Friday, February 27, 2009

Children’s Literature: Not Just for Kids

I once went through a reading stage where my main ambition was to read as much “literaure” as possible. Dickens, Austen, Twain, London, Shakespeare, Bronte, Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Longfellow, and on and on. Even when I departed from the classics, I stayed within modern literary boundaries like Amy Tan and John Irving. This attitude probably defines my high school and college careers. I read what my English teacher told me to read, and then to further my goal, I became an English major in college.

Well, in truth, I may have had the desire to read all these authors’ works, but mostly I just collected their books to read “someday.” I succeeded to some degree, though, because I read and learned a lot from English classes, even enduring the books I didn’t like for the sake of knowing more about books. I still have this attitude to a certain degree. I never stopped wanting to explore the classics, and I am still holding on to my book collection, and expanding it, for someday.

But halfway through college, something happened that forever changed the way I view a good book: I took a children’s literature class. Admittedly, it never crossed my mind at first to even consider taking the class. But after some prodding from my sisters, I gave in, thinking it might be an easy “A” at the very least, especially after all the grueling literary analysis in other classes. However, I was still skeptical that I would only end up being bored.

Thankfully, that was not the case. What did happen was that I ended up rediscovering books I remembered reading when I was younger, or discovering new books that I would have never read had it not been for the class. It also helped relieve this weird pressure I was inflicting on myself to be so intellectual about books. I discovered that reading could be fun. I discovered that books could be meaningful. (Maybe I already knew this, but I had forgotten.) Not only that, but I learned about children’s lit history and about the authors, explored several different genres, and I got to read! Soon after, I moved on to the young adult literature class.

In a way, what the children’s lit class really did was remind me of why I love books. It gave me the same feeling I had when I was introduced to A Tale of Two Cities in my freshman year of high school, or when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird. The reason I had become so ambitious about literature was because I love reading so much. I just got a little carried away and forgotten what I was doing it for.

So, in closing, I’ll simply leave you with a list of children’s/young adult lit reading recommendations. Some of these books are ones I read in the children’s/YA lit classes.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Beauty by Robin McKinley
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Holes by Louis Sachar
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Picture Books

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin & Mary Azarian
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Olivia by Ian Falconer
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe
Tuesday by David Wiesner
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith