Harry Potter and The Hunger Games brought adult readers of YA books out of the closet, but why should you stop there? There’s a magical world of kids books just begging to be reread (or simply read). The best children’s stories are subtly layered, and when we read them with our adult perspective, we learn to appreciate these works in a completely different way. Or, sometime they’re just plain fun to read. Here are four children’s books to experience again.
By Katherine Paterson
If you don’t cry while reading this book, you may want to see a wizard about obtaining a heart. Published in 1978, Terabithia traces the friendship of bullied fifth grader Jess Aarons, who befriends newcomer and fellow outsider Leslie Burke. The two escape the pains of growing up through an imaginative world they create in the woods. After a tragic accident, Jess learns how to deal with grief and discovers an inner strength that propels him on—all that thanks to his best friend. One of the more controversial children’s books because its themes of death and secularism and use of profanity, it’s interesting to dissect the more mature concepts underlying this magical, imaginative book.
By Louisa May Alcott
Before women discussed being a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha, they were busy finding themselves in Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. (I was definitely an Amy.) The four March sisters, coming of age in Massachusetts during the Civil War, have been embraced by readers since the book’s debut in 1868, and their antics—from Amy burning of Jo’s manuscripts to Jo cutting her hair to get money for the family—are cherished forever in our imaginations. While many of the themes are timeless, it’s interesting to reread this novel for a deeper understanding of the social mores of the time and Jo March’s feminism, and to see the influence of Alcott’s transcendentalist upbringing had on the book. Once you reread it, do yourself a favor and read Geraldine Brook’s March (if you haven’t already), which tells the story of the girl’s father fighting in the Civil War.
By E.L. Konigsburg
I owe a debt of gratitude to my school librarian for recommending this gem to me—I desperately wanted to live this book. Part mystery, part adventure, the story follows siblings Claudia and Jamie, two bored suburban kids, who run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While their escapades in the museum are intriguing enough, a mystery unfolds when a statue thought to be a Michelangelo goes on display, bumping it up to page turn. The book has some pretty cool messages for kids, like encouraging intellectually curiosity, along with a clever female lead character young girls can admire (although hopefully not so much that’ll they want to runaway to the Met).
By Wilson Rawls
Yet another childhood tearjerker—seriously, there are a shocking number of depressing kids books out there—this 1961 classic tells the story of Billy, a child growing up in the Ozarks who saves up enough money to buy and train two coonhounds. The hunting skill of the dogs and their owner help elevate the family out of poverty—until a final tragic hunting trip. While the book beautifully touches on themes of family, love and loss, it also reveals a world unknown by many Americans. The story paints a picture of country life and brings to life the realities of poverty in the Ozarks at the time. When reading, you may want to have a box of tissues nearby.