Reading children’s literature as an adult.

This blogpost was inspired by Classics remarks, a meme posted weekly on Pages Unbound review. Last week they posted the meme: What is a classic you loved when you were younger, but feel differently about now? And this week’s meme is What is a classic you loved when you were younger, and you still love now? This post is a response to both memes.

Each year in Norway the national station NRK has an advent calendar series for children. This is a series with 24 episodes that count down to Christmas eve, which is the day we celebrate Christmas in Norway (for those that celebrate Christmas). They usually make a new one every other year to keep things fresh, and sometimes you get one of the “classics”. When I say classics I mean series produced in the 60s. One of the most known series was Jul i skomakergata which first came out in 1979, and I remember seeing it when I was a child and loving. Then when I was in my late teens NRK chose Jul I Skomakergata as that year’s advent calendar. I remembered the series fondly from my youth, and I was looking forward to feeling nostalgic. It was a train wreck. I managed to view two episodes. I was so disappointed because now in stead of being swept away by the magic I saw all the production cracks. This made me very weary about seeing or reading books I loved as a child, because I did not want to ruin my experiences by pointing out to myself that I’m no longer a child with the strengths and weaknesses that entails.

Then I started my studies as a kindergarten teacher, and suddenly children’s literature became a tool to do my job. I had to write essays comparing the Norwegian literary tradition represented by Anne Cath Vestly whom wrote about the romanticized childhood in contrast to the Swedish literary tradition represented by Astrid Lindgren about the realistic childhood. My personal relationship with the works of Anne Cath Vestly or Astrid Lindgren did not matter, nor did my personal taste. My job was to approach books based on their place in the kindergarten; the children’s reading enjoyment was just one among several jobs literature has in kindergarten.

I’m writing all of this because I’m wondering why it was so difficult for me to answer Pages Unbound’s memes. Even one of my favourite books, Matilda by Roald Dahl, is still in this weird position of being more than my own experience, yet fiercely protected by my now cynical nature.

Why did/do I love Matilda? I think I loved Matilda because it was the first book I read where I saw someone who loved reading as much as I did. I felt a special identification with the character. Today I don’t need the same identification. On the contrary, the “well read” girl character is on the verge of becoming such a trope that I’m sceptical to female characters described as “well read”. I felt different growing up because my peers didn’t read. Considering so many books trying to tap into the girls that feel different because they read demographic, we clearly aren’t sparkling unicorns. Why do I love Matilda? It is a children’s book that encourage girls to be active. It is a book that talks about just because you are special doesn’t mean you’re the only one who can do something to change the world around you. Why I loved it and why I love it are mutual exclusive. I loved it because it made me feel special, and I love it because it points to how I’m not special. I don’t know if Matilda is old enough to be called a classic. I usually would say Matilda is too new to be called a classic, but as I have said, I have a really strange relationship with classics I read as a child and therefore Matilda was the best I could do.

This blogpost feels a bit like a therapy lesson (which means it were two great memes, thank you Briana and Krysta). Have you answered these memes? I know a lot of book bloggers work with literature in one way or the other, has that changed how you read the books you loved as a child? Leave your comments down below.

11 thoughts on “Reading children’s literature as an adult.

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  1. That’s an excellent point that writing critically can change our perceptions of a literary work, as can selecting books for a different age group or audience. I know there are books I don’t enjoy, though I can see intellectually why people think they are good. And I know there are books I don’t enjoy that children seem to find amazing and hilarious and magical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But, then again there a lot of books that I really don’t enjoy, yet other people find amazing, hilarious and magical. I don’t like it when people don’t put in effort when creating stuff for children because they think children will read/watch/listen to anything. Children will not enjoy anything just because it’s colourful and bouncy. At the same time, children have their individual tastes just like grown-ups.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post! I feel the same way — I’m always a little anxious about revisiting a book I loved as a child. When it comes to the Classics, I realize now I read a ton of abridged versions as a child so while I loved the stories I worry the writing style won’t hold up when I read the originals. Does that make sense?

    I didn’t participate last week, but this week I did! Charlotte’s Web is the book that withstood the test of time the best for me. http://deathbytsundoku.com/classic-remarks-a-classic-i-have-always-loved/

    I never would have re-read it as an adult if I wasn’t working on trying to read all the Newbery Award Winning novels before 2022. I’m so glad I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree about the abridge children’s versions of books and then fearing the unabridged version won’t hold up. I’m not just worried about the writing style, but also about abridged/unabridged element. When you cut out scenes that can change the book, even if you don’t think they were that relevant to the plot, and what happens then to story, it’s essence and message?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. But I should hope that the unabridged versions would be more meaningful in this sense. I’m worried that Aremis will be more of an asshole than he was depicted in my children’s version of The Three Musketeers and if I’ll still like him. Will my love for these characters fall apart when I learn more about them? Will the story seem long and overdrawn?

        Good point about the message. But, I wonder what message 10-year-old me really got from those abridged classics… Perhaps it really is time to re-read them! XD

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Matilda is a great book! But I agree with you – as an adult I don’t like it when being well-read is the only defining trait of a character (I guess Matilda was so much more than well-read, which is why I still enjoy her?)

    Thanks for sharing your experience and how that affects the books you read. I never had to critically think about the books I read as a kid, so I still love them (most of them?) very much!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post! Have you read C.S. Lewis’ essay, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”? It might interest you.

    I just read The Wind and the Willows and was relieved that I like it just as much as when I was a child but perhaps in a different way. I do love reading children’s classics. I think the modern children’s books are now not always a creative exercise but an exercise in the pursuit of money. There is something false that can resonate in them, but not all. There are some good modern books as well.

    Thanks for this post that has encouraged all of us to think about this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your reply. I haven’t read Lewis’s essay, but it sounds like something I want and should read. I’m so happy that you enjoyed The Wind in the Willows. I remember the book from when I was a child, but haven’t really re-read it as an adult. I think you are right that a lot of people think that writing children’s literature is easy, and therefore think it’s an easy way to make money. At the same time a lot of good modern children’s writers are struggeling because parents tend to buy the book they read as a child. It’s a bit of a lose-lose.

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