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.

 

T.G.I.M.- Some thoughts on Rest

Okay real talk. I hate Fridays.

A lot.

And, to be even more honest, I am not a huge fan of Saturdays either.

But I do LOVE Mondays! Fresh start, strict schedule, etc. I often possess more of a “Thank Goodness It’s Monday” (hence the title of this post) mentality than the more normal “TGIF.”

You see, I love to be constantly working; being busy holds me together. Too much down time and I become frustrated. Relaxing is not restful for me because I literally feel guilt when I am not being productive. It is a problem and I know this is not healthy.

A year or so ago I published an article titled “Rest and Laziness: They are Different!” (https://abookishcharm.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/rest-and-laziness-they-are-different/) Well I am guilty of, as they might have said a decade ago, “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”

I am quick to encourage others to take breaks, but I do not easily take them myself. I work so hard and constantly throughout the week that by the time the weekend comes around, I am physically unable to keep up with my pace. I still try and work, but because I am so exhausted I end up not accomplishing what I wanted to and becoming angry at myself.

This is unhealthy and I know it. This messed up workaholic mentality  has been my biggest struggle for a long time and I am finally having to confront it.

My ever-wise dad, who has long fought with the same tendency as me, offered these words:

“Sis, you are me. We are the same in this. And you are learning the hard way that you need to take down time. You have to introvert. You need to say no to doing more and just schedule rest time into your day. Find Bible verses on rest and dwell on them; God rested on the seventh day as an example for people like us. Now let me pray for you.”

As always, Dad was right. My hands feel weird not practicing piano right now and my mind is fretting as I write this blog post instead of a homework assignment. But I need to follow the steps my dad suggested.

  1. Introvert: I realized last night as I zipped out of my dorm for an event that I have not really had any time to myself this year. I love my friends, but I finally am at the point where I know that some time to myself is going to help me recharge. So I cancelled some plans and curled up with a book.
  2. Say No: I overcommitted myself this weekend, as usual. But another way of “saying no” is to say no to myself and my consuming perfectionism. This morning, I woke up later than I planned and was determined to go practice extra hard to make up for it…but then I said no. Instead, I called my mom and did some quiet time and feel much better for it.
  3. Schedule Rest Time: One of my friends schedules an hour into her day for chill time. I need to do this. I forget that doing honors institute reading is not down time, even though I enjoy it. As weird as it sounds, I think I might need to make Netflix more of a priority!
  4. Dwell on Truth: I love verses that encourage hearty work. I write them down in my notes and highlight them in my Bible. However, God mandates rest as well and I need to meditate on these passages in my heart. My faith encourages physical rest and, by pondering these truths, I will also find spiritual rest! I have found Psalm 116 to be especially comforting.
  5. Pray: Having my dad pray for me over the phone was wonderful; I was filled with such a peace. I often forget to pray, but this is a spiritual self-harm. Prayer leads me to lean on God rather than myself, granting rest to my soul and direction to my outer life; in short, I need to stop overlooking it.

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” – Psalm 116:7

Before I conclude and have hot chocolate and introvert time with my amazing roommate, I am going to jot down two final thoughts:

  1. My favorite animal is a sloth. I could learn a few things from their chillness.

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2. One of my favorite Bible stories is of Mary and Martha, but I have always sympathized more with Martha, who is always bustling about preparing her household. Jesus says to this hardworking woman:

“Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed…or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42

Mary knew when to rest, taking a break to listen to truth with her whole heart. I am naturally a Martha, but I am committing now to following the steps above so that I may learn to be a Mary…

…and also a little bit of a sloth. I mean, come on, look how adorable they are!!!

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Miss Darcy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman having read or seen Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy.” – Jane Austen and Ryanne McLaren*

*Note: The above quote does not actually represent the entirety of this post, but I did think it rather apt in capturing the feelings of Austenites everywhere.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice is probably the most fun summer homework I have ever had. I find myself procrastinating my other work as I continue to become absorbed into Jane Austen’s Regency world of country lanes, stuffy dinner parties, heartfelt letters, and- of course- the universally-beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

In beginning to read this book for the second (or is it third?) time, I was determined to figure out which leading lady I am the most like. My mother used to tell me to “put on my Jane face” whenever I needed to act sweet and politely charming. But, others have mentioned that my sass is more in line with Elizabeth. I hope that I have never been a Lydia or Kitty, though I fear I may occasionally be Mary.

But…the more I read, the more I come to realize that I am not completely like any of these characters. And, while most girls will argue that Elizabeth is their spirit animal, I am afraid that I am, instead, Mr. Darcy.

Granted, I am obviously not a “young man in possession of a good fortune,” but I cannot avoid acknowledging the incredible similarities I have discovered between Darcy’s character and my own.

