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Crossover Literature

Summary and Keywords

Crossover literature transcends the conventionally recognized boundaries within the fiction market, blurring the borderline between adult literature and children’s literature. Books may cross from child to adult or adult to child audiences, or they may be explicitly published for both audiences. Crossover literature is by no means a recent phenomenon, but it received a high profile and a great deal of media attention with the unprecedented success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books in the late 1990s. It was at that time that the term “crossover” was adopted by critics, the media, and the publishing industry. New words were also coined in other languages to refer to this literature. Although the genre includes adult fiction read by young readers (adult-to-child crossover), which has a much longer historical precedent, the term is often used to refer only to children’s and young adult books that appeal to adults (child-to-adult crossover).

Crossover literature is an extensive body of diverse, intergenerational works with a very long history. Borders between children’s and adult fiction have been more porous, or even non-existent, in certain cultures and time periods. Fairy tales, Middle Eastern tales, and fables have always appealed to mixed-age audiences. Children have been appropriating adult books for centuries. Classics like Robinson Crusoe and Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers) virtually passed into the children’s library. While almost every genre can cross age boundaries, the novel, and in particular the children’s and young adult novel, has monopolized attention. Moreover, crossover fiction is often equated with the fantasy novel, which played a key role in drawing public and critical attention to this literature. In most countries today, fantasy remains the dominant crossover genre. However, other genres, including short fiction, fairy tales, poetry, graphic novels, picturebooks, and comics commonly transcend age boundaries.

Initially, many saw crossover literature as merely a marketing and mass media phenomenon, but it also received critical acclaim. Crossover fiction in the early 21st century is recognized as a distinct literary genre and marketing category. It plays a major role in the publishing industry and in contemporary culture. Crossover books are responsible for hugely successful multi-generation-spanning, cross-media franchises, such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Twilight Saga, and The Hunger Games. Crossover literature is part of a broader cultural trend in which books, movies, television shows, video games, and so forth are increasingly reaching across age groups.

Keywords: crossover, cross-writing, dual audience, dual address, literature and age boundaries, children’s literature, young adult fiction

The Concept of Crossover

Crossover literature transcends age boundaries, crossing from child to adult or adult to child audiences. It is often seen as a recent trend, even as an invention of this millennium. Crossover literature did not begin to attract widespread public, media, or critical attention until the phenomenal success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books in the late 1990s. One of the first articles to refer to the “crossover phenomenon” in those terms was Judith Rosen’s “Breaking the Age Barrier,” published the same year as the first Harry Potter novel.1 Although the term is new, the phenomenon itself is not.2 The early years of this millennium were, however, landmark years for crossover literature, which was the source of a constant stream of groundbreaking events in the publishing industry. A 1999 issue of Time featured Rowling’s Harry Potter on the cover, lending a certain respectability to crossover literature on the threshold of the new millennium. The first three Harry Potter books dominated the top spots on the New York Times list of hardcover bestsellers until the ensuing controversy resulted in the creation, in 2000, of a second list for children’s bestsellers. When the Whitbread Book of the Year rules were changed in 1999 to allow the inclusion of children’s books, the third Harry Potter book very nearly unseated Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf. In 2000, the fourth book in the blockbuster series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sold more copies in a year than any other title in publishing history. J. K. Rowling became an international media superstar from the literary world.

The term “crossover” is often used in a limited sense to refer to contemporary children’s books and young adult fiction read by adults. The trendy label “kidult fiction” is thus used synonymously for crossover fiction. Many tend to see crossover literature as genre specific, referring only to novels. Certainly, the novel has dominated the scene, as the title of Rachel Falconer’s The Crossover Novel implies. Crossover is often further restricted to fantasy novels, such as the Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy His Dark Materials. Although the super sellers that played a major role in drawing public and critical attention to crossover literature are fantasy novels, almost every genre can transcend age boundaries, including poetry, short fiction, fairy tales, picturebooks, graphic novels, comics, and nonfiction. The novelistic genre itself crosses over in all its subgenres: realism, mystery, gothic, historical, science fiction, romance, and so forth. Nor is the crossover one-sided. Crossover literature is also adult fiction that appeals to young readers; prior to Harry Potter, the crossover took place predominantly in that direction.

From Cross-Writing to Crossover

Many authors cross over, addressing works to children as well as adults, and engaging in what has been called “cross-writing” (or “crosswriting”). The extensive and varied list includes the names of prominent poets, playwrights, and novelists: Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Michel Butor, Italo Calvino, Karel Čapek, Anton Chekhov, Colette, e. e. cummings, Marguerite Duras, Umberto Eco, T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Aldous Huxley, Eugene Ionesco, James Joyce, Clarice Lispector, Toni Morrison, Mordecai Richler, Salman Rushdie, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Gertrude Stein, Michel Tournier, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Wolf, and Marguerite Yourcenar, to name only a few. A number of Nobel laureates also grace the list, including William Faulkner, Rudyard Kipling, Selma Lagerlöf, J. M. G. Le Clézio, Gabriela Mistral, Toni Morrison, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The majority of these writers are cross-writers who address child and adult audiences in separate works rather than crossover authors who appeal to both audiences in the same work.

Crossover books may find an audience of both children and adults with or without authorial or editorial intention. They are not necessarily, or even generally, written, published, or marketed deliberately for mixed-age audiences. Most often, they are initially published for one audience and subsequently appropriated by another, in a process that has been called “cross-reading.” Falconer points out the need for more analysis of the experience of cross-reading, which she feels is a better indicator of shifting cultural attitudes.3 Cross-writing and cross-reading are both fundamental components of crossover literature. Many crossover authors have discussed the interplay between younger and older selves both in their narratives and in the act of writing itself.4 In 1997, Knoepflmacher and Myers pointed to the “dialogic mix of older and younger voices [that] occurs in texts too often read as univocal,” suggesting that “authors who write for children inevitably create a colloquy between past and present selves.”5 A similar phenomenon often exists for readers. The Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater, in La infancia recuperada (1976; Childhood Regained: The Art of the Storyteller, 1982), and much later the British author Francis Spufford, in The Child That Books Built (2002), examine the relationship between their past and present reading selves. Falconer rightly encourages a dialogic approach to crossover literature.6

Crossover Terminology

Since the 1990s, scholars, critics, reviewers, and publishers have used a variety of other terms to designate literature read by both children and adults, including “dual address,” “dual readership,” “dual audience,” and “cross-audience.” This literature has also been described in more general terms as “intergenerational” or “cross-generational.” In the early 2000s, the term “crossover” became popular with the media as well as publishers and critics. Despite some reservation with regard to a term that is used with different meanings in other areas, such as postcolonial studies, gender studies, comics, or music,7 “crossover” has now been widely adopted, even beyond English-speaking borders.

Expressions had previously been adopted in a number of languages to refer to this form of literature. As early as 1986, the term allalderslitteratur (all-ages-literature) was coined in Norway and its Swedish equivalent came into use shortly thereafter.8 The Hispanic world refers to such books as “libros para todas las edades” (books for all ages). In 1990, the Spanish publisher Siruela created the series Las Tres Edades (The Three Ages), whose name indicates clearly the perceived inadequacy of terms implying a “dual” audience. Crossover texts address a diverse, mixed-age audience that can include children, adolescents, and adults. Numerous foreign terms incorporate the idea of “all-age books.” The Anglo-German expressions All-Age-Literature and All-Age-Roman have been in use in Germany since about 2002. In the Netherlands, the term literatuur zonder leeftijd (literature without age) was born in 1993 as the title of a Dutch journal acknowledging the increasing significance of literature for all ages.

