These days, it’s not uncommon to see adults reading young adult books as well as, or maybe even instead of, books written for adults. It’s slightly less common, though, to see people in their twenties reading children’s books, which is such a shame: they’re a delight to read, they hold up well to the ravages of time, and we can learn some valuable lessons from them, if we care to listen.
Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
Whether you read the book or saw one of the movies, chances are you’ve had some experience with this bittersweet tale about the unlikely friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider. He’s unsure at first whether he wants to befriend her at all, given her penchant for trapping and eating living things, but they come to a beautiful understanding, and it’s her gift for words that saves Wilbur from being turned into a plate of bacon in the end.
This is a story that brought me to tears when I was younger, reading about Charlotte’s death and about the 514 children she left behind. Now, as I look back, I still get a little teary, but I’m also reminded of two things: (1) friendship is one of the most precious, strongest gifts you can give, and (2) every end brings a new beginning.
Charlotte’s life comes to an end, but Wilbur’s will carry on, and he’ll come to know her children and her grandchildren, even if “none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
In other words: treasure your friendships. When a friend needs a boost, or someone to stand up for them, be there, and do what you can. Cherish their place in your life.
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Does anyone not know the story of The Secret Garden? That exquisite story about a miserable orphaned girl and an equally miserable young recluse who bring an abandoned garden back to life, and heal each other in the process? This is a story that stands the test of time, no matter how many times you read it.
As I read about Mary Lennox, Colin, and Dickon’s work in the garden, nurturing it, finding the life buried beneath the layers and layers of dead plants and old brush, I feel like the dust is being brushed away from my own hopes and dreams, from the way I want to be. It’s there, waiting to be unearthed. I just have to give it the time and patience that it, and I, deserve.
In other words: treat your hidden self, your wishes and desires, like your very own secret garden. Believe it’s there, give it some love, recruit help along the way, and you’ll unearth it.
Animals of Farthing Wood (Colin Dann)
It’s been years since I first read Animals of Farthing Wood, and it’s still one of my favourite books to date. Farthing Wood is to be decimated for a new building development, leaving many of its inhabitants homeless. While there’s something to be said for the more obvious message here about mankind’s destruction of nature for its own gain, my strongest takeaway from this story is about our need as a society to come together, even with – especially with! – people who are different from ourselves.
This story features an unlikely band of animals, including an owl, foxes, a snake, and hedgehogs, finding their way to a new home. They have to work together to do this, overcoming some initial prejudices towards each other, and make it they do. It’s incredible what they accomplish as a team.
In other words: the next time you’re trying to figure out how to accomplish a goal, hitch your wagon to others with the same goal. You can keep each other motivated, bolster their weaknesses with your strengths (and vice versa), and celebrate together in the end!
Betsy-Tacy (Maud Hart Lovelace)
I discovered this series as an adult but I can only imagine how much I would have loved it when I was a kid. The series follows Betsy and her friends through their childhood until their young adult years. There are no talking animals, no orphans, and no portals to other realms. The magic in these stories is simple: the magic of childhood.
Reading about the first time Betsy goes to a library (by herself, to boot!) in Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown reminded me how extraordinary and new everything feels when you’re a child. The Betsy-Tacy series is full of moments like these. Each new experience is an adventure, full of excitement and perhaps tinged with a wee bit of fear. Those experiences showed us the world and helped us find our courage.
In other words: revel in new experiences. See them as an adventure. You’re not just taking the train: you’re trundling across miles and miles of land, with mysterious houses and winding roads around every bend. You’re not just trying a new recipe: you’re transforming banal, everyday ingredients into a scrumptious dish with spices from far-off lands.
Mine for Keeps (Jean Little)
This book may be better known to Canadian readers like myself, but it was a favorite of mine growing up. Jean Little tells the story of Sally Copeland, a young girl with cerebral palsy, who’s spent years attending a boarding school specifically designed for youngsters with disabilities. Her parents have decided it’s time for her to go to a less specialized school closer to home, so that she learns to cope in an environment that isn’t tailor-made for what Sally sees as her weaknesses.
It’s a struggle at first, but Sally doesn’t just learn to cope, she positively thrives. She makes friends, befriends and trains a mischievous dog, and realizes that she can do so much more than she ever thought she could. She’ll always have cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t have to define everything about her and how she lives her life. Watching Sal start to see herself as more than just the sum of her body’s struggles is incredibly inspiring. You can’t help but cheer her on!
In other words: we tend to put ourselves into boxes, to define ourselves by what we think we can or can’t do. Bust through those barriers! We’ll never know until we try, and often we can do more than we thought possible.
Which children’s books do you still read and enjoy today?
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