As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t said much about children’s books in this blog nor reviewed any children’s books. A search of my posts came up with one post where I used the phrase, “children’s books”, a post on C. S. Lewis from last fall. In my post September 2014: The Month in Reviews, I even noticed the serious tone in the books I’ve been reading of late.
At one time, this would have been a very different story! One of my treasured collection of memories are all the “read aloud” times when our son was growing up. We read lots of “children’s” stories together and found that the ones that were the most special were the ones we both liked best. We learned early on that good children’s literature is simply literature that is both age appropriate to the child and engaging for “children of all ages.”
I still remember our shared delight as we read I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom with exquisite artwork by Richard Scarry. It’s the board book we buy whenever we learn of friends who have recently had a baby. Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon was a favorite later on with its evocative story of a young boy and his dad walking in the woods on a snowy, moonlit night to go “owling”. We read all the “Little House” books (which I had never before read) and the Narnia Chronicles (which I first discovered as a college student). We read several of Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction/fantasy books, which probably helped awaken my son’s love of science fiction. One summer, when my son was laid up with a broken leg, we read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy aloud as a family (probably my third or fourth time through these books). A special find was Jean Lee Latham’s Carry on, Mr Bowditch which tells the story of a young boy, Nathaniel Bowditch, who is taken on as a ship’s boy and begins to study navigation, which stimulates a love of mathematics and results in him later writing one of the foremost books on navigation of his day.
Of course, our son went on to high school, college and now marriage and with that, our “read aloud” times have gone by the wayside. And one of the losses I’ve recently noticed as well, is the loss of reading those books that are good for children of all ages. And so as I was looking for my next book to read, I picked up George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, one of those children’s fantasies probably suitable for children grades 3 to 6 or so, that I had never read.
I’m about midway through so I don’t know (nor want to know) how it ends. But one thing I’ve noticed is that while this is a much easier book to read than some of the “dense” works I’ve reviewed recently, that doesn’t mean it is by any means “light”. Already, the book has explored the line between courage and foolhardiness, the fears of the night that don’t go away with adulthood (are there goblins or other dangerous things out there?), the power of light to dispel evil, our conceptions of age (with the great-great grandmother), and the question of warranted belief. How does Princess Irene know that there actually is a great-great grandmother?
I think one of the things that makes this and other good children’s books great is that they are like life. I think there are “layers” of understanding in even the most every day events. Both children and adults fear “goblins” but the ones we fear may be different. A children and a grandparent can read the same story and the child identifies with the princess, and the grandparent with the great-great grandmother. Both children and adults wrestle between believing the trustworthy promises and listening to the voices of cynicism. As adults, however, we may be the one’s who have learned that cynicism, which is questioned in the “children’s” story. Will we be so guarded against deception that we miss out on wonder?
Perhaps it is time to revisit some of those stories I’ve loved and to discover new ones.
What are the children’s stories that have continued to speak to you into adulthood–the one’s that are good for “children of all ages?”