I often ask people to name their
favorite book from childhood. The answer is, more often than
not, a description rather than a title. The book, whatever it
was, made an impression before the age of remembering
A friend of one of my sons described hers: "A funny book about manners. I think it rhymed." "Oh," I replied, "Never Tease a Weasel?" "Yes!" she exclaimed. I happened to own a copy, and gladly gave it to her.
On an airplane, a sophisticated fellow-traveler to Paris grew misty-eyed describing a book about a junk man in France. "Oh," I replied, "The Ragman of Paris?" "Yes," she answered in some astonishment, especially because the book dates back to 1937. I provided her enough information about book and author to order herself a copy, and she was glad.
This essay was going to be about "life-lessons learned from children's books," except even my eyes glazed over at the title, and at the potential for writing a trite list of platitudes that would bore even me, the writer. The potential for the list to be trite is there because life's fundamentals are the grist for every writer's mill, and it's difficult to be original on a universal topic. But consider these examples, none of which are trivial or superficial:
steadfastness? Horton Hatches the Egg. Forgiveness?
Katrina and Jan or The Silver Skates. Perseverance? Of
course, The Little Engine that Could. The value of
individuality? Put Me in the Zoo, a book I cherish to
this day. The heart breaking reality of death, and of
resurrection hope? The Velveteen Rabbit, that powerful
story. Tolerance? The Sneeches, no matter what the
current dialogue about it may say. Christianity in a nutshell? The
Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That life is difficult
and fraught with peril? Look no further than Peter Rabbit.
Children are keen discerners of
what is true and of what matters. Like their elders, their taste
sometimes runs to junk food and junk literature, but they also
respond to truth. A children's book must get to heart issues
succinctly, and with laser accuracy. Extra verbiage will not be
tolerated or the book that contains it will be soon forgotten.
False sentiment won't resonate, and preachiness annoys this
Writing poetry is difficult
because each word must be perfect for its place in the poem;
writing for children requires the same care. Writing for
children, done right, is probably more difficult than writing
for their elders.
Most readers have had that
epiphanous experience of meeting their calling, or their hope,
or even their destiny, in the pages of a book. Books,
well-chosen, well-written, change lives. That experience is so
much more likely in a children's book, because children are
My older son called me recently
after his daughter Vera discovered, in the Alphabears
book I'd given him for his first Christmas in 1983, the letter
"V" stood for VERA. She found herself in her dad's book. Because
I love children's books, my hope for every child is that they
discover themselves in the pages of a kindly book.
I'd be interested in your responses to this question: What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Things you might want to do:
To subscribe to my blog, click here.
You can read other posts here.
To purchase Hugo Makes Bread with Grandad, Peggy Alberda's heartwarming tale about family bonding and bread-baking, click here. (I got to do the illustrations!)
my own children's book about history, architecture, and talking
pigs, The Piglys and the Hundred-Year Mystery, click here.
(Aimed at 4th through 6th graders, but appreciated by much
younger readers and by savvy adults who tell me they read it
Both Peggy's book and mine highlight issues I think are particularly crucial right now.
I'll be at the DASH Homeschool
Expo in Auburn, Indiana, at the Soul's Harbor Assembly of God
church, Saturday April 10th, from 9 to 2.
Would love to see you if you're in the area!