If we haven’t met–or, more than likely, if this is your first time visiting–there is something you should know: I love to read. I can never quite answer the question, “What do you like to read?”, because I’ll read anything. As writers, that’s a piece of advice we constantly give one another: read everything. It’s also good advice for the insatiably curious; for many of us, it’s hard to find something that isn’t interesting. The French Revolution? Yes. Heart-wrenching love stories? Sure. Dragons? Of course. Why are you even asking that question?
At this point, my to-read list is miles long, and it’s grown substantially since I started working in a bookstore. Despite this, I find myself wanting to re-read the books from my childhood.
I want to revisit the books that kept me company on the school bus. I want to meet my favorite characters, as if I were reading about them for the first time. I want that magic, that spark that made the world feel smaller and so much bigger at the same time.
“Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”
-George R.R Martin, A Storm of Swords
But it doesn’t stop with children’s books: I’ve also had the urge to read more young adult literature. YA has always held a big piece of my bookworm heart, and I’m quite sure that will never change.
But why am I so drawn to children’s books? Why young adult, when I am already past my teenage years?
There are countless reasons, many of which have to do with my interests as a writer or how reading fiction can make us more empathetic. I could write for hours on those reasons alone, but today I want to take a different angle and focus on adults who read–and enjoy–books for younger readers (teen fiction or otherwise).
Twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings and literally anyone who is older than the typical middle-grade to high-school age group are often looked down on for reading children’s books. The author of this article claims that adults should be embarrassed of that fact, and that we’re missing something if we disregard other forms of literature for YA.
Of course we’re missing something if we only read YA, just like we are missing something if we are only listening to one genre of music or watching one television show. If we are missing something when we read books for children, then the reverse must be true: we are missing something if we don’t.
I have read many YA novels and rolled my eyes at allegedly romantic lines or the cliche protaganist. But I’ve done the same for ‘adult literature,’ too. Bad writing is just that: bad writing, and it can exist in all genres for all age groups. Ever heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey?
I was eight years old when I read the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the very first time. And I’ve re-read it–and the rest of the series–about a dozen times since. The story doesn’t change. However, my perspective changes, and that makes every reading experience different. The Hogwarts I knew growing up is not the same Hogwarts I know now. I grew up. I look at my world, and Harry’s, from another lens.
The very fact that I have grown up is exactly why reading children’s books is still beneficial. I haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia since I was in elementary school. At that age, I had no idea that Aslan was an allegory for Jesus. I just thought he was a really cool lion. With that knowledge, what could I learn from Narnia that I couldn’t before? Maybe nothing. Maybe something incredible.
The same is true for countless other novels. As an adult, teen fiction like The Princess Diaries and Eleanor and Park challenged my ideas about romance; classics like Peter Pan felt more meaningful as an adult because I understood the bittersweetness of Neverland.
There is wisdom hidden in these so-called simple tales, and to ignore them completely, or else assume that the older readers of YA are immature or unintelligent is a very narrow point of view.
“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”
― J.K. Rowling,
Like I mentioned earlier, this is just one of many arguments for children’s/YA lit. But perhaps the simplest reason–and the reason that no one should ever need to defend–is that people love these books. They may be overly satisfying stories, nostalgic indulgences that we can devour like candy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In my opinion, all good stories should feel like eating candy. Who wants to read a book that is easy to put down?
My Nana once told me that she learns something from every book she reads. So read whatever allows you to think and grow. Read what you love. For some of us, that includes fairy tales.