23 children's books you need to read again as an adult

The Story of Ferdinand, bookAmazonKids love this 1936 story about a bull who doesn’t want to fight, but it was actually seen as propaganda and banned by Hitler.

Thursday is World Book Day, so what better way to celebrate than to check out some of the greatest classics from your childhood?

It just so happens that there are a lot of important life lessons, conspiracy theories, and hidden messages in the books we loved as children — we just probably didn’t pick up on them back then.

With help from The New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Specialist, Betsy Bird, we put together a list of 23 books worth giving a second read.

'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day' by Judith Viorst

Illustrated by Ray Cruz, this book tells kids that even after the worst day imaginable, tomorrow will be better -- a lesson even adults need to remind themselves of once in a while.

Recently released as a movie featuring Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell, it's worth giving this book another read even if you've seen the film.

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'All-of-a Kind Family' by Sydney Taylor

Many kids' books with Jewish characters are about the Holocaust. It can be difficult to find kids' books that portray Jewish families in the everyday, but that's exactly what Taylor's book does.

Starring five young sisters in early 20th century New York City, young and old readers alike will learn about classic Jewish traditions as well as some interesting New York history from the perspective of a charming family.

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'The Cat in the Hat' by Dr. Seuss

An entertaining read for kids about a talking cat who causes mayhem for a couple of kids while their parents are out, 'The Cat in the Hat' is an interesting intellectual challenge for adults, says Bird.

After Seuss' publisher commissioned him to write a book using just 225 young reader vocabulary words, 'The Cat in the Hat' was born. Try counting them all, if you can.

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'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' by Judi Barrett

Who isn't enchanted by a story of food raining from the sky? 'Cloudy' is a magical tale that requires a little suspended disbelief, and a darker sense of humour -- especially when it comes to Ron Barrett's illustrations.

We find Barrett's morbid sense of humour in the tiny details, like the heads of baby dolls impaled on the front of a truck or the terrified bird returning to its nest, which has been crushed by a fried egg. They're details you probably didn't notice as a kid, but as an adult, you sure will.

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'Eloise' by Kay Thompson

Eloise is the sassy little girl who stars in Thompson's famous book series who lives a surprisingly glamorous life for a six-year-old.

The book is also chock-full of jokes for adults, says Bird, as Eloise is really the children's book alter ego of Thompson, who spent many years of her life as a cabaret performer and vocal coach to many legendary singers.

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'The Giver' by Lois Lowry

Before 'The Hunger Games' and 'Divergent,' 'The Giver' was every young adult's introduction into the world of dystopian fiction novels. It follows Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who is chosen to receive all the world's memories, both good and bad, to take the burden off of his community from having to know them.

Its powerful message is intensified as an adult, and even more themes become present in second or third readings.

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'The Great Gilly Hopkins' by Katherine Paterson

Sometimes it feels like characters in children's books are too likable, says Bird, but not Gilly Hopkins in Paterson's short novel. Bouncing from foster home to foster home has given her a mean spirit, but she's also sympathetic.

This is a book to read again, after 'The Lord of the Rings,' when you'll better appreciate the fact that Gilly is actually her nickname (her full name is Galadriel).

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'Harriet the Spy' by Louise Fitzhugh

Already a bit of an outsider, after Harriet's spy notebook gets into the hands of her classmates -- who she's been bashing on the pages for months -- they decide to make her life hell by humiliating and excluding her in school.

Grown-ups may pick up on the subtle references to Harriet being a lesbian, which, if they read the book as kids in the '60s when it was released, could be the reason kids who were also a bit different felt a kinship with Harriet.

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'Hatchet' by Gary Paulsen

The gripping tale of 13-year-old Brian lost in the backcountry of Canada with nothing but a small axe, 'Hatchet' details the skills Brian teaches himself to survive.

Kids enjoy it for Brian's ingenuity and creative thinking; adults will enjoy it again for its realism, and may even find themselves comparing the story to real-life news events.

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'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis

Bird suggests returning to C.S. Lewis' classic fantasy novel if only to decide whether it's as big a Christian allegory as you remember. Four siblings discover the land of Narnia, which is trapped in a never-ending winter and ruled by the evil White Witch.

While kids don't tend to pick up on the overtly Christian themes, for adults they're hard to avoid.

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'The Monster at the End of This Book' by Jon Stone

Though the book was originally published long before iPhones and Androids, an app featuring the book is now available in the app store, and has additional activities for kids (or adults) to enjoy.

With colourful, fourth wall-breaking illustrations by Mike Smollin, the book also has a surprisingly powerful theme: that we shouldn't be afraid of things before we understand them, as they may not be so terrifying after all.

