For many students, attending university is a rite of passage into adulthood. As you trade your childhood bedroom for a dorm room, your worldview is broadened, your independence is established, and you take the first steps toward a career.
But sometimes, a little piece of childhood can come with you. At least it does in Dr. Bill Thompson’s Topics in Children’s Literature class where you can revisit old friends like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson in a new way.
“A lot of students take the course because we’re covering a specific book they love, so I do warn them at the beginning that they might see the story a little differently afterward,” says Bill. “It isn’t a bad thing though. It gives them a new way of reading that book that doesn't necessarily take the place of how they used to read it. It attaches a new set of experiences and ideas to the book. You can analyze a text without ruining the magic of it.”
Bill and his students aren’t alone in their love of and fascination with children’s literature. Many adults maintain a soft spot for the stories of their childhood, and certain children’s books transcend the genre to become classics in their own right.
“You can analyze a text without ruining the magic of it.” —Dr. Bill Thompson
So what makes an adult want to read a book written for children?
According to Bill, there are a couple of reasons. One is that the classics tend to resurface throughout our lives, allowing our affinity for those books to deepen – especially when we get to read them in a new context. “When a kid in third grade has to read Charlotte’s Web for school, that reintroduces the book to their parents,” he says. “Watching our kids or the children in our lives get excited about the books we loved makes us appreciate those books even more.”
But it’s not all about nostalgia. Some children’s books continue to captivate us simply because they’re exceptional. “What people love about children’s literature is often what they love about any literature – these stories tap into universal themes and feelings that we identify with, or dive into questions that are difficult to answer on our own,” he says.
As of late, publishers have even begun to find ways to cater to people who love young adult fiction, even if they’re not-so-young adults. “You’ll notice that many young adult books have two different cover designs: one with a more juvenile illustration that appeals to a younger audience, and then one with a more sophisticated cover, maybe with leather binding, so that adults feel comfortable having it on their shelf,” says Bill.
Bill’s picks for best children’s books? It’s a mix of the old and the new. “The Hobbit is a favourite that's always stuck with me. If I had to pick something a little more recent, I’d go with the Percy Jackson series – I’ve read those ones a few times already.”
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