Grow Up! 9 Adult Versions of Favorite Childhood Books

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Revisiting favorite books from childhood is a somewhat risky endeavor. It’s hard to recapture feelings that were so intense the first time they were experienced. And the more seasoned a reader we become, the unlikelier it is for a plot twist to really blow our minds. But nostalgia has its own appeal, and it’s fun to occasionally indulge. Sometimes childhood favorites do not stand up to adult scrutiny, and that’s fine, too. Changing our opinions about a book shows that we’ve changed, which is neither avoidable nor a bad thing. My goal today is to capture some childhood faves whose essences have translated well to a book for adults, in some fashion or other.

I will fully admit that the books I’ve chosen are ones in my wheelhouse, meaning books lots of Gen Xers and Millennials read in their youths. I’m curious how many of these books made it to Gen Zers. I’d honestly be happy to find out some of these are no longer standard fare. Classics can be great, but kids should also be reading books written to reflect their own contemporary lives. But that’s a rant for a different day. Today is when we stroll down memory lane, chuckling at the books that blew our young minds. I deeply hope one of your old faves is below, and that its accompanying adult book delights you.

If You Loved The Westing Game, Try…

A graphic connecting The Westing Game to Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
cover of Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

This is perhaps the most one-to-one match of this list. The Westing Game is for kids who love a puzzle. Sixteen people gather for the reading of an eccentric millionaire’s will, only to find that one of them will inherit a great fortune if they can outwit everyone else. It’s full of twists and surprises, and just so dang clever. Tuesday Mooney follows an Edgar Allan Poe-themed treasure hunt for an eccentric billionaire’s fortune. The titular Tuesday is indeed literally haunted, and she and her crew of puzzlers are wonderfully drawn characters. The Boston setting is vividly rendered, and there’s even some crossover with Kate Racculia’s stellar Bellweather Rhapsody. If The Westing Game was your childhood fave, you simply must read it.

If You Loved A Wrinkle In Time, Try…

a graphic connecting the cover of A Wrinkle in Time to Parable of the Sower
cover of Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

I’ve written about the appeal of A Wrinkle in Time before, when I ranked the book’s covers. I loved it for the heady ideas about spacetime. Others love it for the representation of a girl with big feelings and even bigger bravery. Parable of the Sower is a wonderful grown-up version of A Wrinkle in Time. Instead of IT, a disembodied brain threatening to control everyone, Parable has a dystopian setting with a president who promises to “Make America Great Again” (yikes). And a teenage girl with hyper-empathy who has to leave her personal comfort and safety in search of a promising future for humanity. Like A Wrinkle in Time, this book also philosophizes about religion in a deeply thoughtful way.

If You Loved The Phantom Tollbooth, Try…

A graphic connecting the cover of The Phantom Tollbooth to Ella Minnow Pea
cover of ella minnow pea by mark dunn

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn

The Phantom Tollbooth is definitely one of my personal childhood faves. As someone who loves both words and numbers (we exist!), the book tickled me. It’s a story of a boy who breaks out of boredom by discovering the joy of knowledge. Full of whimsy and wordplay, it’s a book that teaches some lessons without feeling too preachy. Grownup fans of wordplay are sure to love Ella Minnow Pea. This book follows Ella as she fights back against a totalitarian government banning letters of the alphabet one by one. The text itself reflects this creeping censorship as the writing becomes more and more constrained. With freedom of expression under threat as it currently is, this book is more timely than ever.

If You Loved Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Try…

a graphic connecting the cover of Sideways Stories from Wayside School to Tower
Tower Book Cover

Tower by Bae Myung-hoon

Sideways Stories from Wayside School is unforgettable for its absurdity. So many hilarious things happen at the 30-story-tall school with classrooms stacked to the sky. Justice for Todd! If you love books with interconnected stories, and you’re looking for another set in a towering construction, try Tower! Beanstalk is a ​​674-story skyscraper and sovereign nation. The stories set there are as witty, surprising, and satirical as its childhood read-alike.

If You Loved Miss Nelson is Missing!, Try…

a graphic connecting Miss Nelson is Missing to Never Let Me Go
A graphic of the cover of r Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The plot twist in Miss Nelson is Missing! is one for the ages. I thought I’d encountering it during a Reading Rainbow episode, but apparently that was its sequel, Miss Nelson is Back. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil anything. But if you loved that twist ending, you’ll enjoy (not sure that’s the right word!) Never Let Me Go. Like its counterpart, Never Let Me Go has a school setting and a plot in which students discover the truth about their reality.

Cover of Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar

Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar

The Monster At the End of this Book is baby’s first metafiction, right? It’s also a great introduction to horror, in that gathering sense of dread Grover experiences. Chasing the Boogeyman is the perfect book for the grown-up lover of high-concept horror. In it, a writer begins to document a local serial killer terrorizing his small town. As he writes, the line between fiction and reality becomes very blurred. You might even find yourself googling to untangle fact from fiction for yourself.

If You Loved Frog and Toad, Try…

a graphic connecting the cover of Frog and Toad are Friends to It Takes Two to Tumble
It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian Book Cover

It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian

Look, if you loved the Frog and Toad books as a kid, you need to be reading grumpy/sunshine gay romance books as an adult. I don’t make the rules. Cat Sebastian’s catalog contains many such gems, but I’ll single out It Takes Two to Tumble. It’s a historical romance retelling of The Sound of Music pairing a sunny vicar with a grumpy sea captain whose children need tending. Vibes for days. Pining for years. I honestly couldn’t be prouder of this match-up.

If You Loved Little House On the Prairie, Try…

a graphic connecting the cover of the Little House on the Prairie to Lone Women
cover of Lone Women by Victor LaValle; illustration of a Black woman in a white blouse and blue skirt standing in a field of wheat

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

So the Little House books have not aged well, to say the absolute least, and you ought to read Prairie Fires if you’d like to know more. So I deeply appreciate authors who are trying to write into a similar imaginative space. Some of the most memorable moments in the original come when the family is in real peril. Think of the long winter, or the plague of locusts! Readers who also appreciated those moments will love Lone Women, the story of Adelaide Henry. She’s headed to Montana to claim her homestead, and the dangers she faces are waaaaay scarier than locusts and snow.

If You Loved The Chronicles of Narnia, Try…

a graphic connecting the cover of The Chronicles of Narnia to Piranesi
the cover of Piranesi

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I don’t want to hear any hack jokes about how bad Turkish delight is. I think it’s delicious and maybe I would sell out my family for it. Anyway, The Chronicles of Narnia is a portal fantasy/Christian allegory following four ordinary children and their extraordinary adventures in a magical land. This series created fantasy readers out of so many of us. Comparing it to Piranesi may be cheating just a little bit, because the book specifically references the Narnia books. Just look at the cover. Still, adult readers who are interested in fantasy novels that tackle big questions about religion are sure to enjoy this slim novel packing incredible depth. It’s a book many people think is best to read without a lot of background, so suffice it to say it’s about a house with infinite rooms, and what its inhabitants discover there.

Can you think of adult versions of the best children’s books of all time? Or maybe you’d like to revisit some children’s books well worth rereading. Whatever you’re reading, I hope you can find books that elicit similar feelings to your own childhood faves.