What were your most-loved books as a kid? Harry Potter? The BFG? The Tiger Who Came to Tea? If you’re anything like me, you can remember some of your favourite childhood books better than you can the contents of the work email you just read five minutes ago.
At that age, stories stick – and help to shape your growing mind and world view. But our minds never stop growing. And what we put into them never stops making a difference to how we feel and relate to the world. Children’s books are full of kindness, bravery, wit and wonder. Those are all things we could use a boost of – especially in tough, weird times like these.
Really? Children’s books for adults?
Yes! It might seem a bit weird to read a book meant for a kid, but it’s still an adult speaking to you. And rather than ‘dumbing down’ their ideas, they’re distilling their purest essence into something that’s clear, engaging and enjoyable to read.
Because with children’s books, there’s no hiding behind clever-sounding waffle, easy cynicism or dull vagaries. Kids will just say what we grow into being scared of admitting – this is confusing and boring. And they’ll pick something that’s well-written and creative enough to hold their attention instead.
Obviously some subjects have to be approached more carefully, or not at all, to keep things age-appropriate. But there’s so much more freedom gained than lost in children’s books. The freedom to let your imagination run completely wild, to be obsessively curious, to revel in silliness, to care deeply and without ironic detachment, to believe in a world where doing the right thing matters.
And you’d be surprised at what subjects a sensitive, clever author can make work for kids – as these books show…
I hope you give one of these books a go, and enjoy it as much as I have. If you want to discover more interesting, inclusive children’s books, handpicked each month by a children’s author (that’s me!), you can subscribe to my What Book Now? newsletter here.
Pie in the Sky
by Remy Lai
(Walker Books, 2019)
Oh, my heart! I absolutely fell in love with this wonderful illustrated novel, about a boy called Jingwen who moves with his mum and annoying little brother to Australia and feels like he’s landed on Mars. He struggles to learn English and this makes it even harder for him to work out whether people are being kind or cruel. He starts a secret cake-making project to feel closer to his late dad, and the dreams they’d had for an incredible bakery, but things don’t go exactly according to plan.
Who Let the Gods Out?
by Maz Evans
(Chicken House, 2017)
Mythical mayhem and relatable real-life problems collide in this hilarious adventure novel, the first in a series. The main character, Elliot, is trying to hold life together in the face of his mum’s worsening illness and their crisis-level money issues. Then a bunch of badly behaved ancient Greek gods crash-land in his back garden, and suddenly he has to help them save the world on top of everything else! So human, so funny and such a page-turner.
Step into Your Power
by Jamia Wilson, illus. by Andrea Pippins
(Wide Eyed, 2019)
We’re in a bit of a golden age of kids’ non-fiction right now, with ever-more imaginative writing and outrageously beautiful illustration. This book is a perfect example – a wise, lively, practical guide to learning how to love and fully realise yourself. It’s packed full of great ideas, information and personal reflections, and is just as relevant for adults as for kids. I know you might be thinking, ‘Escapist children’s stories are one thing, but I can’t be reading non-fiction meant for nine-year-olds!’ and I hear you. But just try it!
A Kind of Spark
by Elle McNicoll
(Knights Of, 2020)
This charming, perfectly paced novel tells the story of Addie’s campaign for a memorial to the women killed in her Scottish village’s witch trials. Addie bravely challenges people’s narrow views of her, her autism and the way things ‘should’ be. This is the first novel I’ve (knowingly) read with neurodivergent characters written by a neurodivergent author, and I can’t tell you how obvious the difference is. As well as this being a standalone amazing read, I really feel like it helped me understand some important things about autism that I’d been completely ignorant of before.
Since I first read this book, it’s absolutely blown up and has had some of the recognition it deserves. It was named Waterstones Book of the Month and Blackwell’s Book of the Year, for a start. And it won ‘Best Story Book’ in the Blue Peter Book Awards 2021. (I was so happy to see my book Who Do You Think You Are? longlisted alongside it, and in the ‘Best Book with Facts’ category so we weren’t even in competition!)
I interviewed Elle for the first issue of my newsletter and it was such a delight to hear her wise words – and great children’s book recommendations. Have a read of our chat here.
The Girl and the Ghost
by Hanna Alkaf
I didn’t write this post just to include this book, but I could have done. I’ve ummed and aahed about recommending this for kids before and I’ve chosen not to. Because although it’s incredibly written and fascinating and has the most wonderful characterisation, at points it genuinely unsettled me. Now, I may be quite sensitive but I’m also unarguably a fully grown adult (in age, if not action). So for me, it feels like a bit too much for a young reader.
But that’s just me. And it’s important to say that I don’t have any real understanding of or familiarity with the Malaysian cultural heritage that is so key to this book. Malaysian tales often feature dark spirits, some of them created by awful things happening to living and dead people, and millions of children hear these tales all the time and do just fine.
So if you have a child who loves ghost stories and horror and things that go bump in the night, I thoroughly recommend reading this and deciding for yourself if you think it’s okay for them. And even if you think it’s a bit much until they’re older, you’ll have had the pleasure of reading it yourself!
I hope one of those five children’s books for adults to enjoy called out to you to give it a go! And if not, I’ve heard from quite a few adults now that they’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from reading some of my books, so here they are below in case you fancy a fun, fabulously illustrated look at modern art, climate action or personality psychology!
Inspired to try reading more children’s books and want more recommendations? Subscribe to What Book Now?, my monthly newsletter. It’s packed with interesting, inclusive children’s books and other great stuff!
If you’d like to read more about the joys of children’s books for adults, since writing this I’ve discovered and THOROUGHLY enjoyed Katherine Rundell’s brilliant Why You Should Read Children’s Books (Although You Are So Old and Wise). Her children’s books are excellent, too, for kids and adults – I think my favourite is Rooftoppers.
A shorter version of this article about children’s books for adults appeared in the November 2020 edition of Zabby Allen’s wonderful The Procrastination Paper. Check it out, it’s so fun! And it’s so nice to get lovely things in the post.
This page includes Bookshop.org affiliate links. I may get a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. I wasn’t sure about Bookshop at first. But I’ve seen first-hand how it’s getting people in the habit of supporting independent bookshops rather than buying from Amazon. So I’ve come round to it! Please visit my ‘Indie Bookshop of the Month’ on my Bookshop page, so they receive the affiliate payment.