I've been working recently on preparing a class for our church's women's organization on helping parents find good literature for their kids.
"Good literature" being, by my definition, books that not only foster a love of reading and inspire imagination, but also help kids to develop attributes like empathy, understanding, and kindness, a sense of justice and fairness, hope and courage, and an awareness of worlds outside their own sphere of existence. Books that are not overtly commercial (dumbed-down versions of children's movies on paper) or blatantly sententious. Books that teach subtle life lessons by drawing readers into the experiences of the characters and letting us feel their happiness and sadness and joy and pain. Basically, books that speak to and uplift the soul, in a very small, or sometimes, a very big way. And that's how I define good literature for myself as well.
I've been happily using this class as an excuse to do an abundance of reading...re-reading some of my childhood favorites, reading for the first time some classics I either never got to as a kid or just don't remember, and having lots and lots of read-aloud story time with the kiddos. (Yay!)
Today, I fell in love with a book again.
This happens to me every now and then. Whereas my usual lit-loves tend to happen at first sight, however, this one took a little time. I was open and had high expectations (for pete's sake, it's Arnold Lobel- it can't stink). But it took me a couple of pages before the beauty of this simple story hooked me.
The tale is about a young elephant who goes to stay with his very old uncle when his mother and father are lost at sea. Okay. Simple enough. But the depth of emotion with which the story is told...the surprising level of humanity and compassion to be found in Uncle Elephant's actions in caring for his nephew quite honestly moved me to tears.
Here, my friends, is good literature for kids.
A story that shows without telling, teaches without preaching, touches hearts and plants seeds of compassion and kindness while engaging young minds in the infinite possibilities of what might happen next.
It's the kind of literature I hope I'm writing.
There will be a book list. Possibly a very long and absolutely not all-inclusive one. But I will share it for sure, as well as a plethora of helpful links and information on children's books for those who are interested.
Now go read some good books with your family (and share your recommendations in the comments please!).
p.s. If you happen to click the 'Arnold Lobel' link and Wikipedia (I love me some Wiki) comes up as a black screen, here's why: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/sopa-blackout-internet-censorship_n_1211905.html I've written to my congressman. Have you contacted yours?