Why So Many of the Books We Love Are Children’s Books
A few weeks ago, another Facebook list made the rounds: List 10 Books that Stayed with You. I participated when I saw it on a friend’s post, and so did plenty of my friends. I noticed that roughly half the books we listed were children’s books, but now it’s official – the folks at Facebook put together a list of the top 100, and 25% were specifically written for children (Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, etc.), with another 50% on almost every high-school English teacher’s reading list, meaning they are now de facto young adult books (Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, etc.).
Of course, there are picture books on that list, too. How can you not be moved or influenced by books like The Giving Tree, Horton Hears a Who, and Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
Why Children’s Books Stay With Us
- We are impressionable. Our views of the world aren’t set until we’re much older. Good books can shape and shake our values. We’re open to new ideas, and let’s face it – we don’t have too many old ideas either. Just about everything is new and has the potential to stay with us. We’re sponges, and soak up everything.
- That’s when we read the most. Just in terms of sheer numbers, most of these books should be children’s books. It’s said that you’ll read 75% of all books in your lifetime by the age of twenty-two. Adult readership typically drops off dramatically, and even when it doesn’t, rather than read everything put in front of us (or get a wide reading list from teachers), we read what already reinforces our world view or ideas. That doesn’t stay with us – that only confirms us.
- The messages are clear. Adult books often have muddled messages that are deliberately complex and vague and meant to represent life – or even just a slice of life. Children’s books often have a clear moral message or other lesson, and if we identify with it, we’ll carry it around for decades (even if unbeknownst to us).
- The issues are universal. While children’s books have genres and subgenres, the issues they address – love, acceptance, kindness, growing up, doing the right thing, getting a good education, etc. – are universally accepted. Some young adult novels, and even a few middle-grade books, can address limited issues, but nothing along the lines of adult fiction (particularly contemporary adult fiction), that often addresses very narrow or targeted issues.
- We can read them again and again. Picture books you loved as a kid can be shared with your children and grandchildren. You can recommend middle-grade and YA books you couldn’t put down as a teen. In other words, you can live the love you had for those books all over again. They are sentimental favorites and they never really go away.
The only problem I had with the Facebook list was that ten books wasn’t nearly enough. I could have easily doubled that and still missed a few. Maybe that’s why I primarily write children’s books these days – I hope they impact children the way my favorite books influenced me. So think about that the next time you meet a children’s writer. Don’t dismiss their work as unimportant – it just could be the book that stays with your children for a lifetime.
OK, so after all that, here it is, the ten books I listed quickly:
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
4. The Giving Tree
5. Johnny Tremaine
6. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
7. Cyrano de Bergerac
8. Beyond Good and Evil
9. The Happy Prince
10. The Trial
What’s your list? Feel free to leave it in the comments. Thanks!