Kids' Lit Is Not Just for the Kids!

You would expect that I, as a librarian, have always been an avid reader and I am. My childhood was full of books I remember fondly and I bet, for many of you, yours was too.

We moved a few times in my childhood and one of the first things my mother would do in a new town is seek out the library and get us registered with our own library cards. I remember we would come home with piles of books in our arms. I and my siblings would plow through the beautiful picture books before returning them to the library to find more.

When I was older, I started discovering the wonderful children’s classics including Milne’s Winnie-the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, White’s Charlotte’s Web, and Burnett’s The Secret Garden. As a teen I read Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Alcott’s Little Women. In these stories I would be swept away to far-away times and places and learn about universal truths and the complexity of life. I would learn the importance of living a life fully, and of sacrifice and death. I would be comforted by humor and joy, finding pleasure in the entertainment found in the stories.
Kids' Lit 1
Later, I brought my own children to the library. We would check out books together and bedtime would be a favorite time for all of us to gather to share books. When they were little, we would read beautiful, charming, often funny picture books. However, the fun—for me certainly, and for my children I expect too—began when we started reading the longer, chapter books. I discovered with my children wonderful classics, including, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, C.S. LewisChronicles of Narnia and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. We also discovered current titles such as Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh.
Harry PotterMy children outgrew the bedtime cuddling-with-a-good-book-read-aloud-together but continued reading on their own. (I had stopped reading A Series of Unfortunate Events at book 4 aloud with my children, because, while the stories were unique and clever, they were just too sad for me. However my son continued through book 13 by himself.)

When I stopped reading to my children, I initially stopped reading kids’ lit (as it is often called). I was sad to let it go, but it did not fit my idea of myself as an adult reader. Working in a library, I would recommend classics and the hot new series to children and teens looking for something to read and I wanted to read them myself on the sly. I missed them. However, it went against my adult “sensibilities.”

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter changed all of that, as I am sure it did for so many other adults. Suddenly a series of children’s books grabbed the attention of children and adults alike! And, like others, I gave myself permission to indulge my love of children’s literature, without the excuse of reading to a child.
Oz and Golden
By being truer to myself, I reread a few of my childhood favorites. I discovered that I got more out of them reading with adult eyes. Back in the day, I had limited access to what was available to read. In today’s information rich world it is so much easier to find the best authors. I loved Baum’s Wizard of Oz, but did you know there were 14 books in the series? And your local librarian is always a welcome help in finding that next book to read! I also enjoy many modern titles. The volume of quality children’s literature today is astounding! And now I can appreciate the writing skill of the authors. A person who will not read a book because it was written for a young audience is missing opportunities to read great pieces of literature. Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass is a good example of this!

With a working adult schedule, my days are busier now and it is more challenging to squeeze in time to read. Not always (later Harry Potter titles were tomes), but usually children’s books are fast and fun. The quality of audio books is remarkable too! Neil Gaiman reads his own novels. Who would not love to have him come to your house and read to you? Jim Dale reads all of the Harry Potter books in such a delightful way, convincingly vocalizing all of the characters. I almost preferred to listen to him than read the books myself!
For anyone who is interested, I will share what I am reading now. I recently finished How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Crowell (one of those that is better than the movie) and when I finish The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin (not a children’s book) I plan to start one that is a Revolutionary War classic—ForbesJohnny Tremain.
Mixedup Files; Happiness
But enough about me! Where does someone start when they want to return to kids' literature? Ask yourself, what do I generally like: realism? Fantasy? Historical fiction? Dystopian futures? Children’s titles cover all of these genres and often are a great mix of them. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a great example of realism and fantasy combined! Our library system also has access to databases, including NovelList K-8 Plus, that help you choose books based on your tastes and author and titles that you have read and loved. Contact your local branch for help!

Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project and other tiles) is a vocal fan of kids’ lit and shares her list of 81 favorites on her website. It is heavy on the classics from her childhood, and re-reading your own childhood favorites is a great place to start.
Peter Pan; Mary Poppins
As I think we all know, many movies are based on novels. If you liked the film, give the book a try! But be warned the book likely will have a lot more going for it. Think you know Peter Pan or Mary Poppins because you have seen the movies? Pick up the books and you are in for a pleasant surprise!

The Goodreads website has book lists including some for family read-togethers, including this one.

Again, your local branch librarians are a great resource for finding books that suit your interests. We are usually big readers and also see what is most enjoyed. Call your local branch for help! And add a kids’ lit title to your summer reading!

—Kim at Hightstown

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