I have heard that when people grow up they grow out of children’s books. It is true that adults deal with more difficult concepts, but simplicity is just as poignant. I’m convinced that you cannot outgrow Burnett’s A Little Princess till you understand and apply the virtues shown by Sara Crewe—the task of a lifetime. I treasure my copies of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Phantom Tollbooth.
When I was younger, I determined never to grow out of childrens’ books. This stemmed from C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Throughout the book, Mark Studdock is a slave to peer expectations. It’s natural to crave acceptance, but Mark takes unnecessary measures. The narrator lets us in on his secret: when he was younger he pretended to enjoy more difficult books because he thought that they would bring respect. He starved his imagination with pretentiousness. He created a persona to fit the expectations of others—or what he thought their expectations were. After reading That Hideous Strength, I determined never to be like Mark.
Surely professionals don’t often read Roverandom or Hans Christian Anderson during their coffee breaks—such books are only acceptable when children are present. You must read serious books if you want to be taken seriously, right? I confess, I find myself thinking this way sometimes. As I read Ella Enchanted this summer, the iridescent pink cover labeled “8+” made me feel like a junior higher.
In her article “The Kids’ Books Are All Right,” Pamela Paul publicizes the secret love that many adults have of YA fiction. She quotes Amanda Foreman, who pinpoints the cause: “A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart.” Since adult fiction is often cold and uninviting, you can find adults pacing sheepishly around the Y.A. section. They want a story with a pulse that arrests attention and stirs emotions, and the easiest place to find that is with the youth.