"Just a children's book"

When I tell people that I write children’s books, the response is often “how nice”. Nice like home-made muffins or craft glitter. Or depending on how literary the other person is, there may be an awkward moment of silence, into which a number of unspoken things fall, such as: not a serious writer then.


This is not the response of all people of course, but enough for it to take on the features of a pattern.


Children’s literature is important in the realm of childhood and those adults charged with raising children: teachers, parents, librarians, but outside of this realm, not so much. Children’s books are more often than not, the add-ons to literary festivals and few literature departments at universities study them. 


Because they are “just children’s books” after all, lacking the gravitas of “real” literature.


Recently, Katherine Rundell’s delightful little book Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, came into my hands. It restored my sense of the importance of children’s literature – not just for children, but for adults too. 


Rundell weaves together a poignant argument for why children’s literature matters for adults, for why it isn’t “just” a stepping stone to real literature. Through personal anecdotes, the exploration of some classic tales and historical references, she shows very poignantly why the magic of children’s literature is a timeless treasure trove. One we are allowed to and should dip into in adulthood as well.


She points out that children’s books are specifically written for a section of society that is powerless – without money, without control and who must navigate the world in the knowledge of this vulnerability. Even as adults there will be times in our lives where we must unfortunately meet this old vulnerability and powerlessness again. Rundell encourages us in these moments to return to the safety net of children’s books, because they offer us hope.


“Children’s novels, to me, spoke, and still speak, of hope. They say: look, this is what bravery looks like. This is what generosity looks like. They tell me, through the medium of wizards and lions and talking spiders, that this world we live in is a world of people who tell jokes and work and endure. Children’s books say: the world is huge. They say: hope counts for something. They say: bravery will matters, wit will matter, empathy will matter, love will matter. These things may or may not be true. I do not know. I hope they are. I think it is urgently necessary to hear them and to speak them.”

Do you write children’s books? What are your thoughts on the idea that they are “just” children’s stories?

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