Books for all ages

I love books.  I love books about books.  I love children’s books.  When Grace and Whit began reading I described it as feeling like the lights were going on.  I have a whole separate essay in my mind about what it felt like when they loved some and rejected others of my favorite books from childhood.  In this arena – reading – as in so many others, parenting was an exercise is recognizing that my children were not me, and that they had their own opinions.  Not always simple, but always educational!

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about children’s literature.  I’m not sure precisely why: maybe it’s just that some of these pieces below have found their way into my mind.  Maybe it’s because my father’s death has made me think of all the times he read to me as a child and that we spoke about literature until the very end (the last conversation I had with him was about books).  I do know I’m asked a lot for book recommendations, for adults and for children.  The former is easier for me: I’m comfortable recommending my favorites as well as recent reads.  The latter is more complicated: books I loved, then and now, or books Grace and Whit loved and are loving?  Two separate categories that, of course, have a lot of overlap.

What are your favorite books for children?  I’m very curious.

Finally, these are the three things that have recently put children’s books squarely at the front of my mind.

17 Authors on the Children’s Books that Still Make the Weepy this piece on Brightly made me nod and hum in appreciation as many of my favorite titles were mentioned (and a few I have not heard of).  Mostly I was thrilled to see A Wrinkle in Time here, because L’Engle’s book is not just my favorite childrens’ book but quite possibly my favorite book of all.  I’ve written about this before, but at my 20th college reunion I was on a panel of alumni speaking about the Books That Changed My Life.  I was enormously humbled to be on this panel, and I sat at the edge of the table, both literally and figuratively.  My fellow panelists – each more impressive than the last – trotted out examples that intimidated me with their seriousness and intellectual content.  My Book the Changed My Life was A Wrinkle in Time.  And it did.  I’ve read it three times (one of a very short list of books I’ve read three times; others include all the Harry Potter books, Crossing to Safety, and Gilead – no surprise, my most treasured volumes).

Kate DiCamillo’s piece in Time, Why Kids Books Should Be a Little Sad made me cry, of course.  That last line?  Took my breath away. I love what she says about how the purpose of books – for children, she says, though I’d posit this is true of books for all ages – is to show the reader that he or she can survive something that is sad and still be okay.  That notion is incredibly germane for me right now. I’m thinking I need to re-read Charlotte’s Web.

I recently read and loved Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy in one swift gulp.  This is a quintessential book about books, and it’s full of detailed background and thoughtful analysis.  I loved this entire book, though my favorite chapters were about Sendak, Charlotte’s Web, and Narnia. Handy quotes Sendak about what the aim of writing is for him: “All this, mixed and beaten and smoothed into picture-book form that has something resembling the lush, immediate beauty of music and all its deep, unanalyzable mystery. Most of all, the mystery – that is the cherished goal.” (I shared these lines on Instagram).  Evoking the mystery.  No matter who you are, no matter your medium (writing, visual art, your life in general), isn’t that what we are all seeking to do?

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  1. Nadine
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Oh, THIS. This entire post makes me happy and weepy and warm inside. Thank you for sharing, and for sharing these fantastic links. I’ll be falling down a rabbit hole.
    We are only starting out with very young readers, and I’m coming to realize that I love the books that my three-year-old loves. There is Miss Rumphius, which we discovered through you, that he requests over and over again, and that he starts to recite when he is thumbing through one of my grown-up books. We also adore Olivia, in all her unapologetic quirkiness. Another beloved favorite is A Porcupine Named Fluffy, which a dear friend found at a yard sale and shared with us.

    I am beyond excited to move forward with my children on this journey. Having grown-up in another country many American children’s books are not familiar to me, so I get to discover alongside them.


  2. Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post! I love reading with my kids.

    I can’t deal with sad kid books. Not as a child, and not now. “The Giving Tree” makes me want to kill myself. After reading “The Little Mermaid” by H.C. Andersen as a child I decided I never wanted to fall in love.

    I think this just may be one of those things that can be really personal and really depend on one’s childhood experiences and internal world.

    I read books to stay happy. I need to fight to keep myself from sliding into dark, dark places.

    That said – “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – it’s philosophical, full of melancholy, it’s sad… and yet its full of hope and love. While not a favorite book, I am glad I read it as a child and I’ve recently read it to my kids (I don’t think they fully understood it, but that’s OK… I still don’t fully understand it and I’m 40).

    Favorite books to read with my kids (age range 4 to 9): pretty much everything by Mo Willems, James Mayhew series about Katie getting to know different paintings, “Harry Potter” series (first 3 books for now), “Little House” series, “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey, “Frog and Toad”.

    One thing I get frustrated about – the dearth of translated books… I’ve been looking for “Waffle Hearts” by Maria Parr – can’t find it. And some translations are simply awful and ruin the story.


  3. Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Dear to my heart, Lindsay. Thank you. So cool you were invited to the panel to talk about your life changing book. My favorite books: Winnie the Pooh ( the quartet including House at Pooh Corner, When We Very Young, Now We Are Six,) The Mary Poppins Books , Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth (seminal for me.) I wasn’t much of a reader when young but loved reading with children as a parent. Also The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine, Bonjour Mister Satie, The Sign on Rosie’s Door, You Be Me and I’ll Be You. I haven’t read Wrinkle in Time but intend to before seeing the movie. There’s others I’d want to mention that escape me at the moment. Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is a great source for books supposedly written just for children.


  4. Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I LOVE this post and I’m so glad you pointed me to Kate’s piece in Time. (Kate, like we’re buddies.) 😉

    One of my favorites is The Secret Garden, even the happy ending brings me to tears with the relief of it all that Mary will have a good home after all.


  5. Elizabeth
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I love sad children’s books (I tend toward melancholy as a person, but I do think it’s good early training ground for children to learn to deal with difficult emotions and the hard inevitabilities of life). My daughter is learning to read, and it’s so fun to share books that I loved (THE RAMONA SERIES!!!) and discover new ones (The Anna Hibiscus books by Atinuke are so marvelous and touch on many difficult themes, but handled so well).


  6. Marianna
    Posted February 16, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    My favorite children’s book of all time is DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.


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