Growing Up as a Reader

Josie Leavitt -- August 9th, 2013

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?

5 thoughts on “Growing Up as a Reader

  1. Nancy Silverrod

    At the age of 56, I still find great pleasure in re-reading old favorites from my childhood, which is one reason why it’s hard for me to part with books – that, and the fact that I’ve spent years replacing favorites that my mother made me get rid of as a kid because we were always moving.

  2. Morgan

    I have definitely had similar experiences to Claire when I’ve re-read certain books (and revisited stories told through other media) that I loved as a kid. Some can still comfort me, whereas other can’t. But it’s always a shock to my system when I first re-read a book in which the characters used to be older and more mature than me, and realize that not only are they younger than I am, they no longer seem half as mature as they used to.

  3. Elizabeth Ryan Catalano

    The first books I ever loved were Nancy Drews. They made me a reader. And while I’ll always have an affection for them, and they even seemed progressive (!) to me in the 70s and 80s, now it’s hard to revisit my collection without an adult’s amused perspective.

  4. Christie

    Well, I only see Nancy Drew as nostalgia now, but then Nancy wasn’t what I turned to for comfort–that would be Winnie the Pooh and all his friends and they’ve held up just fine 50 years later!

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