Asking questions for children is as normal as breathing. The reason is simple: they want to know. Knowing is a child's main focus in life. Charlotte Mason says the mind only seeks to answer the questions it asks of itself. Questions lead to information, result in solutions, solve mysteries. Life is full of mystery. It seems ridiculous to point it out, but, there is so extraordinarily much we do not know and cannot help ourselves from wanting to find out.
A child is comfortable with this, comfortable with knowing he is uninformed and comfortable with finding out. The world is puzzling to him and is enjoyed by him for the sheer joy of discovering answers to what he doesn't know.
Besides asking questions, children are keen observers. They notice things we often wish they would not and are adept at perceiving anything new or distinctive, any change or variation from what they know. Small things hold enticing possibilities of knowing new things. They live to know.
Finding out new pieces in the puzzle the world presents to a child is not only their main business in life, it is their entertainment, and their delight. Perhaps this is one reason Jesus commanded us not to despise them, to even aspire to be "like one of these little ones." The world and everything that happens in it everyday should hold as much wonder for us as it does to them. We adults have labored so long and hard to figure everything out, to solve many of life's immediate mysteries, that we have long since left off reveling in the pleasure of the unknown.
As a grandmother, I am exceedingly more intrigued with observing the way children discover their world than I remember being with their parents' investigations. I now have time to watch the one-year-old problem solve how to open a cabinet, or be amused to hear about how my four-year-old grandson took the toilet apart with the matter-of-fact explanation, "because I wanted to see how it works."
Mysteries come naturally to them and they pursue solving them with the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. Once children can read independently, sometimes even before they can, mystery stories become one of their favorite sources of reading material. The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys are certainly not fine literature, but children get hooked on them. Sometimes I console myself that they need to build confidence in reading, and at least in these books they are getting grammar and spelling experience by plugging these formulaic chapter books into their heads. After a year or so in this obsessive stage, most children can be gently encouraged to move into other genres, if not more challenging literature. Most fiction, nature stories, and even biographies, after all, hold mysteries too.
One of the reasons we keep reading is not knowing where the author is going with his narrative, how the characters will solve their problems, and what will happen by the end of the book. Mysteries call us in, take us deeper, and that insatiable question-maker, our mind, must find out what it needs to know.
Mysteries particularly develop a child's need to answer questions, but also train children in the skill of keeping track of details, and problem solving. Beyond this obvious appeal, I think mysteries serve another basic human need, which is simply to bring order to life. God made the world in order and keeps it in order, but this master management is not easily obvious. Life is not wrinkle free for most of us, and experiencing the resolutions of its complexities when reading a story of how other lives disentangle satisfies our craving to bring order to our own.
In looking back over the past year, I note that the occurrence of reading various mystery stories tends to cluster around especially hectic or stressful seasons. Apparently we don't grow out of the need to find some order somewhere when life is in a knot. It's not just children who need the temporary escape and mental practice of being drawn into a mystery and having logic skills sharpened, or the desire to know that at least one problem has been resolved in the pages of fiction. I'm sure reaching the conclusion to such tales releases endorphins, and I'd be willing to wager gives us renewed courage to tackle some of the unknowns that baffle us.
Mystery Stories Read so far in 2015:
Brother Cadfael's Penance by Ellis Peters
A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters
Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters
Dead Man's Ransome by Ellis Peters
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Other stories containing strong elements of mystery:
Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollop
Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Sound and the Fury by William Falkner
Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodd Hodges
The Green Ember by S. D. Smith
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson
The Black Caldron by Lloyd Alexander
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
The High King by Lloyd Alexander
The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
Would anyone like to share their favorite whodunits or other books with mysteries?
For the joy of reading,