Here’s a meditation on children’s books that can still make adults cry. The list is largely what you would expect: The Velveteen Rabbit, The Giving Tree, Charlotte’s Web, etc. Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”, which Lynne Sharon Schwartz has called “the saddest story ever written,” which may well be true, is mentioned also. I was also pleased to see the story link to this strange and epic thread at my old stomping grounds The American Scene.
I didn't read any of these when I was a child, but I read The Velveteen Rabbit as a teenager. I was a receiving clerk at a bookstore, and when opening a box of books paused, for some reason, to read that one. Did it extract a tear or two from my callow adolescent eyes? Indeed it did. But primarily it made me angry: I saw it as a crassly blatant attempt to manipulate the emotions of children, who, I thought, are the softest of targets for this kind of thing. Not long afterward I read Charlotte’s Web and had the same response.
And I’ve never been able to dismiss that initial response: I still find myself annoyed by, if not actually angry at, children’s books that end in death or other catastrophic loss. This is probably not rational — a good case can be made for the need to introduce children to the fact of death — but I have always had this lurking feeling that some of these writers enjoy the task just a little too much.