Rachel in Review: I’m an Adult, and I Read Children’s Books
If they haven’t so far, they will soon. Somehow they always do, and I’m certain the librarians at our new branch will be no exception.
One or two more visits, and they’ll surely know the truth: I read children’s books.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was a teenager, I read Dickens and Dumas, Faulkner and Austen, Milton, Donne, and Shakespeare. I would not have been caught reading anything *shudder* for children.
Now, however, all grown up and comfortable in my own skin, I read what I like. I still read some adult fare: history, biography, theology, philosophy, cultural commentary. I revisit old favorites and discover new-to-me classics.
Mostly, though, I read lots and lots of kids’ books.
“Silly Rachel,” they seem to say. “Kids’ books are for kids. Grow up and read your age!”
“Thanks for your concern,” I answer, “but it was growing up that brought me to a place where I now feel free to read what I like.”
Here, then, are seven reasons why — even after my new librarians have figured me out — I’ll still proudly and happily keep checking out Richard Peck, Karen Cushman, Mo Willems, and all the rest without a whiff of shame.
7. Children’s books allow me to share my literary experiences freely with my children.
In our family, reading is a whole-house affair — something my husband and I like to share openly (and often loudly) with our four children. Whether it’s The Book with No Pictures or How to Train Your Dragon (Ken does a thunderous Stoick the Vast), we love literary experiences that bring the whole family together. Even books that start out as silent reading can quickly turn into Family Book Club selections. When I finished Flora and Ulysses, the first thing I did was put it in the hands of my daughter, and guess what? She loved it too. We cheered together when it won the Newbery that year.
6. Children’s books nurture the child within me.
I have a child deep inside me. Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone?
We lose our baby teeth. We don’t lose our childhoods. Those we carry with us always. You may have neglected or lost touch with yours over the years, but it’s still there. A regular infusion of children’s literature can help keep the children deep inside us happy and healthy — which is, I think, a very good thing for humanity as a whole.
5. Children’s books don’t leave me feeling jaded.
In my experience, grown-up literary fiction too often confuses “telling the truth” with “breeding cynicism and despair.” Children’s books don’t tend to make that mistake. They manage to be honest, wise, and hopeful — all at once. I need books like that in my life.
4. Children’s books don’t waste my time.
I’m not lazy, but I am busy. It can take me weeks to meander my way through a 400-page tome. When I’m reading for pleasure, I like books that move quickly and make every word count. Children’s authors are masters at this. They know they have to contend with short attention spans and reluctant readers. They know kids have no tolerance for unnecessary padding, so they just leave it out. Genius.
3. Children’s books suit my moral sensibilities.
I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and I don’t intend to. I hope this doesn’t make me a prude, but if it does — well, frankly, I’m getting too old to care. I just don’t have any stomach for excessive gore, violence, sex, (or, for that matter, violent sex) in literature anymore.
Good children’s books do sometimes include graphic moments . . . when they have to . . . for the sake of the story . . . (and I respect that), but they are much more apt than “grown-up books” to use these troubling elements responsibly and with restraint.
2. Children’s books suit my artistic sensibilities.
Children’s authors and illustrators — people like Melissa Sweet, Jen Bryant, Chris Barton, Don Tate, Katy Beebe, S. D. Schindler, Michelle Markel, Amanda Hall, (I could go on all day . . . ) — are among the most talented and creative folks on the planet. Yes, they may occasionally find themselves working in a genre that involves toilets or giant robots, penguins or princesses, but they do their work well and ably — with zest, with spirit, and with no small measure of artistic skill.
1. Children’s books make me happy.
During my teenage years (around the same time I was devotedly plugging away at Dumas and Faulkner), I drank only skim milk. It was healthier for me than whole milk, after all. It was what the experts claimed was the appropriate dairy product for a young woman at my stage of development.
As a result, by the time I was nineteen, I hardly drank milk at all. I had completely lost my taste for it.
Then one day, when I was visiting family, I happened to drink a glass of two percent because it was the only thing they had in the house. I felt a mild twinge of guilt at the thought of the additional calories, but that passed in a moment as I (re)discovered that fatty milk was . . . good. I actually enjoyed drinking it.
Rediscovering children’s books as an adult was like that for me: two percent milk after a decade of skim. Reading, after all, doesn’t always have to be about learning or self-improvement, or about following the advice of the experts. Sometimes reading is just about fun. And children’s books — God bless ‘em — are my kind of fun.
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About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.