Saturday, March 7, 2009

Not Just For Kids

Children's books are not just for kids.

Let me say it again--

Children's books are not just for kids.

I think there is something supremely beautiful in a book that both a child and an adult can read with real seriousness. The fact is - yes, children and adults exist on different maturity levels. But they share emotions. They share thoughts about the world. Adults are still very much like children, and children are very much like adults. They understand more than most adults realize. And sometimes, if adults can let go of their egos for a little bit, they'll see that they, too, can learn and feel and see anew from a book "meant for" children.

Because here's the thing. Books are books. At the end of the day, a good book is a good book, whether it is meant for children or not. And if it is on a level that children can understand, that doesn't mean adults will find it "below them." I'm not talking about entertainment. Adults and children may have different ideas about what is entertaining. But when something speaks to the heart - it can do so on a first grade level, a fourth grade level, a sixth grade level, a tenth grade level, a college doesn't matter. If it speaks to the heart, it speaks to the heart. If it talks about our world - it's the same world. We live in the same world. We all share this human experience together, no matter how old we are.

I truly do believe that some of the best books you will ever read will be the ones you read when you were ten. Or seven. Or twelve. If you go back and read those books that made you cry when you were a kid, or even ones that gave you shivers because they were just that good, you'll see that they deal with a lot of the same issues and ideas as adult books. Because life isn't childproof. Real events are not split up into a "children's section" and an "adult section." Life happens to all of us at all ages. And we all feel real emotions. We all think real thoughts. We are all philosophers at all stages of life. If anything, the only books that have ever made me cry - or get the good sort of shivers - have been children's books. Adult books are so worried about sounding profound or intelligent, they often drown their ability to reach out and touch you. I'm not knocking adult books. But I think there is a way of reaching out that is unique to children's books - or perhaps the rare adult book - and that should not be belittled. It's different, not babyish.

I'm not really sure why I did it, but today I decided I wanted to read a book I had not read in a very long time. I don't think I've really opened it since I was ten. I still remember when I read it. In fifth grade, we had a literary club during lunch for those students who liked to read. It was run by the teacher of the other fifth grade class and we read books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Tuck Everlasting. Today I took down from my shelf another book we read called Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. The title comes from the saying, "Don't judge a man until you walk two moons in his moccasins." And even though this book is probably on a twelve year old reading level, it made me cry. Simpler writing does not mean stupid writing. It means writing that can reach inside and gently touch you, maybe even hug you, because it's telling you something difficult or powerful or both. And sometimes this simplicity is what makes it powerful. It's a voice that speaks to all, not just to a select few. Sometimes life is not about being one of a select few. It's not about being the best or smartest or most sophisticated in order to understand what some great philosopher is saying. Sometimes life is just about communicating. Understanding. Reaching out.

"It seems to me that we can't explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can't fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that we can manage, something that isn't as awful as it had at first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind." --Walk Two Moons

Tell me that is not something adults think about, too. Even struggle with. I dare you to tell me that. Because even though this book is written using simpler words - words that children can understand, it is not a children's book. It is a person's book. A book for the inhabitants of this world - all inhabitants.

And sometimes, if you're looking for inspiration, for soft words of advice...if you're looking for someone to lift you up and tell you it'll be's right there in your favorite books from when you were seven. From when you would hide away under your blankets reading late at night with a flashlight so your parents wouldn't know, giggling in a hushed sort of way and wiping your eyes with your sleeve at some parts, until you would fall asleep and be carried off into dreams that would lift you up - just like the book. And tell you that it'll be alright.


RaggedyMom said...

My favorite class in graduate school was the one in which we had to read about 2 dozen 'children's books'. They were wonderful, both those I'd already read and those new to me, those I'd never heard of, and those I'd been meaning to read but hadn't had the impetus.

The depth of emotion and sophistication in the simplicity of some of these stories really stayed with me. Some became favorites I used in the classroom, too.

Ezzie said...

The Little Engine That Could is a great book that I think you'd like. :)