More Adults Should Read Children’s Books

After giving it some thought, I’ve decided I have more to say regarding the quick link I posted last night. Why? I read a lot of history and my fair share of adult science fiction and fantasy. I also frequently visit the “Current Events” shelf, and I love Catholic writers such as Scott Hahn or the late Fulton J. Sheen. But let’s be honest: I am also an adult who reads children’s books — and I personally think other adults should do the same.

A while back, sci-fi author Brad Torgersen complained in an excellent blog post that science fiction has lost its sense of adventure in its eagerness to be ideologically correct. I would like to expand that insightful lament and state that adult literature in general has gone down that same path.

It’s all a part of a wider trend in the arts. Just as the power to shock and repel is prized in the visual arts, “serious” authors desperately seek to be outr√© and thereby win the praises of our supposed cultural elites. The result of this mad dash for accolades is paradoxical: these authors try so hard to cut a flash, but they end up turning out mere variations on the same dreary theme. I can’t recall off the top of my head who it was who first observed that sin is, in reality, terribly boring and uniform, but I can’t think of a better proof of such a statement than what currently passes for adult literature, in which irredeemable characters stumble their way through their irredeemable universes.

I’m generalizing, of course, but what I’ve found in a lot of adult literature, science fiction or no, are worlds that are not only devoid of adventure but also lacking in hope. This is not true of the children’s books I read. Even a very dark YA outing like The Hunger Games usually manages to end on at least a vaguely positive – though bittersweet – note.

In children’s literature, I have found the realistically flawed though redeemable characters, the sense of wonder, the hope that good will ultimately prevail in its battle against evil — everything that, for the past few decades, has been sadly missing in critically acclaimed adult literature. When I call to mind the works of fiction that have inspired me, children’s titles dominate the list. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wingfeather Saga. The Tripods Trilogy. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. If you are looking for profound explorations of the human condition, you will find them in these works — and you will do so without having to wade through a sea of melancholic dreck.

Of course, it is not true that C.S. Lewis only wrote children’s books. But if Governor Palin or any other politician should one day admit that he or she gets enjoyment out of reading children’s literature, that will only make me want to vote for that polician all the more. To me, an unapologetic love of children’s works signals a glorious lack of self-consciousness and, more importantly, a personal questing after decency and virtue that can only bode well for our republic.

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