Consider this situation: you are dusting your library at home and organizing the books when your eyes fall on an old copy of the novel you used to love as a child. Even as you begin to flip open the cover page, you are reminded of that simpler and less complicated time in your life. It is similar to going through an old photo album- it instinctively brings a smile to your face and takes you on a nostalgia trip. You also become self-aware of your progress- you have gone from flipping picture books to reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. Our vocabulary, ideologies, perspectives, and preferences are constantly evolving. We rarely feel like sitting and re-reading a children’s novel from beginning till the end.
But for the people who have tried, most of them are astonished at how oblivious they had been to the complex themes open for interpretation- in a children’s book out of all things! One example would be how widespread capitalism in America was satirized in Hergé’s Tintin in the American edition. Even the space race between the USA and USSR was used as a source of satire in the same edition. Other than politics, some works of children’s literature also portray complex themes like adulting, growing up, loneliness, and the sheer absurdity of life in general. A perfect example would be the all-time favorite comic strip duo, Calvin and Hobbes. The character of the stuffed tiger, Hobbes serves as an adult persona who connects with the adult readers’ subconscious. His comments and dialogues also empathize with how arduous of a task adulting can be.
Re-reading Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince was an eye-opening experience for me. I remember reading the book for the very first time in junior school and pinning it down as merely a book with a sad ending. An ordinary dusting-my-bookshelf situation led to my re-reading the book in senior school. I was stunned at how the book held a deeper meaning, something a mature mind will find satisfying and heartwarming. The book is essentially written in an autobiographical manner about a child the author refers to as the Little Prince. He learns that this boy is not of this planet but is visiting the Earth amongst many other planets out of simple curiosity and a willingness to explore. During his time with the Little Prince, he experiences simple emotions like trust, love, attachment, and imagination that grownups rarely experience in a somewhat disproportionate manner.
The book draws an unflattering portrait of grownups as hopelessly narrow-minded compared to children who come to wisdom through open-mindedness and a desire to know more. We are required to become children in a sense to relax and to understand how to wholeheartedly trust and give our all to the people we care about. This It isn’t the same as retreating to childhood. With love comes responsibility, something that adults claim to be proud of. One runs a risk of being hurt sometimes in the process, but the only other alternative is to treat others as objects. We find beauty in the most common things only when we sometimes slow down to observe and trust our heart’s emotions. Only then can we even come near to understanding what inspires a songwriter, a painter, a writer or a poet. The book has some perfect examples to help us see this. A desert usually seems like a deadly, arid inhospitable place, yet it holds a secret. What makes it so beautiful is that it hides an oasis somewhere, and the water from there tastes the sweetest. A rock pile ceases to be merely that from the moment a single person starts to bear in mind an image of a building. According to the Little Prince, each grownup on Earth has been reduced to a function, a businessman, a contractor, a teacher, and so on. We mustn’t forget that we are relatively rare creatures, made up of imagination and memory and capable of so many other virtues, most notably the capacity to feel and give love. Instead of focusing on just what is visible and relatively superficial, we must also give attention to what is invisible; sometimes, what’s essential are the things that are unseen. In the words of Saint Exupery himself- “l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux“.
Getting all this knowledge from a thin copy of a book classified as a ‘children’s novel’ is enough for us to ponder over the increasingly blurred line between what can be defined as children’s literature and what is to be read by adults. If you end up in a similar dusting-the-bookshelf situation, do pick up that book that you haven’t read in years and if you have the time, flip through those pages. Who knows, you may find something that’s not just ‘children’s literature!’