7 Children’s Books Every Adult Needs to Read Again

When you were a child, did you stop in the middle of reading “Green Eggs and Ham” and think, “Hey, this is really an allegory about race?” Turns out, the books we loved from our childhood were actually far more complex than we ever imagined.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is one of the most popular children's books
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A metaphor for faith

If you are a Christian, L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece could be viewed as a metaphor of Christian faith. “The Yellow Brick Road is the path to enlightenment, with the characters encountering a variety of emblems of sin and temptation along the way toward the Emerald City, which is a kind of a heaven,” suggests Vulture.com. But, conversely, atheists can claim the Wizard represents a false God who is revealed to be a mere mortal. Bet you didn’t think about all of that when you were 8-years-old and rooting for Toto. And then there’s this: Who holds all the cards in the story? The women—Dorothy, The Wicked Witch, and Glinda the Good Witch. The men are all screw-ups who are lacking in one way or the other—the scarecrow a brain, the Tin Man a heart, the Lion courage. So, is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a feminist tract? Could be. Baum was a suffragist who crusaded for women’s rights.

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Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
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Winnie-the-Pooh: Insight into mental health issues

As a kid, the quirky denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood are entertaining and fun. As an adult, it might strike you that those same characters ought to be denizens of a psych ward. A study produced a few years ago out of Dahlhousie University diagnosed A.A. Milne’s creations with “crippling mental and emotional problems,” reports Cracked.com. Pooh suffers from ADHD; Eeyore with depression; Christopher Robin is schizophrenic; Tigger’s problem is hyperactivity and impulsivity, among a slew of others; and little Piglet, the study claims, “clearly suffers from generalized anxiety disorder.”

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Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
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Green Eggs and Ham: New thinking on racism

No one wants to try green eggs for the simple reason that we’ve never tried them before. That, and they sound disgusting. Had we gorged on the stuff since birth the dish would be on every menu of every diner in America. But we haven’t, so they aren’t. As a kid, this tale was akin to doody humour—one big ewww—which is why it was fun. But reading it decades later, especially knowing that it was set in 1960 America, a time when many schools, hotels, restaurants, and bathrooms were segregated, suddenly, Sam-I-Am’s insistence that his neighbour try something new, says Relevant magazine, is “Seuss’s way of saying, ‘Don’t judge a book, or an egg—or a man—by its colour.’”

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Cover of The Story of Babar
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The Story of Babar: The truth about colonialism

Big and Tall men’s shops clearly had their hands full when they had to dress Babar the elephant. But when a hunter shoots his mother and the young pachyderm is brought to Paris, clothed he was. After all, that’s what civilized people do. That and learn all the niceties of polite society, like blow your trunk when you have the sniffles. So when he returns to Africa to become the King of the Elephants, Babar imparts all he’s learned unto his subjects, which includes wearing clothes and walking on two feet. In short, he has brought Western culture to the Dark Continent. In shorter, Babar was a colonialist toady, according to Cracked.com.

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Cover of The Secret Garden
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The Secret Garden: The importance of self-reflection

Can we talk honestly? Mary, the book’s protagonist, is a spoiled, spiteful, little brat. There, I’ve said it. But to her credit, she takes a look at the girl in the mirror and does a 180, and soon goes about changing her nasty ways. What kids reading this book didn’t realize at the time, but adults do now, is that this is called self-reflection. And while it’s never simple to look within and see the ugliness, says Bustle.com, “only through learning and exploring and growing wiser” does Mary “begin to see her own flaws and make an effort to change them.” It’s a skill we adults have been forced to learn through the years. These are other life lessons adults tend to learn too late.

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Cover of Harriet the Spy book
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Harriet the Spy: Undoing gender stereotypes

While kids reading Louise Fitzhugh’s huge seller will enjoy Harriet’s independent and sassy ways, what they might not get is that the book is rife with gay imagery, writes Kathleen T. Horning, in The Horn Book. Exhibit A: Harriet dressed like a boy at a time when “girls in blue jeans and hooded sweatshirts were uncommon,” says Horning. Exhibit B: There’s a shy character, a boy, who would fade into the woodwork save for the purple socks he wears every day. The colour purple has great symbolism in the gay community. Exhibit C: “Not only is Harriet the quintessential baby butch,” insists Horning, who says the book helped her come to terms with her own sexuality, “but her best friends, Sport and Janie, run contrary to gender stereotypes. Sport acts as the homemaker and nurturing caretaker of his novelist father, while Janie the scientist plans to blow up the world one day.” In other words, Dick and Jane it ain’t.

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Cover of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
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Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: Bizarre artistic details

No, Judi and Ron Barrett’s book is not about the weirdest El Nino ever. It’s simply a tale about, well, food raining down on us. Kids are attracted to its absurdist sensibility, plus, they’re pigs who will eat anything and everything. Adults love it, too, because of the details sprinkled throughout artist Ron’s illustrations. It’s understandable that kids might miss baby doll heads impaled on trucks, says BusinessInsider.com, or “a terrified bird returning to its nest, which has been crushed by a fried egg.” But the adult you won’t.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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