The Avid Reader: The powerful healing of a children’s book

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/15/2021 11:30:07 AM

As I write this column, major events are happening in the country. No, this is not going to be a political diatribe – so keep reading. At some point, all of us need to personally heal from these current events, no matter what our personal political beliefs, and no matter how it all will end. How we can do this, for me, starts with reading the right books, and sharing books with children who may also be scared and in need of healing right now.

Katherine Rundell is of the same opinion and expresses it beautifully in her slim volume, “Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise.” Rundell writes that she “still reads Paddington when I need to believe that the world’s miracles are more powerful than its chaos.” This is a philosophy we can all embrace. Of course, as adults we can also turn to uplifting grown-up books, but the children’s and young adult books are often that desperately needed life raft during times of turmoil.

Rundell cites some of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis (“Chronicles of Narnia”), Diana Wynne Jones (“Howl’s Moving Castle”), Edith Nesbit (“The Story of the Treasure Seekers”), and of course Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland” (full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America). In each case, these books and others provide a much-needed respite from the current disquiet and forebodings.

While we, as adults, should not need to seek validation for why we enjoy reading children’s books, it is good to see that our justifications for doing so have been written down by a highly regarded author, who also supports adults reading fairy tales.

Of course, fairy tales are some of the most enduring stories of all cultures, and as she notes, these are not just for children! No, as Rundell so aptly states, “they are determinedly, pugnaciously, for everyone – old and young, men and women, of every nation.” There may be a wicked stepmother, evil king, conflict or injustice, but there is always something else – the miracle of hope in every story. And “hope in fairytales is sharper than teeth.” This hope gave us courage as children – and when we need to regain that same feeling, children’s books will always deliver. They also give the child reader or listener a sense of strength when that child can identify with the characteristics and qualities of the hero or heroine.

Contemporary authors are also making their mark with respect to offering hope, and one of my favorite new authors of children’s books is Karina Yan Glaser. She is the author of the Vanderbeekers series and her most recent is “The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found.” I have reviewed her first book in this column several years ago, and Glaser continues to write delightful stories about the five Vanderbeeker children who live in a brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City.

Over the years, and through the books, this bi-racial family has been threatened with the loss of their apartment, building a community garden in the face of developers trying to destroy the neighborhood, and helping their mother develop her baking business to keep the family financially afloat.

This newest installment in the family’s adventures involves their neighbor and landlord, Mr. Beiderman, prepare for the New York City Marathon and save the homeless person sleeping in the community garden that they built in the second book in the series.

For children, this type of story gently addresses real fears in their lives. Glaser’s books lay bare these worries that children experience: worries such as homelessness, rejection because of race, sufficient family income to cover bills, a loss of connection to the natural world, and how to care for someone in what appears to be a hopeless situation.

The five children, Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney, each with his or her own gifts, talents, and foibles, may make mistakes, often not understand the ways of adults (adults can be quite silly at times), and occasionally cause chaos, but in the end the conflicts, including the first date with Isa and Benny, resolve and the household continues on – wiser and even more together than before. The idiosyncrasies and imperfections of all these characters in the stories makes them memorable as well as good examples to emulate.

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin are two more of my favorite authors. Kaufman lives in Australia and Graudin lives in South Carolina, and when Graudin told Kaufman about a South Carolina lighthouse on a vanishing island left rising alone from the waves, both women knew they had to write about it.

The resulting story, “The World Between Blinks” is a charming series of adventures experienced by two cousins, Jake and Marisol as they, along with their families, visit the late grandmother’s beach house for the very last time.

Nana was an adventurer, and she left maps and photographs all over her beach house as memories of a life well lived. The cousins find a map Nana left behind and sneak out of the beach house one morning to try to find treasure they think is shown in the map. Treasure maps in stories are always the best.

Instead of finding treasure, however, following this particular map causes the cousins to slip into another world. The world is found between blinks of the eyes, and suddenly there are historical mysteries that can be found and solved (think Nefertiti, Amelia Earhart, and George Washington’s dentures), extinct animals prowling (think Tasmanian tigers and the Loch Ness Monster), as well as a few things such as the USS Seawolf lost on October 4, 1944 somewhere in the Pacific.

Readers are introduced to real historical mysteries, solutions that entertain, and an ongoing sense of adventure experienced by the cousins. Very importantly, the authors’ notes in the back of the book provide the real story behind every mystery, so that the reader will not be mislead by the fictionalizing of the events. This is a very enjoyable book that not only introduces us to fascinating historical events, it also serves as a nice escape from a sense of pessimism or gloominess we might be experiencing.

For adults, who might feel discouraged and powerless, the encouragement found in the pages of children’s books reminds us that there is always hope – when hope in our world is hard to find. We see hope in the bravery of the books’ characters, hope in the generosity found in a fantasy story’s animals, hope in the empathy children show, and love that triumphs at the conclusion of each story. Pick up a children’s book and read some delight.


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