First of all, according to internet searches, which we all know are always accurate, both Darcy and I are INTJ personalities, commonly considered to be the “architects” archetype. INTJs are characterized by planning, introversion, and analysis. Of course, the Meyers-Briggs indicator does not capture the whole of our natures, so I will continue to delve deeper, using Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth as my primary evidence.

  1. Rudeness and cluelessness:

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“I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 7-8).

I do not think that Darcy meant any overt meanness here, but was simply being blunt with his thoughts. If I had a nickel for every time I said something insensitive simply because I thought it obvious, I would be able to buy Pemberley. He was also clueless that the woman he slighted at first will become attractive to him within the next few chapters. I’ll admit this has happened to me too; upon meeting someone, I might not give him a second thought at first, even if he becomes important to me later.

2. Eye love intelligence: 

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“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (16).

Pardon the terrible pun, but Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth’s whole figure upon finding he admires the witty sparkle in her eyes. This is usually the first thing I see in a person too; a good-humored and intelligent expression in someone’s eyes is the most attractive thing to me and gives that entire person a handsomeness that cannot be matched.

3. Knowledge is power, but also love: 

 

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“He began to wish to know more of her” (16).

It might sound horrible, but people like Darcy and myself don’t care that much about learning about others unless we have a genuine affection for them. It goes right along with our detest of small talk. We don’t give two pence about someone’s thoughts on the weather,his/her favorite dinner course, or where he/she buys tea biscuits. Unless we care for this person deeply. In that case, we will not only want to know everything about him/her, but we will make a clear effort to ask and observe in order to gather information.

4. Falseness if futile: 

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“‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'” (35).

When Miss Bingley copies and compliments everything Darcy does, he does not hide his annoyance, but expresses it in wise sayings she is sure to misinterpret but still allow him to speak his mind. He is aware of and despises all ploys of manipulation. Similarly, nothing bothers me more than falseness or deception and when I am aware of these manipulations, I speak my mind. And, though I usually believe I am correct, I also generally regret it.

5. Slow to form opinions, slow to discard them: 

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“My good opinion, once lost is lost forever” (43).

I agree with Elizabeth that this tendency is “a failing indeed,” but it is a failing I share with Darcy. Wickham wronged Mr. Darcy and deserved to lose his favor, but was it wrong of Darcy to renounce forgiveness? This is a fault of mine as well, for I am guilty of remaining cold toward people who have “lost my good opinion” for unreasonably long periods of time. But, I will add, the trust and friendship of such characters as Darcy and myself are not easily won, so it is understandable that breaks in these bonds are also not easily forgotten.

6. Desire is danger: 

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“He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (44).

This is an exaggeration, but I am right when I say that Darcy feared his attachment to Elizabeth. Feelings of any kind are discomfiting to natures such as his, for they not only contradict reason but are at risk of being found out by others. The fear of a person discovering where Darcy’s (or my own…) affections lie is all too real for him (and me.) We know from experience that secrets relating to the heart are best kept in complete privacy because it allows for protection of our own egos as well as make the likelihood of getting over such affections greater.

7. Reason > Romance: 

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“Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her…and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her” (43).

As I said before, if Darcy could forget his admiration of Elizabeth, he would likely congratulate himself on avoiding ridiculousness. It is the first instinct of people such as him and me to try and adhere to reason rather than romance, especially when there is a risk of the romantic feelings not being returned.

8. A matter of company: 

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“We neither of us perform to strangers” (135).

Although this scene centered around a piano, Darcy is not talking about musical performance, but rather social interaction. He makes it clear that he does not do well in many common social situations. This is crazy relatable for me. Dentist appointments, customer service lines, and ice breaker activities are torture because they require me to chat lightly with people I don’t generally connect with. (And, in the case of the dentist, I have to chat with sharp objects prodding my gums, which I think must literally be a punishment from hell.) However, when we find a place or group in which we meet people with shared interests or natures, we perform our social duties admirably enough to be mistaken for extroverts!

9. The gift of time: 

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“More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble…unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy…on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her” (140).

Darcy has made it clear up until this point in the novel that he does not enjoy spending much time chatting or idling. However, this is exactly what he keeps doing! In talking and walking with Elizabeth, he is showing that he cares for her enough to make time with her a priority. This is perhaps the greatest gift he can give her at this moment and, in the same way, I express my love by making time for people I love greatly.

10. When all else fails, GET TO THE POINT! 

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“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (145).

Here is where Darcy and I differ; when Elizabeth fails to catch all of his hints, he straight up tells her “Hey, I like like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I wish I were this bold. It would probably save me lots of overthinking. Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot… I do, however, share Darcy’s appreciation of straightforwardness and wish more people were like him in this way.

11. Service speaks: 

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“He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her” (248).

