A recent article in The Guardian suggested five children’s books every adult should read. Katherine Rundell, author of the article, the newly released Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise (Bloomsbury), as well as numerous children’s fiction books, says that she writes for two audiences—herself now and herself at age 12 years—putting into a limited number of words what she most wants “children to know and adults to remember.” Rundell suggests adults should read children’s books from time to time for intrusions of “sustaining truths,” which often can only come to us through imagination.
One of the sustaining truths that adults need to remember, according to Rundell, is hope.
“Children’s books say: the worlds is huge. They say: hope counts for something, bravery will matter, wit, empathy, love will matter.”
Rundell writes that to see hope as well as other truths on the page, we need imagination:
“When you read a children’s book, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra. But imagination is not and never has been optional: it’s at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspective of others, the condition precedent of love itself. For that we need books that are specifically written to give the heart and mind a galvanic kick—children’s books. Children’s fiction necessitates distillation; at its best, it renders in their purest, most archetypal forms hope, hunger, joy, fear.”
The five children’s books identified by Rundell in the article, which she recommends that adults read, are The Paddington books by Michael Bond, His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson, and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.
We still have many of the children’s books from when our sons were young, a handful of which have been brought up from the basement bookshelves so as to be handy to read them to our new grandson. Here now in front of me is Harriet and the Garden, written by Nancy Carlson. I’m flipping through the pages and indeed hope is there: Harriet has run into Mrs. Hoozit’s garden, trampling her lilies, rose bushes, and prize dahlia, while trying to catch a fly ball in a neighborhood ball game. She feels so badly, so guilty, that she runs home and tries to pretend it didn’t happen or that it didn’t matter even though she can’t eat, can’t enjoy her favorite television show, can’t sleep without having bad dreams. The next day she goes to Mrs. Hoozit and tells her what she did. Mrs. Hoozit brings her out to the garden, and they work together to fix what is broken. A picture* shows them side by side, mending plants. Indeed this is a book filled with hope: that what is broken will be restored. People and relationships as well as plants.