Can authors write for both kids and adults? The Guardian doesn’t seem to think so, but with this list we beg to differ. Sure, there’s some crossover in genre — as we all know, a lot of adults love Harry Potter with all the strength in their muggle bodies — but the books we’ve picked were written expressly for children, regardless of whether or not grown ups like them too, and written by authors who are primarily famous for their adult literature. You may be surprised by who has made the foray into kiddie lit — it turns out that some of the most serious authors we can think of have a warm, nougat center full of laughter and sunshine. Or something like that. Click through to see our list of children’s book written by famous “adult” authors and let us know which of your favorites we’ve missed in the comments!
George Saunders — The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
Now Saunders is one author we always knew had a warm nougat center, despite his hilarious satirical short stories. The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is also hilarious and satirical, but instead of brutal futuristic testing centers filled with cons, this gem is about a town where spiky orange gappers glom onto goats every night and must be brushed off eight times a day.
Salman Rushdie — Luka and the Fire of Life
Rushdie’s follow up to Haroun and the Sea of Stories was written for his 12-year-old son Milan (Haroun was written for his other son, so it’s only fair). It’s kind of like how Johnny Depp keeps doing Pirates of the Caribbean movies for his kids. No, it’s only like making the first movie — Luka and the Fire of Life is actually pretty good.
John Updike — A Child’s Calendar
A Child’s Calendar is a collection of twelve poems for children, one written for each month. This was the first children’s book that Updike had written using completely original material — he had previously adapted The Magic Flute, The Ring, and Bottom’s Dream for Warren Chappell — and is a lovely little book, though it has been criticized as being too cleverly over-simplified. Perhaps Updike was not meant for children’s books after all.
Peter Matthiessen — Seal Pool
Seal Pool is right up Matthiessen’s environmentalist alley — a (supposedly extinct) Great Auk takes up residence in Central Park Zoo, chaos ensues. The moral? Save the animals! Just take it from the Owl: “‘Man is the only animal who does not know exactly what he wants,’ the Owl observed, ‘which is why he causes so much trouble.'”
James Joyce — The Cat and the Devil
On August 10, 1936, James Joyce started a letter to his grandson Stevie with the following: “I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago, but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency…” The ensuing tale was eventually published, first in 1957 in Letters of James Joyce, and then in 1964 as an illustrated children’s book. All we have to say is, Stevie is probably the luckiest kid in the world.
Toni Morrison — The Book of Mean People
Toni Morrison has published nine illustrated children’s books, all but one co-authored by her son, Slade Morrison. Like several of her other books, this one was based off of Slade’s childhood pontifications and pronouncements. Adorable.
Virginia Woolf — The Widow and the Parrot
When Woolf’s nephews solicited family members for submissions to The Charleston Bulletin, their family newspaper, their Aunt Virginia came up with this tale. Fifteen-year-old Julian and thirteen-year-old Quentin, though grateful, were not quite happy with it — in the afterword of the 1988 edition, Quentin writes that the story “was a tease. We had hoped vaguely for something as funny, as subversive, and as frivolous as Virginia’s conversation. Knowing this, she sent us an ‘improving’ story with a moral, based on the very worst Victorian examples.” Perhaps she just felt that she ought to set an official example — or maybe she had a more sinister plot. Alas, we will never know.
Graham Greene — The Little Steamroller
The Little Steamroller is just one of a series of “Little” picture books by Graham Greene — its precursors were The Little Train, The Little Red Fire Engine, The Little Balloon and The Little Horse Bus, all about largely outdated modes of transportation. Go figure.
Eudora Welty — The Shoe Bird
In Welty’s only children’s book, Arturo the parrot works in a shoe store, and routinely shouts out, “shoes are for the birds!” Obviously, chaos ensues.
Michael Chabon — Summerland
In Chabon’s Summerland, lazy summer baseball leads to other worlds and magical creatures, creating something like The Sandlot mixed with Narnia. The only problem is that it’s 500 pages long, so get ready to spend every evening for a good six months reading it aloud to your kids.
Carl Hiaasen — Hoot
Hiaasen, best known for his “environmental thrillers” (Skinny Dip, Tourist Season, Star Island and many more) wrote Hoot in 2002. Hiaasen’s no slouch — the book won the Newbery Honor Award and was made into a movie with Jimmy Buffett! He has written two more children’s books since then, entitled Flush and Scat.