The Charm of Children’s Literature
A few weeks ago, I was craving comfort in a big way. I was getting over a lingering summer cold, and feeling neither interested nor able to deal with grown-up problems. I plucked Anne of Avonlea off the shelf, and for as long as I was flipping through those very old and faded rough-edged hardback pages, I did feel comforted. Anne’s is not a world in which she wonders about the meaning in her life. Meaning is as sure and tangible a thing as Marilla’s plum jam. The questions instead are how to extract oneself when you’ve fallen through the roof of a chicken coop and what to name a particularly enchanting place in the woods. There are scrapes, to be sure, but Anne snakes her way out of them.
I love ambiguity, questioning and grays, of course. But there is something deeply appealing to me about simpler worlds where families eat dinner together every night, self-worth and love are givens, and humans are replaced by bears and anteaters.
After turning the last page on Anne, I took myself to Books of Wonder and reacquainted myself with old friends like Mrs. Frisby and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I pulled aside several different teenage female clerks and asked for recommendations based on my love of spunky, fierce heroines like Anastasia and Laura. They introduced me to Mary Alice and Sheila the Great.
I shelved Joan Didion and Annie Dillard. Enough darkness, rumination, and underbelly. I parted the curtains to let in some light. And in these last very happy weeks of time spent at reading level age 10 and up, I’ve learned that when life feels a bit clouded and the way is unclear, these scrappy young heroines remind me of everything I need to know. Adventure is where you find it. Smart girls are cool. Being kind is more important than being beautiful. Work for good. Follow your passions. Love yourself and love with another will follow. But in the meantime, we’ve got bigger fish to fry, like learning to write novels, befriending old ladies in stone houses, and finding our home on the prairie, our dreams in the tall sea grasses.
So, friends: I’ve got Anne of the Island on its way from a used bookstore in Michigan. A Wrinkle in Time is in the queue, and when it gets chillier, I plan to read through all the Little House books. What are your favorites? What childhood books do you visit again and again? Which heroines taught you what kind of woman you want to be?