Why do Adults read Kids' Books?

I went shopping with a friend and a book-store voucher. We wandered aisles, greeting familiar books like lost friends, reminiscing on tales we had loved, and drinking coffee (of course). I had stopped to admire some boxed sets of children's books earlier (I have a fondness for series), and an assistant directed me to other, excellent children's books. Now my friend directed me to some that she had loved, either as a child or with a child. I picked them up, couldn't resist, and spent my voucher soon afterward.

But why do I, an adult, love kids' books so much? Partly, I think, it's the change of pace. I like the chance to read something quick, bite-sized perhaps, and learn the whole story in one session. I like the fact that children's books, unlike adult short stories, include a complete sense of time, place and plot, beginning middle and end. And I like the directness of children's books--the way the authors aren't afraid to have a message and to tell it. Perhaps it's that sense of a message, preferably told through story rather than education, that makes a kid's book work--a story that's more than just a pleasing interlude (why not play on the computer for pleasing interludes if you're a child), and therefore more worth the extra time a child (or adult) might spend reading.

Anyway, here are a few books written for children, middle-graders and adults, including the three I bought that day at the bookstore. Find some coffee and choose your next read.

First is a picture book, Nosey Charlie comes to town by Yvonne Blackwood. It hides small lessons about the lives of squirrels in a picture-driven tale that wanders, squirrel-like, in many directions. Children who see squirrels in town parks might easily relate, though I would have liked more a stronger storyline. Enjoy this mild story with some mild crisp one-star coffee.

Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani, illustrated by Sheila Fein, is a picture book with a difference - firstly the nicely accented letters give a genuine sense of voice; secondly the pictures have a beautiful originality about them, and thirdly there's a real story, with beginning, middle and end. This lively, easy-reading tale goes well with a two-star easy-drinking coffee.

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner has illustrations but isn't a picture book. An enjoyable chapbook with evocative black and white illustrations, a lovely respect for life, human and animal, and haunting insights into poverty, love and bravery, it's one of those sad but happy child-and-dog tales that always make you cry in just the right way. Enjoy it with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is aimed at slightly older readers. Set near the start of WWII, it tells the story of a young Danish girl and her Jewish friend. As Germans prepare to round up the Jews, the Danish underground ferries refugees to Sweden. Told through the eyes of a child, the story begs adults to recognize more behind the words, guessing what will come. Meanwhile the child will miss her friend and will take a brave journey on her own with a curious secret. An enjoyable short adventure, this is another to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

For readers maybe slightly older again, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell tells a story that grows pleasingly into historical time and place, leading readers to think, notice and learn naturally, just as the protagonist, left alone on an island, learns how to cope. A strong female protagonist might make it a better book for girls than for boys, though the story should work for anyone. For adults and other interested readers, the version I read included a great prologue by Lois Lowry and a nice explanation of the difference between real history and this fictionalized version. Enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

So... five children's books. Which three do you think my friend recommended to me?

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