The Wisdom of Children’s Books

Think back. Think very far back. Think back to a time when the only things you worried about in life were spelling bees and which swing you were gunning for on the playground. Try to recall the days when finger-paints and plastic chairs were plenty and nap-time was torture. Sliced hot dogs in mac-and-cheese were a delicacy and Dino-nuggets and Kool-Aid were like caviar and champagne.

Remember reading-time around the bookshelves, the card catalogues and that familiar smell of old paper and cracked bindings, and how the librarian always picked the right book for the right moment. The memories that so many of us still hang onto often include the stories we treasured most at different points in our lives, and for good reason.

Have you read any children’s books recently? Take a peek and you may be heartily surprised at the knowledge and wisdom we all gleaned over the years from the authors we loved best:

–  In the classic Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur asks Charlotte, after she has saved his life one last time, “Why did you do all this for me? I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” Charlotte then sleepily replies, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” From Charlotte, we realized early on that true friendship is reason enough to give heed to someone, with no strings attached.

–  As the clever Dr. Seuss once explained, in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, remembering what is most important is a big part of growing up. We become distracted by all of the exciting events, split-ends, blind dates and bills that are past-due. Everything wants to be important. It’s easy to want the rewards and the fun without paying any mind to the more boring parts of being a grown-up, like student loans, grocery lists and that blasted rent check. Everything has a place and sometimes it takes a moment to conjure the thought. Have a breather and remember:

“You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

–  Everyone seems to be busy these days: running from yoga to pottery class, simultaneously eating toast and hopping on the green line to work, training for marathons, texting boyfriends and girlfriends or making absolutely sure you get to the art gallery or movie theater on time for that 9:00 pm showing; people are forever demanding more and wanting more. Time is strained and so are we. We want fame. We want power. We want money. The Story of Ferdinand lets us know that it’s perfectly alright to be the one sitting on the park bench, sipping a hot tea and people-watching. It falls to Ferdinand the Bull to instruct us, just once in a while, to stop and smell the roses as he so deftly did after unsuccessfully being prodded to fight:

“For all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.”

–  The whole notion of modern beauty is a tricky one. We like to think that the stars we see on the red carpet are the supreme example of what perfection is. Complications like weight, frazzled hair, sleek brows, and tidy dresses often take over our psyche and leave us disappointingly empty inside. The phrase “inner beauty” may evoke images of simple, somewhat dowdy girls with hearts of gold, but, “What makes the desert beautiful,” says Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…” Do not let a lovely outer-shell gain control over your everyday doings. After all, as grown-up author Herman Hesse once wrote in his novel Demian, “It is good to realize that, within us, there is someone who knows everything.” Let her speak out from time to time.

–  Growing up can be a bittersweet thing: we love and treasure the moments of bygone years, stow our old bears, dolls, puzzles and video games in moldy boxes just to be sure we can retrieve them in our moments of weakness and can now even keep in contact with the friends we chased on the playground on our favorite social media networks. The books we read as children and the fables we devoured are powerful. We can choose to remember the things we filed away in our mind-attic or we can push them to the back until they’ve been crushed under the weight of gluten-free diets and the newest nail varnish at the cosmetics shop… but they will always be there, waiting. As world renowned Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling taught, “The stories we love best do live in us forever” and, as the great Dumbledore put it, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Never be afraid to go back. C.S. Lewis once famously stated, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” We all have days full of chaos and pressure that can easily be remedied: nothing calms and eases us more than an old friend, especially when that friend comes in the form of a beloved character from a favorite book, the one we stayed up all night under the covers reading by flashlight.

Of course, mine will always be Peter Pan, the story that I currently read with my nephew each time he visits. There are endless workdays, weddings, baby showers, graduations and deadlines to meet. The secret to my sanity is to close my eyes and exhale purposefully. Listening very closely, Peter’s voice speaks quietly, “You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

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