Reading is an important part of my life and has been since childhood. But what may seem strange to people, is that I’m still reading stories that are written for children and youth, including picture books. I do this for several reasons.
One is that they make me smile. Sandra Boynton is one of my favorite early childhood authors. Funny little piggies, happy hippos, and sweet-faced sheep dance across the pages. Perhaps it is the figures themselves, they’re almost always have cute faces that invite me to dance with them.
The second thing I appreciate about children’s book is the artwork: Whimsical figures, sweet animals, brilliant colors. No adult books have the pictures that you’ll find in color spread across the pages. They touch a space tucked inside me that recognizes something beautiful.
But my third reason I collect, read, and use children’s books is because I can often find deep wisdom within them. It’s called, the adult pull. Though they may be a children’s books, they frequently tell adult lessons.
With an adult book there’s lot of pages to read, I sort through the words to find the kernels of truth, or pick out the points I want to remember later. And yes, I read with a highlighter in my hand at all times. But with a children’s book, the important lesson is there, within a few pages. They are uncomplicated, simple words and usually one primary point.
Years ago, I lead a spirituality group at a halfway house for women struggling with addiction. This group wasn’t about religion or any lecture. Instead, I would bring a children’s book and read it to them. Many of the women came from dysfunctional family situations and being read to as a child was not common and they always wanted to see the pictures on the pages. Then I would usually have some group discussion questions that came out of the point found in the story I’d just read. Finally, I would lead them in a guided meditation to help integrate the point of the story.
One of my favorite books was, I wish I was a caterpillar by James Howe. In this book, a cricket has been told by the frog at Swamp Swallow Pond, that he is ugly. This cricket believes the frog and all the other creatures that tell him he’s maybe not ugly, but not beautiful. It isn’t until the cricket hooks up with his friend, the spider. As they stand on the water’s edge, looking at their image, the spider tells him he sees two beautiful friends. Then when the spider’s web is destroyed by a breeze, he suggests to the cricket how much easier it would be to repair his web if he had some music. And so, as the cricket begins to play his music, the butterfly passes by, hears the beautiful tune, and says, ‘I wish I were a cricket’.
Actually, I think there are at least two lessons in this story but I chose to focus on this one: there are people in your life, like the frog of Swamp Swallow Pond who would choose to take you down into addiction and self-hatred. And there are people, like the spider, who will affirm and lift you up. This story holds a simple truth that the women, trying to get their lives together, could relate to easily.
More than once, I used my stories in this course, but also, they spoke to me and my life. In my need to want to be liked and find approval, I didn’t always make the best choices. In addition, I haven’t always believed I was okay the way I was . . . my life was filled with ‘if only’ beliefs.
But it’s not just picture books that hold a lot of wisdom. Another one of my favorites is The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson (You may be more familiar with a different one of the author’s books, Bridge to Terabithia.). Gilly Hopkins is a brash, obnoxious girl who moves from foster family to foster family. In her last family, she thinks she’s outwitted her foster mom and the system when she gets to return to her real family. Only when its too late does she realize that families, home, and love isn’t always what you think it should be or look like. And you can find it in the unexpected places.
These days, there are some amazing stories being written for children, pre-teens, and teens. They have truths that we adults sometimes need to be reminded of. So don’t think just because you’re an adult, that you can’t read children’s books. You may learn something.
Oh, there’s one more reason I like to read and collect children’s books? For just a little while, living in the world of the book, I can pretend I don’t have to be an adult but can let my child out to listen.
Have you read any children or youth books that spoke to you in a meaningful way?
I’d love to hear about it.
If you want to know why I love to read and collect books, check out my previous blog entitled, I’m addicted to books. You can find the link here. https://beckystrom.com/category/literature/
This is what I know today . . . Becky
P.S. The latest youth book I’m reading is Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway, another wonderful author! https://www.amazon.com/s?k=summer+of+a+thousand+pies+by+margaret+dilloway&i=stripbooks&crid=203DS9SMTQE57&sprefix=summer+of+a+t%2Cstripbooks%2C184&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_2_13