The sometimes cumbersome terms coined in other languages serve to illustrate the difficulty of finding a suitable descriptor and to explain the adoption of the catchy English term “crossover” in other language areas. More important, these expressions are a reminder that, contrary to what many critics seem to assume, crossover fiction is not a phenomenon limited to English-language literature but rather an international trend.9 It is essential to consider crossover literature from a global and cross-cultural perspective to fully appreciate its scope and social importance.

Historical Perspectives

There exists a very long tradition of adults and children sharing the same stories. One of the oldest and most universal forms of crossover literature is folk and fairy tales.10 Other genres, such as oriental tales and fables, also have ample historical precedent as crossover texts. Today Aesop’s Fables and some of the tales associated with the Arabian Nights continue to share a crossover audience. The situation is similar for the old mythologies, such as the Greek, Norse, and Celtic, which address fundamental ontological questions. In pre-literate societies and in the pre-print era, stories such as these were told to groups of all ages.

When fiction was first published, there was no specialized children’s literature. The reading material of children and adults necessarily overlapped. The first volume of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables (1668) was dedicated to the seven-year-old son of Louis XIV, but the bestseller appealed to both children and adults. Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou Contes du temps passé (1697; Histories or Tales of Past Times, 1729) was fashionable with the aristocrats of the court of Louis XIV, but the work best known by the title in the frontispiece, Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose), can also be appreciated on another level by very young children and entered the nursery. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm did not initially intend their Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), published in 1812, for children, but they modified subsequent editions when they realized they also had a young readership. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) was reportedly read from political circles to the nursery. Many world classics for adults, such as Don Quixote (1605, 1615) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), were appropriated early on by children or gradually gained crossover status due to abridgements, adaptations, and retellings that targeted younger readers.

Even after the creation of a literature specifically for children, there was a continual exchange, in both directions, between the worlds of children’s and adult literature. The most commonly cited children’s books with adult appeal are Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (1900), A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956), and Richard Adams’s Watership Down (1972). Certain genres, such as fairy tales, fantasy, and comic books, have always appealed to mixed-age audiences.

It is extremely important to consider crossover texts in a historical and social context. The relationship between children’s and adult fiction can vary greatly between cultures and time periods. In some countries, the borders have always been much less defined. In others, they were more permeable during certain periods, for example, in 19th-century Britain. In addition, a work that attracts a crossover audience in one country or time period may appeal only to a single audience in another, or vice versa.

Adult-to-Child Crossover Fiction

Children have long laid claim to adult novels. Several of the great literary classics have become almost the sole property of children, the most notable example being Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Abridged versions of the masterpieces of world literature provided much of children’s reading material well into the 20th century. Some of the most influential works in the literary canon were adapted for children, including Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quijote de la Mancha, published in the early 17th century. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) was an early crossover and remained a staple of the children’s library for more than two hundred years. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) was almost immediately abridged for children. In the 19th century, a wide range of genres crossed over to young readers in either integral or abridged versions, from adventure novels such as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), to the gothic novels Frankenstein (1818), by nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley, and Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker. During his lifetime, H. G. Wells’s science fiction novels, such as The Time Machine (1895), were immensely popular with a broad audience that included adolescents. Unabridged versions of Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist (1837–1839), A Christmas Carol (1843), and even David Copperfield (1849–1850) were read by or to children. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Charlotte Brontë’s bestselling romance novel Jane Eyre (1847) are still popular choices when adolescents begin reading adult fiction.

Young readers quickly appropriated Alexandre Dumas’s enormously popular historical novels, first serialized in periodicals. Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844), which was a popular sensation in its day, became one of the world’s best-loved novels and a children’s-book classic. Dumas’s lengthy novels are probably read by few children or adults today, but almost everyone is familiar with them through film or television adaptations. Many of these works have retained their crossover appeal with contemporary audiences thanks to popular film adaptations. Adult novels continued to cross over into the early part of the 20th century, as demonstrated by the popularity of Jack London’s novella The Call of the Wild (1903) with a young audience. With the advent of modernism, however, popular authors who appealed to young readers in books featuring young protagonists found themselves relegated to the rapidly developing children’s publishing industry. That was the case for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which was not originally written or published as a children’s book in 1908.

Popular genre fiction, such as horror, detective, romance, fantasy, and science fiction, has always crossed from adult-to-child audiences. Notable examples from the 20th century include Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and the horror novels of Stephen King, who revived interest in modern horror fiction. Fantasy readers (and writers) have always tended to disregard the adult-child divide. Many fantasy authors, such as Ursula Le Guin and Madeleine L’Engle, also write for children, but fans of all ages read their adult novels. Many young fans of T. H. White’s stand-alone novel The Sword in the Stone (1938) also read the later, more adult novels that make up The Once and Future King (1958). Fantasy authors who write uniquely for adults may also have a significant following of young readers. That was the case for Mervyn Peake, who did not appreciate the young fans of his dark, gothic Gormenghast books (1946–1959).

Many teenagers see reading major adult novels as a sign of maturity or an indication of their readiness to engage with the challenges of adulthood. Classic coming-of-age stories that have traditionally been popular with teenagers or at least widely read by them as prescribed school reading are J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies (1954), Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Adult novels have struck a chord with an entire generation of teenagers in a wide range of cultures and periods. Earlier examples of adult novels that became almost cult books with generations of teenagers are Wolfgang Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sorrows of Young Werther) and Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes (1913). Haruki Murakami’s adult novels, such as Noruwei no mori (1987; Norwegian Wood, 1989), brought him a kind of superstar status with Japanese youth due to the Western influence that contrasts strikingly with traditional Japanese writing. Some so-called young adult novels actually began as adult works, a notable example being Robert Cormier’s Now and at the Hour (1960), which was reissued as a young adult novel in 1991. Adult novels that cross over often deal with childhood and adolescence, as in the case of Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street (1984), Peter Høeg’s Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, 1993), and Niccolò Ammaniti’s Io non ho paura (2001; I’m Not Scared, 2003).

Although the emphasis in recent years has been on the bestselling children’s and young adult fiction being read by adults, popular adult fiction continues to be widely read by a young audience. Dan Brown’s mystery thriller novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) was a blockbuster with broad crossover appeal. Addictively popular adult fantasy series develop a large and passionate young fan base, in the reverse phenomenon of Harry Potter. The most notable example is undoubtedly George R. R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which debuted with A Game of Thrones in 1996. Both the books and the HBO television series Game of Thrones, which premiered in 2011, have sparked significant debate about whether or not they are suitable for a teenage audience. The historical time-travel romance Outlander series (1991–2014), by Diana Gabaldon, has had a steadily increasing wide-age audience since the franchise expanded to a television drama series in 2014.

Capitalizing on bestselling authors by marketing their adult fiction for young readers is not a new phenomenon. Since the mid-20th century, some publishers have promoted adult-to-child crossover, even repackaging adult fiction for children. Paratextual changes generally include at least a new cover and the addition of illustrations. Many so-called children’s books, including a number of modern children’s classics, were originally published for adults. Henri Bosco is best known for his bestselling “children’s book” L’Enfant et la rivière (1945; The Boy and the River, 1956), which was initially published for adults and continues to be reissued for adults as well as children. Bosco’s L’Âne Culotte (The Donkey with the Breeches, 1937) was subsequently issued in a children’s edition, even though it is the first volume of a trilogy for adult readers.

