“I am a part of everything that I have read.” – Theodore Roosevelt
My love of books began when I was very young. As school children celebrated “Read Across America” last week, my social media feed was full of familiar characters from children’s books. It reminded me of the important role Children’s Literature has played in my life.
As a child
I revisit my childhood favorites often, I’ve read The Secret Garden, countless times. Each Spring, I long to read it again, to visit the English countryside so wonderfully described by Frances Hodgson Burnett. And each time I do, I’m transported to the pink walls of my childhood bedroom, sunlight streaming in the window and devouring the book for the very first time. From the opening pages it spoke to me and I fell in love with the power of story.
The fact that they are written for children does not mean these are simple books. I’ve found that in these beloved Children’s Literature favorites there is incredible depth, perhaps first lost in the magic of the story. However, as you read and reread such books, you see the wisdom and insights woven throughout. There is a layered beauty that time and maturity reveal – so that the tale of a girl in a garden turns into so much more. The same is true for other treasures – The Narnia series, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz – all packed full of layers of wisdom; each word, each page a delight.
Children’s books help shape our beliefs and our deepest truths. Just opening the pages of these books takes me back in a wave of nostalgia to a time when I was first learning and becoming myself. They helped me to form my identity, a sense of self. I longed to be Mary Lenox discovering the Secret Garden and nurturing it back to life. Or Laura Ingalls, exploring the open prairie from the seat of a horse drawn wagon – the whole world before you. These characters have shaped my love of nature, my desire to travel and see new sights. I am especially aware of it now, as we are in the process of moving onto our own farm – that desire for wide open spaces and big skies overhead, these are things I first experienced in books.
As a mother
Reading to my children has been one of my most relished roles as a parent. It has evolved from the board books when they were very young, with chubby fingers grabbing each page as they learned to identify animals, letters and shapes. There were many nights in our comfy yellow rocking chair I was convinced each of my children was a genius because they could say “moo” or they knew the color blue. Then we moved to delightful stories such as Toot and Puddle, Little Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and anything by Eric Carle – exploring the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and Piglet or following the adventures of a Very Hungry Caterpillar. And when they finally understood Shel Silverstein’s witty poetry, we laughed aloud as we read poem after poem.
Nothing quite compares to the joy of reading novels together, snuggled up in bed with a kiddo on either side, waiting to hear what happens next and always asking for “one more page.” In these moments I have felt the gift of being a mother most profoundly. How lucky am I to share this world with these two little people and introduce them to the wonder and joy of it all? A world made richer by the books we’ve shared.
It began with Charlotte’s Web and has expanded to everything from Judy Moody, to the magical world of Harry Potter, to all things Ronald Dahl – our favorite though is The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve shared my love of her before, but those nights of reading the adventures of the Ingalls family have been some of the most cherished nights of my life. We were transported, through Laura’s ability to weave the details of pioneer life into a fantastic story, to the bitter cold of a horse drawn sleigh ride on a winter afternoon and the pure joy of a long summer day spent out in the open prairie, grasses blowing in gentle ripples with the wind.
I am grateful for this love of Children’s Literature and the talented authors who have created these worlds I adore so much. They are a part of my childhood, my children’s childhood, what a legacy they’ve created in the lives they’ve touched. The characters we’ve met along the way are dear friends on this journey of life. I can’t wait to see who we meet next.