The significance of children’s books (for adults)

I once applied for an internship at the children's book division at a major publishing company. "Do you read children's books?" I distinctly remember the editor asking me during the interview. I recall attempting to hide my scoffing at the seemingly-preposterous question, as I thought to myself, Children's books are for children

Needless to say, I did not get that internship. And years later, I can't help but think that maybe I was wrong.

I may just be getting sentimental, but reading Cindy Sher's recent blog post about the passing of Maurice Sendak, beloved author of Where the Wild Things Are, got me thinking - maybe children's books are just as much for adults as they are for kids.

Of course, adults don't need basic vocabulary, illustrations or for the book to end in less than 10 pages like children do. The whole point of children's literature is for kids to be eased in to grappling with adult concepts through an emotionally compelling but simple narrative. But perhaps there is still value in these books even after we have technically aged out of reading them.

When I was a kid, I absolutely adored The Berenstain Bears series. One of my favorite books was The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings, in which the bears began to understand life priorities and what things truly matter. I don't remember what I did with the copy I had as a child, but I never forgot that book. A few years ago, I actually went to the bookstore and purchased a brand new copy just to have as a reminder of what I learned from reading it.

And if you want to talk about "children's" books that really strike you as an adult, Shel Silverstein's books are a perfect example. (Can anyone read The Giving Tree without shedding some tears? I think not.) Sometimes as adults, we get so caught up in the grey area of things, or the complexities of life, that we become cynical. There's no time for fun! Bills have to be paid! Life is unfair! It's a dog-eat-dog world out there! We are so busy dealing with all those complexities that we often lose sight of priorities and values that really matter to us.

But does it really have to be that way? And does it have to be that way all the time?

What I'm trying to say is that life isn't always so complicated. In reality, some things can be simple - even if temporarily - and children's books are a great way to remember that. Sure, they are too simple and often only teach one lesson, but that doesn't mean that there isn't great truth in those lessons. Perhaps re-reading an old children's book may offer you more personal enlightenment than the latest self-help book.

Karina Grudnikov
Join Karina Grudnikov as she explores life in Chicago’s Jewish community.... Read More

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