Why you should read children's literature as an adult: Revisiting some of the old favorites

Today I finished rereading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and I gotta say, not disappointed. I found it in a huge box of my childhood books in my parents’ garage, along with the Anne of Green Gables series; some Little House on the Prairie; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Let the Circle Be Unbroken; and very many others. I’d forgotten how good those books are, and how remarkably un-childish (the huge collection of Goosebumps notwithstanding, which I admit will be seeing some use this summer per Ethan’s request.)

Noah laughs at me when I talk about a VHS from 100 years ago called Rigoletto, in which the movie’s namesake tells a distraught young boy with a terrible father to “change the way you feel.” To be fair, I do bring this up fairly often (Noah: I want to play video games, Me: Change the way you feel), but it goes to show how much media of all types influence a child’s development. No joke, I’m fairly certain The Secret Garden planted the seed for my current love of gardening (#pun #truth)

In a lot of the books I’ve been rereading lately, I’ve found these kernels of wisdom and passages that just slap me in the face, and I realize these things I read in childhood have become part of who I am “in a way no other reading does” (as said Kathleen Kelley in *You’ve Got Mail*. 90s zeitgeist, FTW! Multi-decade-lingo-mashup, FTW!)

Favorite Passages

From To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch speaking to his children:

As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life … Don’t fool yourselves—it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. 

Yeah, I'd say the Millennials are still paying for the epic-horrible slavery/segregation/Civil Rights infringement dine-and-dash. Including the black Americans who are unfortunately still in the kitchen washing the dishes, so to speak.

From The Secret Garden, a young boy learning to live beyond his circumstances: 

When new beautiful thoughts began to push our the old hideous ones, life began to come back to him, his blood ran healthily through his veins and strength poured into him like a flood. … Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

What really gets me about these “children’s books” is how easy it is to remember beauty and friendship when I read them. Even To Kill a Mockingbird reminds us that we can and should rise above the prevailing culture issues and connect with our fellow humans.

One of the few adult characters in The Secret Garden put words (albeit Yorkshire ones) to the wonders adults can experience when we pause to watch children, and think like them:

Th’ same thing as set th’ seeds swellin’ an’ th’ sun shinin’ made thee a well lad an’ it’s th’ Good Thing. … Th’ Big Good Thing…goes on makin’ worlds by th’ million—worlds like us. Never thee stop believin’ in th’ Big Good Thing an’ knowin’ th’ world’s full of it—an’ call it what tha’ likes. Tha’ wert singin’ to it when I come into th’ garden. … Th’ Magic listened when tha’ sung th’ Doxology. It would ha’ listened to anything tha’d sung. It was th’ joy that mattered.