I believe in children’s literature, regardless of what the best-seller lists or book clubs or sales figures say. The cream of the books we read as children rises to the top and flavors our lives forever.
Still, sometime numbers do tell the story. Eloise is 52. Madeline is 68. Pooh is 81, that silly old bear. Beatrix Potter’s Lake District animals are over 100.
Many of these beloved books were not recognized as great in their time. Few won awards – only hearts. I am sure that today a boy or girl is reading Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew for the first time, enjoying every bit of formulaic mystery.
My fascination with children’s books grew in college when I took a children’s literature class. I was the only non-education major in the room. My particular brand of English major enabled me to take classes in other disciplines. I read and reviewed 60 children’s books from a variety of genres. Until then I had been on a strict juvenile novel diet. The class helped me to appreciate picture books, board books, and alphabet books.
If you’re a skeptic, try one of my favorite assignments. Take a picture book that has been in print for over 25 years. Why has it survived? What do the pictures tell you that the text does not?
My professor in that class hoped I would get my Ph.D. in education. I became a writer instead. If I’m ever any good at it, my work will be read by children.
Since becoming a mother, children’s books are intertwined with my children’s lives. For the first 18 months of my son’s life, we read Guess How Much I Love You at bedtime. When my daughter was slow to speak, she could somehow read along to Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! I remember the summer of Redwall. Laughing to numerous Hank the Cowdog stories. Learning history through American Girl. Deciding that The Hobbit is the best of Tolkien’s books.
My children will bring their literature with them into adulthood. My son will carry the weight of the Harry Potter series. My daughter will treasure her collection of Junie B. Jones adventures. Regardless of what sort of dazzling digital technology they confront, they will still buy children’s books for their own kids.
If aliens ever overrun our planet, I believe they will find children’s books in the rubble. Because it’s just not bedtime if you can’t hold a story in your hands.
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