A casual mention by a friend of The Magnificent Ambersons, the novel by the Midwestern American novelist and playwright Booth Tarking ton (1869-1946) translated to the silver screen by Orson Welles, sent me to my library to renew my acquaintance with a book I read many years ago.  Instead of Ambersons, however, the book I took down was my boyhood copy of Penrod, one of several works Tarking ton wrote for “young people,” and became instantly lost in it again.  Penrod, and its successor Penrod and Sam, belong to a literary genre that has ceased to exist, though it includes such classics as Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series: books that exist, as it were, in two artistic dimensions—the juvenile and the adult.  Though it had been years since I last took up Penrod, I found myself anticipating not just turns of events in the chapters but entire scenes, passages, and phrases.  To my mind, the novel is at least a match for Tom Sawyer in terms of humor, and superior to it as a penetration and depiction of the psyche of a pre-adolescent male (though there are indeed striking similarities between Tom and Penrod, separated in time by nearly a century and by utterly dissimilar social milieus).  Archness is not ordinarily a welcome literary quality, but Tarkington’s ironically formalized prose conveys convincingly the seriousness with which youth takes itself and youth’s pratfalls, while achieving a literary elegance of its own.  Tarkington was a master at conveying the sense of an era (Penrod was first published in 1914), and he had an exquisite ear for colloquial American English, quite as good in its way as Twain’s.  His humor ranges between the delicate (as in the novel’s first chapters, which describe Penrod’s state of mind as he contemplates his forthcoming appearance as “the Child Sir Lancelot” in Mrs. Lora Rewbush’s “The Pageant of the Table Round”), and the brawling comedy of “The Great Tar Fight,” saved from outright slapstick by the marvelously ironic juxtaposition of Penrod’s relationship between himself, Marjorie, and her little brother Mitchy-Mitch; and that of his older sister Margaret, her suitor, and Penrod himself.  I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, yet from descriptions I’ve seen of J.K. Rowling’s books I do not imagine that they are likely to survive the passage of time as adult literature, if indeed sophisticated adult readers have ever viewed them as such.