Essay

Why Adults Should Start Reading Children’s Books

Lalita Iyer

January 02, 2018

“Mamma, I am noticing that my books are getting fatter and fatter and yours are getting thinner and thinner,” said my son Re who is rather amused at my excessive interest in reading children’s books over the past few years. From eating books when he was six months old to now reading a few in one go (one for the school bus, one for the bedside and one for when we are on the go), he has come a long way, as have I.

Re is currently reading Nevermoor:The Trials of Morrigan Crow and The Wizards of Once, and I’m reading Pillow Talk – a book of poems about yawns, bottoms, sneezes and burps by Robert McGough, and Princess Mirror-Belle and the Magic Shoes by Julia Donaldson. Yes, they are supposedly ‘children’s books’ and I am a grown up. Okay, read that as: I am a person fatigued by ‘grownupness’ and seeking refuge in the child in me and it’s helping.

I spent a lot of my angsty twenties buying books for my friends’ children. It took me to a different place, however fleetingly, and made me forget about relationship issues, my struggle to be my own person and the shit hole that was my career. I remember buying two copies of every children’s book that I gifted, keeping one for myself. I discreetly read the Mouse Soup series and Hubert the Caterpillar Who Thought He Was A Moustache in my abode that was a working women’s hostel. I found the wondrous world of Eric Carle and Roald Dahl that made eccentric cool. I found my rebellious self in Pippi Longstocking and her escapades. And there was always Enid Blyton and the allure of the food she described.

Some of Enid Blyton’s books from my childhood managed to survive despite all the house moves, and when I recently introduced them to my child, I went back to reading them again and remembering scones, fondly.  I learnt to make them this time, and they tasted exactly like my childhood.

But then it’s more than that. I think what children’s books make you believe is that anything is possible – if you put your heart and mind to it. As adults, we forget to believe in our imaginary worlds. But there are still things in our subconscious that get awakened when we read children’s books. They take us away from our everyday over-connected but emotionally void world; they free our minds to see the intangible with special clarity. They make us believe in magic. If we are afraid of magic, there is no hope for us as human beings.

In a different world, I would perhaps be slammed for not reading enough literary fiction, but I find that the older I get, the more I want to read books for littler ones. Picture books are my new best friends. Of course, having every kind of children’s book on my shelf is all very legit now for two reasons – I have a child now and I also write for children. The endless hours spent browsing in the children’s section of the few good bookstores left in my city can now be attributed to the ‘greater good’. Obviously, the world thought I was buying said books for my son Re, but here’s a confession: they were for me.

Like 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. The researcher claims such books represent a “symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality”.

Sometimes our reality hinders us from believing in love and wonder, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go back to it. The fact that we have started listening to TED talks on how to dream and how to imagine explains how much we miss the simple things of our childhood.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter to his granddaughter about The Chronicles of Narnia:

“My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…”

As I watched my son grown up, I realized how much my grownupness was wearing me down and how easily he was able to find magic and joy and delight in the littlest things and I wasn’t. It was a sign for me to grow down, and I am glad I did.

The next time you are browsing at a book store (if you find a real one in your mall-infested city), try wandering to the children’s section and pick up something that talks to your inner child and take it home. Even if you don’t have a child. Especially if you don’t have a child.  You will be surprised at what it does to you.  Like Le Petit Prince would say, “All grown-ups were once children… but only a few of them remember it.”

If you’re are wondering which children’s book to pick up, take a look at our list of children’s books you should be reading.

Do you read children’s books as well? Do you think they help you reclaim some of your innocence? Tell us in the comments below.

Lalita Iyer

Lalita Iyer

Lalita Iyer writes for little people and big people and the little people in big people. She talks about children’s books on Instagram @booksidaisies