Books · childrensbooks · Discussions · literature · reading

Should children’s books be just for children?

C.S Lewis said that ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’ Do you agree? Because I don’t think I do.

I loved C.S Lewis’ Narnia when I was a child, adventure, rule breaking and talking animals…what’s not to love! However, having studied it as an adult I’ve come to realise how didactic the chronicles are, and in particular how The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reads like a christian allegory (Although I did notice the similarities between Aslan and Jesus when I was a kid!). The book doesn’t seem to be just to entertain children. Of course there is an argument to be made that all children’s books are inevitably didactic as they are written by adults. Even Alice in Wonderland, arguably the first children’s book purely for entertainment, teaches Alice a lesson…of sorts.

So, in order to hide such instruction, a children’s book has to be enjoyable. But why should it also be enjoyable for an adult? Having only noticed the lessons put forth in The Narnia Chronicles by re-reading them when I was older, I can’t help but feel saddened that there was so much in the novel that inevitably went over my head as a child. Surely, if a book is to be enjoyable for an adult then its content must speak to them in some way, so how much of that is going over a child’s head? Or is it unfair to assume that it does?

Obviously, some books are just wide reaching, sometimes by accident. I don’t believe that J.K Rowling set out to write Harry Potter as a cross over novel. However, in some cases I think too much thought has been put in to the adult who might be reading it rather than focusing on the child.

As a child, I admired Philip Pullman, I fell in love with Lyra and the His Dark Materials series. But as I have gotten older I have found myself frustrated with it. I was perfectly capable of reading and understanding it, and the point I’m trying to make is not that children can’t understand it, but why should they have to? I think all children should be encouraged to read, but of course all children read at different level’s. His Dark Materials, despite being a fantasy adventure, deals with complex and dark themes in quite a sophisticated way for a children’s book…and I’m not saying it shouldn’t. However I sometimes get the feeling that the book was written for adults but disguised as a children’s fantasy. How many child readers have been sacrificed to reach one adult?

Of course, a lot of this seems to be based on the assumption that some books and themes do go over children’s heads and obviously I would never assume this. But I do know that when I write, I typically avoid children’s books. I think they’re probably some of the hardest books to write and I can only congratulate the authors that manage it. Writing as an adult, I think there is always a danger of talking down to them. I’ve always been pretty convinced that the best people to write for children, are children themselves!

What concerns me is that C.S Lewis’s quote seems to want to take the genre away from children. No one says that an adult’s story should be enjoyed by children as well, so why would you do it with children’s books? Why can’t children keep books for themselves? Maybe an adult wouldn’t enjoy a book about boogies however I know at least a few kids who would enjoy that immensely!

What do you think? Do you agree with C.S Lewis? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here are some other discussions you might enjoy…

Retellings, yay or nay?

Whatโ€™s with all the love stories in YA?

The Female Protagonist in YA

Young Adult Books: Where to draw the line?

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10 thoughts on “Should children’s books be just for children?

  1. A very interesting idea. I think it’s inevitable that, as adults write these stories, and often it is an adult who reads them to their child, that there will tend to be elements of the story aimed at adults. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We all change as we grow older. Even as an adult I have re-read books and been surprised at things which I never noticed or properly understood the first time around. I think it’s also important not to dismiss children’s books as unimportant. I attended an interesting event on this sort of topic recently – see here for more details: http://createdtoread.com/do-we-take-childrens-literature-seriously/

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    1. Thanks for the link, very interesting read! I completely agree that it shouldn’t be dismissed, the books I read as a child influenced and shaped who I am today. I feel very unsure and I do agree to a certain extent but I worry that we take something away from the child if we write too consciously, especially with the money to be made in crossover books. As a child I guess I wanted the books I read to be just for me!

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  2. I think I agree with C.S Lewis (I also enjoyed the Narnia series)! I love re-reading children’s book as an adult reader and uncovering messages that you didn’t know where there as a youngster because you were purely enjoying the surface story. I think that generally, a good book is a good book when both children and adults can learn something from it – the child might learn a basic moral or develop a love of reading, while the adult might learn more about deeper themes of love, spirituality, or something else entirely. ๐Ÿ™‚
    https://readandreview2016.wordpress.com/

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    1. Im some ways I do agree! And I love rereading children’s books especially with my nephew, I love seeing him enjoy them. I think my enjoyment comes a lot from nostalgia. And although I do see things I missed as a child they feel almost unconscious, themes that I could only be aware of as an adult. However I guess my disagreement comes with intentionally writing themes that children don’t understand.

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      1. I understand where you’re coming from, but sometimes the writers don’t intentionally add those themes, but we draw them out ourselves through our own interpretations. I’ve found that when I’ve done creative writing before; people praise me on its themes or ideas that I wasn’t even intending to portray, but had included subconsciously!

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      2. Yes that’s very true! I’ve always struggled writing children’s stories because you always seem to be unconsciously walking a fine line. I guess it’s those writers who seem to intentionally write complex themes that may discourage some children from reading them. In particular His Dark Materials although it is still one of my favourite trilogies! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I also think that you need to bear in mind that not all children will have the same level of understanding. Two 8yr olds may read the same book but get very different things from it, depending on their level of maturity, experiences of home life and prior knowledge. Just as two adults reading the same book will appreciate different aspects of it.

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