11 Childhood Books With Life Lessons For Your 30s

When you first start reading books as a kid, the main appeal is usually the pictures or the adventures, or perhaps how much you can identify with the the characters. It’s all about pretending you’re a spy like Harriet, or imagining that all your book smarts will give you telekinetic powers like Matilda’s, or maybe even imagining you’re the strongest girl in the world like good ol’ Pippi Longstocking.

As you get older, you still hold these books dear, but it’s easy to forget that they were written by full grown adults who had worlds of experience with this whole life thing and probably put a lot of what they’ve learned about it what they write. When you think back on your favorite childhood books, you might only remember the magic and the simplistic moral lessons... and Ramona Quimby’s freckles, of course.

But it turns out that there’s actually a lot more to the books we read as kids. In fact, some of them have life lessons that we could seriously use in this big bad grown up stage of our 30s. They were, after all, written by people who were probably in their 30s at the time, or at least had gone through that stage already. Growing up ain’t easy, and, it turns out, sometimes it’s the heroes of our youths that have just the right advice on how to make it as an adult.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

The Lesson: “Don't mess with anybody on a Monday. It's a bad, bad day.”

Maybe in your 20s you could shake off those three mimosas you had at Sunday brunch and come into the office bright eyed and bushy tailed. But now you’re 30, you could’ve slept 15 hours each day of the weekend and come Monday you’re still gonna walk into the office like you came straight from the set of The Walking Dead. It’s real. Don’t mess with anybody on Monday.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

The Lesson: “I'm afraid men are not always quite as clever as they think they are. You will learn that when you get a bit older, my girl.”

If this were a list of life lessons for your 20s, I might have chosen this happily inspirational quote from Matilda: “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...” But you’re 30 now, you know that sometimes you do have to half-ass it, because sometimes you’re dealing with an office (or house) full of not-so-clever people and it’s better to save all that precious energy for something worthwhile.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket

The Lesson: “They didn't understand it, but like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it isn't so.”

Once upon a time, you might’ve looked at misfortune and thought of that old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But no, you’ve lived through enough misfortune to know that there isn’t really a point or meaning to most of it. Sometimes, things just suck and that’s that. That said, good ol’ Lemony also knows how to make you feel better, even if things still suck...

“...you know that a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.” ― Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The Lesson: “Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”

If you’re a parent, you know there’s a double meaning here you’ll never forget.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Lesson: “There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

This magical place is called your couch, where you can spend blissful hours not going out, not entertaining guest, not watching your waistline, not answering your phone, not wearing pants… It’s truly a small cushioned island of paradise.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Lesson “It's all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it's not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?”

You used to watch adventuresome romance movies or read epic sagas of magic and wonder and trials and triumph and think, “man, I wish my life was like that! Why is real life so dull?!” But now? Now you know better. Adventure and drama is all fine and dandy… on the 14-inch screen on your wall or all neatly bound up in a little novel you keep bedside to help you have fun dreams. But, in your real life, a steady sleep schedule and a drama-free social calendar is everything!

Louisa May Alcott says it best in Little Women: “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.”

And speaking of Ms. Alcott….

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Lesson: “Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault.”

It might have taken 15 months and you might’ve stopped and started again every few weeks, but you finally managed to run that marathon, lose those pounds, finally keep your car clean for longer than a week… Breaking habits only gets harder in post-30, but you know by now that a little bit (OK, a lot) of grit can eventually eventually get you where you’re trying to be.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Lesson: “If we walk far enough," says Dorothy, "we shall sometime come to someplace.”

It’s weird. We all thought this adult thing would mean knowing what to do all the time. That’s the impression all the adults gave us when we were kids. But nope. Nope-ity nope nope. Sometimes you have no idea what’s going on, what to do, or where to go, but you’ve learned by now that those are the times you just keep on going and eventually you’ll either figure it out, or you’ll end up somewhere anyhow.

Forever by Judy Blume

The Lesson: “It's strange, but when it comes right down to it I never do fall apart — even when I'm sure I will.”

Right? Weird how that works out, but it does. Even when you’re at your lowest of lows, even when you go temporarily insane and break down crying, you don’t completely lose it. You never really fall apart. You’ve been doing this living thing for three decades now, which hardly makes you an expert, but you’ve at least figured out that you can take a whole lot of crap before you even come close to falling apart. You’re way more resilient than even you knew.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

The Lesson: “A person can have a happy and fulfilling life without children.”

Some of your friends are already on kid No. 4, some of them are still partying hard every weekend (and then nursing epic two-day hangovers), but you might’ve noticed that both of these groups of your friends (you included) are perfectly happy doing what they do.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

The Lesson: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go...”

The only thing Dr. Seuss forgot to say in this little gem of a quote was that the whole steering yourself and deciding where to go thing is kind of the hard part. But, boy, do you know that now! It’s half the fun and half the scary of being a full-on grown up. But don't worry, the one thing all these books can agree on is that it gets easier... and then harder... and then easier again...

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