I’ve got a confession to make. Ready? Okay, here it goes.
I read. . .kids’ books. Not just ‘kids’ books that aren’t really for the little guys like The Hunger Games and and The Inheritance Cycle, but actual kids’ books. Artemis Fowl. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The Lost Years of Merlin.
I’ll pause now for your gasps of disbelief and bewilderment. People think this is odd. A few weeks ago at church, I was in the corner reading a book (I know, completely out of character for me). A little boy came up to me and asked what I was reading.
“It’s called The Little White Horse,” I said.
He stared at the cover critically. “Yeah, but’s it’s got a unicorn on the front.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s really about a unicorn. It’s a fantasy story.”
“Aren’t you too old for that?” he asked. “Fantasy’s for kids.”
Which is a pretty reasonable response. It was for kids. And yet. . .
And yet, it seems that the hallmark of a truly great children’s book is one that can be enjoyed by adults, too. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of books I read as a kid that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole today. But my favorite books as a kid, the ones I went back to again and again, the ones I stayed up late reading and rushed through homework to get back to? I still love them today. Peter Pan. Little House on the Prairie. Redwall. Heidi. A Little Princess. The Hobbit. A Series of Unfortunate Events. Any one of these books I could happily pick up right now and immerse myself in another reading.
It’s true that in many ways, children’s books are often fundamentally different than those written for adults. They tend to be lighter and shorter, and naturally feature younger protagonists. But the good ones share the most important features of adults novels. They show conflict and the resolution of conflict in a way that encourages, and indeed compels, the maturation of the protagonist, as well as our own as we grapple with the problems and issues presented. One thing too, about kids’ books is that these issues tend to be much more straightforward and thus more easily recognized and addressed. The nature of good and evil, the struggle between self-centeredness and others-centeredness, the proper use of power, the bond between family.
C.S. Lewis once said that a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
I think I must agree with him. What do you think? Are kids’ books best confined to kids, or are they appropriate for readers of all ages? What are some of your favorites? Which books did you read as a kid, and still love, and can’t wait to share with your own kids/nieces/nephews/little people you spend time with?
I plan (and since I’m on spring break now, the word ‘plan’ means ‘within the next few days’) to post about some of my favorite kids’ books, and well as some of today’s bestsellers.
Namarie from the Tale-Weaver.