Unexpected Hero: Winnie-the-Pooh

The world is a mess. Whatever your political views, we can all agree that it’s a rough world out there. However, while the news is increasingly depressing, I found an unlikely hero to cheer me for a few hours: Winnie-the-Pooh. 

Somehow I grew up reading everything in reach yet missed this classic! So I decided, “What’s more comforting than cuddling my Eeyore pillow pet and reading Winnie for the first time?” 

It was a marvelous decision; not only are the stories delightful and humorous, but the characters can teach even us “knowledgeable” grown-ups a thing or two. 

My personally favorite is Eeyore. He lets himself wallow, but knows well the worth of “a little kindness and consideration for others.” 

And then sweet, nervous little Piglet reminds us that it’s okay to ask for help and that we should always look out for the “Very Small Animals.”

Of course, we must mention Pooh. Continually called “brainless,” he still manages to come up with ideas to help those he loves. Perhaps caring for others is better than cleverness in the end. 


As simple as these stories and characters may seem, they are all the more important in today’s overwhelming, grown-up world. As I’ve said before, good children’s books are for adults too, and this is certainly true of Winnie-the-Pooh. After all, adults need to be reminded of consideration, service, and friendship perhaps even more than children do.

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10 Reasons to Read Children’s Literature

I love children’s books: always have, always will. However, so many people pass the age of 12 and think they must “grow up.” They somehow rationalize leaving behind the lovely rows of Newberry Medal winners for the cringe-worthy gratuitousness of the “teen paranormal romance” section. When did that even become a section?! Or rather, WHY?!

But I digress.

Upon entering  high school, too often we leave Narnia and enter far nastier realms of either purely reality (that is, not reading at all) or cliche, poorly-written teen romance. Even for advanced readers, skipping over the teen literature for adult books is not usually easy or wise; these too are riddled with profanity, pornographic scenes, and – frankly- poor writing.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely wonderful teen and adult books out there. I’ve blogged on a few of them and am planning to publish a roundup of recommendations for later, but in general, I have been lately drawn  more and more back to the children’s literature sections of the bookstore.

Not convinced that children’s literature is for every one?

Here are ten reasons why you should read more children’s books:

  1. They are not just for kids! C.S. Lewis, who was a prolific writer for both children and grown-ups, once remarked that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Well-written children’s tales grow with the reader, gaining deeper meaning as the reader ages.
  2. They’re clean! Every time I pick up a book outside of the kids’ or classics sections, I stumble across something scandalous. I get it, sometimes a swear word or sexual scene is necessary, but usually they seem to be thrown in to attract an edgier audience rather than to enhance the story. Children’s books manage to convey real issues without having to be unnecessarily explicit!
  3. They are not condescending. So many books geared toward teens are written in a dumbed-down style, overusing descriptions such as “the boy felt angry.” Don’t tell us he felt angry! Tell us that he “clenched his fists as his face turned red with pent up emotion.” Readers are smart enough to infer what the character is feeling! I’ve found that children’s books most often show rather than tell, preventing the reader from feeling as if he/she is being talked down to by the author.
  4. They address real events and issues. So much of my understanding of the world comes from what I read as a child. They might be riddled with magic and fun, but so often children’s books are deeper than we give them credit for! They teach history, different perspectives, address serious issues, even demonstrate survival skills!
  5. They offer comforters and encouragement. It’s as if, the older I become, the authors that nurtured me as a child become more important; instead of babysitters, they are mentors. Rereading them takes me back to a simpler time, when my biggest worry was how many chapters I could read before I’d have to practice piano. They also are full of sage advice, the depth of which I have only realized with age and experience.
  6. They are brain candy and food for thought. Written for children, the writing style is not generally complicated; however, with such a vast spectrum of topics, these books are certainly not mere fluff! They are perfect for light reading, yet they also demand that you think, ensuring that time spent reading them is time well spent.
  7. They are original! This should be a given. Actually, this should be a requirement for publication. Sadly, though, cliche is the new original for many books. However, you can always count on children’s books to bring lively new stories to the world! Just like kids are always imagining new things, children’s authors are constantly producing fresh tales.
  8. They tell fantastic stories. Again, this should be a given for publication in the first place, but you’d be surprised how many books I start, thinking they look intriguing, and then set aside in my “Half-Price Books trade-in” pile. However, children’s books tell such a wide variety of gripping tales that I have lately found myself staying up late reading, just as I did when I was little.
  9. They have pictures. Books do not need pictures; I’m not Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. But, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy some well-drawn illustrations? The illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society did such delightful work that I have bought books by different authors simply because they are illustrated by her.
  10. They promote bonding. I clearly don’t have kids yet, but I look forward to a day when I will read aloud from my favorite books to my kids. I remember fondly the times my parents would take my brother and I to the bookstore and let us pick out books. Even now, that is how my dad and I spend our time together and, even as a twenty-year-old, I usually make my pick from the Newberry Medal winners.

