How Do Your Childhood Books Affect Your Personality as an Adult? Science Has the Answers!
When we think of the books we read as children, we might think about all the fantastic memories and feelings we have associated with those books. But why is it that the stories we decide to read as kids stick with us into adulthood? Did we simply like the characters or story arcs, or did they change us somehow? Does a children’s book have the ability to change a generation? Or the world? Let’s be clear that the books we are referring to here are children’s novels, fantasy and fiction novels, that is, for example, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Little Women, and The Borrowers. The list is infinite.
We are going to try to answer one question through the rest of this article: Do children’s fantasy books really affect the lives of the children that read them?
To start us off, we should probably answer a different, but basic, question: Why do kids choose to read books like these? Well, according to journalist Lucy Mangan, there are two big reasons for this. First, it’s one of the first glimpses of the real world kids see. Of course, the real world may not include seven years at Hogwarts, but it’s the people, relationships, situations, and circumstances of the characters that open a new wealth of information. “Each book is a world entire,” Mangan notes, quite poetically too. Second, without the big responsibilities of adulting, long uninterrupted stretches of time are being spent reading. Mangan remarks that adulthood makes a hobby like reading a challenge.
As an adult, your tastes […] are more developed, your time is more precious and your critical faculties are harder to switch off.
There is no denying the importance of reading to children at the earliest possible age and through their formative years. Science says so, authors say so, and frankly, everyone who has a kid says so. Children should be encouraged to read fantasy, fiction, and science fiction as much as possible.
Along with the points from Lucy Mangan, there are a few more that are also worthy of our attention. Rod Faulkner, a journalist of science fiction and fantasy entertainment, says, “It excites not only their imagination but their curiosity as well.“ Faulkner states that with the use of imagination and curiosity, children develop a much better understanding of the intense emotions that their favorite books, and their own lives, come with.
Fostering creativity, problem-solving skills, and healthy emotional and coping skills are essential to child development; it will “help equip them to adroitly navigate the world around them, and enable them to blaze their own paths.”
When we read these novels as a kid, we love them, and we learn from them. But at some point, we move on from them. Then once we reach adulthood, maybe we find ourselves going back to the worlds we loved so much as a child. In fact, rereading our favorite books can act as a sort of mirror reflecting our current lives, Jill Campbell, an English professor at Yale, says.
[Rereading] reminds us that we can experience something intensely and not be seeing everything at the time. […] It’s a way of thinking more about a book that’s had an impact on you, but it’s also a way of thinking about your own life, memories, and experiences.
It could be our need for a little nostalgia. But odds are, that metaphorical mirror has something to do with it. In a study from 2012, researchers asked subjects to reread their favorite books or rewatch their favorite movies. By doing so, this allows “consumers an active synthesis of time and serve[s] as catalysts for existential reflection.” Okay, that’s a little loaded. Let’s unpack that for a second. We can use these rereads as a way to look at our current lives, ponder what our favorite characters go through, and use their adventures as a sort of source of reason. For example, at one point in the study, a woman who rewatched her favorite movie from 1999 helped her process an upsetting breakup she was currently going through.
There is a sort of satisfaction in heading back into fantasy. It provides comfort, relaxation, and a newfound pleasure of rediscovery. Of course, when we start a book over, we reread parts as though we don’t remember from the first time. It’s like finding a new chapter! However, a slight downside can come from delving back into a childhood book. Have you ever felt… underwhelmed? Like, you remember it as the best series you’ve ever read and then you go back for the same experience and it’s a bit of a disappointment? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. See “your tastes […] are more developed” from earlier.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your tastes were bad in your childhood or that they are bad now. You just grew up! It’s still very possible to appreciate what’s special about the book; you can come at it from another perspective. After all, your worldview has probably shifted since you were in elementary or middle school.
You may be asking at this point, “What does any of this have to do with Harry Potter specifically? I’m on MuggleNet for some good Harry Potter content.” Hang on a second – we’re getting there. There is proof that Harry Potter (drumroll, please) makes you a better person!
Studies have consistently shown that reading the Harry Potter series is linked to reduced prejudices toward minority groups. Offhand, that may seem like a bit of a jump. But is it, though? Throughout the series, there are several instances of prejudice. Children who read the Harry Potter series understand the similarities between the wizarding world and the real world. For example, the use of the term “mudbloods” (looking at you, Draco) in the books is comparable with the treatment of real-world minorities, such as immigrants or members of the LGBTQ+ community. The studies found that children who read books with a marginalized group and – this next part is important – identify with a lead character have reduced biased toward minority groups.
During the time that researchers were conducting this study, results provided an interesting counterpoint. It’s clear that when Harry Potter is read to young audiences, there was a strong relationship with the decline in prejudice and the reader’s personal identification with Harry himself. But when researchers had college-age students read the books, more students identified with Voldemort. Those who didn’t identify with the main character, Harry, resulted in no link to lower levels of prejudice.
Trust us, we are as shocked as you are. These studies help researchers get a good glimpse into what a kid can retain from a novel with more grown-up themes. As adults frequently forget, we underestimate what children are capable of learning.
A prime example of this effect is seen with nine-year-old Raff. Raff found his love of Harry Potter at the age of eight when he read the first book. According to his parents, he breezed through the entire series in the next six months. Raff’s parents were worried that some of the darker, more adult themes of the books would go right over his head. That is, until the annual New South Wales public schools Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition. To their ultimate surprise, Raff won the competition with his knowledge of the fair treatment of refugees, to which his parents credit the advantage of having Harry Potter in his life.
I was just as stunned at how Harry Potter is helping me [raise] great humans.
Kudos on this parenting technique! Points for Raff!
The connections to fantasy literature and a drop in racism is not exclusive to Harry Potter. The fantasy genre seems to make a special impact in this regard. Researchers point out that stories like the ones we read in our childhood are very involved in engaging empathy. But for reasons unknown, researchers note that Harry Potter books “had an impact beyond that of reading in general.”
Anthony Gierzynski, a political-science professor at the University of Vermont, agrees with the links between empathy and Harry Potter. In 2013, he wrote a book called Harry Potter and the Millenials: Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation in which he identified diversity, acceptance, political tolerance, and equality in the Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter was one of the greatest cultural events of our generation’s time. [The books] helped raise the children of our generation by instilling in them some of the basic moral conceptions of right and wrong.
So to answer our question from the very beginning of the journey, which I hope you have managed to stay on through the length of this piece, do children’s fantasy books really do anything to affect the lives of the children who read then? Well, yes, for the better. We know that reading, in general, is critical in proper childhood development. We know that increased amounts of fantasy, fiction, and science fiction can be even more beneficial to a kid’s imagination, creativity, and emotional health. Harry Potter, in particular, has had a massive, phenomenal cultural impact on a generation of children who have grown to become caring, sympathetic, and empathetic adults.
What was your favorite book or series as a kid, and do you ever reread them? How have they affected you going into your adult life? Let us know!