Reading Children’s Classics as an Adult

I think an angel walks over the world after the sun sets . . . a great, tall, white angel, with silvery folded wings . . . and sings the flowers and birds to sleep. Children can hear them if they know how to listen. Peter Irving, 10 years old. Anne of Avonlea

During the Spring of 2014, I was running late for the bus and remembered I needed a ‘bus book.’ So I grabbed the first unread book I saw on the shelf: The Hobbit. As I read on the way to work day after day, the intrusion of strangers and smells of the city bus left me and I was securely encased in fantasy land. I had always loved that experience. But why did it end?

And I remembered I stopped reading fantasy and sci/fi when I went to graduate school….

So I spent most of last summer in used bookstores shoring up my bookcases with books by authors I recalled from the past along with new authors. I read The Golden Compass and all of His Dark Materials, I reread some Marion Zimmer Bradley and discovered sci/fi and fantasy author Lisa Goldstein and several others.

I was on a roll when I walked into a favorite San Diego bookstore last summer to continue my quest. With my arms full of fantasy and sci fi books, I headed for the cash register, but something caught my eye. I saw this bright green book cover with a dancing toad in the middle. It was The windwillows.jpegWind in the Willows and I realized I had never read it though I knew it was a well-known children’s classic. As I looked through the titles of the children’s section, I saw so many time-honored books I had never read.

How did I miss The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows? How come I never read the Anne of Green Gables series or Stuart Little? As I thought back, 12 was a pivotal reading-year. I somehow moved from the Nancy Drew mysteries and “Little House” books to A Journal of the Plague Year and On the Beach. At that age, who wouldn’t want to read about the terrors of the Black Death and nuclear annihilation?!

secretgarden.jpegSo that day, I bought The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, even though I wondered if they would have any meaning for me or would they be a waste of time for an adult?

I need not have worried.

Each is so rich in the details of its surroundings and descriptions of characters, with plots and subject matter that are complicated and mature. They are like historical documents in disguise giving me a view of their time period by word choices, societal consciousness and world view.

What drew me to books at a very young age, draws me still: a good story with Anne of Avonlea.jpegcharacters I can see and hear and whose conflicts and resolutions are relatable; and with a little magic and fantasy thrown in like talking animals, personified Nature and extraordinary images and ideas of life.

What stays with me is the beautiful simplicity in the writing, the stunning portrayals of time and place, the universal spirituality found in Nature and the images and impressions that follow me long after I have finished the book.

I am moved, too, because I am reminded these creative and fantastical images are missing in my life. Adults, after all, are supposed to ‘grow out of it.’ There are so many of these children’s classics I have yet to read, yet I still feel tentative in pursuing them.

That is until just this week when I saw this quote by Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

And if you want to stay intelligent, read fairy tales as an adult!