Why I Love Children’s Books

When I look over the books I have bought in the last year, it seems that none of them are intended for readers over the age of twelve. From Andrew Lang’s Red, Green, and VioletFairy Books, to Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is much in the way of good reading, but little in the way of reading for the post-pubescent. It has gotten so that when I browse in the adult section of a bookstore, it is more out of a sense of duty and obligation than out of interest. My real love is children’s books.

Sometimes I have theorized that my unusual addiction to kiddie lit is the result of some strange psychological quirk, but if so, I’d rather stay abnormal for the rest of my life than lose this love. Children’s books are many things to me. They comfort me, they educate me, and they are constant, long-abiding companions. Whenever I travel, it is a children’s book that accompanies me on the journey, and helps to make it a journey for the spirit as well as for the body.

Many people think that if a book is written for children, it is therefore light and unimportant, but I find the opposite to be true. As Madeleine L’Engle has said, children need life’s great imponderables explained just as much as the rest of us — and what’s more, they need them explained clearly and simply enough that they can understand them. The result is often books such as Madeleine L’Engles A Ring of Endless Light or Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, both of which deal with death, life, and hope. These books, and many others like them, go through a process not unlike fruits being made into jam; they are boiled and condensed and stirred until only the sweet essence remains. These books are not lesser versions of adult books; they are greater.

Each time I reread a book from my childhood, I am at a different point in my life, and I read it with new insight and a new perspective . Over the years, this effect has become cumulative, and when I read a book which I’ve read many times before, I also remember all the different incarnations of myself that have read it in the past. Just as children’s books are written in different levels and layers for their different audiences, so my own readings become multilayered, as rereading a book allows me to look through all the different layers of Me’s that I have been. As I grow, these books and these stories grow with me. They have guided me through my childhood and adolescence; I look forward to many years of their teaching me how to live as an adult, while always striving for the clarity to see the world through a child’s eyes.

~1997~

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