I had a great dinner with my niece on Monday in New York City. I was visiting the city for a few days and Claire had just come back to the States after studying in France for two years. At 20, much has changed with Claire since she started college. She’s more mature, she’s so much more capable than I was at that age; currently she’s living in on the Upper West Side with a roommate while she waits for the Columbia term to begin.
Claire has always been a reader. She’s one of those kids who was never without a book. Claire got most of her books from the Flying Pig, either in massive shopping trips during summer visits or for Christmas. She would leave the store with armloads of classics like Maniac Magee, The Phantom Tollbooth, The House with a Clock in its Walls, Harry Potter, Summer of My German Soldier, and more.
Claire is a re-reader, often choosing the familiar over something new. This summer, before she starts Columbia, she’s been reading all her middle grade childhood favorites. This is making my niece nostalgic and it’s making her feel old. She said there was something about going back and re-reading books and now all the protagonists are younger than she is, when before they were all older. “I used to look up to them, but now I see them for who they are, and that’s making me feel older than I am.” She’s comparing reading experiences and sadly, they are not measuring up.
This brings up the point I often try to make at the store: kids should read books with characters close to their own ages, or just a little older. Just because most 10-year-olds can probably read books about high school kids doesn’t mean they should. There was always something comforting for me to read about kids my age or just slightly older. Their adventures could be mine as well. You can never go back and read Maniac Magee and have it resonate with you the way it did when you were 10. And there’s real power in that.
Claire has been loving re-reading, but it’s making her feel older than 20. She knows more about the reality of the world than she did as a kid, so the books are hitting differently than when she was younger and just that fact alone is making her sad. She is aware that she’s not a kid anymore, and the books that used to comfort her now have lost some of that ability. So as she navigates her adult life, she will need to find other books for solace. And what makes her such a special person and a lifelong reader, is she’s excited about discovering those new books and can’t wait to tell me about them.
Are there any childhood books that have lost their ability to comfort you as an adult?