Enid Blyton taught me how to read. I began reading at the age of five, and it was her Secret Seven series that I started with. Basically, I grew up on the quintessential children’s books – Enid Blytons and Roald Dahls and Ruskin Bonds. As I grew up, however, many of these previously favourite books of mine began to gather dust as they lay untouched on my bookshelves. It was only in 2016, when I was around 21, that I began reacquainting myself with children’s books. And that, I owe to the ingenuity and imagination of Neil Gaiman. For, not only did he remind me of how joyous children’s books could actually be, his passion for the genre was infectious enough to lead me to explore more such books. Children’s books are great, and there is a … sort of feeling to reading them as an adult. After all, as the good Doctor articulated with much brevity, “there is no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes”. So anyway, without much ado, here are ten children’s books for adults.
1. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
It is but natural that I start with Coraline, because not only did it define the “children’s books for adults” genre, it was also the book that got me into these books. Coraline is the culmination of classic Gaiman tropes of sinister worlds and strange characters. The titular Coraline herself is the definition of weird, while also being wise beyond her years. She is adventurous and precocious, both of which traits when combined, lead her into rather sticky situations. A pastiche of Alice in Wonderland, complete with a sassy cat to boot, Coraline incorporates the best elements of the former with Gaiman’s orgasmic and imaginative prose. It is a fairly short read that will bring out the inner child in just about anybody. Oh, and guess what, it’s also available in graphic novel format.
2. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my more recent reads, and made it to my favourites list very quickly. It chronicles the adventures of eleven year-old Milo as he travels around the kingdom of Wisdom, encompassing the smaller kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. He starts at the land of Expectations, and jumps to the island Conclusions, all on a quest to save the princesses Rhyme and Reason, thus restoring peace to the kingdoms. On the way, he learns many valuable lessons that make him both smarter and wiser, while battling evil demons like the Gorgons of Hate and Malice, and Horrible Hopping Hindsight. What makes it enjoyable for an adult, is the book’s marvellous word play. Every sentence is a literary delight, and the book is rampant with puns and alliterations and rhymes, which makes it a very enjoyable read indeed.
3.A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket*
There’s a movie and a TV show of the books, but nothing quite beats the books themselves. I haven’t had the time to read all of them, and I only quite remember the first one vividly (I re-read the first one quite recently), but this book is too smart and witty to not make the list. The narration, from the perspective of the eponymous Lemony Snicket is meant to teach children the meanings of difficult words and phrases, while simultaneously entertaining adults. The title of every book in the series (except for the last one) is an alliteration, and the almost deadpan delivery of lines in the book adds to its charm. Lemony Snicket also articulates the difference between the words ‘figuratively’ and ‘literally’, which is something that most people need to learn post-haste. I laughed, I cried, but most importantly, I learnt.
*Lemony Snicket is the name of the narrator of the books, and the pseudonym of the author Daniel Handler.
4. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice is a heroine for all ages. Alice in Wonderland was one of the first books I ever read, and it remains a book I’ve read repeatedly over the course of my life. Alice was my favourite character as a child. I remember having participated in a letter writing competition where I was asked to my favourite character, where I wrote to Alice. The ubiquity of this story makes it pointless for me to continue talking about this book, but the plethora of strange characters, and Alice’s tumultuous journey make this a must-read for all adults. There is nothing new that I’ve learnt from Alice after having re-read her adventures, but then again, the sheer entertainment value of this book is a very powerful argument in its favour.
5. The Faraway Tree Stories by Enid Blyton
I’ve probably read every book Ms. Blyton has ever written. That said, this particular series remains my absolute favourite to this day. In fact, I can see its (now dirty) yellow cover winking at me from my bookshelf as I write this article, and tempted as I am to read it, I won’t. It is a series of four books presented as a collection of stories of the adventures (and misadventures) of three children, as they interact with the strange folk of the Faraway Tree. The Faraway Tree is called so because it acts as a resting place of sorts for all kinds of…faraway lands as they travel through the clouds. Of course, there is a message for children in each of the stories; be nice, be good, be kind, don’t lie, and so on and so forth. Which, honestly, are lessons adults need as well, in this day and age. However, as an adult myself, I find myself regaled the delicious food they eat and the strange people they meet. Most importantly, I love reading it because it’s hilarious and it makes me happy.
6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book is an homage to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. It is almost exactly like jungle book, except, well, it happens in a graveyard. Parented by a sweet ghost couple, with a vampire as his guardian, Nobody “Bod” Owens grows up to be a kind and resourceful kid. It is a delightful read for children, while also teaching them the value of goodness and kindness. For adults, it’s like reading a Bradbury which isn’t bleak. After all, it takes a graveyard to raise a child.
7.The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree is perhaps the saddest book in this list, for lack of a better word. The theme of this book is that man takes what nature has to offer, without any qualms about it. By that I mean that the tree, here referring to nature, will selflessly give everything she has to offer, and that man will take everything that she has to give. Depressing, isn’t it? But that is pretty much the point of the book, that man takes, and nature gives. It is a book that children need to read, if only to learn that not everything is for them to take. But for adults, well, the lesson remains the same, but the need to implement it in real life remains greater.
8.Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an iconic book, one that was made more iconic by the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, featuring Gene Wilder as the wonky Willy Wonka. Everyone knows the story of the eccentric chocolatier and his…unique chocolate factory, full of chocolate rivers and big bowls of candy and the Oompa Loompas, who work in the factory in exchange for cocoa beans. For children, it is supposed to teach them the importance of being good and honest, while not being greedy or spoilt or obsessed with television (another Bradbury fan, perhaps?). On reading it as an adult, however, I was able to better appreciate the subtle, darker elements of humour; for instance, the whipped cream referring to cream that has literally been whipped. The madness of the book coupled with the sort of grounded nature of its themes make this book ubiquitously enjoyable.
9. Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan
Before I read this book, I didn’t know what it meant to “laugh till you cry”. Swami and Friends is a riveting, beautiful, and absolutely hysterical account of the young Swami and his many adventures. The story is told from a third-person perspective, but the voice is all Swami. His thoughts and opinions are singular and at times, hilarious. The language is simple; too simple, say some critics, but powerful enough to get the message across. The message itself emphasises on the necessity of education, the need for tolerance, while also subtly hinting the idea that a man is indeed known by the company he keeps. If nothing, on reading this book as an adult, I am definitely able to appreciate Narayan’s excellent sense of humour more than ever.
10. White Fang by Jack London
White Fang is the only book in this list that I have only read as an adult. In fact, my introduction to the book was quite accidental, having come across it on Kindle Unlimited. White Fang is another book that isn’t light in its themes, nor its writing. It is, at its heart, a coming of age story, albeit featuring a wolf rather than a human. The story is pretty much told from the perspective of the eponymous White Fang, as he journeys through his childhood, and later adolescence, worshipping the only god he knows. Man. It is a poignant read that teaches the value of love and affection, a true literary rendition of the circle of life.
So there you have it. Ten children’s books; ten excellent reads for all ages. Of course, there are hundreds more books beyond this list; obvious choices like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, as well as other books by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Classics like The Little Prince and Anne of Green Gables. Books that I haven’t read, like Watership Down. The choices, as they say, are endless. But if you do want to give children’s books a shot, I suggest you start with this list.