Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book

Edited by: Anita Silvey
Recommended for: Children's Book Lovers Everywhere

A friend of mine recently told me about this gem of a book which is sure to resonate with people who love children's books. In it, over one hundred leaders from different areas--science, politics, sports and the arts--write about the children's book that has had a big impact on their lives, one way or another. For those of us who love children's books, it's not surprising that a book we read so many years ago continues to resonate with us years later.

The book is edited by the eminently qualified Anita Silvey, a former Horn Book editor and publisher at Houghton Mifflin. It's divided into six sections entitled: Inspiration, Understanding, Principles & Precepts, Vocation, Motivation and Storytelling. Each entry has an essay about the book by the contributor, an anecdote about the actual book and/or author, an excerpt from the book itself, and a picture of the book. There's also a heading that states a lesson learned. As much as I wanted to devour the book all at once, I found that it's a book to be savored over many sittings.

There are so many fascinating people featured, and each one of their books is an interesting choice. For instance, the author Sherman Alexie chose Ezra Jack Keats's The Snowy Day, because "it was pretty much the only children's book that featured a protagonist with dark skin...It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character--a character who resembled me physically and spiritually, in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation." The lesson Alexie learned: "People might want to listen to me too."

Or there's the entry by author Judy Blume talking about Madeline being her favorite book. It was checked out from the library, and she loved it so much she hid it from her mother so she wouldn't return it to the library. As she says, "I thought the copy I had hidden was the only copy in the whole world. I knew it was wrong to hide the book, but there was no way I was going to part with Madeline." The lesson she learned: "To understand other people-and myself."

Or there's heart surgeon William C. DeVries, who contributed to the development of the world's first artificial heart. His choice was The Wizard of Oz. His favorite character was the Tin Woodman who states, "For my part, I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur, if you will give me a heart." DeVries goes on to say that he has thought about those lines "many, many times." Lesson learned: "Brains, heart, and courage--the brains, heart, and courage within me."

As I've read through this book over the last week, I must admit that I've gotten a thrill each time I've opened it. The books run the gamut from the classics (The Secret Garden, Huckleberry Finn) to the sad (Where the Red Fern Grows, The Yearling) to the silly (Go Dog Go, The Cat in the Hat) to the more obscure (The Animal Book, The Story of Mankind). And each one passed on some little nougat to a child long ago. Every time I sat down to read an entry, I felt like I was being rushed back to the time I first discovered the magic of reading.

Of course, it also made me think about what children's book I would name as having continual resonance in my life. It didn't take me too long to come up with Little Women. I have read Little Women at least ten times in my life (I'm due for another reading this year). The story of the March sisters (especially Jo) captivated me as a ten year old, and has continued to do so forty years later. She was a tomboy, bookworm who became an independent young woman in a time when women were relegated to the home. She was the perfect role model.

So here's a question for you. What children's book would you say has had the most impact on your life? Or to put it another way, what children's book changed your life?


Vivekanandan said...
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Yokel (TKS) said...

The children's book which most left an impression on me as a child has to be the Betsy, Tacy and Tibb (sp?) series by Maud Hart Lovelace and Lois Lenski.

Tamara at
Writer's Rainbow

Cricket Noyes said...

As a child, I loved the Nancy Drew series....


Neinah Avelin said...

Hi Robin,

Thats an easy question for me.. C.S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Love your Blog!


Remembering Our Roots said...


I, also loved "Little Women".

Beth Deyo

Neinah Avelin said...

Can I add another favorite book Robin..? if I could I would add "The Boy Next door" by Enid Blyton