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Feb 06 2017
by Natasha Beauchesne

8 Books that Take on New Meanings in College

By Natasha Beauchesne - Feb 06 2017

As college students and young adults, the world can often seem confusing and daunting. With many of us juggling school, jobs, social lives, relationships and health, we can sometimes forget to stop and breathe. However, there are many books from our childhood that not only take us back to simpler times when we read them now, but they also take on a new significance in college. Sometimes, we don’t need Plato or Virginia Woolf to explain the world to us. Sometimes, we need those books that we read when we were younger.

Here is just a sampling of childhood books that you can connect to in new ways now that you are older.

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

It’s first on the list for a reason. You probably already know this, but Harry Potter isn’t just for kids. The reason it stands the test of time? Beyond Rowling’s memorable world-building, her stunning character development and magical writing style, the themes in these books are what really resonate with college students. While relating to the numerous tests, homework assignments and sports practices that the characters experience, college students can also connect to the darker themes of the books. The blurred lines of good and evil, loyalty, death, love, trauma, friendship… there’s something for everyone.

2. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Millne

Again, another obvious pick for a reason. The Winnie the Pooh books are full of such touching, thoughtful quotes that you just glaze over as a kid. But, as an adult, upon rereading the books, you’ll find yourself smiling a little at the simplicity and beauty of the words. And as college students, we could all use a little encouragement from Christopher Robin at times. 

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

3. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo

Venturing into the slightly more obscure, The Tale of Despereaux is a book that causes you to tear through the pages excitedly when you’re younger, then slow down and think a lot more carefully about the words when you’re older. Officially, it’s a story about three characters: a mouse who’s in love with a human princess, a rat who wants to live in the light and a servant girl who longs to be a princess. Despite the applicability of one of the central themes, which is yearning to be part of a different world than the one you already belong to, there’s a lot that you can miss when you first read the book as a child. From a girl being sold into slavery and severely abused, to a mouse’s whole family betraying him, to a rat whose heart remains twisted due to his desire for revenge, you’ll find yourself wondering how you weren’t permanently scarred from reading this when you were younger.

4. Holes by Louis Sachar

Yet another classic, and for good reason. While some of you may remember Holes primarily for the movie, the book is really worth a read, too. It follows the story of Stanley Yelnats, a boy sent to Camp Green Lake, a camp for troubled boys where all they do everyday is dig holes. Without spoiling the plot, this book really takes on new meaning as you get older and can pay more attention to the themes of crime and punishment, abuse of power, fate, friendship and cruelty. It’s worth rereading in college and besides, you’re apt to pay more attention to the complex backstory than you did back in elementary school.

5. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Such a love-hate relationship with Bridge to Terabithia — love because it’s thoughtful, beautiful and touching, and hate because it’ll make you sob uncontrollably. As a kid, you were probably more enamored with the kids’ fantasy world of Terabithia than you were with the “real world” of the novel. But now that you’re older, you’ll be able to be a more sensitive reader when the book deals with bullying, feeling like an outcast, religious beliefs and grief. Depending on your situation, you’ll almost certainly find a connection to something that you didn’t connect to as a child.

6. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg


As a kid, you probably liked From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler just for the concept of spending the night at a museum. As an adult, you’ll probably recognize this book for so much more than that. The storyline sounds simple enough: two kids decide to run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They get caught up in the mystery of an angel statue, which eventually leads them to meeting a woman named (you guessed it) Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Suffice it to say that this book has wisdom that you’ll wish you had listened to when you were younger. One of the most applicable quotes for college students:

“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow.”

Take that as a gentle reminder that to take a break from schoolwork every once in a while and reflect on what you’ve learned thus far.

7. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli


Stargirl is the equivalent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for kids. The plot is, once again, simple sounding enough. It’s about a new girl at school who is crazy, wacky, bizarre and instantly wins the heart of the narrator, Leo. But the kids at school turn on her, and suddenly Stargirl is forced to become just like everyone else. Spinelli speaks volumes of wisdom in this novel that you probably missed as a kid. Revisiting this book as an adult is a great reminder to stay true to yourself and that it’s okay to stick out from the crowd.

8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes


This is probably the saddest book on the list. It’s actually an adult novel, but many children seem to be taught some version of this book in school, namely the short-story version. For those of you who don’t know, Flowers for Algernon is about a mentally challenged man named Charley who undergoes treatment that gradually makes him smarter and smarter until he reaches genius status. The only problem is when his genius starts decaying. This book offers one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking commentaries on intelligence that you’ll find anywhere. While it’s taught in schools for the excellent sense of voice that Keyes endows upon Charley, its value only increases as you grow older. Like many of the books on this list, it’s beautifully written, and its messages about intelligence and fitting in especially strike a chord when you’re in college.

When you’re feeling down or just in need of some comfort and wisdom, the first place to look may just be the books from your own childhood. While I’ve provided what I think are some examples of books that are worth revisiting, you will, of course, have your own ideas and preferences. The important thing is to pick books that interest you, and see where they take you from there. So don’t be ashamed about reading books way below your reading level. Some books are just good no matter how old you are.

Lead Image Credit: Josh Applegate at Unsplash

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Natasha Beauchesne -

Natasha Beauchesne is a sophomore at Le Moyne College majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. She enjoys reading, running, yoga, and cuddling with her cats. If you have any leftovers, she will most certainly eat them all for you. Follow her on Twitter @tashabeau

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