Is Reading Children's Literature the Fountain of Youth?

Is Reading Children's Literature the Fountain of Youth?

Today the morning radio DJs gave an on-air quiz to determine whether you’ve hit middle age. Based on this highly scientific survey, I learned that I am not quite there yet, which is exactly what I keep telling my husband.

One of the questions stood out, however. It was “are you increasingly nostalgic?” Well, I’ve been nostalgic since I was born—seriously my 5-year-old self probably pined for the days when I was a younger and more carefree toddler.

 Yet, even my abnormally high nostalgia levels are on the uptick. I was blaming Facebook posts from people I knew in high school and the fact that Milwaukee radio stations still love the 80s as much as I do. But maybe I’m just getting old.

Is it aging and nostalgia that has me reading books targeted at tweens? I’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie books to my 6-year-old daughter over the past nine months. I initially worried she would be too young, but to my surprise and delight, she loves them. Even more surprising and delightful is that I am still charmed by these books.

Little House on the Prairie books
Image via Heidi Jeter

It has been more than 30 years since I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder. I received the entire nine-book series for Christmas, and I read and reread them until the covers were bent. (Well, I reread all of them except Farmer Boy, which I found to be totally boring because who wants to read about a boy on a farm when you're 9?)

Laura was spunky and adventurous, and she was born in my home state of Wisconsin. I loved her immediately, and now I get to share her.

The joy I felt reading these books for the first time returned with the my daughter’s squeals of delight when Laura received the fur muff from the Christmas barrel, her sadness when loyal Jack died and her sigh of relief when Pa made it home after living for three days in a blizzard. And let’s not even get started on that dreadful Nellie Oleson.

Every time we read, my child begs for “just one more chapter,” and it takes all my willpower to make her go to bed instead. All I really want is to keeping reading until my eyes feel like they are bleeding—just as I did as a child.

Meandering through Laura’s world again was like stepping back into my childhood, which was full of the imaginary world of books. Only this time I’ve added an adult’s perspective, which makes the old seem new again.

As an adult living in a stimulus-ridden world, I tend to glamorize the simplicity of life back then. Life was hard yet so much less complicated. It sounds appealing some days. Then, of course, I remember how many times Laura’s family nearly starved or died of some disease, and I’m grateful for a full fridge and health care.

Still, I’ve enjoyed revisiting my old friend, Laura, and discovering new things about her that my younger self never noticed.

As we near the end of the series, I’m feeling a bit sad. When I get too nostalgic, though, I console myself with the knowledge my daughter still has so many characters to meet—Jo March, the Boxcar Children, the possibilities are endless.

So books likely aren't the fountain of youth (if they were, my age spots would be gone by now), but they sure can make you feel like a kid again.

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