Are you convinced now? If not, I encourage you to visit the children’s literature section at your local bookstore anyway. Need recommendations? Just comment and I will send you millions. (Maybe not quite millions…)

While I will admit that I am sad to see some changes in the children’s literature section, with books such as Dork Diaries replacing the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, I recognize that it is a place where wholesome storytelling thrives, fostering both imagination and education. In short, children’s literature gives me hope in the midst of a world that is increasingly drawn to darkness and – scarier still – poor writing.

 

Please share this letter!

No, this is not some “reblog to solve a major world crisis” post and you won’t end up with bad luck for a year if you don’t share. Odds are that if you ignore this altogether, nothing bad will result. However, I truly am asking you, my fellow lover of books, to share this post because it contains a letter that needs to be sent, but I do not know the name of the recipient.

 

I should explain myself. I was at the university fitness center this evening and, having no “brain candy” books on hand (I am entrenched in school reading), was planning to just watch Netflix while burning off some energy. However, as I was passing a woman working out nearby, I saw it: a glorious, glossy book titled The Night Circus, a book I had been dreaming of reading for nearly a month now but had not been able to find in my local Barnes and Noble.

 

“Is that book good?” I asked on a whim.

 

We proceeded to chat for a moment and she said that she would ask if there was another copy at the store where she purchased it and let me know. A few minutes later, as we were both concluding our individual workouts, she came over and handed the book to me.

 

“A gift,” she said, explaining that she could easily obtain another copy.

 

I tried to protest, but, being the bookworm that I am, could not but accept in awe that someone would willingly give such a beautiful and brand new book to a perfect stranger. But, then again, perhaps kindred spirits can be found even in strangers.

 

That said, in my excitement, I did not ask the woman her name. For all I know, she is not even a student or a professor at my school but some majestic book angel sent from libraries above. Of course, that seems just a little bit far-fetched, so I thought that I would attempt to find and thank her through my blog. So, if your readers’ heart is so inclined, please repost to share the following note and help me thank this kind stranger.

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Dear Book-giver,

 

I truly cannot thank you enough for your generosity! To give such a lovely (not to mention bestselling!) book to a complete stranger at the gym of all places was wonderful. It may not have seemed like much to you, but to me, a stressed-out undergrad who genuinely needed a pleasure read, it was a gesture of grace. I have been wanting to read this book for so long, as I told you, and I can hardly wait to begin! I do hope you are able to get another copy soon; I would feel dreadful to have cost you the chance to enjoy this book which The Boston Globe assures me is “a showstopper”. I am so sorry that I was unable to thank you properly in person or even ask your name (I was a bit distracted trying not to sound out of breath or fall off the elliptical machine), but perhaps this blog post and note will reach you somehow. After all, Biola University is not a very large school. Again, thank you so very much! Your gift made my day and encouraged me as I head into a crazy week and semester.

 

Blessings and books to you!

 

Joyfully,

Ryanne J. McLaren

A Lovely Combination

I recently visited my favorite indie bookstore and somehow managed to leave without using all of my credit! (I needed an excuse to return next week…) What did I purchase? A combination I believe works quite well:

  


  

1) A book with a setting that drew me in. (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, taking place in my beloved London.) 

 

2) A collection of stories to frighten me slightly. (Unnatural Creatures by various authors.)

 

3) Another quirky British read that joins my Austenite and Sherlockian sides. (Death Comes to Permberly by P.D. James.)

 

4) A novel by an author of my recent acquaintance to make me philosophical. (Nana by Emile Zola, author of the inspiration of BBC’s hit show, The Paradise.)
 

5) Finally, a volume of essays by my writing hero (one of them, anyway) to feed both mind and ambition. (Bradbury Speaks by Ray Bradbury.) 

 

Quite a nice blend of fantasy, frights, and food for thought, wouldn’t you agree? 

Return to the Garden

 

 

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What qualifies a book as a classic? This is the question my classmates and I were faced with in English today and I am probably way more emotionally invested in this subject than I should be, but my answer to this question has taken years to discover! And, after all, isn’t most literature in some way based on a quest for self-knowledge? Wouldn’t such a quest evoke passion in real life?

Anyway, I digress.

Basically, my answer to this question is that literature is not made; it grows and develops as humanity does. That is what makes books such as Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, and Dracula classics. These enduring masterpieces do not rise to fame and fade away like many of those novels on the current New York Times Bestseller list because they are more than just entertainment; they are reflections of humanity, despite their dramatic plots or fanciful characters. They remain stocked on bookstore and library shelves while other tales come and go and are read and forgotten by fickle readers. Why do they endure? Because their themes remain applicable to human life, their conflicts observable in the modern world, and their characters relatable in spite of their age differences with current readers.

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That was my answer, but I had to wonder, do all classics have to be deep, wordy, and- let’s face it- rather dull? Or could some pieces of literary genius be- dare I wonder?- simple? Innocent? Entertaining even?

C.S. Lewis says yes.

