Child Narrators

by Lindsey A.

NoveList (one of Sno-Isle Libraries’ reading databases) recently added themes to their array of browsable story elements. Different from genre or subject, themes are “popular and recurring plot elements found in fiction.” They describe the overall plot. They have themes for all age groups. A full list may be found in NoveList’s Help section.

Among the themes I’ve seen are chosen family, fish out of waterunreliable narrator, rise of the machines, secret baby, and the one that caught my eye recently: child narrator.

There is a difference between child narrators in adult fiction and child narrators in children’s or young adult fiction. In a 2014 Guardian article, author John Boyne explained the appeal for him: “More often than not they’re optimistic, good-willed, resourceful young people forced to live through an adult experience and through their occasionally naive voices we get to relive a familiar experience in an unexpected way.” Thankfully, not all of the events experienced by these kids are familiar, but they still force us to examine them through a different lens.

When I think of child narrators, one that really stands out to me is Jack in Emma Donoghue‘s Room. Jack has spent all five years of his life imprisoned with his Ma in a soundproof shed by a man known only as Old Nick. Everything he knows is bound within this 11 x 11 foot space, which he calls Room. He approaches the tedium and terror of their daily lives with curiosity and resilience. This book deals with psychological, physical and sexual abuse, but Jack’s plucky narration makes the reality of their captivity more bearable for the reader.

In 2016 the book was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film, with Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson bringing Jack and Ma to life quite beautifully.

I created a list of other books that have successfully used this style of narration, and I hope you have fun exploring NoveList’s themes!



8 responses to “Child Narrators”

  1. Erin L. says:

    “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was a perspective changing book for me growing up. Coming from a pretty sheltered life myself, it was eye opening to read from someone close to my age about experiences in another time and place that were difficult but that the narrator presented as normal or expected.

    • Lindsey A. says:

      I still haven’t read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” but I’ve heard nothing but great things about it! I also heard that it was a popular read for soldiers during WWII.

  2. Janet Raynor says:

    Just recently read “The War That Changed My Life” and it’s fabulous! Narrator is a 10 year old girl, set in England at the start of WWII.

    • Lindsey A. says:

      There are some amazing middle grade books that really resonate with adult readers, and “The War That Changed My Life” is one of them. Thanks, Janet!

  3. Melleny says:

    My favorite child narrator will always be Scout from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

    • Lindsey A. says:

      Scout is a truly iconic narrator, Melleny!

    • Erin L. says:

      Did you read “Go Set a Watchman”? And, if so what did you think of Scout as a grown up narrator? I was conflicted. I saw glimpses of “To Kill a Mockinbird” but only in the flashback scenes from her childhood. It lost it’s innocence which was a clever way to approach the subject matter in Mockingbird. It’s interesting that Watchman was written first and I kind of see it as a first draft for Mockingbird and can see why she didn’t publish it earlier.

      • Melleny says:

        I’ve decided not to read “Go Set a Watchman.” Harper Lee didn’t want it to be published, and I’d prefer to keep the story in my mind as she intended. I’m afraid reading it would break my heart.

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