Chapters are sometimes excerpted from adult novels and published as children’s books. The chapter “Barbedor” (King Goldbeard) from Tournier’s Gaspard, Melchior et Balthazar and a passage from Le Clézio’s Désert (Desert, 2009), were published separately for children, as Barbedor (1980) and Balaabilou (1985), respectively, with the artistic collaboration of the children’s book illustrator Georges Lemoine. An excerpt from John Irving’s A Widow for One Year (1998) appeared in Switzerland as a picturebook, under the title Ein Geräusch, wie wenn einer versucht, kein Geräusch zu machen (2003; A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, 2004). Sometimes an integral adult novella is repackaged for children. Le Clézio’s whaling story Pawana (1992) retained the same title for the 1995 children’s edition, while Valentin Rasputin’s Vniz i vverkh po techeniiu (Downstream, Upstream, 1972) was retitled Na reke Angare (On the Angara River, 1980).

Short fiction for adults is frequently published for young readers, as in the case of Yourcenar’s Notre-Dame-des-Hirondelles (Our-Lady-of-the-Swallows, 1982), taken from her collection Nouvelles orientales (1938; Oriental Tales, 1985). Seven stories from Tournier’s Le Coq de bruyère (1978; The Fetishist, 1984) were eventually published for children, either individually or in the children’s collection Sept contes (Seven Tales, 1984). Almost all the titles in Le Clézio’s corpus for young readers are taken from two short story collections, Mondo et autres histoires (1978; Mondo and Other Stories, 2011) and La Ronde et autres faits divers (1982; The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts, 2002). Rotraut Susanne Berner illustrates a parable by Wolfdietrich Schnurre in the enchanting picturebook Die Prinzessin kommt um vier (The Princess Comes at Four, 2000).

Many poets are read by a crossover audience, a notable example being Edgar Allan Poe. Often adult poets are also published in editions for children. That is the case for the popular French poet Jacques Prévert, who was always a great favourite with teenagers, but who, since the 1980s, has been published in editions for very young readers. In 1997, Beltz & Gelberg started a trend in Germany with Fünfter sein (Next Please, 2001), the first of several picturebook editions of poems by the Austrian Ernst Jandl and illustrations by Norman Junge. The picturebook Ottos Mops (Otto’s Pug, 2001), based on Jandl’s most famous poem, was an overnight bestseller. Another highly successful example is Das Hexen-Einmal-Eins (The Witch’s One-Time-One, 1998) by Goethe, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch. Currently, there is a widespread international trend of publishing modern poetry illustrated by established picturebook artists.

Some authors cross over by rewriting works, often prize-winning adult novels, for a different readership. In some cases, the resulting work is not for a separate single audience but for a crossover audience. According to Tournier, Vendredi ou la vie sauvage (1971; Friday and Robinson, 1972)—the shorter version of his award-winning adult novel Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique (1967; Friday, 1969)—is not a children’s book but a superior version for all ages. Carmen Boullosa’s rewriting of Son vacas, somos puercos (1991; They’re Cows, We’re Pigs, 1997), titled El medico de los pirates: bucaneros y filibusteros en el Caribe (The Pirates’ Doctor: Buccaneers and Freebooters in the Caribbean), was published for all ages in 1992.

Since the 2000s, there has been a great deal of media discussion of the rebranding of adult fiction for young readers. Although this is not new, publishers have begun marketing adult books to young readers with much more hype and high-profile marketing. Book vendors, too, are taking a more proactive role in promoting adult books to a young audience. Extensive marketing campaigns have been mounted in the case of eminent adult-to-child crossovers, such as Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winner Life of Pi (2001) and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), both of which were highly successful in the young adult market as well as the adult market.

Child-to-Adult Crossover Fiction

The crossover of children’s books to adult audiences was once much rarer than the reverse phenomenon, but the movement is now largely in that direction. Child-to-adult fiction gave rise to the crossover vogue and soon became a market trend, explaining why the term “crossover” is often reserved only for literature crossing in this direction. Over the years, there have nonetheless been numerous examples of children’s books finding adult audiences.11 A notable early example is E. T. A. Hoffmann’s children’s fairy tale “Nußknacker und Mausekönig” (1816; Nutcracker and Mouse-King), although its enduring appeal with all ages is mostly due to Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s balletic version, The Nutcracker. One of the most cited crossover writers of the 19th century is Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped (1886), boys’ adventures first serialized in a children’s magazine, as well as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), have always had popular appeal across generations. The same can be said of Jules Verne’s science-fiction novels, such as Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869–1870; Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, 1873) and Le tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours (1873; Around the World in Eighty Days, 1873), which were also serialized for young readers. Many readers feel Verne’s novels should have been published for adults. The popularity of Stevenson and Verne with young readers made them suspect for a time with the literary establishment, but they never lost their appeal with a wide audience of adults as well as children. Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women as a girls’ book at the request of her publisher, but it was immediately popular with adults as well as children. Her literary reputation also suffered from her appeal with a popular audience that included children, but Little Women has never been out of print. Although The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) was serialized as a boys’ story, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) had not written it for children and would continue to promote it as a book for readers of all ages. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), which was even more popular with young readers, is considered one of the great American novels.

J. M. Barrie’s intention was to appeal to both children and adults when he wrote the stage play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904). There has been an ongoing critical discussion of Peter Pan’s status as a “children’s book” since Jacqueline Rose’s study The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction was published in 1984. Many children’s books have adult cult followings. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an uncontested children’s classic, but today adults, not children, read it enthusiastically in its integral form. A. A. Milne’s children’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), which was influenced by Kenneth Grahame’s popular crossover animal fantasy The Wind in the Willows (1908), sold more than one million copies in the first year, many of those to adult readers. The book’s adult cult following is demonstrated by the success of Frederick C. Crews’s satire of literary criticism, The Pooh Perplex (1963), and the Latin translation of Winnie-the-Pooh, which became the first foreign-language book (and the only Latin book) to make the New York Times bestseller list in 1960. Tove Jansson began writing her Moomin books (1945–1977) for children, but later decided to address both children and adults as the books became darker and more complex. Children’s favorites around the world, the Moomin books also gained a certain cult status with adults in numerous countries. Michael Ende’s bestselling Die unendliche Geschichte (1979; The Neverending Story, 1983) was both a commercial and a critical success, but it also quickly became a cult book in Germany. Although some of these crossovers have a large adult cult following, they also enjoy a widespread mainstream popularity among readers of all ages.

Animal fables have always had strong crossover appeal. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White’s animal fantasy classic about a wise barn spider and a young pig, made the New York Times bestseller list in 1952 and appears on the all-time bestselling hardback book list. Sales of Charlotte’s Web are now in excess of fifty million copies worldwide. Russell Hoban wrote for both children and adults, but he is best known for his dark philosophical children’s novel The Mouse and His Child (1967). The quest of the father and son clockwork mice can be read as a children’s story or an ontological treatise. Richard Adams’s bestselling Watership Down (1972), an Odysseus-style epic adventure featuring rabbits, has been called one of the first contemporary crossover hits.

