Friday, October 5, 2012

Unless You Become as a Little Child

A friend recently wondered why it is, at this crisis time of her life, she is so drawn to children's literature. Another friend has lost a child in recent months and also is being comforted through reading children's literature.

I can only speculate. Is it that in children's literature we often find profound joys and sorrows most clearly revealed? Is it simply because we were made to relate to stories and children's literature tell them in ways most palatable to us when in pain? Is it because in children's stories, written by adults for children, we find something of their experience and wisdom distilled, the adult subterfuges washed away so that all the truth and beauty of love and goodness are allowed to shine?

A mother once confided that she could not read a certain picture book to her children because it had "death" in it. I was taken aback. Had I not first learned to face death at Beth's bedside in Little Women, on the battle field with Johnny Tremain when Rab died, in the shock of the news of Sara Crewe's father's sudden death in the pages of A Little Princess? My heart had broken with these characters and somehow when real life's heartbreaks eventually came along, I was somewhat prepared because of those "fictional experiences." Did this mother think to avoid death somehow? No doubt, her motive was protection from the harshness of  reality for awhile longer.

When I read that Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer was controversial in its day because she dealt with the death of a friend, I was shocked. Lucinda's friend dies and her friend, the doctor, helps her understand the beautiful side of death in a way that still fills me with hope and wonder. How could this be wrong?

Then three years ago two friends were killed in an accident leaving behind 16 children between them. A  friend in the children's book publishing business shared with me then that when her husband died, she and her children found great solace in reading stories about children who knew the reality of loss of loved ones. We  read Heidi to one of those families in our life and the children listened attentively and were deeply involved in the story because they understood Heidi's loneliness.

In the middle of school today, my daughter called to tell me that the 15-year-old daughter of close friends was found dead this morning. We wept. We prayed. We rejoiced that she, for the first time in her short life, is able to sing and dance in the presence of her Heavenly Father, and was met by her mother who preceded her to glory by nine months.

Then we picked up our schoolbook and continued reading. My eight-year-old was beginning the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and haltingly read through the story. A wicked fairy thinks she has won the day by bringing about the death of the 15-year-old princess. But wait, the good fairy has already ensured that it is not death,  but sleep for a hundred years. The prick of the spindle is not the sting of death, but the postponement of joy. The wicked fairy is not the victor. My, this reminds me of the one true story.

Who says there is no happily ever after?

For the joy of reading,


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