I loved my grandparents’ house for many reasons. Crafts, Boggle games, the pond, the swings, strawberry plants, the cookie jar (thoughtfully located in a lower cupboard, accessible to even the youngest child), croquet, the purple tandem bike, and, of course, Grandpa and Grandma. I also loved the book stash. Grandma was both the church librarian and a school librarian, and, as such, inherited custody of the cast-off books. Although most had achieved their “withdrawn” status by becoming almost too tattered to read, they were still readable as long as one kept track of the molted pages. Walter the Lazy Mouse, Pippi Longstocking, the book about the bunnies and the weasel (I forgot the title): I loved them all.
Well, almost all. Love doesn’t describe my opinion of the elderly copies of The Bobbsey Twins. These books held enough of my interest for me to scan them, but little more. It wasn’t the adventures I found so implausible (although for a family from the early part of the 20th century they were suspiciously well-traveled) but the four protagonists themselves. Such goody-goodies. Seldom was their behavior inappropriate, and when it was, they repented immediately and with great remorse.
These “four youngsters” were what teachers would call “a good example to others.” They often smacked of a lesson. Let’s just all acknowledge that few books that trot out lessons are enjoyable literature.
I much preferred Pippi.
Still, many beloved children’s books do contain a bit of wisdom—not that which clobbers kids with the sense that they should emulate Freddie and Flossie and their ilk, but a gentler variety, subtly woven into the story. They offer insights that I hope penetrate my kids’ outlook on others, themselves, and life in general.
Insights such as these:
1. “The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. And I assure you that you can pick up more information when you are listening than when you are talking.” The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White.
2. “All children have gifts; some open them at different times.” Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.
3. “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know. It just happens that way sometimes.” The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster.
4. “Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.” Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae.
5. “‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
6. “[May] understood people and she let them be whatever way they needed to be. She had faith in every single person she ever met, and this never failed her, for nobody ever disappointed May. Seems people knew she saw the very best of them, and they’d turn that side to her to give her a better look.” Missing May by Cynthia Rylant.
7. “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.
8. “Olivia’s mother gives her a kiss and says, ‘You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.’” Olivia by Ian Falconer.
9. “They were two close friends sitting alone together.” Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Loebel.
10. “’I like it better here, where I can just sit quietly and smell the flowers.’ Ferdinand’s mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.” The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.
11. “I’ve heard tell that what you imagine sometimes comes true.” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
12. “How can we feel so different and be so alike?” Stellaluna by Janell Cannon.
13. “Talent is something rare and beautiful and precious, and it must not be allowed to go to waste.” The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden.
14. “You never fill your own bucket when you dip into someone else’s.” Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.
15. [On the closing of a library] “There will be consequences!” Aunt Chip and the Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polocco.
16. “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Inspired by these and similar quotations worth pondering, I asked Sonny and Ace what they had learned from books. Surely one of their favorite stories had offered some epiphany on the human experience. Surely they had not only subconsciously internalized wisdom such as the aforementioned but even consciously reflected on a worthwhile message or two.
And they had. Both spoke up promptly.
Sonny: “I learned that before the Lions were a Detroit team, they played in Ohio and were called the Spartans.”
Ace: “I learned that Zane, the White Ninja, is also known as the Titanium Ninja.” *
Fair enough. Read on, everyone, and learn what you will. Enjoy your books.
*He then proceeded to deliver a Ninjago quiz, which I failed miserably.