A number of child-to-adult crossovers are allegories, often of a political nature. In repressive regimes, many authors have sought to avoid censorship by publishing political allegories disguised as children’s stories. This was a common strategy in the former Soviet Union. The works addressed to children by authors like Kornei Chukovsky and Daniil Kharms were not, however, merely a pretext, but truly appealed to young readers.12 Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) can be read as a sociopolitical allegory about freedom of speech, but it is also a fable about the art of storytelling.

Prior to Harry Potter, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) were the world’s bestselling fantasy series. Some adults read the books as allegorical Christian fiction, but children tend to read them simply as fantasy. J. R. R. Tolkien established fantasy as a popular literary genre that straddled the divide between children’s and adult literature. The Hobbit (1937) was an immediate success with adults as well as children, but it was the darker and more complex Lord of the Rings (1954–1955) that reinvented the fantasy genre. The 1960s paperback edition quickly became a cult book among college students. Peter Jackson’s acclaimed film adaptations prompted a new surge of interest among readers of all ages in the early 2000s. Tolkien’s successful revival of the fantasy genre created a new market and led the way for popular works such as Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series (1964–1990), Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising high fantasy sequence (1965–1977), and Diana Wynne-Jones’s Chrestomanci series (1977–2006).

Child-to-Adult Crossover from the 1990s

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was not the first major contemporary international crossover hit. That honor goes to Jostein Gaarder’s Sophies verden (1991; Sophie’s World, 1994), published in Norway six years before the first Harry Potter book. In this “novel about the history of philosophy,” Gaarder uses realistic fantasy to explore moral and metaphysical issues through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old girl. In 1995, Sophie’s World won the distinction of being the world’s bestselling novel, and it remains Norway’s bestselling book of all time. Gaarder’s novel for young readers was not just an unprecedented commercial success, but it also garnered the critical acclaim of the literary establishment. In Britain, Pullman actually preceded Rowling, publishing the first novel of His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, in 1995. His complex epic fantasy series played a major role in bringing literary respectability to crossover fiction when the third novel bested authors of serious literary adult fiction to overwhelmingly win the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year award.

The Harry Potter series was the catalyst that moved crossover literature into the mainstream. The first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997; over the next decade, the series would sell over one hundred million copies worldwide, many to adult readers. The fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), had the largest print run ever and became the fastest-selling book in publishing history. The seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), reached the top spot on both the and Barnes and Noble bestseller lists just a few hours after the release date was announced. That year, Rowling became the only British woman on the exclusive Forbes list of the world’s U.S. dollar billionaires. In 2016, sales of the series had surpassed 450 million, clearly indicating the super seller’s enduring success.

Crossover owes its current status to the fantasy genre, and it remains the genre that is crossing age categories most frequently. The Harry Potter books marked another revival of fantasy, but unlike Tolkien, Rowling turned to magic fantasy rather than epic fantasy.13 Other contemporary magic or epic fantasy series with crossover appeal include William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire Trilogy (2000–2002), Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle (2003–2011), Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus sequence (2003–2010), and the Australian Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom (or Abhorsen) series (1995–2014). Michelle Paver’s six-book Chronicles of Ancient Darkness sequence (2004–2009) is a historical fantasy set in the Stone Age. Notable examples in other languages include Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy (2003–2007) about the magic of books and reading, Isabel Allende’s Eagle and Jaguar trilogy (2002–2004) set in the Amazonian rainforest, and Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Mats Strandberg’s Engelsfors trilogy (2011–2013) about a group of teenage witches destined to prevent a looming apocalypse.

Some crossover fantasies actually focus their narrative on the theme of transcending age boundaries. The Austrian author Christine Nöstlinger is said to write for children of all ages and her loyal fans tend to read all her books, regardless of the intended audience. Her realistic fantasy Hugo, das Kind in den besten Jahren (Hugo, a Child in the Prime of Life, 1983), blurs traditional age categories as the protagonist is at once child and adult, a fifty-year-old child who defends the rights of “old children” in society. In Cornelia Funke’s Herr der Diebe (2000; The Thief Lord, 2002) a magical merry-go-round can turn children into adults, and vice versa.

Age-crossover also plays a role in Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling fantasy romance, The Twilight Saga (2005–2008), in which a teenage girl falls in love with a 104-year-old vampire. Meyer’s vampire fantasy series became a phenomenon in its own right, with sales surpassed only by the Harry Potter books. It, too, became a global sensation and a highly successful, cross-medial franchise that demonstrated once again how closely books, television, and film are interlinked and feed off each other. The “Twilight effect” not only caused another surge in fantasy sales, but was responsible for a massive upturn in interest for science fiction and modern gothic tales. The Twilight Saga clearly demonstrated that Pottermania was not an isolated phenomenon. In the post-Harry Potter era, books that would normally be classified as young adult fiction continued to dominate bestseller lists.

Comic fantasy has also provided some highly successful crossovers: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Walter Moers’s Die 13½ Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär (1999; The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, 2000), Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series (2001–2008), and so forth. Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) invented a new genre with the thirteen, dark, comic gothic novels of A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999–2006), in which misery and bad luck plague the Baudelaire orphans. The eleventh volume, The Grim Grotto (2004), topped several American bestseller lists.

A number of dystopian science fiction/adventure series have pulled in an addicted audience of teenagers and adults since the 1990s. John Marsden’s Tomorrow series (1993–1999) about the invasion and occupation of Australia by a foreign power had a huge teenage cult following, but it is also considered one of the most celebrated and widely recognized works of Australian literature. More recently, Suzanne Collins’s dark, post-apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction The Hunger Games trilogy (2008–2010) had a similar effect, but on a global scale. The bestselling series took the world by storm much as Harry Potter had done a decade before. In 2012, Amazon announced that the company’s sales of the trilogy had overtaken those of the Harry Potter books. The three-book series achieved that feat in just four years, largely due to the significant increase in digital reading and the sales of e-book formats. Veronica Roth follows in the footsteps of Collins with The Divergent Series (2011–2013), a trilogy about a post-apocalyptic society that identifies its citizens by their affiliation with one of five different factions. The young adult series held the top three spots on the USA Today’s bestselling books list at the beginning of 2014.

Realistic fiction also crosses over from child to adult. In fact, the crossover trend seems to have had its origins in realistic fiction in some northern European countries. The category of young adult fiction was originally associated largely with realistic fiction. The Norwegian author Tormod Haugen always rejected the division of literature into children’s and adult books. In the 1970s, he began writing intergenerational novels, such as Nattfuglene (1975; The Night Birds, 1982) and I lyset fra fullmånen (In the Light of the Full Moon, 2001), which examine the complex relationships between children and adults. In the 1980s, the Flemish author Bart Moeyaert began writing young adult novels that appeal widely to adults, including Duet met valse noten (Off-Key Duet, 1983) and Wespennest (1997; Hornet’s Nest, 2000). Award-winning realistic child-to-adult novels in English are Jamilla Gavin’s Coram Boy (2000) and David Almond’s Skellig (1998) and The Fire-Eaters (2003), which have also been categorized as magic realism.

The Role of Publishers and the Marketplace

With the success of the Harry Potter series, publishers began in earnest to market children’s books to an adult audience. They also started consciously pitching adult books to children and young adults. Publishers now recognize the category of crossover literature and are deliberately marketing books as crossover fiction. As early as 1990, series that explicitly targeted readers of all ages were founded. Siruela’s Las Tres Edades, created in 1990, published works such as Carmen Martín Gaite’s Caperucita en Manhattan (1990), a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and Carmen Boullosa’s pirate narrative El medico de los pirates (1992).

