A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.
-C. S. Lewis
The Man caught me reading Gordan Korman's The Zucchini Warriors this weekend, and he may or may not have made some teasing comments about adults who read children's books. Amen to that. I love reading children's books, and I plan to continue doing so for the rest of my life. Right now I get to enjoy reading them to my own kids, but I've been haunting the children's book section of libraries and bookstores for years and anticipate doing so for many more years.
Let's talk about why. Why do I read children's books? and why do you (ostensibly) read children's books too? I'm obviously capable of reading and appreciating more adult fare. Last week I got my Hemingway on quite adequately. I even finished reading The Sun Also Rises en route to the library while carrying on a somewhat comprehensible conversation with the Man (he was driving, luckily for everyone else on the road). Still, three out of the five books I got for myself in this library batch would be termed as children's lit. Why?
I read children's books because I love them. They remind me of so many beautiful things we grasp as kids that get swept under the rug as adults, although I do admit that there are beautiful things I grasp as an adult that my kids miss. Sleep comes to mind. And coffee. Anyway, I'm reading The Little Prince right now with Littles and Tiny. We're only four chapters in, but I'm already thinking about what kind of an adult I've become. Would I see a hat or a boa constrictor digesting an elephant? I'm also thinking about tiny sheep and whether or not numbers are very important. These are beautiful thoughts to challenge my mind and heart.
I read children's books because they make me laugh and do so without any other agenda. There's nothing like a good old Macdonald Hall riot complete with Miss Scrimmage accidentally shooting something while protecting her "innocent" girls from the shenanigans of Bruno and Boots. Zucchini sticks and Manchurian bush hamsters! Everyone needs more of that in their life. Thanks, Gordan Korman for years of fun reading about a Canadian boarding school.
I read children's books because I like strong heroines (or heroes) and poignant story lines, and the best children's books include these. I reread Susan Fletcher's Shadow Spinner this weekend and slipped back into the world of Shahrazad, where words hold the difference between life and death and forgiveness costs something. True children's literature can and should portray clear cut right and wrong without becoming a morality tale. Too much of our "adult literature" these days has lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. We think ourselves too complex for such simplicity. Children know better. They know the importance of a good guy and a good ending.
I read children's books because I want to understand my kids better, but here's the thing: children's books are written by adults trying to remember what it was like to be a kid. So I read slowly and try to pay attention, and when I'm reading out loud to my kids, I do my best to listen to what is resonating with them, what makes them laugh, what makes them want to keep reading. Although sometimes they just want me to keep reading so they don't have to go to bed.
I read children's books because they're fun and sometimes terribly strange (I just finished reading Mary Poppins to the boys), and we all need a little fun in our lives and we definitely need a little strangeness to wake us up from the stupor of normality.
There are so many wonderful reasons to dip into children's literature and so many great books to explore once we're there. I'm sure you have your favourite children's books and your reasons why you love them too, and that's important. That matters. As long as we maintain some ability to pinpoint what it was we loved as a child and why, we can maintain that aspect of ourselves in some small way. Think of it, perhaps, as a fountain of youth. You may end up with a few more laugh lines, but your soul will still remember how it felt to be five and reading about the mysterious Mary Poppins for the first time, eight and discovering the Little Prince, ten and spinning tales with Shahrazad and Marjan, twelve and laughing until you cried with Bruno and Boots.
So: hi, my name is Marian, and I read children's books.