Great Books Parents Will Enjoy

When is the last time you've lost yourself in a good book? Especially a children's book? Here, Betsy Gartrell-Judd shares how rereading childhood favorites will help you recapture the joy and get even more out of them!
Betsy Bailey


A couple of years ago I was running dry on available reading material and in a mood far too unmotivated to make a library run. Desperate for a good read, I upended boxes of old books in my storage closet, looking for the Perfect Something. I wanted a book that would be fun to read and fresh, interesting and escapism-worthy, despite the fact that it would most likely be something I had already read at least once before. Nothing was looking too good.

Ready to get down to reading, I dug into one last box, determined that I would read whatever I pulled out next. My fingers touched cardboard that didn't feel very book-like. I knew immediately what I had found, and I tugged gently to remove it. I guess I had hit the jackpot; finding not just one book to curtail my dry spell but a whole boxed set! I studied the familiar yellow box - now at least 20 years old - containing my beloved Little House on the Prairie collection of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. While I had not read those in years, I still practically knew the books by heart and memories of reading these books curled up in my favorite chair, a bowl of popcorn near at hand came tumbling back. I had read each book dozens of times in the course of my childhood -- as evidenced by their tattered condition (and the popcorn oil stains) -- and just seeing the cracked book spines had me reminiscing of days when I would pretend to be Laura and life just seemed a whole lot simpler.

I kept my promise to myself and got down to reading these relics of my childhood right away. And I found that I loved them as much as ever, perhaps even more, because now I was filtering the events of the stories through the increased awareness of adulthood. I was seeing the story not only through the eyes of Laura, but now also from the perspective of the adults. And with my increased understanding of the historical context (1800s and 1900s) upon which these stories unfolded, different layers of complexity were added to the stories, enriching the reading experience. Rereading these books as an adult was the best of both worlds: reminding me of times when the world seemed much less complicated, while the lives and events in the books themselves became more textured to me than they had ever been before.

Since then, I have reread many of the books that impressed me as a child, and have found myself no less impressed by reading them as an adult, perhaps even more so. My very next flashback into the favorites from my childhood was the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. This set of books is particularly fascinating to read as an adult, especially if you were previously unaware of the Christian metaphors present throughout. A search on the Internet brings up a wealth of adult discussion about these books, from debate about which order the series should be read in, to whether C.S. Lewis was critiquing "modern progressive education" in his work. There are even seminars available!

And I didn't stop there! Since then, I've reread favorites such as the Anne of Green Gables series, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil D Frankweiler, The Diary of Anne Frank, some Beverly Cleary, some Judy Blume, the Betsy-Tacy books and the James Herriot series. It took having children of my own to remind me of the classics I enjoyed as a very young child: Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, among a hundred others. I can't believe how much I had forgotten about! Why was I so eager to leave the world of children's books behind? (Answer: Because I was twelve and the allure of reading Stephen King was beckoning). And there is still so many more books from my childhood I'm looking forwarding to rediscovering anew, both as I share them with my children and during independent forays.

Fresh new world
As I researched this article, I found that I am not alone: Lots of grown-ups are discovering the pleasure of rereading old favorites. I came across a thoughtful piece by 30-something Andrew Rilstone, who recently reread The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. In this essay, he explains the mystique surrounding his enjoyment of this book as a child and why he discovered he still enjoyed it as an adult:

It still seems to work. While I was re-reading the book, it worked its way into the texture of my life: This was the lunch time I read the Minas Tirith chapter; that was the train journey where I got up to Shelob; that was the Saturday afternoon when I went through book three without stopping. We can see why people who read Tolkien often read nothing else; we can see why people who read real books hate Tolkien like a phobia. As a child any characters I happened to be reading about -- Tarzan or Paddington Bear or Spiderman -- became solidly real, part of my mental baggage to carry around for as long as I was reading the book. Tolkien is the only author ever to do this to me as an adult.

Children's author Cynthia Smith loves children's literature and believes more adults should read it. And she doesn't limit her collection of children's-books-adults-should-read-for-pleasure to books written for young adults. Here's a sampling of her favorite children's books that all people should read, regardless of their age. These titles include everything from board and lift-the-flap books, to picture books and, of course, the chapter books.

See how much fun this can be? It's time to put down that newspaper (shut off that computer?) and pick up some Alice in Wonderland. A fresh new world awaits you!

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