Publishers have created crossovers by targeting books at a different audience when they cross cultural or language boundaries. Novels published for adults in one country may appear for young readers in another. Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ (1982), which was the bestselling new British fiction book of the 1980s, became a young adult novel in the Netherlands. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2005) was issued as an adult novel in Australia but as a young adult novel in the United States. More commonly, children’s or young adult novels are marketed for adults in other countries, which was the case for Adams’s Watership Down and Pullman’s Northern Lights in Sweden, and Sophie’s World in France and the United States. Allende’s City of the Beasts appeared in Germany in two editions, one for young readers and one for adults, with different covers and price points. In some cases, a book published for a single audience in one market is specifically targeted at a crossover audience in another. When the Flemish young adult novel De Arkvaarders (2001), by Anne Provoost, was published in English as In the Shadow of the Ark (2004), it was categorized as “a YA/adult crossover.”14

Many publishing houses are now proactively targeting a non-age-specific audience. Marketing strategies for crossovers include a single edition that is sold into both adult and children’s sections or separate editions for the two markets. Lian Hearn’s Across the Nightingale Floor (2002) was marketed unchanged for two different audiences, while Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time appeared simultaneously in a juvenile and an adult imprint with different covers. Earlier examples include Moeyaert’s Het is de liefde die we niet begrijpen (1999; It’s Love We Don’t Understand, 2001) and Dominique Demers’s prehistoric novel Maïna (1997), which was published simultaneously in different formats for the two audiences (one volume for adults and two volumes for young adults). In some cases, there is a delay, sometimes significant, before the second market is recognized. Lori Lansens’s The Girls, a dual narrative about very different craniopagus twins, was published in 2005 for adults but came out in paperback, a year later, as a young adult novel. Francesca Lia Block’s cult classic young adult Weetzie Bat books, the first of which debuted in 1989, were repackaged many years later in the single volume Dangerous Angels to capitalize on their appeal with adults.

The idea of publishing a book with different covers for two separate markets was not born when Bloomsbury issued an adult-oriented edition of the Harry Potter books with subdued and monochrome covers styled on adult literary fiction. In recent years, the perceived need for separate adult covers seems to have subsided somewhat, as the stigma attached to adults reading children’s or young adult novels diminishes. Further, many books with crossover potential are being issued from the outset with more cross-generational covers. The cover substitution also takes place in the other direction. Covers of adult novels have been changed to attract an audience of young readers, as occurred for Lansens’s The Girls. Older books have also been reissued with covers that appeal to a contemporary crossover audience, the most notable example being The Lord of the Rings (the new covers featured shots from the Jackson films). A more recent example is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), which, since the Baz Luhrmann film, is still available with the famous “Celestial Eyes” artwork by Francis Cugat, but has also been released in a movie tie-in edition featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Harry Potter series, which was a universal phenomenon published in more than two hundred countries, made the marketing of major crossover books a global affair. Every aspect of the sales and marketing of Rowling’s books seemed to break new ground: midnight launchings, theme parties, simultaneous worldwide release, and so forth. Marketing strategies for crossovers have become very sophisticated, including large-scale publicity campaigns and hard-sell techniques. Booksellers have played a very important role, developing strategies to promote books in dual markets and encouraging the crossing over of books and readers from one section to another. The high-profile marketing introduced for the Harry Potter books has become the norm with bestselling series like The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games, which have all generated huge, cross-medial franchises. The consumerism and globalization of the marketplace which have accompanied the crossover phenomenon have raised concerns among literary critics, such as Jack Zipes and Jean Perrot, who feel that the result has been a homogenization of literature and an erasure of cultural difference.15

Picturebooks for All Ages

Picturebooks were virtually ignored in early discussions of crossover literature, but increasingly the term “crossover” is being applied to picturebooks, even in a global context.16 Traditionally seen as a children’s genre, the picturebook is, in fact, a narrative form that can address any or all age groups. Moreover, picturebooks empower children and adults more equally than other types of narrative.17 They transcend age boundaries due to the complex nature of the text–image relationship, which invites readings on multiple levels. In a visually oriented society, picturebooks are becoming an increasingly important narrative form for all ages.

Although the term “crossover picturebook” is even newer than “crossover fiction,” picturebook artists have been addressing a mixed-age audience for many decades. Pioneering examples of crossover picturebooks can be found in the early 20th century, including Edy-Legrand’s Macao et Cosmage ou L’expérience du bonheur (Macao and Cosmage or The Experience of Happiness, 1919), which recounts the destructive impact of civilization on the idyllic island existence of a black-and-white couple; the Russian avant-garde artist El Lissitsky’s picturebook hommage to suprematism, Suprematicheskii skaz pro dva kvadrata v shesti postroikakh (About Two Squares: A Suprematist Tale, 1922); and the German Dada artist Kurt Schwitters’s revolutionary Die Scheuche: Märchen (The Scarecrow: Fairy Tale, 1925), a nonsensical revisionist tale that can be read as a political allegory. Maurice Sendak, perhaps the world’s best-known picturebook artist, insisted that “we have created an arbitrary division between adult and children’s books that does not exist.”18 His Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers (1962) are groundbreaking picturebook classics read by children and adults alike. Sendak’s controversial trilogy became ever darker with In the Night Kitchen (1970) and Outside Over There (1981). The somber issues, including homelessness, AIDS, homophobia, and abuse, in Sendak’s picturebooks, notably We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993), have sparked a great deal of discussion about target audience. Jane Doonan claims Dumps shares with certain other modern picturebooks the “open address” that was formerly the preserve of folk and fairy tales.19

Since the mid-20th century, innovative publishing houses have been founded with the express goal of producing picturebooks that blur or abolish the boundaries between children’s and adult literature. In 1948, the Japanese publisher Yasoo Takeuchi founded Shiko-sha and billed their books “for children from 0–99 years.” The 1950s and 1960s saw Bruno Munari’s pioneering artistic experiments with the book’s form in Nella notte buia (1956; In the Darkness of the Night, 2000) and Nella nebbia di Milano (1968; The Circus in the Mist, 1969), landmarks in children’s publishing that also spoke to adults. Beginning in the mid-1950s with Robert Delpire’s graphic renewal of the picturebook and continuing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, several French publishing houses challenged conventional age boundaries. François Ruy-Vidal refused to believe that there is art, graphics, and literature specifically for children; Christian Bruel, founder of Le Sourire qui mord, objected to the idea of “children’s books.” Harlin Quist’s collaboration with Ruy-Vidal led to landmark crossover picturebooks such as Eugene Ionesco’s Conte numéro 1 (Story Number 1, 1968), the first of the playwright’s experimental “stories for children under the age of three.” The quirky picturebooks published by Harlin Quist in the 1960s and early 1970s were bought mostly by adults and remain unique in U.S. children’s publishing. A few publishers in the English-speaking countries acknowledged the existence of a crossover market for picturebooks in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1984, the Creative Company published Sarah Moon’s controversial Little Red Riding Hood, in which stark black-and-white photographs render the violence and horror with the painful reality of a docudrama. The same publisher brought out Roberto Innocenti’s Rose Blanche (1986), the story of a young girl who dies trying to assist starving women and children in a Nazi concentration camp. In the early 1990s, the groundbreaking picturebook The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, defiantly proclaimed on the dust jacket that it was for “Ages: All.” In the late 1990s, Disney/Hyperion was using the term “multipurposed books” to refer to picturebooks such as William Wegman’s Puppies (1999).

