In my reading life, I’ve entered a sort of second childhood. Mind you, I don’t know that I ever really left. When it came to Childhood, it was simply too short and there were just too many good books to attempt to finish before WHAM next thing I knew it I was an adult being forced to read Mrs. Dalloway in my first college literature course. Like so many things, adult literature, the kind that is respected by academics and critics at any rate, is not nearly as fun as children’s lit.
Having worked at a library, I automatically think of children’s literature as JF, Juvenile Fiction. But in a way I dislike that term. “Juvenile” has taken on a sort of derogatory connotation (as has “childish”) of being puerile, immature, and downright snotty. This is unfair. There are several things that adults could learn from children, if there weren’t some sort of induced amnesia that comes about around adolescence where adults forget what it is like to be a child. Children may look at the world in simple terms, but that doesn’t mean they themselves are simple. Some books which are confined to the jurisdiction of readers 10 or younger are downright poignant. A Little Prince is the first to come to mind, but it is by no means alone; Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, A Little Princess, and Charlotte’s Web are all close behind, trailed by many other titles.
In many ways I think the reason so many adults deny being “readers” is because they deny themselves the pleasure of reading JF. They think since they’re so much more mature and think is so much more complex terms, they must read dry, mind-bending, gritty sorts of books. The kinds you can’t read yourself to sleep to every night. And so they don’t read at all.
There is something refreshing, and yet simultaneously nostalgic, about reading a children’s book. Back to what I said about my second childhood, I’ve recently read several books about folk tales and fairy tales:
British Goblins, Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Myths and Legend by Wirt Sykes. This book was strange in that it was almost written with from an anthropological tone. Not only were there several actual myths, legends, and folktales included in the book, but the author also delved more into where these belief systems came from, particularly from a religious standpoint of how superstitions from pagan religions continued even after conversion to Christianity. Some of the book actually got a little freaky in its descriptions of death-rites, ghosts, and the devil, so I would not recommend it to younger readers.
Fairy Circles, Tales and Legends by anonymous. As it says right there in the subtitle, these are tales and legends of Giants, Dwarfs, Fairies, Water-Sprites, and just about any other fairy-tale magical creature.
Fairy Tales from the German Forests by Margaret Arndt. If you have read any books by E. Nesbit, you’re sure to like this book. Frau Arndt has very much the same tone to her writing, being simultaneously moralizing and relatable to children. Sometimes this comes across as saccharine to adult readers, but for the most part it’s charming and reminds one of turn-of-the-century Scandinavian Christmas cards.
Favorite Fairy Tales retold by Virginia Haviland, a series of short books with illustrations, each book being a compilation of fairy tales from various countries such as Scotland, Czechoslovakia (back when it was Czechoslovakia), etc.
Folk-Lore and Legends: Scandinavian by various contributors. Although there was some overlap with stories from other Scandinavian folktale books I’ve read, for the most part these were new stories. I particularly liked There Are Such Women, even though it isn’t very Politically Correct, just because I like stories like Alexander the Great’s Gordian Knot, where a seemingly-insurmountable problem has an oversimplified solution.
Folk-tales from the Russian by various contributors. The best line in this entire book? “Cookies—there are cookies everywhere.”
The Irish Fairy Book by Alfred Perceval Graves, which seems to be the same sort of “storytelling recording for posterity” that the Brothers Grimm did in Germany, only this time taking down (sometimes in vernacular Irish) the Irish fairy tales instead.
Norwegian Folk Tales compiled from the collection of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. I had read several of these stories before, and am always struck with how short some of them are, or how repetitive, almost like Mother Goose rhymes that repeat themselves. Probably these were made up by tired parents trying to bore their children to sleep. Still there were several stories in this volume that weren’t boring, such as The Ash Lad Who Had An Eating Match with a Troll.
Tales of Folk and Fairies by Katharine Pyle, a collection of tales from around the world. To make up for my liking There Are Such Women, my favorite entry in this book was the Serbian story of The Wise Girl.
13 Danish Tales retold by Mary C. Hatch, written in the same simple, friendly and readable tone as Virginia Haviland’s books, including big bold illustrations.