I'm Emily Reynolds.
Did you ever hear someone say, "It was Colonel Mustard, in the studio, with a children's book"? Uh, no. Yet, author Hilary Mantel recently said, "It seems to me there's a point in your life where you hear an inner prompt, and it says, 'Choose your weapons.' This is it," she said, shaking her pen and nodding her head toward it, "mightier than the sword."
So if a writer's pen can be a weapon to fend off ignorance or inaccuracy in history and drama, then maybe I can give myself license to choose children's literature as my weapon to fight off the dragons in motherhood and family life. I choose picture books, in the home library, done with a child in my lap.
It’s a bit ridiculous to admit, but I added up the number of hours I've read children's books in my life. (I had my sixteen-year-old son double-check my math here, just in case.) Ready to hear the nerdy numbers?
So, Malcolm Gladwell, if you purport that an expert is a person with 10,000 hours of experience in any given field...then I'm almost there--170 hours away from being an expert children's lit fan. With 9,830 hours of spending time with kids' books, I'm either crazy, or just feel like children's literature has a lot of quality to offer--depth, beauty and truth which many adult books lose along the way when authors try to be edgy, confrontational, and dark. Life can be bleak enough. Who wants to read depressing stuff? I want stories that show me and my children the way to live a happier existence.
Why am I such a children’s book zealot? Because they’re what got me through sleepless nights of bringing my babies into the world. When my teenagers were toddlers, if we were having a rough go, I'd start to get the shakes, and realize it was because we hadn't been to the library in a week! (And I didn’t have a kids’ audio book on-hand for our escape while cooking dinner or washing dishes. Like many people, for the first few years of family life we had no dishwasher. Audio books rescued my mind from tedium!)
Loading up on the maximum number of picture books our library system allowed was what helped me connect with my kids instead of going insane. With often fifteen diaper changes a day between a newborn, a toddler, and a potty-training child, books could turn a monotonous day into a delight!
After all six of our children joined our family, keeping half-a-dozen small children alive physically with meals and clean clothes was a whirlwind of activity! I often needed to slow down at least a few times daily to keep us alive emotionally. Books created a bond for us to sit down, take a breath, and do something we all enjoyed.
By piling into a big glider chair with a bunch of books, we could escape into "a wonderful elsewhere." No dishes to do, no floor to mop, no taxes to file, and no blow-out-stained onesies needing a good soak…For at least ten minutes. Until we closed the cover of the book. Ahhh! Short-lived bliss. But right there within the covers of a book--and at our fingertips whenever we needed it.
Even without babies at home, when an older kids has a rough day at school, it's therapeutic to listen to Jim Dale reading Harry Potter aloud while doing dishes, right? JK Rowling is a pro at making the world feel as if everything's going turn out okay in the end. Sorry, old Voldemort, even your schnozless-appearances in the series don't tarnish that Hogwarts glow of comfort, delight, and the warmth of the Weasley family.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione are experts when it comes to learning how to make and keep friends. We feel the pain of Harry and Ron's separations when they have a falling-out, and then feel the relief and joy as they figure out how to overcome pride by apologizing.
Reading about others' experiences of navigating the wide world, reminds us that we're not the only ones going through this earthly realm. Some writer out there once had the same emotions that we now have, and had the foresight to write them down for us. Because of that, that we could relate to other human beings across time and over seas--when we'd need that (trans-time-and-place) commiseration and encouragement the most.
One of my favorite creative writing mentors, Shawn Coyne, says in his Writing Grid podcast (paraphrasing here), that since the dawn of time, people have used "stories" as the tools we need to cope with the challenges in life. We read how a favorite protagonist (Lizzie Bennet, possibly?) deals with a specific difficulty, and it gives us ideas of how to resolve our own problems when they arise at a later date.
So, I hope you might find six excellent children’s book recommendations handy and useful to enjoy each month on the first Friday with your children, grandchildren, or spouse (they may or may not fit in your lap).
Or you can enjoy these six books in the bliss of solitude. Some of my happiest reading memories are of discovering middle grade books as a lone single adult, while sitting on the N-line of the NYC subway. (That’s a pretty happy commute if you've got Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone in hand.)
And in honor of my half dozen children who teach me each day how to be a better person, and my crazy six passions: Family, Art, Writing, Nature, Cooking, and Books, enjoy the half-a-dozen recommended titles in tomorrow's post...
P.S. Now tell me what your favorite picture book title is in the comments below. Happy reading, dear bookworm friends!