Not all my childhood passions made it with me to adulthood. I may have given up up roller skating as a teenager and grown out of those pink-sequinned leggings, but I’ve never lost my love of reading. When I was younger, I’d push back bedtime by sneaking a flashlight under the duvet and reading well into the night. Nowadays, I’m a little less secretive, but I still make time to read every day.
This year, I decided to treat myself to rereading “Harry Potter.” But as I read on helplessly as Cedric Diggory lost his life in the Triwizard Tournament and some of Harry’s closest friends turned against him, I realized that I had as much to learn from children’s stories as from any adult novel I’ve read. These books were teaching me to appreciate what I had now as an adult, from the family and friends who surround me to the belief that good will always win in the end.
We read children’s books to feel warm and fuzzy and learn a moral lesson along the way. But returning to our old favorites with new life experiences sheds a whole new light on the wisdom of classics like “Winnie the Pooh.” Here are five kids books that you’ll appreciate even more now that you’re (technically) an adult:
“The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien
“While there’s life, there’s hope!” – Bilbo Baggins, rallying the dwarves to escape Smaug the dragon
Reading “The Hobbit” as a child, the stuff of war, evil, and uncertainty that filled its pages were mere fantasy. Fast-forward to the present day. The threat of terror seems to prey on many in the world, and the fear of nuclear war bubbles under the surface of daily life. Suddenly, the danger of something changing the world as we know it that once loomed over Bilbo and his companions seems disconcertingly real.
In a world where fear seems to paralyze our thoughts of the future, remembering Tolkien’s simple message of hope can provide comfort. Through Bilbo, Tolkien shows us that the smallest people can make a difference, and that strength doesn’t have to be found in numbers but in the courage to keep hoping for a better future in the face of a challenging present.
“Winnie the Pooh” by A. A. Milne
“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh.
As a child, the hardest goodbye I ever had to say was when my grandparents left after a visit. A. A. Milne was there for me then, and taught me that however painful a goodbye might be, whether it be a break up or family loss, I have the strength in me to carry on.
In his tale of unlikely friendships, A. A. Milne shows that everyone has a place in society and proves that kindness, far more than confidence or intelligence, is the most important quality we can share with others. We may feel anxious like Piglet, miserable like Eeyore, or lacking in our abilities like Pooh, but our friends are there to reassure us and remind us that we are braver, stronger, and smarter than we believe.
“Girls Under Pressure” by Jacqueline Wilson
“I’m going on a diet. I’m going on a diet right this minute.” – Ellie, after a stranger in a shopping center calls her “fat”.
My teenage self had Jacqueline Wilson’s writing to thank for talking me through the trials of first crushes, family unrest, and friendship fallouts. As a 20-something, though, this book on body image still rings true.
In a society that seems saturated with images of the “perfect body” in advertisements, films, and the media, it can be hard to separate your self-worth from your appearance.
Watching Ellie berate herself for not being as thin as her best friends is a reminder not to obsess over the way we look. After all, how many of us conform to what the media projects as the “perfect” body?
By reliving Ellie’s struggle, I was reminded that, no matter what pressure we may feel from friends or the media, how we look on the outside really doesn’t matter as much as who we are on the inside, and it certainly isn’t worth risking your health in order to conform.
“Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
– Dr Seuss
Dr. Seuss is famed for his silly rhymes and fantastical characters, so I was surprised to discover how relevant “Oh the Places You’ll Go” felt as an adult.
This book explores our excitement for the future, fear of the unknown, and how to deal with failure – things every 20-something can relate to. Read it when you need motivation to get out of a work slump, feel overwhelmed at work, or need help getting up again after things haven’t gone your way.
Dr. Seuss’ rhymes are encouraging because they remind us that everyone has to deal with difficulties sometimes, even the characters in children’s books.
The Harry Potter Series — by J.K. Rowling
“It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Dumbledore to a worried Harry in “The Chamber of Secrets,” who is comparing his talents to those of Lord Voldemort.
As a child, Harry Potter taught me to be kind and have courage in the face of adversity. As an adult, the lessons J. K. Rowling teaches are endless: She shares the struggle of living in poverty through the Weasleys, while demonstrating through the Malfoys that wealth really doesn’t buy everything.
Rowling teaches empathy in each of the seven texts. As an adult, this has helped me reason that unkindness is more often a display of unhappiness than it is a desire to hurt someone else. Rowling also argues that no one is truly wicked or purely good: We all have both inside us, but as Dumbledore says, what matters most is how we choose to act on our emotions. Oh, and I still found the books pretty funny the second time round.
Revisiting the books that shaped our childhood has its own reward, but approaching them with the knowledge and life experience gained since can shed a whole new light on what we once thought of as simple stories. Try reopening a book you used to love and see what you discover.
Originally published September 15, 2017.