If you’ve not already noticed, children’s classics have become my favourite type of literature. From the girl who grew up reading whenever I could, to falling in love with the classics through reading Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen, to studying English Literature and the development and art of those words at university- I’ve come full circle to believe that those childhood books are some of the best.
Why are they so good, though? Einstein said that ‘the creative adult is the child that survived’, and I do believe that those books, lasting, beautiful, wonderful books that enrich childhood remind us of that state of innocence, of hope and optimism and boundless imagination. Coming back to these books as an adult and realising that they are still as wonderful and thought provoking and immersive when you are grown up as when you read them as a child. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland makes a mockery of the fact that at the time children’s books and education was to have a moral undercurrent, and his nonsense land celebrates the fact that nothing seems to make any sense, or fit into Alice’s learning and previously prescribed worldview. He delights in entertaining and confusing the reader, perhaps with no moral value. I believe that the best of our children’s classics weave so well the sense of adventure, immersion in the story and yet manage to teach us something, albeit inadvertently, of the value of friendship, the joy of exploration, the way to overcome challenges. Of the knowledge and understanding of what is good and what is evil, and how we can be discerning, learning through our fictional friends and fiends.
Not all books get the special dispensation of making it from the children’s books to the children’s classics section. They have to stand the test of time, to show something special and magical and different, perhaps. So often these books have messages, characters, imaginary worlds which apply regardless of which era, or century they are read in. Their core spans between worlds, between existences of childhood which some would rightly argue have in a lot of ways been transformed with the technological changes. Their appeal remains, their interest and popularity endure, despite the changes that our world has seen – classic children’s stories like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, first published in 1865, Little Women from 1865 and Treasure Island which was published in 1883.
And our own personal children’s classics might not be ones that have stood the test of hunderds of years, but are in their own right a personal classic for us. They have stood the test of time in our own lifetime, still holding appeal and magic for us even as we think about or read them as adults.
These books matter. These books grew us, moulded our imaginations, challenged our perceptions of the world and allowed us to enter different places, times, lives. Pushing through the back of the wardrobe, discovering a hidden door behind the ivy, sailing the lake with friends. Whilst we were living our own extraordinary lives of ordinary childhood we also had these friends, adventures running alongside our own and fuelling our play. Teaching us to push the limits and in the power of friendship and the magic, the pure magic of reading a great book.
These children’s classics remind us of our inner child, excite the wonder and imagination which resonates through childhood and remind us of the innate magic of those representations of adventure, battles of good and evil, different realms, wonderlands and the simple joys and trials of family life. They continue to connect with young readers, allowing them to see the beauty that the written world holds, showing them lives different from their own, and holding so many hidden nuggets that we can discover when we have the eyes to see them.
Great children’s literature has the power to relate to and connect with people regardless of their age- from young to old. As the wonderful C S Lewis of the Narnian series said- ‘a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story at all’. All of us have that child inside of us, should hopefully be able to connect with and remember the delight and freedom of running through childhood. The stories that followed us, walked with us and that we escaped to during that time serve as wonderful reminders of that- and the ones we didn’t read then, which we read for the first time as an adult, still provide us with a wonderful literary delight. They are the ones we long to share with the little ones in our own lives, the ones we choose to read aloud and explain the plots of, the ones we hope they glimpse the wonder of. Timeless, enduring and full of the wonder of childhood, these books are the ones which can bring us back to the literary homes of our childhood in just a few words.