Why Harry Potter and Paddington Bear are essential reading for grown-ups
Oxford don champions childrens books as figures show that sales to adults are soaring
By day, she researches the poetry of John Donne as a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. But in the evening, when Dr Katherine Rundell wants a bit of comfort, she reads Paddington. As an adult, the thing I love about Paddington is that the structure Michael Bond has built into his books is one of hope. Things which appear to be negative turn out to be just cogs in the greater machine. I think Bond sees life as miraculous and thats in the structure of the book.
In her own forthcoming work,Why You Should Read Childrens Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, Rundell argues that childrens literature offers unique insights and distinctive imaginative experiences to adults. Defy those who would tell you to be serious, she writes, those who would limit joy in the name of propriety. Cut shame off at the knees… Plunge yourself soul-forward into a childrens book: see ifyou do not find in them an unexpected alchemy; if they will not un-dig in you something half hidden and half forgotten.
Figures from UK book sales monitor Nielsen based on a survey of 3,000 book buyers and seen exclusively by the Observer indicate that 10.5 million works of childrens fiction were bought for readers aged 17 or over in 2018, a 42% increase on 2015, when only 7.4 million were purchased for these readers. Today, 39% is bought for readers over 16, with millennials identified as the biggest adult consumers of childrens fiction.
Rundell calls her book, which will be published in August by Bloomsbury, a manifesto to encourage more adults to take childrens books seriously. She had a strong personal motive for writing it: she pens prizewinning childrens novels and is sick of other academics and acquaintances giving her this profoundly condescending smile when she reveals she is a childrens author. Now 32, she was among the first cohort of children who grew up reading Harry Potter I was 12 when Harry was 12, I adored those books and exemplifies how her generation continues to hunger for childrens fiction as adults.
In 2018, Nielsen says 24-to-34-year-olds bought for themselves or received 12% of all the childrens fiction purchased, double the 6% recorded in 2014. Readers aged 17 to 24 were, however, the largest group of adults who bought childrens fiction for themselves, accounting for one in every eight purchases, compared to 10% five years ago. In total, a third of all childrens fiction purchased last year was by adults to read themselves.
I think a lot of people have been, secretly perhaps, reading and loving childrens books in adulthood for a long time, says Rundell. She wrote her book to warn adults who dont: You are missing a wealth of treasures.. To miss out on something so rich, strange, varied and enticing in adulthood, just out of embarrassment or perhaps because it hasnt occurred to you, seems such a waste. There is such joy to be had.
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