Children’s books rule the roost…and offer a retreat to grown-up readers

This week (from October 3rd-9th) is Children’s Book Week, an annual event aimed at encouraging and celebrating reading for pleasure amongst children of primary school age. Across the country, there’ll be tons of events happening to create excitement, enthusiasm and an appetite for exploring the world of literature in children, but ensuring that kids keep up the habit of reading is a matter of importance all year round. Thankfully, there are so many wonderful children’s books available – with hundreds upon thousands of more pages being published every week – that the task is a relatively simple one and much less arduous than many, having lots of fun in store for kids aged 8-80 (and beyond…)

Certainly, if sales are anything to go by, then children’s literature is well and truly ruling the roost in the UK book market. Figures from Nielsen BookScan presented at last week’s Bookseller Children’s Conference provided a lot to smile about; in the first half of 2011 up to July the sales of children’s books outperformed all others, overall sales coming out at a staggering £143 million. Pre-school books/picture books and children’s general non-fiction performed particularly well, with both categories upping their sales by 6% from the previous year. It appears that in the time of recession, children’s reading is prioritised by many parents; a particular point of interest being that a select group of older books are the ones being bought in their multitudes.

But it’s not just kids who are ravenously reading the books that are designed for them; just as a dog is for life and not just for Christmas, children’s literature is finding an increasingly comfortable home in the hands – and hearts – of many adult readers. And it would seem that not only are the more grown-up amongst us reading children’s books simply for pleasure but are doing so to revisit the far simpler pleasures of days long past. According to new research, adults are attracted to reading many of the children’s classics as they offer a vivid picture of what has been lost for a lot of people in this frantic modern life – or as, author of the research Dr Louise Joy suggests, because they represent a “symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality” (as perhaps, all books do in some form…?). It appears such books don’t just provide us with boundless wonder, fantasy and adventure that can be enjoyed at any age but also give us guides for living a happy, humble and fulfilling life, whether it be in the area of self-awareness and self-perception (Alice In Wonderland; several books of Roald Dahl; Wind in The Willows), relationships with others (Winnie The Pooh)…or even just appreciating the goodness of a hearty meal (The Hobbit). More in-depth and insightful information will be revealed by Dr Joy in a forthcoming book, Literature’s Children, and her findings will be presented at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which will be taking place later this month.

Whatever you’re looking to get out of reading a piece of children’s literature – be it solace, escapism, a reminder of the comfort and cosiness of childhood past or just sheer enjoyment – such news surely comes as solid proof that you’re never too old to read something supposedly just for kids.

3 thoughts on “Children’s books rule the roost…and offer a retreat to grown-up readers”

  1. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books are interesting in light of this aren’t they? They’re written ‘for children’ but they’re not really (or rather, exclusively) children’s books – they can be enjoyed by people of all ages and from a wide variety of cultures (as Our Read has clearly shown). His stories offer us an imaginative world to enter into but they also make us confront the big and small realities of our lives. Someone last week was telling me they read The Unforgotten Coat with both an eighty year old relative in a care home and a toddler in the same week: the older lady loved the story, the younger child loved the pictures – both were captivated.

    Also, I’m currently reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, written by Patrick Ness. (It’s been published as a book ‘for young adults’.) It’s a brilliant read and not at all escapist: it’s terrifying, touching and a right ripping yarn! I’d highly recommend it to teenagers, their parents and teachers, and anyone else who has gone through the pains of growing up (that’s all of us, isn’t it? And does it ever stop?).

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