Actually, what he really says is, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

Wait. He’s talking about children’s books, not the brick-like jungles of symbols and allusions that we must machete our way through in our English courses, but children’s books! Suddenly a whole new world is opened to readers and we no longer have to feel like we cannot benefit from the wisdom of literature simply because we do not care for ten-syllable words and tragic endings! The wardrobe has been opened again to all readers and we can return to the “Narnias” and “Secret Gardens” we left behind.

It seems that often people ignore the relevancy of children’s books to their adult lives, but perhaps it would do us good to return to their simple wisdom and beauty. It is likely- no, it is definite- that upon rereading a children’s book that you read as a child, you will find meaning where once you saw only a story. For instance, I reread The Secret Garden to give my brain a vacation, but where I expected to find the familiar story I read as a young girl, I found a tale of friendship, determination, overcoming, forgiveness, and even redemption. These were certainly not themes that I detected as a beginning reader, but upon revisiting this childhood garden, I discovered that morals and symbols had bloomed like flowers since my first visit.

downloadMy English teachers always insisted that I bring my arguments full-circle (probably just as well, since I do tend to ramble), so to conclude, classic literature endures because it continues to be relevant and applicable, not, as a classmate of mine said- because the authors are long-winded and professors like to look smart by explaining vocabulary. If my answer is correct and C.S. Lewis is to be believed (which he should be, seeing as he had some experience with literature himself…you know, being an author and all that…) , many children’s books fall into this category; Charlotte’s Web may sit beside Pride and Prejudice, Redwall can have adventures with The Lord of the Rings, Nancy Drew can share secrets with Sherlock Holmes.

 

So you see, children’s books are completely equal to, and perhaps above, many “adult” classics in their vast stores of wisdom and potential for application. They are not to be looked down upon for the youth of their intended audience, but may even set examples for what true literature ought to be.

 

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Let me just begin by saying that this book was not what I expected. At all.  I picked it up a few months ago, but after reading the back, discarded it as a sappy and cliché romance. Basically, the typical young adult novel.  However, prompted by a friend with high standards for books, I decided to give Cinder another chance.

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I was enchanted from the first chapter. I expected it to be some awkward blending of fairy tales and science fiction, but the two were woven together with such fluency that it only seemed natural for “Cinderella” to take place in a futuristic China. I screamed aloud, laughed, and even teared up as I read this book, to amusement of the friend who had recommended it.  It even made me think, which is quite a feat for any book less than a century old! I was so entranced by this book that another friend attempted to confiscate it and make me interact with the outside world. But how could I be expected to socialize when my new friends Cinder and Iko were in peril?

Speaking of my new “friends”, the characters in this book were really what made it so wonderful. I do not mean to condemn the entire young adult genre, but one does have to admit that the characters of its books are not always the most realistic or wholesome.  I mean, can we as teenagers really be expected to admire the wishy-washy Bella of Twilight, the too-perfect rebel of Legend, or supernatural love-interests found in so many other novels?  Cinder was different.  The female lead was endearingly flawed, smart, and dedicated to her sister and best friend (who happens to be an android, but still had more depth than Bella Swan…).  Best of all, she kept her focus on what really mattered despite her attraction to the charming prince.  (THANK YOU MARISSA MEYER FOR MAKING ROMANCE A SIDE DISH RATHER THAN THE WHOLE ENTREE!)

Read this book.  That is really all I can say.  It was an adorable and addicting fusion of two popular genres, fantasy and sci-fi, with a multi-layered plot and a cast of refreshing characters that readers can actually relate to (ignoring the fact that one is a cyborg, one is a robot, and one is an emperor… but whatever.)

My one regret about this book is that I finished it on Saturday and must wait until Monday to check out its sequel. Bleh.

Legend by Marie Lu

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As mentioned in my previous post, “Bookworms Anonymous,” I recently found myself in desperate need of some light reading.  The librarians at school recommended Legend, a dystopian society and romance combination similar to Divergent.  As I enjoyed Divergent (although I was slightly less enamored by it than other readers…) I figured that I would give it a try.  What I discovered was a fast-paced read with great potential but sadly lacking true significance.  (Granted, I had asked for light reading, but I have come to realize that my definition of “light” means “anything written within the past century” rather than “simple and gratifying.”)

I have no real complaint against this book as it successfully entertained me for a few hours, but overall I was a tad disappointed.  I can see why it is rarely available for check-out; it has the action, humor, and teen romance that many readers are seeking.  However, so many times the author tried- and failed- to be profound.  I’m sorry, but I really do not understand the point of referring to a fifteen-year-old heartthrob in dire need of a haircut as “an angel, although a broken one.”  I mean, I had sympathy for the characters- it is always rough trying to overthrow a totalitarian government while simultaneously struggling through puberty as an orphan- but they were stiff and the story was predictable.

Anyway, despite my qualms, I must give credit where credit is due: this book provided a means of escape during an insanely hectic time and therefore I remember it fondly.  And like I said, its story had potential and I have heard of many who enjoyed it, so perhaps it is worth skimming through, if not as food for serious thought, at least as a thick piece of brain candy.

Oh, and in case one piece of brain candy is not enough, there are sequels which hopefully expand upon the base laid by Legend.