Like many kids in my generation, I grew up on Harry Potter. My mom read the first few books to me at bedtime until I started reading them on my own. She continued reading the books too, and we talked about them together as I grew up. Until I came to college and heard criticism from writing professors for citing the series as a favorite, it never occurred to me that some people think adults shouldn’t read Harry Potter. The series’s categorization as children’s—or young adult (YA), depending who you ask—literature diminishes it in some adults’ eyes. But children’s books are for adults too!
Many children’s books are written with the general understanding that they will be reread. Neil Gaiman, an author who writes for all ages but is known for his children’s book Coraline, says he writes with rereading in mind: “When I’m writing for kids, I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be reread. So I try to be much more conscious of it than I am with adults.” Children keep coming back to their favorite stories, unlocking new layers and themes, even once they’re not quite children anymore.
There is a reason we can’t resist cracking open our childhood books every once in a while. These books are the first pieces of literature we’re exposed to, and they influence the way we see the world. Nostalgia has a powerful effect. A Guardian article likens favorite children’s books to favorite songs: “They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose.”
Most children’s books also have deeper meanings that are impossible to unlock unless we come back to them as adults. In a list compiled with the help of the New York Public Library’s Betsy Bird, Business Insider features over a dozen children’s books worth rereading. “It just so happens that there are a lot of important life lessons, conspiracy theories and hidden messages in the books we loved as children—we just probably didn’t pick up on them back then,” the article explains. For example, Eloise, a beloved picture book about a little girl who lives in New York City’s Plaza Hotel, is full of jokes that make sense to more mature audiences. And dystopian YA fiction like The Giver seems more powerful and real-world applicable when revisited.
So why not seek new children’s literature as adults? Many in the field say there is no good reason not to. While some view children’s and YA literature as simplistic, good children’s literature does the same thing that good adult literature does: It addresses universal themes like identity and mortality, evokes emotion and makes readers think. A good book is always multi-layered, no matter how seemingly simplistic or outgrown.
So spend some time in the children’s section of the bookstore. You can pick up an old favorite waiting to be rediscovered, or you might even find a new piece of children’s literature to cherish.
Did You Know?
Studies show that children’s storytelling can improve attitudes toward those who are different from them. A study conducted among students of various ages in Italy and the UK found that students who read Harry Potter had more positive viewpoints toward stigmatized groups.