A Life in Children’s Books

I’ve so enjoyed being a part of the Children’s Book Week Champions this week.  It’s a delight to share my thoughts on children’s books and find out what books others are excited about.  I’ve particularly enjoyed reading books from the Children’s Choice Book Awards.  You can find the winners here.  Congratulations to all the great authors who have been chosen by children as the best.  I’m behind on that reading list, but that’s the nice thing about a book – they wait patiently until you can get to them.

This year I turned fifty-five and was delighted to receive several picture books for my birthday:  The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo, and Zen Socks by Jon Muth.  I treasured each of these gifts as much as any child would.

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Book plate by Edward Ardizzone

I live in a community centered around children.  Bridge Meadows is an intentional community set up to support families adopting children out of the foster care system, and to give seniors a sense of purpose.  I help introduce the delights of reading books to children ages 2 to 13.

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But even before I lived here, I read children’s books as often as I read adult books.  I understand the delineation between adult books and children’s books, but to me, if it’s a good story, it’s a good story no matter what age it’s recommended for.  I’m pretty sure all books are recommended for me.

It’s all part of my love of story and art.  In picture books I’ve always found stories with humor and hope.  The illustrations are often breathtaking and I find some of the most moving art in pictures books.  From the classics like Edward Ardizzone and Trina Schart Hyman to the newer masters like David Weisner, Shaun Tan, and Emily Hughes, I find much depth in the way illustrations can express what is impossible to say.  Some of our finest living artist work in picture books.  They illuminate meaning and bring a sense of wonder to life.

From The Arrival by Shaun Tan

In her book The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson said, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

I grew up in a broken home.  My life was dimmed by the influence of alcoholism, drug addiction, cruelty and poverty.  My refuge was always books.  I was a regular library user from first grade til today.  I went through a brief period during my teens and early 20s when I didn’t read picture books and story books, but as soon as I had kids at age 23 I was hooked again.  My children outgrew picture books, but I kept reading them.

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We all lose our superpowers sometimes

They are that “unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment” of adulthood.  In the past few decades, I’ve seen the world of children’s books expand in all directions.  Printing a book is still an expensive endeavor, but there are fewer gate keepers and more kinds of independent presses.  There are ways for self-published authors and artists to find an audience.  The themes explored in children’s and young adult books have opened up.  And, even though there’s a huge dystopian market in young adult books, there are also books for teens that explore ways of healing and rediscovering hope.  A child who finds out another person has suffered abuse is a child less isolated.  There is hope out there on the fringes of even the grimmest stories.

In my deepest heart, I believe it’s been the power of stories that has allowed me to rise about all the challenges that life has thrown at me.  I’ve been laid low many times, but part of recovery has always been reading.  I don’t think I would be as alert to wonder, to the beauty of nature, or to the value of friends without that regular injection of children’s books.

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A cup of tea and a few books

In stories, there’s often a rule of three.  Three challenges are overcome before the ending.  While I know there aren’t happy endings to every story, I’ve learned that the unhappy ending may be just another plot point, I haven’t reached the end of the story.  And when I do reach the ultimate end, I may fly away and live like a song on the wind.

I recently wrote this post on the book Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glenn Ringtved and illustrated by Charlotte Pardi.

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It quickly became one of my most shared blog posts.  I’m sharing here again for those of you who are new followers or are reading this because of Children’s Book Week.  It’s a perfect example of how reading children’s books keeps my sense of wonder alive and helps me deal with very adult situations.:

Convergence: Grief, Books, Life

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading my blog.

This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’m posting on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.

Here are links to the first 4 posts of the week:

Monday: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Tuesday:  I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

Wednesday:  Flying in Our Imagination

Thursday:  Butterflies and Robots

 

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4 thoughts on “A Life in Children’s Books

  1. Joy, I can’t tell you how much I value your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world! And I also tremendously respect how you’ve chosen to help kids who’ve experienced more than their share of difficulties in life. You’re an amazing person!

  2. Jon J Muth creates the most beautiful books. We have Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and The Three Questions by him – it is wonderful to find he has now produced Zen Socks. Despite our recent purging of possessions – including books – Muth’s are some that I firmly decided not to part with. As somebody who is only of late learning the true joy of /adult/ fiction… I certainly understand the beauty of children’s books. Joy, the community where you live intrigues me and warms the heart. It sounds like … well, such a sensible idea really. The photo of you reading in the middle of a bunch of beautiful young people is just lovely. Best wishes Xx
    Oh P.S if you like the work of Shaun Tan; Tim Minchin narrates one of his stories which has been beautifully animated. I was lucky enough to get the DVD a few years back. It’s ‘The Lost Thing’. The animation, narration, the music, and the near-ending of the story (my goodness!) is so beautiful. Hopefully you can watch it one day if you haven’t already. I bet the children at your community would love it too. Opens up the mind and sense of wonder. Xx

    1. I’ve given Zen Shorts to so many people! It’s an excellent book for any age. I’m glad you’re keeping his books. They are lovely. I feel very grateful to be a part of Bridge Meadows. I hope that it’s a spearhead community and other people copy it. It adds so much to the lives of everyone who lives here. I have seen The Lost Thing! It’s gorgeous and always reminds me not to get so caught up in life that I don’t see the unusual and playful things that exist right under our noses. Take care!

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