Short answer: No way!
But you probably knew I was going to say that.
We read for lots of reasons.
Sometimes we want to be comforted or cheered up. We read to feel emotions or connect to an issue. We read to challenge ourselves and we read for the sheer joy of it.
If reading kids books or YA literature makes you feel any of those things, then you’re fine.
Every now and then a thought piece will come out saying how adults should be embarrassed about reading kids books for pleasure. And it is invariably followed up with a torrent of YA supporters claiming the original article is sheer book snobbery.
I have to agree that dismissing kids and YA books out of hand is snobbery. But I feel that rushing to the defence of kids’ lit misses the point of the anxiety being raised.
So I’ll go through some of the concerns that I think people have about reading kids’ books.
Teen books are not challenging enough for adults
Books aimed at young people frequently feature very challenging themes. As we know, dystopias are very popular in YA (like The Hunger Games). Frequently, books are about family dynamics, social problems, sexuality & gender, emotional rollercoasters, violence and death. Yes, they’re also often about self-reflecting teens, first love, or grand adventures. Despite what Ruth Graham implies in the article above, well-written YA books also embrace ambiguity. I assure you there is a YA book out there with your name on it. You will be challenged!
Reading kids’ books won’t improve your vocabulary
If your sole reason for reading is to learn new words then you’re missing out on all the fun! Books are meant to transport you and inspire your imagination. If you happen to learn a new phrase, or a new word, or even something about the universe, then that’s great. But is it the sole purpose for picking up a book? Even non-fiction and textbooks are usually presented in a thoughtful and engaging way. The point is to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
Reading kids’ books is embarrassing
If you think this, then take a step back and ask why you think it. Did someone criticise or tease you about what you were reading? Did you read somewhere that it’s unhealthy in some way?
No one should ever be ashamed for reading. Hopefully, no one ever does criticise you for what you read. If someone does, think about why you love what you’re reading and have an answer ready. For example:
“I’m sorry you think it’s embarrassing. I love it. Maybe you should read it sometime.”
Being prepared like this can leave you free to just enjoy your book. And if some jerk on the tram says something, you know what to say. (And you’ll probably find at least one other ally sitting nearby).
And if you do engage in a conversation with these critics, they often admit they haven’t read the book they’re commenting on.
Adults can’t identify with young people or their problems
It’s a funny thing about adults; we were all young people once! Your upbringing might be radically different to kids today (or it might be eerily similar) but there will always be something you can identify with. Whether its family problems or homework stress, you will find a few parallels.
And the obverse is also true. By reading about the childhood of someone growing up in India, for example, you might gain understanding into a new culture. Or you may find yourself breathless with anxiety over the adventures of a wise-cracking, dragon-slaying, space princess, even though you are none of those things! If you find it enjoyable that usually means you have found something to identify with – maybe your latent desire to be a dragon-slaying space princess.
Read kids’ books without fear!
So if you enjoy kids books or YA, go ahead and read it without shame. Read it, love it, share it, Instagram it, shout it from the rooftops.
One thing I will say, though, is it’s still a good idea to try to read widely. Not all kids’ books are the same, I know, but try not to get into a rut. If you’re only reading books about pony clubs, for example, then it could be interesting to ask yourself why.
Escaping into literature is healthy, but retreating into the same place over and over may not be (as my obsession with frugal living books when I had my first child attests!) So if you find yourself dwelling in post-apocalyptic dystopias a little more than is healthy, and if you do have any concerns about that, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with a trusted friend, or your GP.