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'The Mysteries of Harris Burdick' by Chris Van Allsburg

Though the book features very little text, the real stories are in Van Allsburg's highly detailed and beautiful illustrations, inviting readers to make up much of the context around them. Take a second look as an adult and see if the stories have changed around each different image.

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'Pippi Longstocking' by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi is the original child superhero, says Bird. Living alone with her pet monkey, showing unusual strength, and showing an incredible amount of fearlessness and invincibility in the face of danger is entertaining to kids, but shows adults that if we have the confidence in ourselves to believe we can do anything, we really can do anything.

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'A Series of Unfortunate Events' by Lemony Snicket

Full of dark humour and comic relief, the series follows the Baudelaire children, three brilliant orphans who are trying to find out the truth behind the death of their parents in a mysterious fire while keeping 10 steps ahead of evil master of disguise, Count Olaf.

Kid readers may empathise with the Baudelaires, who are repeatedly patronized by the adult characters; grown-up readers may see it from a completely different point of view.

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'The Snowy Day' by Ezra Jack Keats

'The Snowy Day' is a wondrous escape from reality through bold, beautiful, colourful pictures and a simple yet vivid story of a boy on a snow day.

The contrast between an urban landscape and something as pure as snow serves as a great reminder to adults -- especially in the winter -- that despite the nuisance of bad weather, it's important to take a moment to get back to that childlike delight in the snow.

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'The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales' by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Scieszka and Smith spin off the classic runaway food tale of 'The Gingerbread Man' with a snarky, humorous twist in 'The Stinky Cheese Man.' It may be the first time kids are exposed to this type of parodying sense of humour that helps them draw up memories of the old nursery rhymes and stories they know.

'Add in Lane Smith's art, which sometimes feel like it has escaped from a Monty Python film, and you've a book for the ages,' notes Bird.

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'The Story of Ferdinand' by Monroe Leaf

Originally published in 1936, this story of a bull who would rather stop and smell the roses than fight in the bull ring was seen as propaganda and banned by Hitler. Naturally, Gandhi loved 'The Story of Ferdinand' as a celebration of pacifism.

Robert Lawson's precisely detailed black and white illustrations complete Leaf's tale, a brilliant reminder that fighting doesn't always solve the problem.

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'Suzuki Beane' by Sandra Scoppotone

'Suzuki Beane' was written as a Beat generation response to the popular 'Eloise' and illustrated by the author of 'Harriet the Spy,' says Bird. The story of a downtown girl who befriends an uptown boy, the pair just want to live in a place where their two worlds can coexist without backlash from society.

It's a story that shows the evolution of the Beat movement into the hippie movement; for that reason alone, says Bird, it's historically noteworthy.

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'The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963' by Christopher Paul Curtis

Curtis' novel centres around a fictional family moving from Michigan to Birmingham; while his is a work of historical fiction, it's based on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, an event seen as a huge catalyst of the civil rights movement.

After learning about the civil rights movement in more detail throughout life, adults will come back to appreciate the historical accuracy of the work as well as the deep understanding of these events through the eyes of an average family who could have seen them firsthand.

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'The Westing Game' by Ellen Raskin

After the mysterious murder of an eccentric millionaire, his sixteen heirs -- all of whom are picked by him to live in the Sunset Towers apartment building -- - are given clues to figure out what happened to Mr. Westing.

Solving the mystery is the best part of reading this book, and if it's been a while since reading 'The Westing Game,' adults will be just as hooked figuring out this whodunit all over again.

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'Who Needs Doughnuts?' by Mark Alan Stamaty

Written and illustrated in a 'Where's Waldo'-like busy jumble, 'Who Needs Doughnuts?' is about a young boy who follows his love of doughnuts to the Big City, where he finds something else entirely.

Though long since out of print, it's worth tracking down, says Bird, for its absurdity, and for the little details we can never quite catch during the first read.

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'The Witches' by Roald Dahl

Known for his frequent use of darkness, horror, and even death in his books, Dahl believed fairytales always had to have something scary in them for children, as long as the stories also made them laugh.

'The Witches' is perhaps his creepiest work, says Bird, particularly because it doesn't end happily ever after like other tales. What adults will notice, however, is the difference in description of Dahl's witches from other witches in popular culture. Read it again and compare.

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'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle

What makes L'Engle's most beloved novel so special is its unique mix of magic and science in the story about Meg, a girl whose scientist father mysteriously disappears while in the middle of some groundbreaking work. With the help of her genius little brother and schoolmate Calvin, she embarks on a quest to find out what happened, and meets some puzzling characters along the way.

Depending on the age of the reader, some of L'Engle's concepts may not make sense, but adults will find themselves catching new theories of L'Engle's -- and their own -- in her beautiful story.

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