Adults turn to children's books

'There are lessons and hope in kids books, unlike self-help books'

Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

Recently, a well-known politician, 60, who has made scathing headlines for months, received a children’s picture book, Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book, from a good friend. The book, drawn from the Golden Book series that was launched in 1942, is about finding contentment in the simplest things (“Be a hugger!” “Get some exercise!”). That evening, the politician sent a thank-you email, mentioning that the same day, another friend had emailed saying that a “great thing to do in times such as these is to find a childhood book and read it. So I’m reading my Little Golden Book.” The politician isn’t alone. These days, thanks to publishers bringing back vintage children’s picture books, more and more adults are turning to them, in the face of hardship, sorrow or stressful times.

Amanda Kelman, a philanthropist, had a three-month-old baby who died of a rare genetic disorder. She says, “About a year after my son passed away, a very good friend gave me the book The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. I had spent a lot of time at the hospital with my son and read him a lot of books. After he died, I did not want to read those books anymore.” (She can’t look at Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever.) “But The Heart and the Bottle, although for children,” says Kelman, “is incredible as it relates to anyone, of any age, who is grieving. It shows that it is okay to feel sad and put up barriers and literally ‘put your heart in a bottle.’ It’s [also] a reminder that it’s okay to find things that bring happiness.”

Barbara Miller, a therapist and social worker, recommends that adults turn to children’s books. “There are lessons and hope in kids books, unlike self-help books, where adults can find holes in the words.” For her clients who are grieving, she suggests a children’s book, The Mountain That Loved a Bird by Alice McLerran, a gentle tale of friendship, devotion and hope.

David Hayes, a freelance writer and editor, has numerous children’s books. When he was in a bicycle accident and in bed for months, barely able to move his arms, his girlfriend bought him Enid Blyton’s Noddy books, originally published between 1949 and 1963, about a little wooden boy who is a taxi driver. It’s a series he read as a child. “His horn went ‘parp, parp!’ ” says Hayes. “It always makes me smile when I remember that. These books are better than self-help books, because they are not instructional. They open you up and make you feel as innocent as a child. They cheer you up.” Like Hayes, Tamara Leger, a freelance communications consultant and mother of two, has a go-to book from childhood. She adores the Just-Alike Princes by Pauline Palmer Meek. The book, she says, is “so old and the graphics so ’60s perfect, that they make me smile, no matter what.” She has parts memorized. “When I’m feeling particularly low, I reach back to children’s literature. It’s a place where the ideas are big and the words are simple and ring true. These books bring me back in time, then free me somehow to bubble up or step forward.”

Sarah Ramsey, who’s been in the book business for more than a decade and now works part-time at Book City in Toronto, says she always goes to Matilda when she’s sad. “It’s a total cliché but I didn’t fit in as a child and the isolation I felt was awful and sometimes I still feel that way.” When she rereads Matilda, it reminds her that Matilda had a champion in Miss Honey. “As an adult we know there’s not always a happy ending, but I’m drawn to the story because it comforts me.”

Barb Wiseberg, co-founder of Give One Book, a children’s book bank, says her favourite children’s book is Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton. It was also her son’s favourite baby book. Fast-forward 12 years. “We are planning his bar mitzvah, and I keep a copy with all my notes, to keep perspective on how time flies.” Erica Ehm, founder of, sees a similar reminder in one of her favourite children’s books. She says she always turns to Love You Forever. “Sometimes life just punches you in the face. This book just reminds me, point blank, to live in the moment.” The simple truths, it seems, bear repeating.