I no longer “need” to read children’s books and yet I still do. As a primary school librarian for more than seventeen years, in order to do my job properly, I read a broad range of books so that I could recommend and suggest titles to the children who visited the library. As I am no longer working in school libraries at present you might imagine that I would relish the time now available and pack away the picture books and the middle grade titles and delve into the adult best seller lists. To tell the truth I have a little but I’m also still enjoying books intended for people much, much younger than me.
My Twitter timeline is full of primary school teachers who know that being a #readingteacher, a teacher who reads children’s books, will help them create and encourage young readers. But that, I think, is not the only reason they do so. There are frequently discussions about children’s books online such as #RR_Chat run by @ReadingRocks where remarks about how much teachers have “loved” a particular book, comments about the moving themes of a beautiful picturebook or recommendations made to colleagues suggest that they are enjoying the books for their own sake and not simply as a teaching tool.
Why is that I wonder? Why do we enjoy these books intended for children under 12 years old so much? The books are not always ones that we read as children ourselves and are now rereading and sharing with a new audience so it’s not exclusively about recapturing our own childhood. It has been said that we are in the midst of a new Golden Age of children’s literature and it is true that there has been a huge growth in the number and range of books available. The subject matter of these books is very different to that in the books of my childhood. Authors today are not afraid of tackling subjects such as bereavement, eating issues, bullying, mental health, prejudice and racism and this was, even in the 1970s and 80s, rare for this age group. Perhaps it is this relevance that encourages adults to read and want to discuss children’s books? There are times when an excellent children’s book can comfort and reassure an adult just as effectively as it does a child.
Books for children, particularly perhaps when they deal with upsetting or worrying aspects of life, require the ending to be, if not a happy one, at least a hopeful one. Personally, it is this feeling of hope that I find so engaging. Our world is a troubled one at present and although we can’t hide away from that sometimes we need the reassurance that generally people are doing their best and trying to be kind. Children’s books usually celebrate that. In fact children’s authors and illustrators could be described as a powerful voice for both good and change too.
Nicola Davies writes books such as Lots that celebrate our natural world and warn of the damage we are doing to our planet . Titles such as Story Like The Wind by Gill Lewis and My Name Is Not Refugee by Kate Milner encourage readers to be empathetic about the refugee crisis. Can we dare to hope that books such as these can help create a generation of adults who will show care and kindness? Perhaps the feeling these books create is why we as adults enjoy reading them.
Earlier this year the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education published their Reflecting Realities report which highlighted the lack of BAME characters and diversity in children’s books today. There are publishers such as Lantana Publishing and Knight Of who are trying to correct this. We pass books by these publishers on to children to help them to understand people who are different to themselves. Perhaps reading them as adults helps us understand too?
Of course sometimes we read children’s books because they are simply well told gripping adventures with likeable characters. Yet, I think it’s more than that. People ask why I still read and review these books and I say because I enjoy reading them. Why I enjoy reading them so much is a little more complicated but can be summed up by saying.. because I’m not yet too old to learn some valuable lessons from them.