When I go to the library, I am immediately drawn to the children’s section. Why? Because I love books written for kids.
Not so much picture books. Not those early chapter books. No, give me books written for the Middle Grade reader. What used to be called Children’s Literature. (And by extension, I’ll also include many Young Adult books in this category.)
But the thing is, I’m not a kid anymore. In fact, I haven’t been a kid for quite awhile.
When I was a teen, I quickly grew out of these books. There was a time (probably when I was in high school, but maybe even earlier??) when I didn’t want to read such books anymore. Or if I did want to re-read the occasional book from my childhood (Anne of Green Gables?), I certainly wouldn’t admit it in public. Yep! I was “too old” for kids’ books.
And this reminds me of the dedication C.S. Lewis included in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
“My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis”
Now I’ve reached the age when I am “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”
Recently, I was trying to figure out exactly when this happened. I’m thinking it started to come about while I was in university. Of course, I took all the literature courses I could get my hands on. I studied plenty of Shakespeare and Dickens, Austen and Edgeworth, Trollope and Harding, just to name a few.
And then, in my fourth year, I signed up for a course on Children’s Literature. This course included some of my childhood favourites, but it also introduced me to children’s books I had never read before. I read books by authors I didn’t even know existed!
And reading these kids’ books for the first time, I found that I actually enjoyed them. I mean, I really enjoyed reading these stories! These stories meant for kids.
But that’s was the just the start of a realization that a good children’s book has special magic in it. A special ingredient. Basically, it needs to be enjoyable on different levels. The book has to be of interest to the child, naturally. But it also will contain truth and humour and characterizations that will pique the interest of the adult.
That’s the secret ingredient.
Slowly, but surely, I began to re-read more of my old favourites, realizing that many of these books were as good as when I first read them as a kid. (Although, I will admit that other books didn’t stand this test of time. Or they didn’t contain that extra, secret ingredient.)
About ten years after taking that university course, it hit me that I actually preferred children’s books to reading most adult books. Maybe it is the fairy-tale element found in many children’s books. Not that the stories have to be fairy tales. Children’s books are so hopeful. Yes, the characters in these stories have struggles, but the point of the story is to overcome those struggles and take us to the happy ending. (I do like a happy ending. While I don’t need an ending to be saccharine, I also don’t want to read a book that ends in a depressingly sad way.)
I still have my old childhood favourites, but I also have my favourite “new” authors. Whether they are long-dead authors I’ve discovered only recently, or authors living and writing for today’s market.
It makes me sad to hear people dismiss children’s books because they’re written “for kids”. Young people especially do this, but so do many adults.
I comfort myself with this thought: One day, hopefully, these people will come upon their own realization that they are now “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”