Older books seemed to be more obvious in their male or female target audiences, often with a give-away title; “Tom’s Midnight Garden”, “Just William”, “Adventures of Pinocchio”, “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” – all aimed at boys. Books for girls were just as obvious from their titles; “ Alice in Wonderland”, “Little Women”, “What Katy Did”, “Heidi”. It feels like authors were deliberately writing for a specific audience.
The trend has changed, though. Authors occupy a more competitive market nowadays and in order to maintain publishing deals, they need to demonstrate an ability to engage with as broad an audience as possible; writing stories that appeal to both male and female readers helps.
A couple of early stories that would have attracted both sexes, “Railway Children” and “Five On Treasure Island”, had more than one lead character. Contemporary examples would be the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series.
The setting of childrens books varies. Some are set in a real world environment that children could really imagine themselves being a part of (“Treasure Island”, “Jungle Book”, “Little Women”). Other stories transport us to an imaginery world where anything seems possible (“The Hobbit”, “Alice in Wonderland”).
There are some books that combine real world with fantasy, juxtaposing that which can be imagined with that which is extraordinary. C.S.Lewis introduces us to the magical world of Narnia at the back of a wardrobe within an English house. Pullman combines life in Oxford with fantastical worlds complete with magical people, quirky languages and animal companions.
Aside from fiction, the need to fictionalise areas of education in order to compliment schools curriculums and engage students to broaden their reading has become important. The “Horrible Histories” series, first published in 1993, helped find a niche and get children to look at history lessons in an original, engaging way.
Difficult subjects such as war and conflict have also been tackled by authors in order to both educate and entertain. Sebastian Faulk’s “Bird Song” tells the experiences of a man’s life before and during World War I. Michael Morpurgo has written various titles that aim to educate through powerful fiction drama. TES says Morpurgo “has the knack of taking one small fact and weaving around it a vibrant tale that brings a slice of history to life”.