Though their spines are slim, kids' books are loaded with wisdom. The books you were read — and then triumphantly learned to read yourself — when you were a kid impart some of the most insightful and worthwhile life lessons. Through them we learned about friendship, love, adventure, acceptance — all the things that still challenge us as adults.
There's a reason some children's books stick around for generations: Their time-tested morals endure. If you find yourself feeling word- or world-weary, books for kids may offer just the right fix. They're chock full of lessons that can give us some needed wisdom and perspective, even when viewed through the lens of our grown-up lives.
1. "Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself."
Madeleine L'Engle's fantasy classic A Wrinkle in Time is the story of two kids' journey through space to find one's lost father, a scientist who's gone missing. Aside from being a general page-turner of a book, the novel's protagonist, Meg, learns all about love, bravery, how time functions and the importance of defining your own life. Lessons that certainly translate to grown-up life too.
2. "Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."
In E.L. Konigsburg's quirky adventure book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, two siblings set up camp in the Donnell Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Surviving on root beer and crackers, they are intrigued by a new sculpture in the museum, which was purchased at Mrs. Frankweiler's auction and may be a Michelangelo. It's an adventure filled with little pearls of wisdom on life and how to make the most of it.
3. "Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next."
Ramona may have been a pest, but Beverly Cleary's feisty little heroine taught us a lot about speaking our minds, enduring change and acting on curiosity. Plus, because of Ramona, we'll never peel an egg by breaking the shell on our heads.
4. "You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."
The ever-thoughtful bear at the heart of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh is a very loyal friend to many. Despite his dim-wittedness, Pooh is something of a sage poet, always delivering thoughtful and humble observations about life in the Forest.
5. "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
The Lorax is a classic Seussian tale of wit, sing-songy rhythm and strange creatures. What's more, it's also a fable about the sanctity of the natural world and the need to preserve it. It comes with a pretty profound message: Change the world.
6. "To the tiger in the zoo Madeline just said, 'Pooh-pooh.'"
It might not be a needle point worthy quote, but it packs a message worthy of any mind. In Ludwig Bemelman's classic books, Madeline is the smallest of the 12 girls in Miss Clavel's school. She's feisty and brave, though, and very little rattles her — not even an appendectomy. From Madeline, we learn courage and to be proud of our scars — they show how tough we are.
7. "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable.”
The magical girl Matilda faces some considerable foes in Roald Dahl's classic novel — her rude parents, the evil Miss Trunchbull — but she still outsmarts them and pranks them again and again (with help from her telekinetic powers). She's a heroine who demonstrates that with an ally (got to love Miss Honey) and a keen mind, you can overcome even the most unfortunate circumstances.
8. "The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between."
It's hard to select just one important lesson from Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. The book is so packed with clever morals and truths. Milo's fairy tale adventure to overcome boredom and rescue twin princesses Rhyme and Reason is a treasure trove of puns and wisdom about using common sense and enjoying everyday life.
9. "Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Arguably as much a book for adult readers as kids, The Little Prince is the touching tale of a young prince who fallen to Earth from his planet and meets a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert. The novella hosts some pretty profound observations on human nature, beauty, love and ephemerality — too many life lessons to count.
10. "And the more he gave away, the more delighted he became."
The initially selfish beautiful Rainbow Fish learns to spread the wealth of his special scales, and by sharing parts of himself with his new friends, he makes the ocean a more sparkly place. Marcus Pfister's book is a gorgeously illustrated story about community and the value of generosity.
11. "It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that."
Through Alexander, Judith Viorst illustrates the straight truth: Some days are just plainly terrible, horrible, no good and very bad. They may be filled with lima beans, accidental tongue-biting and bad stuff on TV, but even when it seems that the universe is against us, Alexander learns that everyone has bad days and that tomorrow will just have to be better.
12. "To yourself you must always tell the truth."
Harriet the Spy is the book that kickstarted a generation of youthful sleuthing. Harriet's insatiable curiosity and penchant for observation lands her in hot water when her classmates read what she thinks of them. Her nanny, Ole Golly, is a solid source of wisdom and love and teaches Harriet much about writing, being a friend and hunting down truth.