I recently came across this article by the wonderful SF Said (whose Twitter feed, incidentally, is well worth a read in itself), extolling the virtues of children’s books and justifying exactly why they are so important. I use the word justify with intention, for there is inherently a lot of snobbery around children’s literature, even though I would put money on every one of us remembering at least five books from our childhood that captured our hearts alongside our imaginations.
For me, A Little Princess charmed me first, then The Water Babies, The Railway Children, The Machine Gunners and Goodnight Mister Tom. The latter two, in particular, brought to life for me a period of history in which I was intensely fascinated, and gave faces and names to the people who lived through it. I wonder, now, which books my children will take with them through to adulthood. I’m not sure there is a perfect formula to find out; all we have is time. Those books which they ask to be read again and again as toddlers and small children may well be lost in the passage of time between youth and maturity. Will The Butterfly Lion still seem so endearing in 20 years’ time? Who knows…
I still read children’s books today. Naturally, I read them to my actual children on a regular basis, but I also read them alone, in my head, just for me. I read Katherine Rundell and marvel at her way with words, and Roald Dahl and Oliver Jeffers. Why? For pleasure! To escape somewhere new and beautiful, to learn things that are new to me. Whether you are 9 or you are 90, reading Goodnight Mister Tom will give you the same insight into the pain of wartorn souls. Of children ripped from all that was familiar and slotted, alien-like, into unfamiliar homes, alongside unfamiliar faces.
I have occasionally been chastised about my desire to read books that are meant for children and it used to bother me, but that was before. Now I just accept that I am one of the lucky few who does not cast aside a new story because they fear it was not written for them.
I make that judgment for myself these days.