Every time I visit a book store or my local library it gets increasingly difficult to choose a book. There are books with pretty covers that have duped me into selecting them only to bore me to tears with their lame stories, and then there are books in the ‘General Fiction’ section that are heavy with wanna-be literary fiction-esc writing; which is an equal bore to read. So often when I enter these establishments, still with childlike excitement to choose a book, I find myself getting gradually frustrated and annoyed.
Then one day while choosing board books for my two-year-old, I came across gems from my younger days on the children’s and young adult shelves. There, waiting for me were the books and stories I used loved from Enid Blyton’s Mystery and Adventure series, to Nancy Drew Mysteries and Hardy Boys adventures and many other newer publications – all with promising synopsis on the back cover.
Initially, I felt awkward hanging around these shelves. I mean I‘m an adult, surely I should be reading more “age appropriately”. But I couldn’t help myself. So I quickly selected a few and made my escape. But I was hooked and I kept going back to the children’s and young adult shelves first whenever I visited the library or book shop. The more I read these supposedly non-age-appropriate books, the more I was reminded of why I love reading. When I was younger reading was an adventure, excitement, bravery, independence, even; as I always imagined myself into the story, experiencing everything the protagonist was.
Because of my awkwardness about enjoying books written for a younger audience, I looked it up – adults reading children’s books – and I was happy to find out that it is very common and in fact, is encouraged as a means of relaxing, escaping “grownupness”, gaining a different perspective on life, and reminding ourself that there are such things as hope, love, courage, and good vs. evil.
Popular author, C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
One must note that just because the protagonists are young does not mean the writing is dumbed down in the slightest, nor that the situations they face are unique to just them. Sometimes we come across some of the most aesthetically pleasing writing in books where the main character is a teenager. There is no reason to miss out on the experience of reading those beautiful prose just because it’s not marketed to your age group.
The ever-popular “Harry Potter,” books are the best example, that a good story is a good story, no matter the age group it is marketed to. These books have transcended boundaries between children’s stories and adult books. In fact, the books were published with two different covers — one for kids and one for adults. Nothing about the story or the writing changed, just the cover.
Children’s and YA books remind us of what hope feels like, what bravery looks like, what generosity, acceptance, and tolerance is – they are just told to us through the mediums of wizards, lions, talking spiders, and others. Dr. Louise Joy, a Cambridge University academic said in her study “children’s books give us things we cannot find in our everyday lives, like direct communication or perhaps a tolerance towards eccentricity.” These books take us into fantasy worlds that are only limited by our own imagination. And let’s face it, many adults reign in their imaginations as they grow older as if our imagination is an optional extra to life. Rather imagination is needed to show empathy, to be creative, inventive, and a whole lot more in life; therefore it is the very center of it. To re-develop our forgotten imaginations as adults “we need books that are specifically written to give the heart and mind a much-needed kick-started – children’s books” says author Katherine Rundell.
Having said all this, it doesn’t mean there aren’t good ‘adult fiction’ books out there. There most definitely are. But as a reader and a book lover, limiting your reading to just ‘age-appropriate’ books means missing out on so much. So read adult fiction, non-fiction, even read your car manual if you are into that sort of thing; but also read young adult fiction, children’s stories, comic books, and picture books. There are a million worlds to experience in them and an equal number of truths and life lessons to remind ourselves of and learn anew.