can argue were not simply for children, they arise from a tradition that pre-dates the notion of Children's Literature. Animals or fantastic creatures (Suess, Hobbits) need not apply. Teenagers are, as you say, grown up kids, but still kids, absolved of most adult responsibilities, so not what I have in mind. Sci-fi - well, children are not generally the intended audience. Ditto most fantasy, so that's mostly out.

I'm thinking books written/published since Children's Books became a recognized category (I suppose mid-19th century, but mostly 20th) in which the setting is recognizably mundane and the characters human.

Only all adult.

As I say, Tintin, or Pushcart Warriors. Our world, adult actors, intended for children readers.

(On preview - Millions of Cats would work, as would Seven Chinese Brothers and others- but these are picture books. I'm thinking writing as the chief component, illustrations as condiments at best.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2012

How about the Twits, by Roald Dahl?
posted by charles kaapjes at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I looked in Roald Dahl's Ĺ“uvre, but the twits' victims are children.
posted by Tobu at 11:54 AM on June 2, 2012

A few of Marguerite Henry's horse novels don't feature child characters--Justin Morgan Had a Horse and Black Gold spring to mind.
posted by drlith at 12:23 PM on June 2, 2012

Howl's Moving Castle doesn't have any children in the main characters (that I can think of), although there are young teens. (It's unclear how old Michael is, but old enough to be "in love" with...uh, spoiler.)
posted by maryr at 1:57 PM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: Teens, kids - if they're not paying mortgages, they aren't adults.

Marguerite Henry is close, but putting the horse in there is a bit of dodge.

I expect I'm being obstructionist here. On the other hand, I'm a little surprised this is proving such a tough one. Much obliged for all suggestions, in any event. I'll be throwing some of these in front of the child, so this is useful.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2012

Response by poster: Come to think of it, plenty of historical books might qualify.

But if we're talking strictly fiction....
posted by IndigoJones at 2:26 PM on June 2, 2012

Yeah, I was going to say biographcal and historical novelizations, or adventure stories. Rifles for Waite? Maybe London....The Call of the Wild?
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:37 PM on June 2, 2012

I haven't read it lately, but I'm pretty sure The Thief qualifies, and it was a favored book in my childhood.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:06 PM on June 2, 2012

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH won the Newberry in 1972, and if I recall correctly, the only "child" character was just a plot point.
posted by msali at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2012

for picture books: the whole Mr Men series. I loved those books.

for longer stories/books: The Hobbit (as mentioned above), "The Happy Prince", the third and fourth book of the Alanna series, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley - similar to the Alanna series, both the Ingalls books and L.M. Montogomery's books follow a child character well into adulthood. Monthomery's novel The Blue Castle doesn't count, since it was never intended for children (as often as it is shelved there because bookstores don't know the books anymore).

they aren't common, since children are like any people and like to read about people with whom they have things in common.
posted by jb at 10:32 PM on June 2, 2012

hobbits pay mortgages (they own land, which they would need to purchase) so I don't understand why they are out.

(especially since hobbits are really the "humans" - aka ordinary people - in the story, and Bilbo and Frodo are both decidedly adult characters. Indeed, though he was cast too young in the movie, Frodo is 50 in the book, which is like being 30 for a human).
posted by jb at 10:37 PM on June 2, 2012

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel came to mind immediately.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:45 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite children's books is The Gruffalo, which doesn have a kid in it either. Its sequel The Gruffalo's Child obviously does, just not a human child.
posted by kandinski at 4:35 AM on June 3, 2012

Response by poster: I'll disagree that hobbits are human, as are not elves, goblins or wizards. And Tolkien does differentiate them from humans. But perhaps that's me getting overly fussy. It's closer to what I was thinking of than most.

And not a picture book.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:48 AM on June 3, 2012

The Horatio Hornblower series features only adults (as main characters, anyway-- eventually Hornblower has children, but they are exceedingly minor characters).

Also, The Pushcart Wars does feature some children (they come up with the pea guns, if I recall correctly), but, again, in a very minor fashion.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2012

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