I’m pretty lucky in that my friends are all book nerds just like I am. We’re constantly reading and all have at least one book that we’ve loved since we were kids. These books and their messages have been carried in our hearts even as we moved out of childhood. There are whole periods of our lives wrapped up in the pages of kids’ books, and I suppose I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for the tattered pages of those moral stories.
Of late, it has hit a bunch of my friends and I that we’re (gasp) all grown up. My roommate Alex is graduating in three weeks. Rachel, Lena, and I are also flying through our school years. The three of us are at the tail end of our junior year and working on our senior theses. Cliché as it seems, the time is racing past us, and we’ve all been feeling our age. It’s not surprising that we’ve been taking the occasional trip down memory lane. Our bookish brains make it so that a lot of those memories are buried between the covers of kids’ books.
I was chatting with the above group when the subject of lessons learned from children’s books came up. Each person had a favorite story that they thought taught them the most meaningful lesson. After all, one of the greatest parts of children’s literature is the morals and lessons embedded within the stories. This week, I wanted to share some of the most memorable lessons my friends and I have learned from story books and their characters. Each of us has at least one favorite story with one awesome lesson.
Alex’s Choice: Do not get others to do the work that you can do yourself.
Alex’s book choice was Hired Help For Rabbit by Judy Delton. Rabbit has a hard time juggling all his chores and so he starts hiring friends to help him out around the house, but his plans go awry and he ends up with even more work than when he started. Rabbit’s friends quit, leaving Rabbit once again on his own to do the work. It’s an important lesson for kids to learn, to do work themselves rather than rely on others. While the work might be hard, it’s worth it to do it yourself.
Rachel’s Choice: Everything happens for a reason, “Holes build character,” and that a person should be a bit afraid of red nail polish.
If you’re lucky enough to have read Louis Sachar’s Holes you know what I mean by most of this. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, here’s a quick summary to catch you up. Stanley Yelnates is a teenager whose family is cursed which leads to a long series of events, the most important being that Stanley is accused of stealing a pair of sneakers and is sent to Camp Green Lake, a detention center where delinquents dig holes to build character and are taught how to be useful members of society. Stanley learns quickly that everything happens for a reason while trying to avoid further punishment by the wicked warden whose red nail polish has rattle snake venom in it. Holes is a fantastic story where the past and the present intertwine to determine Stanley’s fate.
Lena’s Choice: Sometimes, a person is mean because no one has taken the time to be kind to him or her and be his or her friend.
My friend Lena is a poet with a huge heart and endless compassion, and it’s no surprise that she’d pick a book like The Story of Poppyseed by Barbi Sargent, a rather rare, obscure book all about compassion. In the story, a horrible monster keeps the characters, Miss Kessy and the children, from visiting their friends. To see their friends the troop has to cross the waters in which the monster lives. Eventually, the kids learn that the monster’s cruelty is in response to their own actions, and they go out of their way to be his friend, showing that a little kindness can go a long way. This book is probably the reason that Lena always defends the underdog and tries to befriend everyone she meets.
My choice: Words can change your life, and maybe even save it.
Charlotte’s Web is a classic for a reason. E.B. White has created one of the strongest characters I’ve ever read in Charlotte. Though I never thought I’d say it, but she’s a beautiful spider. As a character, Charlotte is bright and the most altruistic creature possible. She gives everything to save the lives of her children and her good friend, a pig named Wilbur. I love that she uses her brains to save Wilbur from the chopping block, spelling words out in her web so that the family who owns him doesn’t send him to the butcher to become bacon. Charlotte’s one of my heroes from children’s literature, and as a writer, I’ve learned all too well just how much words can change your life.
How about you? Do you have a book you read as a kid that’s taught you a lesson you cannot forget?
Books I Mentioned In This Post:
Delton, Judy. Hired Help for Rabbit. Reed Business Information, Inc., 1992.
Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: A Yearling Book, 1998.
Sargent, Barbi. The Story of Poppyseed. Grosset & Dunlap, 1985.
White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web. New York: Harper Collins Publisher’s Inc., 1952.