A recent article in The Guardian by SF Said, "Children's books are never just for children" (16 February 2015), lamented the lack of recognition of, and rewards for, children's literature, but that wasn't what struck me most about the article. Katherine Woodfine's words caught my attention:
“Children’s books can have a hugely powerful effect on their readers, helping to shape and inform their view of the world, in a way that adult books rarely achieve. They’re the first literature we engage with, and what’s more, they’re often the first art works we ever encounter.”
Very true, don’t you think? In my case, the books I loved as a child and re-read many times revolved around outdoor adventures (think Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons) and animal protagonists. I am rushing headlong into middle age now, with two children of my own, but still have copies of my old friends keeping me company:
Not only that, I find I’m adding the favourites of my kids to my collection, including their first animal-centric picture books:
Take ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. Apart from the lavish and charming illustrations and the tender, heart lifting story, in every scene there are four tiny insects - a blue weevil, a green grasshopper, and two beetles (one red, one yellow) - observing the antics of Gerald the giraffe. The kids and I must have read the book a dozen times before one of us noticed the little beasties tucked away in corners for readers to find. The surprise of it felt like a huge treat, maybe more so for me than for my children; I remember thinking “That’s clever! A book that keeps on giving....” Finding those bright insects in each scene became a game every time we read it.
The kids have grown out of that story for the time being, but I like to think that 25 years from now, they will happen upon it on my bookshelf and will greet it like an old friend, perhaps read it to my grand children, remembering their own childhood as they do so.
I re-read E.B. White’s ‘The Trumpet of the Swan’ a few months ago and was delighted all over again by the ‘perfect lightness and grace in the words’ (I can’t better Philip Pullman’s sentiment). This leads me to ask you: which children’s books have you re-read as an adult and what do they mean to you?