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I am enrolled this fall in a children’s literature course at Hollins. I’ve been slowly picking my way through classes in Hollins MALS program: Masters of Arts and Liberal Studies. My focus is—shocking—all things literature.

Immersing myself if children’s literature has felt like coming home. The class is essentially a semester of doing close readings of picture books (only one week on this) and YA novels. Last week was The Outsiders and The Chocolate War. The week before was Harriet the Spy and Z for Zachariah. We started the course with In the Night Kitchen and two of the Little House books. So far this semester I’ve read and studied 11 YA novels and two picture books. We have five more books to read, plus a final paper that is a close reading of an award winning book. I’m doing mine on The Yearling.

I’ve read in some places The Yearling isn’t considered a YA novel. I read it to my boys when they were between 10-12 years old. It affected me deeply–it’s post-civil war, Florida scrub setting; and the Baxter family, captivating and profound in all their flawed and beautiful plainness. Several of the novels I’ve read this semester so far (Neil Gaiman’s, The Graveyard Book; Uri Orlev’s, The Man from the Other Side, I could name others) could just as easily be shelved with adult literature.

This is why I love children’s literature—excellent children’s literature. You don’t have to be a child for it to affect you.

The truth is, I’ve had more encounters with eternal ideas these past two months reading children’s literature, than in the last several months of reading scholarly works on various topics, mostly theology-minded. Ideas about human kindness in the face of evil. The journey of parenthood and letting go. Honesty with one’s self so one can honestly face the difficulties of life.

I’ve also been forced to consider some of life’s most difficult questions: How do I maintain my humanity in the face of evil? Do I truly work at seeing the “other”? Or would I rather keep him at arm’s length? Keep her in my judgement box reserved for typecasts rather than recognize our common image-bearing status?  How well am I stewarding what I’ve been given—whether it be my family, talents, my material goods…simply put, this life?

Most powerfully, I’ve been reminded again and again what it’s like to be vulnerable. Exposed. So much of young adult literature deals directly in this theme. This pull-and-tug of longing to be known, yet terrified of the exposure. Most all of adulting is an effort in building safe-guards against vulnerabilities. We spend our days working to create and maintain security. We forget—or rather, bury—the truth that we can never fully shake our own vulnerability. Nor should we. It’s part of our humanness. The question isn’t, “How do I keep from being vulnerable?” but rather, “How do I stand with dignity in my vulnerability?” Excellent children’s literature gives bones, flesh, and oxygen to this question.

I commend to you a season of reading children’s literature. If you need a starting point, go back to your own childhood. What did you love?

Or, find a list. The Newberry Award list is an excellent starting point. I will also share the reading list for my class, below.

Oh, and please, please! share your childhood, or your child’s, favorites. I love seeing reading list favorites.

There is a time for gleaning wisdom from the wise. Reading the ancients, the mystics, the classics. But, there is also a time for living into childlikeness. And who knows, maybe we’ll discover this way of being—childlike—is the most wise of all.

Grace and peace to you all!

Reading list from my Children’s Literature class:

  • Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett
  • The Man from the Other Side, Uri Orlev.
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor.
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman.
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness.
  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh.
  • Z for Zachariah, Robert O’Brien.
  • The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton.
  • The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier.
  • The Slave Dancer, Paula Fox.
  • The People Could Fly: The Picture Book, Virginia Hamilton.
  • Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. (recommended edition)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin.
  • The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander.
  • Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Robert A. Heinlein.