There’s no shame in reading children’s books as an adult, it’s the best antidote for sadness

This is hard to admit: for a happy person, I’m rather sad. Swathes of my life have been occupied with a profound pensiveness and a willingness to stare into the abyss; I often swim in treacle.

I’m not sure if these feelings would be classified as a form of depression or just the perils of being an over-thinker. But, at times, sadness sits on me like a sumo wrestler. Back in the 90s, when I spent three years doing a Philosophy degree, I found I was in good company.

At university, I fell into a rabbit hole. When I visited the university doctor, he said: “Why is it always the Philosophy students?!” And he handed me a prescription for antidepressants. But I hadn’t become despondent, I felt no detachment from life. Strangely, I had become, perhaps, too entangled with it. Oddly, there was an allure to this state of mind; it kept the world interesting. After reading about depression and how all-consuming it can be, I realized I was not depressed, just someone who looked at life under a microscope and couldn’t help but feel things deeply.

I soon found that one genre in particular helped me with that issue. Whenever I started to feel joyless or a little too serious from reading hefty books, I’d pick up my favorite books from childhood. As children’s author, Philip Pullman, said in his 1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech: “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”

There’s nothing incongruous about moving between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Plato’s “Republic” – they’re centered on justice. In both, we see how individuals can be dominated by their own desires and lusts. But at times adult books can be too taxing, not because of complexity, but because they don’t have the joie de vivre children’s stories do. Sometimes I think we over-intellectualize things and studying Philosophy made me feel over-caffeinated; I yearned for simplicity. Eventually, I found it in The Jolly Pocket Postman.

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Children’s stories are not a world away; I have met many Trunchbulls in my adult life. And monsters and aliens do exist; certainly things that can devour us. Think of sharks that have been evolving since antiquity and alien-looking fish that live in the deepest parts of the ocean. I don’t want my adulthood to be a rigid and limited place of exclusivity. My mental health does not do well with strict parameters of being; my curiosity needs to live freely.

My favorite children’s books have not always saved me; we cannot be saved from everything. Some experiences live in our bones. When my mother died, all the stories came to haunt me; my house blown down by the Big Bad Wolf. I was stuck on the last page of all the children’s books I had read: The End. A beeline of “ends” and “forevers” – ubiquitous words in children’s literature, swarmed me and plagued my mind, making me think of both finitude and infinity.

Some people find it strange that I still read Roald Dahl’s Matilda; but there’s a certain joy that only exists in children’s books that helps me when I’m morose. Being an adult shouldn’t mean I have to stick to one book. Meaningful sentences can be found everywhere; in forgotten birthday cards, graffiti sprawled across subways, scratched into the walls we face and within children’s literature.

My life is enriched with Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s The Jolly Postman. I like to think I see the world through bright shiny eyes and not through the eyes of a jaded adult. A walk in the woods becomes a world of its own – as does anything we give our attention to. Children’s books are good at making the world both bigger and smaller; bigger in possibilities and smaller in focus. To read children’s literature as an adult means I allow myself to become vulnerable to the fact that life can be more nuanced and full of vagueness at the same time; a tectonic shift in perspective. It’s the same with Philosophy. Who knows where opening up new worlds can take us? Whenever we open ourselves up to a different way of being, we understand more. And we’re more understanding for it.

Kiran Sidhu is a freelance writer

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