“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” -C.S. Lewis
I believe it in this quote with all of my heart. Over the last few years it has been my belief that being a kindergarten teacher is what made it ok for me to read novels meant for children-good old chapter books. I look forward to introducing my students to characters I have loved for a lifetime. My students love “The Indian in the Cupboard”, “Mathilda”, “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle”, “Justin Morgan had a Horse”, “Pippi Longstocking”, “The Secret Garden” and my personal favorite, “Heidi”. When I pre-read Heidi before reading it to my class this year it was actually the first time I had read the book. I had always enjoyed the movie versions but had never got around to reading the book. Once I started I was transfixed.
There are many great things about children’s literature. It allows children to imagine another time or place, real or imaginary. It allows children to see a point of view unknown to them. It allows children to experience magic. It helps teach children an appreciation for beautiful language. Most importantly, in my opinion, it teaches virtue. Characters in books help children shape their character in life. People (or animals) in books have to make choices. These choices help children understand that they too, have the choice to be the type of person they want to be.
When I read “Heidi” I knew I was going to enjoy re-reading it with my class. The opportunity for teachable moments were endless. The characters were so deep, so dependable, it was easy to love them. Heidi is the only way I could teach kindergarten students to truly understand the virtue of humility. Through Heidi’s character they were able to see, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (another C.S. Lewis quote) At our school we focus on nine virtues: friendship, honesty, responsibility, courage, wisdom, perseverance, integrity, citizenship and humility. Every single one of those virtues was demonstrated in Heidi. Some of the examples I did not see, but my observant kindergarten students did. In the scenes that were lacking virtue the students identified how is could have been demonstrated if a different choice was made.
Literature is all about choices. The author chooses to write the story, chooses their characters, chooses what they say and do. The reader chooses to pick up the book, turn the pages and read. The reader chooses (with careful guidance from the author) which characters to like or dislike. The reader chooses what lessons they learn or to not learn.
I have always loved reading or being read to. Now as a teacher I get to inspire a new generation of young readers. I have a lot of power when picking books for my classroom. My choices will influence the choices of my students when they choose literature for themselves. I only hope that they will reread my picks to their children/students/grandchildren someday. After reading a book like “Heidi” with my students I realized that children’s literature is not just for kids. Children’s literature should be read and loved by adults as well.
Not only does picking up a book we have loved since childhood create a sense of nostalgia, it is a way for us to ask why we like the book to begin with. This lets us see the challenges our beloved characters face. It allows us to ponder the lessons learned. It allows us to seek virtue and be reminded why our choices matter. Good books can inspire all who pick them up, young, old or in between. do not be afraid to check out a book from the library that you haven’t read or thought of in years. Pick it up to remind you why you liked it. Pick it up to remember why good books are important for helping children develop good character and interests. Pick it up to think about if it has shaped you in any way.
This summer I am reading a bit of children’s literature in between sections of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. (While I love children’s literature too much of a good thing is not good at all, so I have to stick some grown-up titles in there as well.)
So far this summer I have re-read one of my fifth grade favorites “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry and have read, “What Katy Did” by Susan Coolidge and “The Good Master” by Kate Seredy, for the first time.
What chapter books did you read as a child? Have you revisited any of your childhood favorites as an adult? If you have kids, what do they like to read? Do your tastes influence your children/students/grandchildren?