Although we were big Goosebumps fans in our elementary school years, we have to admit that we haven’t been up on R.L. Stine’s authorial activities since the early ’90s. So we were surprised, last week, when he tweeted, “I’m happy to say I’ve finished my horror novel for adults. It will be published next July.” His announcement got us thinking about how many famous children’s authors — both classic and current — have also written books for adults, with varying degrees of publicity and success. After the jump, we take a look at the more mature work of some of our favorite authors from childhood.
In fact, the book Stine tweeted about isn’t his first novel for adults. The staggeringly prolific author of Goosebumps, Fear Street, and about 20 other series we’re too old to know anything about published Superstitious, his first horror story for grown-ups, in 1995. It follows a grad student whose marriage to a very — yes — superstitious professor is followed by a string of murders. From there, the plot seems to devolve into a mashup of Rosemary’s Baby and Jane Eyre. A poor seller compared to his kids’ books, Superstitious also wasn’t terribly popular with critics.
In our middle-school days, we remember sinking into a depressed funk after learning that we had read all the Judy Blume books our school library had to offer. We didn’t realize until years later that the beloved bard of puberty had also written novels for adults throughout her career. The first, 1978’s Wifey, is about an original desperate housewife in ’70s New Jersey who has an affair with her high-school boyfriend. Smart Women (1983) and Summer Sisters (1998) followed. All three have been best sellers and critical successes.
As you might have picked up from the ample black humor in his children’s fare, Roald Dahl was not all sweetness and light. So it’s no surprise that his books for adults are somewhat more shocking than the other entries on this list. The author of several short-story collections (Kiss Kiss is noted for being the darkest), Dahl also wrote two novels for the older set: Sometime Never: A Fable for Superman, a 1948 book that was the first post-World War II book published in the US to tackle nuclear warfare, and 1979’s My Uncle Oswald — a raunchy tale about a man who discovers the world’s strongest aphrodisiac (and that’s not even where it gets weird).
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Best known to history as the turn-of-the-century writer responsible for a handful of the period’s best loved children’s novels — A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy — Frances Hodgson Burnett didn’t confine herself to an audience of youngsters. She was also famous in her time for a series of historical novels aimed at adults. Her final books, The Head of the House of Coombes and Robin, are known for their sharp commentary on pre-World War I British politics.
A. A. Milne
Famous for all posterity as the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, A. A. Milne did not begin his career as a children’s writer. His first job out of college was as an editor of the literary magazine Punch, to which he contributed mostly humorous pieces. He wrote a number of plays and a trio of novels in the years that followed, including the popular, widely praised detective story The Red House Mystery, in which a murder is committed at a small country-house gathering. Milne turned to writing for children a few years after the birth of his son in 1920. He continued writing for adults after the success of his kids’ novels and poetry collections but became increasingly frustrated that the audience for what he considered his more serious output remained relatively small.
Known almost exclusively for his gorgeously illustrated Madeline series, Austrian-American author and artist Ludwig Bemelmans hardly confined himself to picture books. Although he began as a painter and cartoonist, he began publishing books for adults around the same time he got into children’s fare; he recounted his time in World War in the 1937 memoir My War with the United States, celebrated his friendship with the actress Elsie de Wolfe in 1955’s To the One I Love Best, and penned several volumes of humor and travel writing, in addition to his work as a Hollywood screenwriter.
Lynne Reid Banks
You might not remember the name “Lynne Reid Banks” from all the way back in fourth grade, but we assume you haven’t forgotten about The Indian in the Cupboard and its several sequels after all these years. Banks, it turns out, was not always a children’s author. Although the Cupboard books came out in the ’80s, the British writer’s first novel, The L-Shaped Room, came out in 1960. The story of a young woman who is kicked out of her home after she tells her father she’s pregnant, it was adapted for the big screen and followed by two sequels. Banks has also written biographies of the Brontë sisters and non-fiction books about her time in Israel.
And amid the truckload of paperbacks about Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield — in junior high, high school, and college — Sweet Valley High mastermind Francine Pascal somehow found the time to churn out a few books for adults. There are the novels La Villa and Save Johanna!, but what’s really fascinating is that she and her husband also co-wrote The Strange Case of Patty Hearst, a non-fiction book about the heiress’s kidnapping. Let’s not even talk about this year’s chick-lit disaster Sweet Valley Confidential.
Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket
Most kids wouldn’t recognize the name Daniel Handler, and that’s because he publishes his wildly popular children’s stories, including the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. But Handler’s first novel for adults, The Basic Eight, a satire about a high-school mean girl, predated Snicket’s debut by a year. He’s released two more — the opera-inspired Watch Your Mouth and Adverbs, a series of narratives about different kinds of love — since. In December, he will publish Why We Broke Up, a kids’ book written under his own name, with illustrations by Maira Kalman.
It’s hard to imagine Dr. Seuss spinning his simple, rhyming tales into a novel — and don’t worry, because he didn’t. But he did write a few picture books for adults. Subtitled “A Book for Obsolete Children,” You’re Only Old Once! is the tale of an elderly man’s struggles with the medical establishment. Published when the author was 82 and inspired by Dr. Seuss’s own experience during a series of illnesses, the book shot to the top of the best seller list. Far juicier is 1939’s The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family, a racy story that multiplies the tale of Lady Godiva by seven nudist sisters. Originally a flop, the book became popular after its re-release in 1987, decades after Dr. Seuss became a household name.