When I finished my term in congregational leadership in 2005, I took a sabbatical. As part of my sabbatical I enrolled in two classes: a scripture course and a children’s literature course. The children’s lit course was taught by Sister Regina Alfonso, now semi-retired, who had taught children’s lit for many years at Notre Dame College. She and I met regularly in a small room in the Notre Dame College library. Just the two of us and our stacks of children’s books.
Children’s books aren’t just for children, you know. They can speak important truths to us adults as well, often very creatively, in simple language, and with stunning or fun illustrations. Here are some of the books I read in that class. I hope this list nudges you to go to a library or book store and treat yourself to a few children’s books.
- Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie de Paola: a poignant story about a little boy and his affection for his grandmother and great-grandmother. It deals with intergenerational relationships and with death.
- The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes: written over 50 years ago, this book is a classic about a girl, Wanda Pretonski, who wears the same dress to school every day. She is mocked by the other students, especially when she claims she has 100 dresses at home in her closet. The story, with an unusual twist at the end, explores bullying and the power of forgiveness.
- Miss Malarky Doesn’t Live in Room 10 by Judy Finchler: the story of a kindergartner who thinks his teacher actually lives in their classroom. In fact, he thinks all the teachers live at school. The illustrations contribute much to the delight of this story.
- Bull Run by Paul Fleischman: a slim volume that describes the first battle of the Civil War from 16 different points of view. Each of the characters tell their experience of the battle. Whether Northerner or Southerner, soldier or civilian, man or woman, rich or poor, free or slave, each person is quickly disillusioned with war.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry: a science fiction book that tells of Jonas, a young boy who lives in a perfect society where there is no war, no crime, no pain. But there are no choices either and no memories of the past. The only person who remembers the past and feels true pain is the Giver. When Jonas is selected to receive special training from the Giver, he will never be the same again.
- Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin: when the cows in Farmer Brown’s barn find an old typewriter, they type him a letter requesting electric blankets for the cold nights—or else! Both the story and the illustrations will make you smile!
- Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe: this Cinderella-theme book earned the Coretta Scott King Award for illustrations. It tells of two daughters vying to become the wife of the king. One daughter is mean and vain; the other is good-natured and kind. The illustrations alone are well worth the trouble of finding this book.
- Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by Ryan DiSalvo: a little boy goes with his Uncle Willie to help out at a soup kitchen where he learns firsthand about poverty, homelessness, diversity, and love.
- Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Cheng-Khee Chee: all of creation tries to answer the question: who is God? The wind, the stars, the stone, the lion, the robin, the fish and others set forth their answers until an argument ensues. It is Old Turtle who restores peace. The watercolor illustrations are lovely.
Questions for reflection/sharing.
- Have you read any of these books. If so, what do you think of them?
- Was there a book(s) you read as a child that made a big impact on you? Why?
- Are there other children’s books you would recommend? (I’m counting on all you elementary teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents to recommend some books for our readers!)
Our song today is an old Church song, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” This rendition is sung by children for children. But that means it’s for adults too, for didn’t Jesus tell us we must all become as little children?
Any responses to this reflection and/or music?