Recent decades have seen a growing number of publishing houses specializing in crossover picturebooks. The Spanish publisher Media Vaca, founded in 1998 by Vicente Ferrer and Begoña Lobo, publishes books that target “children of all ages” and whose “children’s books” are “NOT ONLY for children.” The first book in the series was Arnal Ballester’s unconventional, wordless No tinc paraules (I Have No Words, 1998), which has the feel of a mime performance or a silent film in book format. The crossover intent of the Italian publisher Orecchio acerbo, founded in 2001, is clearly indicated on their website: “children’s books that do not harm adults / adult books that do not harm children.” Their books include Fabian Negrin’s Mille giorni e una notte (A Thousand Days and a Night, 2008), told in a unique comics style, and L’amore t’attende (Love Awaits You, 2009), a large painting on heavy paper that unfolds to gradually reveal the prone, naked bodies of a man and woman reaching toward each other. Many crossover picturebooks are too provocative and unconventional for the Anglo-American markets.

The picturebooks that cross age boundaries do so because they are innovative works that challenge the conventional codes and norms of the genre. Exciting experimentations with content, form, and format characterize these texts. In the tradition of Munari, aesthetic experimentation with the book as a three-dimensional object has resulted in artists’ books with crossover appeal, such as Katsumi Komagata’s Yellow to Red (1994), Boku, Umareru-yo! (I’m Gonna Be Born, 1995), and Little Tree (2008).20 Multilayered picturebooks use complex narrative techniques, as in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984), David Macaulay’s Black and White (1990), and Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park (1998). Metafictional texts, such as The Stinky Cheeseman and David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs (2001), play cleverly with literary conventions and self-consciously expose the book- and story-making process. Many crossover picturebooks contain sophisticated intertextual allusions, not all of which will necessarily be decoded by young readers or even by adults. The citation of surrealist art is a signature of Browne’s multilevel picturebooks, such as Willy the Dreamer (1997).21 Crossover picturebooks push at generic boundaries, appropriating from other literary genres as well as other arts and media. Yvan Pommaux’s John Chatterton Detective (1993) and its sequels are strongly influenced by comics, but also by the detective novel and the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s. An increasing number of authors are adopting the wordless picturebook to tell challenging, sometimes lengthy, narratives to a mixed-age audience, as in Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (2006).

Crossover picturebooks often present profound or dark subject matter.22 Authors like Sendak, Ungerer, and Erlbruch continue in the fairy-tale tradition, introducing children as well as adults to terrible and unsettling truths. L’ogresse en pleurs (The Ogress in Tears, 1986), by Valerie Dayre and Erlbruch, features an ogress who eats her own son. Nudity and sexuality are relatively common in the picturebooks of many European countries, but they still have a taboo status in more conservative children’s book markets, notably in English-speaking countries. Susanne Janssen’s Rotkäppchen (Little Red Cap, 2001), which restores some of the fairy tale’s original sexuality to the Grimm’s version, never appeared in English. When Sara Moon confronted the reader of her Little Red Riding Hood with the sexuality and violence inherent in Perrault’s version, the book met with scandalized condemnation in some parts of the United States. Many crossover picturebooks deal with controversial themes of cruelty and violence. The Norwegian couple Gro Dahle and Svein Nyhus consider domestic violence in Sinna Mann (Angry Man, 2003); Swiss-born Armin Greder tackles xenophobia in the sombre, haunting picturebook Die Insel (2002; The Island, 2007); and Gregie de Maeyer and Koen Vanmechelen take on bullying and self-harm in the Flemish picturebook Juul (Jules, 1996). Tan deals with depression and despair in The Red Tree (2001), while the Swiss author Béatrice Poncelet addresses dementia in Les cubes (The Blocks, 2003). The long-taboo subject of death is made accessible to all ages in picturebooks like Erlbruch’s Ente, Tod und Tulpe (2007; Duck, Death and the Tulip, 2008). The taboo-breaking Danish picturebook artists Oscar K. and Dorte Karrebæk address euthanasia in Idiot! (2009) and the Holocaust in Lejren (The Camp, 2011). Deeply philosophic picturebooks, such as Michèle Lemieux’s Gewitternacht (Stormy Night, 1996) and Erlbruch’s La grande question (2003; The Big Question, 2005), speak to readers of all ages by posing existential questions from a child’s perspective.

Adults are no longer considered merely co-readers or mediators of picturebooks but readers in their own right. Picturebooks are increasingly being read by all ages, but this change is taking place more quickly in some countries than others. Since the 1980s, adults have been reading the picturebooks of the Norwegian author and illustrator Fam Ekman, books like Skoen (The Shoe, 2001), a whimsical retelling of “Cinderella” in which the homely heroine and her rather grotesque prince are not reunited until their golden years. In 1998, Ekman led the way for the recent, predominantly Nordic phenomenon of picturebooks for adults with Tilberedning av hjerter (Making Hearts).23 The crossover appeal of Garmanns sommer (2006; Garmann’s Summer, 2008), is, as its author Stian Hole points out, “a characteristic trait in modern Scandinavian picture books, which are often labeled ‘All-age books’” (allalderslitteratur).24 Today the picturebook and the graphic novel are innovative and vibrant art forms that are forging exciting new paths for intergenerational narratives.

The Significance of Crossover Literature

Literature crosses from child to adult and adult to child audiences in a variety of ways and in a wide range of genres. It has been doing so for centuries. Since the late 1990s, however, crossover literature has acquired a new status. It has become an accepted literary category and a genre in its own right. Crossover books have garnered respect in the literary establishment, prestigious mainstream literary awards, a high profile in the media, and the attention and acclaim of the general public. The literary landscape has changed dramatically since the first Harry Potter book was published. The success of crossover literature has shaken up conventional attitudes toward children’s and adult fiction. There is a widespread questioning of the borders established by publishers, canons, literary awards, and bestseller lists. Views about reading, writing, publishing, marketing, and evaluating books are changing. Crossover literature plays an important role in the general literary scene and has infused the publishing world with new energy. At a time when dire predictions were being made about the future of the book, the crossover phenomenon has conclusively demonstrated that books and literature will endure in the digital age.

Crossover is a conception of literature that belies a rigid separation between adults and children. As such, the crossover phenomenon needs to be seen in a broader cultural context. For some, the crossover trend is being driven by a society characterized by immature, infantilized adults and the dumbing down of literature and culture in general.25 There is undoubtedly a market of trendsetting adults in the under-thirty-five age group who are indulging their pop-culture tastes, but they are not the only adults reading children’s and young adult fiction. Many critics feel that it is out of nostalgia that adults read children’s books, and some even point to a kind of Peter Pan syndrome. In her study The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Literature, Rose argued that children’s books are not really for children but are written by nostalgic adults. Conversely, the crossover trend has been attributed to the “adultization” of children and young adults who, many feel, are becoming increasingly sophisticated and growing up too quickly. Certainly, today’s children are savvy and demanding consumers exposed to the same cultural and marketing influences as adults.

