Reality getting the better of you? Find solace in the pages of these classic childhood reads
It’s getting hard to turn on the radio these days.
As these book-lovers point out, current affairs is starting to resemble some sort of surreal, post-apocalyptic realm.
Death and disaster loom from every new corner, while political mayhem reigns supreme.
In times such as these, we crave sanctuary: a comfort fix that stretches beyond your average mac ‘n cheese doughnut.
And, while all novels offer an element of escapism, children’s books do it the best of all.
In the pages of our favourite childhood reads, we find a positive skew on the world that’s all too elusive in reality.
In the place of adult cynicism, we have wonderment and humour. Instead of division, friendship is often writ large. And while bad things do still happen in children’s books, no-one ever starts venting on Twitter as a result.
Here are a few of our favourite children’s books to revisit as an adult, for a dose of literary balm:
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
All the Laura Ingall Wilder books are a delight to read, but this one is a real gem and less well-known than the previous two in the series. Following the pioneering family as they settle into their new dugout home, it’s filled with the kind of rich observations that has made Ingalls Wilder into one of America’s finest all-time writers.
Life by Plum Creek is a reminder of long-lost simple pleasures: paddling in the reeds, collecting corn and Pa playing his fiddle by firelight. There are harsher elements, too: deathly blizzards, poverty and a freak storm of locusts threaten chaos. But nothing will break the resolve of Ma, Pa and the girls living their prairie lives – a thousand miles from a digital age.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
E. B. White’s timeless read is pure feel-good fodder. Who could resist the burgeoning friendship between Wilbur the pig and his wise old spider pal, Charlotte?
The thing Wilbur wants most in the world is love, and Charlotte provides exactly that – guiding him through the highs and lows of farm life with her unflappable take on the world.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing,” Charlotte tells Wilbur, in a tear-jerking finale that sums up the full, heart-swelling wrench of the story.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
OK, we’re moving into teen territory here, but Judy Blume is just too good to ignore.
Escape your adult problems for the day as you throw it back to the tumultuous world of puberty. Periods, boys, wishing for bigger breasts: Blume captures it all so accurately in this much-loved classic that your inner 14-year-old will be cringing as you read along.
Whether it’s the thrill of using deodorant for the first time, or the agony of nailing that first kiss, this brilliant book winds back the years to a long-forgotten (but equally tumultuous) era.
The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
The second in Elizabeth Enright’s series was written in 1940s America, but her lightness of touch means the story is relatable even today.
Join siblings Mona, Ross, Randy and Oliver as they decamp from New York City to a country house; the titular Four-Story Mistake. All kinds of adventures follow, from living-room theatre shows to twilight ice-skating, and even a pet crocodile that they adopt as their own.
In some ways, this book harks back to a long-lost and idyllic time. But Enright’s deft, warm handling of the characters and family politics is also instantly familiar. Comfort territory indeed.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The beauty of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is that it tackles big, difficult themes from a child’s perspective.
Narrated through the eyes of tomboy youngster Scout Finch, it tells the story of a black man charged with raping a white woman in 1930s Alabama.
While issues such as prejudice and bigotry could not be considered escapist material, Scout’s voice means they come into sharp focus for what they really are.
It’s a unique, guileless take on problems that still haunt us today, in an entirely different context, making for the kind of gripping read that stays with you for months afterwards.