Even before I became a parent, I loved children’s books.
My love of kid’s lit goes back to when I was a child.
As far as choice goes, there is more available now than ever before, but I tend to go back to the classics. While there are books specifically aimed at teaching kids the importance of being good and impairing spiritual lessons, I find many of them to be a bit heavy-handed at getting their message across. My first criteria when choosing books for my child or any child is whether or not the story is good and the child is going to be entertained. When I was a kid, I loved all the books first and foremost because of the plot.
After having re-discovered some of these as an adult, I am surprised at some of the deep spiritual and moral lessons that many of them have that I did not consciously pick-up on as a kid.
Without former ado, here are a few of my favorites. The best thing is, you don’t even have to have kids to enjoy these.
Dahl’s dry sense of humor is on full display here about a tale about an enormous crocodile who leaves his river in Africa and sets his sights on feasting on a yummy child or two for lunch. Despite his “secret plans and clever tricks,” Crocky finds he cannot escape karma. Laugh-out loud funny with great watercolor illustrations by Quentin Blake.
This is the first book that ever made me question if it was okay to raise animals for food or to think of the pigs that were sacrificed to provide my beloved morning bacon. What I love most is that at the heart of this story is friendship. The fact that so many of these friendships involve different species shows that in the end, it doesn’t matter what your friends look like or what background they come from so long as they are there for you. The description of the title character’s death never fails to bring me to tears even after having read this so many times I could recite it from memory.
I recently took a college-level children’s literature course and was amazed by how many people hate this book, citing Sara Crew as the ultimate “nice girl” who represses her angry at all costs. While they are entitled to their opinion, I find Sara to be great role model for girls and boys, who proves that ultimately, being a true “princess,” in the best sense of the word, has nothing to do money or impressive clothes but everything to do with loyalty, kindness and friendship.
Re-reading this as an adult, I was struck by how Sara accepts her reversal of fortune from the daddy’s girl who had everything to the orphan who (literally) loses the clothes on her back. Rather than try to deny or avoid her plight, Sara accepts it and tries to maintain the ideals she holds. It’s not always easy, but she does it. Most remarkably, Burnett presents this in a way that is utterly believable to her audience.
The extraordinary Pippi Longstocking has been capturing kid’s hearts ever since the book was first published in Lindgren’s native Sweden in 1945. As a kid, I wanted to be the rambunctious red head. After all, what kid wouldn’t dream of living on their own in their own house, having a horse that lives in said house and not having to follow any rules except the ones they make?
While some parents express dismay at Pippi’s often-times cringeworthy behavior—usually resulting from ignoring or misinterpreting social norms—the book raises several important questions about the role of the individual in society, including what is the rule of the education system in most modern societies? Is it to educate or merely teach children to confirm?
While Pippi may look like a clown, it’s actually the adults around her who more often than not come across as fools.
In closing, the spiritual and moral lessons provided in the above list of books are applicable for those ranging from age 1 to 100. Even if you have read most or all the books on the list, you may want to go back and re-read with a set of fresh eyes. You may be surprised by some of the things you missed or did not pick up on as a child.
Even if you’re not looking for a spiritual or moral lesson, these books stand on their own as examples of good literature. Don’t let the fact that they are written for kids deter you from picking them up.
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Ed: Sara Crolick