Why adults should read children’s literature

art, reading, writing

Pivoting off a thoroughly obnoxious post by Joel Stein about literature written for children, which I sincerely hope you don’t bother to read, Andrew Sprung says the following:

…while the best children’s books can bring many core human experiences ‘marvelously’ to life, there are many equally or more intense experiences that they can’t touch.

While there’s nothing wrong with an adult devoting leisure time to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, they are not sufficient. They should not crowd out The Gulag Archipelago, or The Moons of Jupiter, or Midnight’s Children. Confining your reading to children’s books would be like confining your sex life to hugs and kisses…

It seems to me this is nearly as wrong as Stein’s screed, though better intentioned and less obnoxious. Stein thinks “children’s literature” consists of nonsense rhymes and vampire soap operas. Sprung thinks “children’s literature” is broader—that it can profitably engage certain subjects at levels profitable for adults to read, like family relationships or bullying.

But neither of these gentlemen read much children’s literature, clearly. Because it isn’t children’s literature or adult literature that can touch the deepest and most important experiences in life. It’s litererature, period. And some of that is written “for children.” Just as a quick look at the YA shelf shows plenty of vampire soap operas, so does a quick look at the adult shelf! And a deeper, less I’m-too-wise-and-educated consideration of the YA shelf will reveal books that grapple in a profoundly human and nuanced way with everything—everything—“grown up” literature grapples with.

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Adults should read literature, wherever they find it. And if you imagine no children’s literature is really literature, well, you haven’t really grown up yet.

9 thoughts on “Why adults should read children’s literature

      1. Harry Potter, of course. Anything by Roald Dahl, but Matilda is my favorite. Sideways Stories from Wayside School…Ramona Quimby, Age 8. So many more.

  1. Love this post. I’m a big advocate of children’s and YA literature. Here are a couple of YA recommendations: Marcelo and the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (the narrator is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum), Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (a first novel that won the 2012 Printz award), and The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (anyone up for a romp through the Antarctic?).

  2. Yes to Marcelo in the Real World! And to When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I think these YA titles are a subgenre closer to the short story– clean lines, lean writing. I also love (beyond reason) The Penderwicks, and the Mysterious Benedict Society. Those YA critics are losers. That’s the most adult way to talk about this, right?

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