When his profession of love was not returned, Darcy continued to show determined care in his actions, taking on the shame of the Bennets and doing all he could to restore their propriety. It is such selfless service that speaks Darcy’s love the loudest. I only hope I serve those I care about, even if they do not always share my feelings, in the same quiet and generous manner. Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that his determination and patience prove totally worth it in the end! 🙂

So there you have it. Again, I am not the tragically romantic figure that Darcy is, nor am I so reserved and skeptical as he is. Still, while I may not be as much like our dear Mrs. Darcy as I had hoped, there is nothing wrong with being a sort of Miss Darcy, as long as I don’t go about earning a reputation of being “proud…above [my] company…and above being pleased” (6).

 

Works Cited
Austen, Jane, James Kinsley, and Fiona J. Stafford. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

 

 

Jill of all Trades or Renaissance Woman?

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The pipe organ was created to do the job of an entire orchestra of different instruments, but nobody ever accuses it of not being worthwhile because of its varied abilities. In fact, it’s considered the King of Instruments for this very reason! Just a little brain snack for you to think about. (Also, that is me in the picture. I was not creeping on a random organist.) 😉

I am what one might call a “Jill of All Trades,” the female counterpart of a “Jack of All Trades.” I quite liked this phrase until I saw a quote on Pinterest (seriously, Pinterest? You’re supposed to be my social media happy place!) that reads:

“Jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

Well stink. As a perfectionist, this immediately crushed my spirits. But then I started to think…after all, Abraham Lincoln once said not to believe everything you read on the internet, so it seemed wise not to jump to immediate despair.

And so I thought, not just about the quote, but about myself. Who am I? What do I do? Why do I do these things? What are my goals? Am I a Jill of All Trades? Is this good or bad? All of these terrifying questions of identity and purpose began to dance a frantic tango in my mind. But, fortunately, I like to dance and I love to think.

The answer to the first question partnered off with the second question as the music of thought began: I am Ryanne McLaren, and I spend my time doing the following:

A lot of piano, a little organ, violin, and singing; baking; running; swing dancing; blogging, writing, reading, composing; crafting; exploring. I suppose if I had to condense, I could say truthfully that I do two things: music and English, but within those two categories are piano, violin, singing, organ, ukulele, composing, dancing, poetry, blogging, stories, analyzing, essays, reading, etc. The subcategories go on and on.

And that’s how I like it.

This partially answers the next question of “Why?” I have never been able to just focus on one thing, be it piano or reading. As a child, I was the piano student who would read novels while practicing scales and the English student who would run while studying. Multi-tasking is a pleasure for me and, while sometimes it does not work out (I admit I should have put more focus into my scales…), being actively involved in multiple things at once makes life exciting. It gives me joy to be able to run from actually running to rehearsing to writing to baking. And it gives me even greater joy to refine my skills in all of these areas. Would I say that I am a master in any of them? No. Absolutely not, to be honest. But that does not mean I cannot be or am not excellent.

This brings me to the next daunting question, the answering of which appeared as difficult as dancing with someone who lacks an inherent sense of rhythm: What are my goals and is this the best way to achieve them?

To answer the first part of this question in detail would take too long, for my goals are as diverse and numerous as my areas of interest. Luckily, this realization allows me to answer the second part easily: YES.

For someone who had a single goal, becoming a concert violinist, for instance, it would not be wise for that person to pursue excellence in “all trades.” It would be much more likely for this individual to achieve his or her goal by focusing all efforts on it and becoming the proverbial “master of one.” But for people like me, who have less specific goals that still lie within the realm of certain topics (for instance, I only aspire to do something with music and writing, but know I can enjoy numerous careers), pursuing perfection in a lone subject would be not only impractical but limiting. 

Having reached this conclusion, I felt a peace and my thoughts stepped in time again. (Although I was at the time I was dashing between a piano lesson and a Socratic discussion.) In scrolling through the internet again later, my conclusion was supported when I discovered that the quote that had pushed me into this mental flurry of self-examination had a second part that everyone apparently ignores:

“Jack of all trades, master of none, though oft times better than master of one.” -Unknown

This thought was still fresh in my mind when this morning when someone referred to me as a “Renaissance Woman.” This to me is so much better than a Jill of All Trades, who may or may not excel in any of the areas in which she dabbles. A Renaissance Woman (or man, but it’s National Women’s Month, so…), however, by definition possesses excellence in her areas of knowledge and- dare I say- expertise. She might even achieve mastery while simultaneously being a Jill of All Trades. I mean, consider Leonard da Vinci! I doubt anyone would ever argue that he was not a master of art, but his genius extended beyond painting only; he was an inventor, philosopher, scientist, architect…for all we know, he was writing internet quotes and trolling Pinterest from the past! He is remembered not only for his primary area of mastery, but for being the prime example of a well-rounded man. This is what I aspire to attain: excellence in all things. Not perfection, but excellence. And oftentimes, as the quote says (forget it, Abraham Lincoln, I believe this one!), this is the better path. After all, the world needs Swiss Army Knives just as much as it does paring knives. 🙂