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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Misshelved: Winnie the Poe

Went to the children’s classics section in search of some light reading…now I am just wondering how many poor young Winnie-the-Pooh fans have been traumatized by Poe instead… 


Perhaps Eeyore likes Poe’s stories. “Nevermore” seems like his type of vocabulary. 

Still, “Welcome to your nightmares” is a daunting phrase to put on a book beside a beloved nursery classic. 

Oh, how I love when shelving decisions go awry. Endless amusement!

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.

 

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.

Literary Living

Standing at the checkout at the grocery store, I found myself incredibly bored having forgotten both my book and my phone. Most people in such a predicament would probably do one of two things: 1) make small-talk with fellow shoppers or 2) flip idly through the magazines on the racks. Similar to Mr. Darcy, I am unskilled at small-talk and what was I to say? “Oh, hello. I see you too are buying high-fiber granola. Good choice.” How about no. I’d rather not be the creepy granola girl. So that left me with the second option, but I wasn’t quite sure about this one either. As much as I hate to admit it, I was interested to see how Kaitlyn from The Bachelorette was holding up (watching her crazy drama is anthropology, okay? Don’t judge me.) However, were hot dating tips and fad diet plans really expected to hold my attention for more than about twenty seconds? That said, I was back to people-watching, wondering why the guy in front of me was buying only a gallon of milk and a giant bag of salt-water taffy. And then, taffy guy was forgotten as an idea came to me: a magazine filled with, instead of celebrities and gossip, book characters and authors and such! To my dismay, I have not the abilities or means to produce such a magazine on my own, but this blog is a good start, right? So I thought it might be fun (at least to my nerdy self…maybe not anyone else, but who knows!) to publish magazine-style articles based on books and thus, I present, the first post of my new Literary Living category.

~Ryanne

Literary Living

Article 1

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In an exclusive interview with best friends Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, I was fortunate to learn their Five Signs that You've Found Your Best Friend: 
    

1. You knew right away that you’d be friends. Call it intuition or a sheer determination to like someone, the minute you two met, you knew that you were kindred spirits. Whether or not you were close right away doesn’t matter. Some, like Anne, lose no time in initiating a friendship, while others, like Diana, are more cautious. Still, there is that initial inkling that you share similarities, souls alike enough to be what Anne refers to as “kindred spirits.”

 2. You remember the little things. Anne knows Diana’s weakness for chocolate cake and Diana knows Anne’s tendency to become too wrapped up in her thoughts. In the same way, when you’ve found a kindred spirit, you will probably remember what his or her favorite artist is to listen to when he/she is feeling down and, similarly, he or she will know what color you like to wear best or even what your favorite percentage of dark chocolate is.

3. You have each others’ backs. When Diana was picked on by the boys, Anne chased Charlie Sloane down to teach him a lesson. When Anne was nervous for her exams, Diana came with her for support. Even in small ways, like bringing over chocolate when one is sad or giving an understanding smile during a rough day, true friends will always know when they are needed and make every effort to be there.

4. You may not be completely similar, but you appreciate each others’ differences. Anne was an ambitious dreamer; Diana a comfort-loving nurturer. Both were imaginative, intelligent, and kind, but they were still different. Yet, Diana’s level-headed nature and Anne’s spontaneity provided balance and both appreciated it. Think of all the sets of friends in literature: Sherlock and John, Jane and Elizabeth, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Merry and Pippin, the Mysterious Benedict Society, and especially Anne and Diana! Each group had introverts and extroverts, nurturers and sass-masters, thinkers and doers, and these differences were acknowledged to be essential.

5. You sometimes seem to be speaking a language all of your own. The Haunted Wood, Mr. Blythe, cherry cordial. Anne and Diana had so many unique memories that they could probably have carried on conversations that only they would be able to understand. In the same way, when you’ve found a true kindred spirit, your conversations might consist more of awkward facial expressions, references to inside jokes, and perhaps snippets of musical numbers.

For the fun of it, Anne and Diana shared another tidbit: When you’ve found a true friend, you never really have to say goodbye because “kindred spirits are always together in spirit.” 

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.