In recent decades, there has been a marked evolution in popular culture. The crossover phenomenon began earlier in the visual media, with television shows such as the 1960s Star Trek (1966–1969) and The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989; video games like Super Mario Bros., released in 1985; and films such as Star Wars (1977), E. T. the Extra-Terrestial (1982), and Toy Story (1995). Crossover works in these media were drawing huge audiences of children, teenagers, and adults well before Harry Potter launched the vogue in the literary domain, and they continue to do so in ever-increasing numbers. Crossover has had a higher profile in the literary field, however. Books have now become part of our popular cultural way of life. Crossover books adapted into movies have become major blockbusters, the most notable examples being Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Twilight Saga, and The Hunger Games. Books, television, and film are inextricably linked as cross-medial franchises gain mass appeal with broad, mixed-age audiences.

Crossover literature is not just a pop-cultural, commercial, and marketing phenomenon, however. Crossover literature has gained both commercial and critical success. The divide between award-winning literary fiction and popular crossover fiction has been bridged. It is generally agreed that what really drives the crossover phenomenon is the power of story. Francis Spufford believes that children’s books fill a need for compelling stories missing in contemporary adult fiction. Critics, writers, and readers alike have expressed their disenchantment with literary novels that neglect the story in favor of abstruse, meaningless, unreadable prose.26 Two years before his Amber Spyglass became the first children’s book to be long-listed for the Booker Prize, Philip Pullman stated: “There are very few writers of what one might call the literary Booker Prize short-list novel who are good at stories and who think stories are important.”27 The best crossover literature provides good stories that are written with artistic rigor and feature wide-ranging themes that resonate with young and old alike. They address important moral issues of our time and invite readers of all ages to reflect on the challenging existential questions that concern all human beings.

Crossover literature not only crosses conventional age boundaries; it also pushes at traditional generic boundaries. Exciting new cross-genres have been created, often by incorporating visual text or by embracing the new visual media technologies. As early as 1989, Tormod Haugen entitled his Skriket fra jungelen (The Cry from the Jungle) “a film novel.” The borders of literature are being expanded. Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (1991) moved the graphic novel into the mainstream with powerful philosophical reflection on the Holocaust, rendered in innovative graphics that engaged young readers as well as adults. The powerful blend of images and text in Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis (2000), about her childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution, has been widely enjoyed by adolescents. In 2007, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, part novel, part picturebook, and part comic book or graphic novel, bested such literary titans as two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey to win the Book of the Year for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2011), which is, according to the author, “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things,” became, in 2008, the first novel to win the Caldecott Medal, an award for picturebooks. Crossover authors are creating innovative new hybrid works for mixed-age audiences in an era of visual media.

Crossover literature acknowledges the continuum between children’s and adults’ understanding and experience. Knowledge, emotions, desires, and concerns are shared across generations. Crossover authors recognize the continuity that connects readers of all ages and provides common points of reference. Crossover books offer a shared reading experience for all ages that brings the generations together in a better understanding of our world.

Discussion of the Literature

Theoretical discussions of crossover literature, which, for the most part began in the 1990s, tend to be largely limited to children’s literature scholarship. Theorists of adult fiction rarely “cross over,” taking little interest in children’s books even when they are written by major mainstream authors.28 U. C. Knoepflmacher pointed out in 1992 that scholars, theoreticians, and literary historians would benefit greatly from considering more closely the relationship between texts for children and texts for adults.29 Dagmar Grenz’s 1990 collection of essays published in Germany sought to do precisely that.30 Even earlier, Zohar Shavit contended in The Poetics of Children’s Literature (1986) that certain texts belong simultaneously to both the children’s literary system and the adult literary system.31 In The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction (1991), Barbara Wall examines “dual address” in children’s fiction that speaks appropriately to both children and adults.32

A few studies have also been devoted to non-English-language texts. In Grensverkeer (Border Traffic, 1994), Peter van den Hoven describes the increase in the number of authors crossing the borders in both directions in Dutch literature. A decade later, Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer and Neel Bastiaansen-Harks focus on the border crossing of the adolescent novel by examining it within the context of mainstream literature in Over grenzen: De adolescentenroman in het literatuuronderwijs (Across Borders: The Adolescent Novel in Literature, 2005). Sandra Beckett examines French crossover writers in De grands romanciers écrivent pour les enfants (Major Novelists Write For Children, 1997). Two years later, the essays in her Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults (1999) consider the subject from an international perspective.

Initially the term “cross-writing” was used to refer to crossover literature, as several essays published in Beckett’s Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults demonstrate.33 A special issue of Children’s Literature, edited by U. C. Knoepflmacher and Mitzi Myers, was devoted to “Cross-Writing Child and Adult.”34 Since the widespread adoption of the term “crossover,” however, “cross-writing” has been reserved for addressing children and adults in distinct works. The term “crossover” was used in international literary encyclopedia entries by Falconer and Beckett in 2004 and 2006 respectively.35 The first two book-length studies to use the term “crossover” in the title appeared in August 2008 (although both bear a 2009 publication date): Beckett’s Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives and Falconer’s The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and Its Adult Readership.

Further Reading

Beckett, Sandra L. De grands romanciers écrivent pour les enfants. Montréal, PUM: Grenoble, ELLUG, 1997.Find this resource:

    Beckett, Sandra L. “Crossover Books.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Edited by Jack Zipes, vol. 1, 369–370. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

      Beckett, Sandra L. Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2009.Find this resource:

        Beckett, Sandra L. Crossover Picturebooks: A Genre for All Ages. London: Routledge, 2012.Find this resource:

          Evans, Janet, ed. Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks: Creative and Critical Responses to Visual Texts. London: Routledge, 2015.Find this resource:

            Falconer, Rachel. “Crossover Literature.” In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Edited by Peter Hunt. 2d ed., vol. I, 556–575. London: Routledge, 2004.Find this resource:

              Falconer, Rachel. The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and Its Adult Readership. London: Routledge, 2009.Find this resource:

                Galef, David. “Crossing Over: Authors Who Write Both Children’s and Adult Fiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 20.1 (1995): 29–35.Find this resource:

                  Grenz, Dagmar, ed. Kinderliteratur—Literatur auch für Erwachsene?: zum Verhältnis von Kinderliteratur und Erwachsenenliteratur. Munich: Fink, 1990.Find this resource:

                    Knoepflmacher, U. C., and Mitzi Myers, eds. “Cross-Writing Child and Adult.” Special issue of Children’s Literature 25 (1997).Find this resource:

                      Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina. “(De)Canonization Processes. E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ and the Interfaces between Children’s and Adult Literature.” In Never-Ending Stories. Adaptation, Canonisation and Ideology in Children’s Literature. Edited by Sylvie Geerts and Sara Van den Bossche, 143–165. Gent: Academia Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                        Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina, ed. Picturebooks: Representation and Narration. London: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:

                          Lierop-Debrauwer, Helma van, and Neel Bastiaansen-Harks. Over grenzen: De adolescentenroman in het literatuuronderwijs. Delft: Eburon, 2005.Find this resource:

                            Ommundsen, Åse Marie. “Fiction for All Ages? ‘All-Ages-Literature’ as a New Trend in Late Modern Norwegian Children’s Literature.” In An Invitation to Explore: New International Perspectives in Children’s Literature. Edited by N. D. Laura Atkins, Michele Gill, and Liz Thiel, 100–114. Lichfield: Pied Piper Publishing, 2008.Find this resource:

                              Ommundsen, Åse Marie. “La crossover littérature scandinave.” La Revue des livres pour enfants 257 (February 2011): 128–134.Find this resource:

                                Reynolds, Kimberley. Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.Find this resource:

                                  Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1984.Find this resource:

                                    Scott, Carole. “Dual Audience in Picturebooks.” In Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults. Edited by Sandra L. Beckett, 99–110. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.Find this resource:

                                      Wall, Barbara. The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.Find this resource:

                                        Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York: Routledge, 2001.Find this resource:


                                          (1.) Judith Rosen, “Breaking the Age Barrier,” Publishers Weekly, September 8, 1997, 28–31.

