I was around thirteen years old when I read Stuart Little for the first time. “A little late to be reading a book famously meant for young children,” you may think. I thought so too. Despite this, however, I found myself drawn to its vividly designed pictures and innocent plot. As I neared the end, I found myself crying. Something about its finality touched me, reached inside me, and found a piece of myself I had never seen before. From then on, I would frequently think back to that day.
Why was Stuart Little, a simple children’s story, the first and only book to ever make me feel such visceral emotions?
Though my age inevitably increased each year, my love for so-called children’s media remained unchanging. Every time I wandered down the aisle of my local library, I would find myself ambling closer towards the children and young adult fiction section. Again and again, I would reach for fantasy, science fiction, and mystery novels with characters who stayed perpetually young. The silliness of both the writing and often larger than life characters never failed to make me laugh.
While my parents advocated for action or romance movies whenever we settled down in our living room after dinner, I pushed for The Iron Giant, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Kung Fu Panda. Sometimes I wouldn’t triumph, and other times I would; when I did, though, it was always a good night. It was comfort, it was uncontrollable laughter, it was pure joy. You wouldn’t expect that it would also be existential.
Yes, as contradictory as it sounds, when I sit down to watch a goofy animated character face off against an equally comical villain, I grow up a little. Within those larger-than-life plotlines, I discover fragments of wisdom that reveal themselves in surprising ways. Whether it be navigating familial relationships or tackling the immensity of grief, children’s media can do it all; moreover, they discuss these difficult topics do it with incredible gentleness, sincerity and–most important of all–subtlety.
To me, reading about a little mouse determined to find his bird best friend was transcendent for my inner child. I didn’t understand why, however, until I realized that children’s media isn’t made for just children. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Of course not! I already know this: remember that blanket scene with Lord Farquaad from Shrek?”
But I urge you to think deeper than sneaking in dirty jokes.
Do you ever wonder why there seems to be a timeless essence to the stories little kids continue to read? Or why the theaters are filled with adults, young adults, and children alike when adaptations and sequels of beloved childhood movies come out?
We want to understand the magic. We want to experience that cathartic feeling of letting an animated dragon or bespectacled little girl help you realize that it’s okay to feel lonely–it’s normal for it to seem like you don’t belong.
To this day, I find my twenty year old self still immersed in it all: the sweeping magical scores, the visuals full of curiosity and color, the deceptively simple messages that lay quietly beneath the surface for children to absorb. It’s the genuine, raw truth this media reveals that has never ceased to amaze me. More than anything, it has allowed–and still allows–me to get through the tough times in my life. It helped me get to know my past and confront the things I didn’t allow myself to reflect on.
Of course, not every piece of children’s media is going to be high art that transcends intellectual boundaries. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to. Children aren’t going to be into that and adults don’t need it in order to be moved. What else can make you laugh at a fart joke one moment and make you realize you haven’t healed from the troubled relationship with your dad the next? It’s children’s media that has the power to make us feel young again, to heal us–even when we’re no longer children.
—Maya Jimenez, Fall 2022 Staff