During my senior year of college, I started reading the Harry Potter series aloud to my then-fiance. We would read on breaks and over the phone, and we finished the series when we were newly married. We still read aloud to each other when we’re driving somewhere. I dragged the poor fellow through Pride and Prejudice*, but for the most part we’ve been reading children’s books–some of our favorites.
Other people have remarked that the books you read as a child affect you. This is true, but I also think an indication of a well-crafted children’s story is that adults can appreciate it, too.
I recently read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone for the first time. How I wish I had read it when I was younger. The writing is thoughtful, the main characters are delightful, and we see these children navigate a high-stakes adventure in a very believable way. However, it’s not a tidy conclusion–the dark is rising. I definitely want to read the rest of the series.
Part of the interest comes from knowing that I’m reading the book through different eyes than when I was a child. I’m the same person, but I can think about how the book would have impacted me when I was younger. I can also better appreciate the structure, the words the writer uses to evoke emotions, the setup for a conclusion where the character’s choices matter.
An issue I’ve struggled with for a while is the value of “genre fiction.” I had a professor who refused to grade a short story of mine because it was an action scene instead of something literary. I think he was wrong in his reasons for doing so, but I’ve also been trying to appreciate literary fiction more, in spite of the spite the encounter left me with. But in all that, I’ve found that children’s fiction affirms something that can hold true for adult speculative fiction as well: stories with magic, adventure, and struggles with evil can change you for the better. Moreover, I believe the archetypes in fantasy stories illustrate brilliantly our need for God.
Currently, we’re halfway through Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, the third in the Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I’d say the chief value in this series is the fun, but it doesn’t shy away from issues adults face, too, and it’s not didactic. Might we pick up something a little more mature soon? Sure. Do I regret the time spent reading this series? No way.
Read complicated books. Read challenging books. Read stories that linger over words and stories that pull you along at a breakneck speed. But also read and remember children’s books. The best ones stick with you as much as your grown-up favorites do.