In Response: On Children's Literature

I’m a big reader. Books, magazines, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, adventure, romance, self-development, spirituality, biography, history, gardening, recipes, the dictionary…you name it, I’ll probably read it at some point.

One of my favourite treats is to read a few pages of a magazine while I’m having my breakfast, and I subscribe to a few different ones to cater to my varied interests. Without fail there will be at least one article (and probably several) in each one that sparks something and gets me thinking, or gives me inspiration or new ideas, or that I want to have my own say about the issues discussed.

So I thought I’d do just that, here, to share my thoughts and to get you involved in the conversation too.

One piece that captured my imagination on the recent issue of Breathe magazine (issue 12) is entitled Forever Young, written by Victoria Pickett, on the enduring appeal of children’s literature even as we grow up.

Popular opinion may have it that people should set aside the simple stories of childhood for more suitably adult subjects, but the reality is the simplicity that made these stories so appealing in the first place can go on to lend them a value far beyond mere nostalgia, as a rich source of practical philosophy and mindful teachings.
— Forever Young by Victoria Pickett, Breathe magazine, issue 12, p.87


And I would agree. Yes, there is an innocent delight in picking up a childhood favourite and indulging in a few pages of joyful memories, but there is also wisdom to be found within those pages, and wisdom far more easily understood, and perhaps therefore more powerful, than that of ‘grown up’ books on self help or guidance.

When I think of my favourite stories from childhood, there are things like Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear; The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark; Roald Dahl books like The BFG, Matilda, and The Magic Finger; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Borrowers; Little Women; The Diary of Anne Frank, The Redwall series by Brian Jacques, Harry Potter came on the scene later in my teens, plus whatever was set as reading homework at primary school, or whatever I could get my hands on at the library – I’m sure my mum could remind me of many more!

I still love these books. My copies of the Narnia stories are dog-eared with pages stuck back in with Sellotape. New editions of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington have been purchased to rebuild my collection.

What I love about books is the opportunity to lose myself in a different world for a while, to experience someone else’s life, to explore different places, to have adventures and make a bit of magic. The characters become friends, and I see myself in them, understand what they’re going through and don’t feel so alone. They teach me new things, and teach me about myself. Children’s books especially offer an escape from the serious and difficult adult world, and remind me about play and curiosity and kindness and hope.

And when Piglet turns to Pooh and asks “How do you spell love?” and Pooh replies “You don’t spell it, you feel it”, then all is right with the world.

Now it’s your turn:

  • What were your favourite books as a child?
  • Do you still read any of them now?
  • What memories do you have of reading when you were little?
  • What does reading offer you today?

And let’s get a list of recommendations going – all welcome, from any age!