                                          (2.) See Sandra L. Beckett, Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2009).

                                          (3.) Rachel Falconer, “Crossover Literature,” in International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, ed. Peter Hunt. 2d ed., vol. I (London: Routledge, 2004), 559.

                                          (4.) Henri Bosco discusses this phenomenon at length. See Sandra L. Beckett, “Écrire pour les enfants en rêvant l’enfance avec son ‘compagnon de songes,’” in Henri Bosco: ‘Rêver l’enfance . . .,’ ed. Christian Morzewski, special issue of Cahiers Robinson 4 (1998): 187–206; and Sandra L. Beckett, De grands romanciers écrivent pour les enfants (Montréal, PUM: Grenoble, ELLUG, 1997), 31–44.

                                          (5.) U. C. Knoepflmacher and Mitzi Myers, “‘Cross-Writing’ and the Reconceptualizing of Children’s Literary Studies,” in Cross-Writing Child and Adult, vii.

                                          (6.) Falconer, “Crossover Literature,” 560–561.

                                          (7.) See Falconer, “Crossover Literature,” 557.

                                          (8.) It is also written as all-alder-litteratur in Norway. See Åse Marie Ommundsen, “All-alder-litteratur. Litteratur for alle eller ingen,” in Kartet og terrenget. Linjer og dykk i barne-og ungdomslitteraturen, eds. Kari Sverdrup and Jon Ewo (Oslo: Pax, 2006), 50–71.

                                          (9.) For example, Agnes Broomé and Nichola Smalley devote an article to “the rise of crossover fiction in Swedish,” and Åse Marie Ommundsen discusses “la crossover littérature scandinave” in a 2011 issue of a French journal. See Agnes Broomé and Nichola Smalley, “A Farewell to Age Restrictions? The Rise of Crossover Fiction in Swedish,” Swedish Book Review 2 (2014); and Åse Marie Ommundsen, “La crossover littérature scandinave,” La Revue des livres pour enfants 257 (February 2011): 128–134.

                                          (10.) The crossover appeal of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which dates to its origins in the oral tradition, is the subject of Sandra L. Beckett’s study Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008).

                                          (11.) Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer considers children’s classics in this context in the introduction to Klassiker der Kinder-und Jugendliteratur. Ein internationales Lexikon. 2 vols. (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1999), 1: xv–xvi and xxiii–xxiv.

                                          (12.) Larissa Tumanov, “Writing for a Dual Audience in the Former Soviet Union: The Aesopian Children’s Literature of Kornei Chukovskii, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and Daniil Kharms,” in Transcending Boundaries, ed. Beckett, 129–148.

                                          (13.) See Falconer, “Crossover Literature,” 562.

                                          (14.) See, for example, Angela Carew, “Anne Provoost: In the Shadow of the Ark,” Kirkus Reviews (July 2004).

                                          (15.) See Jack Zipes, Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (New York: Routledge, 2001); and Jean Perrot, Mondialisation et littérature de jeunesse (Paris: De la Librairie, 2008).

                                          (16.) See Carla Poesio, “The BolognaRagazzi Award: The Looking Glass of the Children’s Book Fair,” in BolognaRagazzi Award, ed. Biblioteca Sala Borsa Ragazzi (Bologna: CLUEB, 2007), 29.

                                          (17.) See Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks, 2; and Carole Scott, “A Challenge to Innocence: ‘Inappropriate Picturebooks for Young Readers,’” Bookbird 43.1 (2005): 12.

                                          (18.) Maurice Sendak, “Maurice Sendak,” in Pauses: Autobiographical Reflections of 101 Creators of Children’s Books, ed. Lee Bennett Hopkins (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), 141–143.

                                          (19.) Jane Doonan, “Into the Dangerous World: We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy by Maurice Sendak,” Signal 75 (1994): 166.

                                          (20.) See Sandra L. Beckett, “The Art of Visual Storytelling: Formal Strategies in Wordless Picturebooks,” in Picturebooks: Representation and Narration, ed. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (New York: Routledge, 2014), 53–69.

                                          (21.) See Sandra L. Beckett, “Artistic Allusions in Picturebooks,” in New Directions in Picturebook Research, eds. Teresa Colomer, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, and Cecilia Siva-Díaz (New York: Routledge, 2010), 83–98; and Beckett, Crossover Picturebooks, 147–208.

                                          (22.) See Sandra L. Beckett, “From Traditional Tales, Fairy Stories and Cautionary Tales to Controversial Visual Texts: Do we need to be fearful?” in Challenging and Controversial Picturebooks: Creative and Critical Responses to Visual Texts, ed. Janet Evans (London: Routledge, 2015), 49–70.

                                          (23.) Åse Marie Ommundsen examines this phenomenon in the Nordic context in “Picturebooks for Adults,” in Picturebooks: Representation and Narration, ed. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (New York: Routledge, 2014), 17–35.

                                          (25.) See, for example, Harold Bloom, “Dumbing Down American Readers,” Boston Globe, September 24, 2003.

                                          (26.) See, for instance, S. F. Said, “The Grown-up World of Kidult Books,” Daily Telegraph, January 11, 2003.

                                          (27.) Wendy Parsons and Catriona Nicholson, “Talking to Philip Pullman: An Interview,” The Lion and the Unicorn 23.1 (1999): 122.

                                          (28.) See Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer, “Crossing the Border: Authors Do It, but Do Critics? The Reception of Dual-Readership Authors in the Netherlands,” in Transcending Boundaries, ed. Beckett, 3–12.

                                          (29.) U. C. Knoepflmacher, “Introduction,” in Teaching Children’s Literature: Issues, Pedagogy, Resources, ed. Glenn Edward Sadler (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1992), 3.

                                          (30.) Dagmar Grenz, ed. Kinderliteratur—Literatur auch für Erwachsene?: zum Verhältnis von Kinderliteratur und Erwachsenenliteratur (Munich: Fink, 1990).

                                          (31.) Zohar Shavit, Poetics of Children’s Literature (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 63–92.

                                          (32.) Barbara Wall, The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 1–10.

                                          (33.) See Sandra L. Beckett, “Crosswriting Child and Adult in France: Children’s Fiction for Adults? Adult Fiction for Children? Fiction for All Ages?” in Transcending Boundaries, ed. Beckett, 31–61; Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, “Crosswriting as a Criterion for Canonicity: The Case of Erich Kästner,” in Transcending Boundaries, ed. Beckett, 13–30; and Lena Kåreland, “Two Crosswriting Authors: Carl Sandburg and Lennart Hellsing,” in Transcending Boundaries, ed. Beckett, 215–237.

                                          (34.) U. C. Knoepflmacher and Mitzi Myers, eds. “Cross-Writing Child and Adult,” special issue of Children’s Literature 25 (1997): vii–289.

                                          (35.) See Falconer, “Crossover Literature,” 556–575; and Sandra L. Beckett, “Crossover Books,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, ed. Jack Zipes, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 369–370.