Thursday, July 7, 2016

More Pleasures of Re-Reading: Children's Books

Five children sitting in the park reading a 'Bobby Bear's' annual, c 1930s.. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 25 Jun 2016.
A voracious reader is a non-stop consumer of worlds. But one's interpretation of these worlds morphs and shifts depending on the personal experiences one brings into the reading. We identify with a character's pain because we've felt pain, and so on. The beauty of rereading lies in the idea that our engagement with the work is based on our current mental, emotional, and even spiritual register... The best books are the ones that open further as time passes. But remember, it's not because they changed. Every letter and punctuation mark is exactly where it always has been, and where it will remain forever. It's you who are different; it's you who's been affected by the depth of your experience.
~Juan Vidal, "You Can Go Home Again: The Transformative Joy of Rereading"

I saw a "bookfession" meme on one of the bookish websites I frequent which read "I try to save all my books because when I look at them, it's like I'm a time traveler and by reading them I can return to different years of my life". Ilana Masad, in her article "Re-Reading Books From Childhood Through Adult Eyes," says:

...we do often have books that made an impression on us as children, the books that brought us to where we are now as readers, books that created a place inside of us that was hungry for more words and stories. Some of these childhood books don’t withstand the test of time—they may feel too young when rereading them now, or maybe our outlook on life has changed and so we can’t see the books from the place of innocent childhood anymore. The others, though, the books that have stayed with us, are ones that we can read and reread again and again to this day, or at least still appreciate everything that was good about them as children while also seeing the value of them as adults.

Can you "go home again" to the books of your childhood? I have been on a nostalgia kick lately, and have reached deep into childhood memories to rediscover books like Spurs for Suzanna and Ginnie's Babysitting Business, both of which I ended up acquiring online to reread and passing along in quick succession, but those were just flash-in-the-pan nostalgic impulses; I actually still own many of my favorite childhood reads, including the Moomins, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Westing Game, Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You Book, Tintin, The Borrowers, Ellen Tebbits, Seven Little Postmen, and Miss Bianca. But, how often am I likely to reread them?

For some if my favorite children's books, I think I subconsciously worry that rereading them might make them lose their magic, the feeling they gave me when I first read them, When I look at just the spines of some of those books, I am taken back to a time, a place, an emotion, a sense-memory if you will. What if I don't enjoy them as much? I reread the whole Betsy-Tacy series and was a little put-off by some of the commentary that had a more religious and/or political bent in Betsy and the Great World; however, I followed that up by reading the entire Ramona series (having only read the first few books in the series as a child), and was surprised and delighted by the full story of Ms. Quimby's adventures. Maybe I could find a new appreciation for books I skipped? I read the first three Anne of Green Gables books over and over again as a pre-teen, caught up in Anne's quirkiness, bosom friends, and finally her romance with Gilbert Blythe, but I could never stomach anything that came after; perhaps now that I'm older, I would be ready to read about my favorite heroine's mature vicissitudes - although, apparently, L. M. Montgomery was not a huge fan of the sequels, either. I am, however, not inclined to take up any of the Little House on the Prairie sequels or prequels that have proliferated, "adaptations" or those written by Roger Lea MacBride, the "adopted grandson" of Wilder's daughter Rose Wilder Lane.

Sometimes I just can't reread even my favorite books - as one writer put it for Flavorwire, some are "too clearly written for children, too simple. [They] no longer [have] the power [they] once had to pull me into [their] world." Still, sometimes even the favorite books I can't bring myself to reread I still keep around - they have a talismanic quality, and I can see in them some of the building blocks of the person I have become, the personal qualities, beliefs, and vocabulary I have absorbed from their pages. Often, instead of reading or rereading children's books, I want to know the story behind their authors, how the book was created - this can be disastrous, as in the aforementioned case of L. M. Montgomery, but it can also be illuminating and gratifying to have a backstory, a context.

I know adult readers of Young Adult fiction are legion, but how many adults out there are rereading children's books, or rediscovering them as they read them to children and grandchildren? How many of you are surprised by messages you didn't remember from your favorite childhood reads (or didn't get at the time)? Would you read children's books on your own, as a comfort read - other than the ubiquitous Harry Potter series? Which books do you wax nostalgic and return to? For those of you who want to reminisce or are looking for reading suggestions, we have a booklist for you:

See also our earlier posts,"Behind the Scenes of Children's Literature" and "The Pleasures of Re-reading and the Bibliomemoir." If you are looking mainly for reading recommendations, try a subject search of "Children's Literature - Bibliography".


Why Do We Re-Read Our Favorite Books as Kids, and Why Do We Stop When We Get Older? [Flavorwire]

50 Children's Books You Should Definitely Re-Read as an Adult [Good Housekeeping]

Children's Books Are Never Just For Children [The Guardian]

Children's Books I'll Re-Read No Matter How Old I Am [Goodreads]

23 Children's Books You Need to Read Again as an Adult [Business Insider]

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