It’s easy to dismiss children’s books as irrelevant. Yet some of the messages aimed at children can resonate at any age. Here are three books that do that.

The inner child in us never disappears.
The inner child in us never disappears.
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

We all remember our favorite childhood books, but do we remember their lessons? Children’s books teach us what it means to be human, yet we are content to throw them aside in favor of more “complex” books. But the complex book is not always the superior. All books can teach us a lesson, and if one has a dragon or two in it, so much the better!

“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster

Jules Feiffers's illustrations perfectly capture the charm of this book.
Jules Feiffer’s’ illustrations perfectly capture the charm of this book.

There are a thousand things I could say about this book, and they would all come straight from the heart. “The Phantom Tollbooth” is a spectacular work of fiction, that brings warmth to our world. It’s impossible to put it down without smiling. The lessons it teaches us are beyond counting, but I will touch on one for now.

You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.

Norton Juster

To be right or wrong, to be good or bad, we muddle our way through life without knowing the best option. We fail often, and for every splendid achievement, there is a grim failure. To pick ourselves up and move on is one of the greatest lessons for children and adults. “The Phantom Tollbooth” shows us what can happen if you dust your knees and set off once more

But it’s a lot harder to fail as an adult than a child, as a child there is always someone to pick you up, dust you off and send you on your way. One day, we fall, and there’s no-one around. We sprint out into the adult world, and more often than not, run slap bang into a wall. To me, “The Phantom Tollbooth” is that someone, to pick me up, brush me off, and send me onwards.

“A Little History Of The World” by E.H. Gombrich

A history book for all ages.
A history book for all ages.

While working towards my degree in History, I was often informed by people that history is boring. Fair enough. They only knew the history taught in school, which is truly boring. Sorry history teachers, it’s true. But E.H. Gombrich showed me that history isn’t boring, it’s full of life. Which when you think about it, is all history is. Life.

What I have always loved best about the history of the world is that it is true. That all the extraordinary things we read were no less real than you and I are today.

E.H. Gombrich

“A Little History Of The World” often draws criticism for its simplified approach to history. Gombrich isn’t trying to construct a complex history, he is sketching out what history is. There are plenty of other world history books that offer a deeper and more thorough look at the world. They are dense, complex, and sort of boring. In producing this book, Gombrich sacrifices academic rigor for the bigger picture. Through this, he portrays a complex topic in a way that anyone can understand.

History helps us understand the past, and more importantly, the present. This is a tricky topic that people devote their lives to, but by reading “A Little History Of The World” we see how it works. For those who believe history to be boring, read this. History is fundamental to our lives, and if school hasn’t taught you that, Gombrich will.

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R Tolkien

Is there anything cozier than a hobbit hole?
Is there anything cozier than a hobbit hole?
Ricardo Helass from Pixabay

I have never managed to read “The Lord of the Rings”. It’s dense. Too dense. Every couple of years I try again and give up after struggling through a few chapters. One day I will make it, but for now, it remains a distant dream. “The Hobbit” I devoured in a few days. The classic first line hooked me and then I was off to the Misty Mountain, with Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves. It reminded me of the joy of adventure, to look for things, and to sometimes find them.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.

J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Hobbit is a child’s dreams made a reality. Dragons and gold, dwarves and wizards, it’s a tale woven for them. I remember a friend telling me that after reading it, he would lie awake in bed, waiting for Gandalf to come knocking on his door. It’s a call to adventure of the purest kind, with heroes and villains, narrow escapes, and glorious homecomings. It’s an adventure, one that we can take too.

For all its talk of dragons and magic, “The Hobbit” is remarkably relatable. Think of the times you have been comfy at home, safe, warm, and happy. It’s a fine existence, to be content like that. But while curled up on our sofa, no adventures will happen. Like Bilbo Baggins, we say that you certainly don’t want an adventure, not when life is fine right now! But as we get older our desire to adventure, to seek new experience fades in favor of stability and comfort. We no longer believe that Gandalf will come knocking at our door, and dreams of gold make way for dreams of good credit scores.

Read “The Hobbit” and feel the call to adventure again. I know how comfy your bed is, or how warm your fireplace is, but I also know that adventure is out there. You might not have Gandalf knocking at your door, but the potential is always there. “The Hobbit” could be your story (perhaps with fewer dragons), you just have to step outside and make it happen.

Children’s books are the purest form of literary expression. Unshackled by the need for academic rigor, or elaborate stories, writers can let loose with their creative freedom. Children are the future we hear time and time again, and their books are the foundations of it. So we should take the time to read them, and re-learn again what makes up our lives.