11 children's books that you need to rediscover as an adult
Spot new meaning and eternal life lessons in your kiddie favourites
The first time you read the tale of a hideous monster with bolts in his forehead coming to life in a mad scientist’s lab it frightens you. The next time you pick it up, perhaps between mindlessly swiping on Tinder or when the Wi-Fi goes out, it is the “Monster’s” loneliness and longing for human connection that tugs at your swipe-weary soul. The passage of time changes how you interpret a story — and what you take away from it. A feeling that holds true for most children’s books.
Children’s books have the ability to pique the interest of a bruised and beaten 40-something while also inspiring the limitless imagination of young adults. The stories we read growing up often become intrinsic to our own narratives. As adults, returning to the books we loved time and time again feels like crawling into a reassuring security blanket — they somehow tell us exactly what we need to hear.
Here are just some of our favourite children’s books that truly transcend age barriers with their narratives and beautiful storytelling.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
A tale of a young woman who follows a talking rabbit down a rabbit hole, into a realm filled with surreal sights and sounds. Whether the hookah-smoking caterpillar, or the Cheshire cat with a disappearing grin, each character is as intriguing as the next. As a kid, you’re entranced by this outlandish world.
As you get older, perhaps you stumble upon the theories about the LSD influences in this most iconic of children’s books. A drug-fuelled joy ride featuring talking animals, disappearing grins and tiny crazy queens. A tale of anxiety and frustration, of entrapment in a path of no exit. Or a whirlwind adventure of a young girl through life, and the kooky creatures one encounters along the way. No matter which way you see it, Carroll’s masterpiece is rife with symbolism and metaphors for those on the lookout.
Charlotte’s Web by EB White
Charlotte’s Web is a classic barnyard tale filled with talking animals to catch the fancy of young readers. We see a friendship develop between the human Fern and pig Wilbur, and between Wilbur and Charlotte the spider. Wilbur lives in fear of death as he suspects he’s being raised for slaughter. Charlotte plays saviour, spinning in her web praises of Wilbur which becomes an attraction for tourists. No way would the farmer do away with the famous pig now!
Charlotte’s love for Wilbur is pure enough to bring you to tears (#spoileralert ) and the life lesson on love and loss is perhaps even more touching as you grow older. Brushes with grief at some point in our lives make the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte all the more lovely and gut-wrenching when it comes to an end.
Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
At the heart of it, Esio Trot is a sweet story about middle-aged love and companionship. Mr. Hoppy is in love with his downstairs neighbour Mrs. Silver but is too shy to approach her. Mrs Silver’s heart belongs to Alfie, her pet tortoise. Promising to help Alfie grow with a “secret spell” Mr Hoppy woos Mrs Silver to a happy ending… sort of.
As an older reader, the problematic nature of Mr Hoppy’s actions – deception and what is basically theft, becomes clear. Her promise to be his ‘slave for life’ if he helps her does make you pause and step back for a moment. However, through a simple narrative and humorous language, the king of children’s books spins a story of love and kindling relationships using protagonists of an age group we don’t really see in pop culture or literature often.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
For young readers, The Little Prince (English translation) is a story of a mysterious, inquisitive traveller — his escapades around the universe and the characters he meets along the way. The narrator’s jabs at adulthood posited through the innocent eyes of the ‘little prince’ are incredibly relatable. What child wouldn’t want to flutter off to another planet on a flock of birds?
The Little Prince is a multi-layered story. As a child you see its magic; adults see in it their realities. Through Saint-Exupery’s words, we learn to look beyond what we’re presented with. That materialism can only give you temporary happiness. The naked eye doesn’t comprehend what we truly need – love, friendship, hope, trust, compassion. “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss
“Sadly it’s true, that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.” Set amidst bright colours and topsy-turvy landscapes, Seuss talks about the overwhelming nature of new experiences, along with the need to keep your chin up and push through — with the reader becoming the protagonist of this story as you set off on a new adventure through the rhymes of Seuss.
A treasure among children’s books that encourages perseverance and pushing through life’s difficult moments, in typical lyrical fashion, you’re encouraged to seize the day. Seuss cheers you along with incredible profundity through indecision and failure, celebrations and joy. The journey you’re on is one of life.
The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein
In The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, we read the story of a lonely little piece searching for a ‘big O’ with whom it fits perfectly and can roll around with. The piece finds a fit but eventually outgrows it. Soon, learning to roll on its own, the wedge transforms into a new shape and meets a rolling partner with whom it doesn’t need to fit, but finds a companionship of equality. It tells a tale of persistence and the struggle to fit in— one that most kids and grown-ups can identify with.
Who knew a kid’s book could you give such valuable relationship advice? It reminds us that even after we find our own ‘missing piece’, a healthy relationship allows us to grow above and beyond that.
The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye
It begins as a typical fairytale — young princess Amy is born in a kingdom far, far away. Fairies visit her for blessings and the fairy godmother Crustacea gives her the gift of ‘ordinariness’. Like her six older sisters, baby Amy had bright, clear skin and golden locks. Crustacea’s ‘gift’ transforms her into a freckled little baby with dark hair who rejects the finery of courtly life, preferring to play in the woods.
Amy’s ‘ordinariness’ is what makes her so incredibly relatable to children reading the story. She even gets her ‘Prince Charming’ in the end, without having to sell out and meet the standards of conventional beauty. Which is worth remembering through our lives when our self-esteem hits those low points.
Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Sometimes becoming ‘real’ hurts. Velveteen Rabbit is the story about a toy rabbit’s desire to become real through the love of his owner, a young boy. Once a beloved toy, then almost forgotten and discarded, the rabbit teaches us about love, openness and vulnerability – emotions that can leave us battered.
It is these experiences that make us human. And opening up to them, regardless of the possible loss of what we love the most, is what makes us authentically “real” at the end.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
An illustrated book about Maurice, a young boy who, for bad behaviour, gets sent to his room to sleep without any dinner. Angry at his predicament, he turns his room into an imaginative thrill-scape of ‘wild things’. He ultimately becomes their king, but unable to rule them as needed, he feels rejected and isolated — returning home to where he’s loved and finds a hot dinner waiting for him.
The emotionally unavailable mother is a character many have connected to. Maurice’s anger at his controlling mother finds its way around when he embodies the very same manner. His actions and strict command when he goes ‘bored’ of his imaginary onset world. Sendak’s tale pegs power dynamics, control and responsibility to go hand in hand in this book that has stood the test of time.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Written by Raquel Jaramillo, under the name RJ Palacio, the book is about a young boy, August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, with a facial abnormality joining a public school after years of homeschooling. Told through alternating perspectives, it talks to children about compassion and empathy and the challenges people face behind closed doors.
Auggie’s own story teaches you about hope and facing adversity. It’s through his eyes that you also get to see the struggles of those around him. Even as an adult, it makes you introspect and think back at your life and the moments of kindness we may have missed out on.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
On the face of it, Rushdie employs magical realism to tell a tale about a father and son. Rashid is a bubbly storyteller who loses his charm when his wife runs away with someone else. Soon to be cut off from the ‘Sea of Stories’ and lose his power of storytelling, Rashid and his son Haroun must embark on a journey to the headquarters with a Water Genie. We get to meet a number of mythical creatures of fantasy along the way. The son comes out as the hero of the story, and the power of stories wins in the fight between darkness and light, so to speak.
A fatwa and assassination order by Ayaytollah Khomeini had been issued after the release of his Satanic Verses, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine this book was a subtle message — one must have the right to speak, while exercising good judgement.