Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Revisiting our childhood books

C.S. Lewis once said, "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

I think it's a big mistake when our childhood books are forgotten about and left behind in our distant pasts. Have you discovered through experience that when we return to them years down the track, we often pick up a lot that we missed the first time around? It's almost as if we were paddling around in the shallows when we read them as children, but when we grow up, there is more depth to plumb. I believe children's books are not written solely for kids but for everyone.

I read Beverly Cleary's "Ramona the Pest" series at the age of eight or nine and found them okay. I related to the main character, Ramona, in some ways, although in others she was different to me. When I came to read them to my own kids, I was surprised by how thoroughly I enjoyed them, how I could relate to Ramona's parents, Mr and Mrs Quimby, and their struggles to bring up three girls on a low income. There was so much wisdom in them which I never realised when I was little. The same goes for Joyce Lankester Brisley's "Milly-Molly-Mandy" stories.

I re-read "Anne of Green Gables" and many more of Lucy Maud Montgomery's books to my daughter a few years ago. They'd been favourites I read over several times during my teens, and the same thing happened. I was surprised by humourous little bits which soared straight over my head at the time. For example, there's the fact that Anne had a school friend named Moody-Spurgeon McPherson. As a child, I had no idea who those two great evangelists were, so I missed the point when adult characters remarked, "That boy has a lot to live up to, with a name like that." I wouldn't have missed reading those books again for anything.

Just a few months ago, I re-read an Australian kids' book named "Captain Midnite" to my youngest son. It's about a naive teenaged bushranger. I found so much more to laugh at this second time round. Kids are funny, serious people who take so much comedy on face value. At least, that's what I discovered about myself when I read that book. It's such a lot of fun to re-visit old books with the added benefit of a more adult sense of humour.

Anyone who re-reads A. A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh" stories is bound to get all sorts of significance and help he didn't before. The personality traits of each of the characters in the 100-Acre-Woods become more recognisable to us as people we know, including Pooh and his wise ways, even though he admits himself to be a 'Bear of Little Brain.'

Which children's books have you enjoyed just as much the second, third or fourth time around?

Paula Vince is the award-winning author of several novels set in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, where she lives. She enjoys sprinkling her stories with romance, mystery and suspense.  


  1. Yes, yes, yes! I love reading children's books. I often find myself laughing out loud when I read them now.

    Among my favourites are Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Heidi, the Little Women series and The Narnia books.

    I love the Emily of New Moon books by LM Montgomery, they are beautiful.

  2. Thanks for the quote from C S Lewis, Paula. I gave a paraphase of that the other day to someone who asked what makes a book YA or adult and I broadened it to include children's books.

  3. Absolutely. The same happens with TV programs I watched as a kid. Episodes of Batman and Get Smart have so much humour in them that I missed as a child. I never thought of Batman as funny at all until I saw an episode again as an adult. And our kids will have missed all the adult humour in our current family movies - like Ice Age.

  4. Thanks, ladies.
    Ruth Ann, like you, I enjoyed the "Emily" books as much as the "Anne" ones. Dale, I completely agree. And Amanda, some of those TV programs and animated movies are hilarious, not to mention sad. I often shed a tear or two, which is a great source of mirth to the kids.

  5. "Muggins Mouse" was a favourite golden book of mine when I was a kid. When I looked at it again as an adult, I discovered it was in rhyme. Totally missed that on the 100 or so readings as a kid - maybe I can blame my Mum for the way she read it to me (sorry Mum) :) Loved Secret Seven and would turn up to school with treasure maps I'd drawn and announce to the other kids that we were going to have an adventure. Strangely, our adventures round the school playground never turned out as exciting. Re-read one of those as an adult, and it didn't translate quite so well - a bit too much "jolly hockey sticks" and "oh rather", but the stories were fun. I'd say "Anne of Green Gables" except that I didn't read it til I was 25! I also think a lot of the animated movies these days have so many layers of meaning in them that kids would miss - Chicken Run's a classic. Thanks Paula - you've given me an excuse to justify spending the afternoon looking at children's books.

  6. Hi Nola,
    Good fun, isn't it. I've revisited Enid Blyton too, with all the ginger beer and currant buns. She was a prolific author, that's for sure. I have a big box of Enid Blyton books which I hope may be worth a bit of money some day :)

  7. Our daughter learned to read on Enid Blyton, but I'm not sure how well they stand up to adult reading. OUr son-in-law is reading Narnia to his six-year-old daughter right now and I'm afraid I feel rather jealous to be shut out of the experience of her discovery. Pooh is the one I was thinking of all the way through your article. Totally wasted on kids.

  8. Hi LeAnne,
    I completely agree about Pooh. All beauties, that you mentioned :)

  9. Oh yes. I have boxes in the basement just waiting to be read by my son. Katie John, Pippi Longstocking, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Mary Poppins! Oh such treasures to hold to your heart!

  10. I love children's books too. There are so many great ones. I've written a couple but wasn't sure how to market them--so far they haven't sold many copies, partly for lack of exposure. Isn't that a tough part of being a writer. By the way, if you or your acquaintances need a manuscript editor, I have been doing that for a number of years too. http://www.editingfactory.org