“Children’s books are all about distilling the complex situations into concepts that are simple and concise. Sometimes seeing things through a child’s eyes is what we need in order to bring clarity to what’s in front of us.”
Books are magic. You know that. I know that. One of my favorite independent bookstores located in Brooklyn, NY knows that. Books have saved me during this never ending lockdown, transporting me to other worlds where I can disconnect with the personal stresses of everyday life and find reprieve for just a few hours.
My love for books started at an early age. I’d beg my mom for money to buy as many books as I could during the Scholastic book sales in elementary school. Even though our family was tight on money, she always managed to afford every single book I wanted. In that way, I was rich.
As I became older, the types of books I read changed. Somewhere along the way, the stories became more serious, more “adult.” There was less Corduroy and more Malcolm Gladwell. The Giving Tree became The Handmaid’s Tale. But I never forgot the children’s books that made me fall in love with reading to begin with.
I started working on a children’s book of my own this year and once again became fully immersed in stories meant for young readers. What I didn’t expect was how relevant and impactful the stories would be for me as an adult. Just because a book is labeled for ages 4-8 doesn’t mean it won’t be valuable for someone in their 20s or 30s. There have been many times when I’ve over-complicated things that had simple solutions. Children’s books are all about distilling the complex situations into concepts that are simple and concise. Sometimes seeing things through a child’s eyes is what we need in order to bring clarity to what’s in front of us.
I highly suggest mixing up your reading list and incorporating children’s books into your repertoire (and I’m not just saying that because I’m writing one that I hope you’ll read one day). Here are a few of my favorite children’s books that I came across as an adult and have resonated with me. They’ll also make great gifts for the kids (or adults!) in your life for the holidays.
Small in the City is about a little kid who is giving advice to an unnamed character about how to feel less small in a big city, while they weave through tall buildings and traffic during the winter. “I know what it’s like to be small in the city,” they say. The advice includes watching out for big dogs and where the good places for naps are, among other things. Sydney Smith’s story of what it means to get lost in the city, traveling the wrong way, and getting caught in a blizzard— and ultimately finding your way back home is one that I felt deep in my heart. Sometimes we can all feel a bit lost, and this beautiful story lets us know that things will be alright.
I Hate Everyone is a hilarious and completely relatable book that can cheer you up during the worst moods. It’s a phrase that can offer relief, even if (oftentimes) it’s yelled insincerely. It’s a story about a grumpy little girl who is experiencing complex and contradictory feelings that take her high and low. She doesn’t want people to look at her, but she does things to grab everyone’s attention. She hates that she’s too young, but also hates that she’s sometimes too old. The artwork and text capture a child’s perspective as they sort through the rollercoaster of confusing feelings, while at the same time letting readers know that it’s okay to have these feelings. This book is exactly what I needed to read this year as I reconciled my hurricane of emotions.
A heart-wrenching story about dealing with friendship, love, and loss. Ida, Always is inspired by two polar bears, Gus and Ida, who lived in Central Park Zoo in New York City. The story is about their friendship and how one day, Gus finds out that Ida is terminally ill and won’t be getting better. The bears help each other cope with this bad news through tears, hugs, and adventures in the middle of the city. Slowly, they come to accept the news. The writing beautifully depicts a caring, supportive friendship in the face of devastating news, and lovingly expresses adjusting to a life without someone or something we love.
I feel so seen by this book. It’s about a little girl who is determined to make the perfect Chinese bao (which is a light and fluffy bun with stuffing inside, for those who are unfamiliar), but can’t seem to get it right. Amy Wu loves to make bao with her family, yet hers keep coming out too small or too big. The ones that her mom, dad, and grandma make are delicious, but Amy’s fall apart. She’s about to give up until she finally thinks of the perfect plan to make a bao that she can be proud of. I love this book for so many reasons: It’s a story about Chinese food, it has an Asian main character (there aren’t that many stories about Asian kids out there), and it teaches the power of persistence.
Another story that hits close to home for me. As a third-culture kid growing up in America with an immigrant family, I always felt disconnected to my grandparents growing up. This story is about a young boy who visits his grandfather but has a hard time communicating with him since they can’t speak the same language. Silence is the default solution to this language barrier, which feels awkward and confusing at times. But once they discover a shared love of illustration and art, they sit down and communicate through drawings, which bring them closer together than words ever can. The book reminds us that it’s important to find ways to connect with those who are closest to you, even if you can’t speak the same language.