In the preface to American Childhood Ann Scott MacLeod’s gives this advice on reading books for children. “I look for authors views certainly but I also try to discover what the culture is saying about itself, about the present and the future and about the nature and purpose of childhood”. This is good, solid advice for critical reading but I would add that it is equally important to read outside of critical thought for the fullest understanding of the text. That is to read with the child mind present along side of the critical mind. Children are captivated by imagery that speaks to the imagination and to turns of phrases that are playful if not always grammatically correct in ways very different from adults and especially different from what the scholar looks for when reading. In order to really understand what a particular text says about the culture to which it belongs, or about itself, the present or the future we must read in the way the text was intended to be read as if it were written for us specifically, not as critical students but as children. We do this by moving beyond the supposed authorial intention or cultural motivators and enter into a participatory relationship with the story in the same way the child participates with the story he or she reads, to encounter situations not as social statements but as social possibilities. This is the heart of participatory reading and by it children (and the critical scholar) develop their imaginations and their capacity to more fully comprehend.
The next time you read a book intended for children try to stop asking what is the author trying to say and start asking what the books is telling you, if you were a child.