Children are not too young to appreciate insightful wisdom about the world, especially when it is packaged in an entertaining and engrossing book! Some of the most beloved children’s books have taught their readers life lessons through their engaging stories.
Lessons about friendship, adversity, individuality, differences, love, loss, and the importance of being optimistic and not giving up, are among the many life lessons illuminated by classic children’s literature. These classic books are never out of date.
Learning about Freedom and Rules
Madeleine L’Engle’s book, “A Wrinkle in Time,” is a fantasy adventure that teaches young readers about the importance of love. Meg Murry, the young heroine, must be brave to find her lost father. The insightful messages about freedom and rules in the book, first published in 1962, have not faded over time.
Respect the Environment
The message of “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss is about respecting nature and the dangers of deforestation. The tale about Once-ler and the way he altered the landscape by removing trees is a cautionary tale about preserving the environment. Through this story, young readers are taught the importance of appreciating nature’s beauty.
Use Wit to Defeat Obstacles
In the story of “Matilda” by Roald Dahl., the child prodigy Matilda uses her wits to outsmart her foes and adversity. This book also encourages readers to appreciate books and reveals how they provided an escape mechanism for its protagonist.
Everyone Has Bad Days
First published in 1972, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst was made into a movie released in 2014. The book is about one of those days when nothing goes right!
Love and Loss Are Part of Life
E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” teaches children about love and loss through a story set on a farm about friendship between Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig and their animal friends. The importance of loyalty and friendship among different animals is a moving tale that every reader will remember.
Be Honest with Yourself
“Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh is about the life and adventures of a precocious and intelligent 11-year-old who dresses like a boy and does not fit in with the clique. Her neighborhood adventures, interactions with classmates, and home life provide a vivid showcase that also lets readers know it is okay to be yourself, even when you do not conform, or feel like an outsider.
The Value of Optimism
Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could” instructs readers about the value of optimism and determination.
Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, E.B White, and other authors of classic children’s literature have left behind stories that will resonate with children even today. The writers of these books understood the important role books play in development and used their creativity to enlighten children.
As America becomes more diverse, a significant portion of the current majority population feels threatened. However, as white Americans and Europeans age, diversity is a primary factor in national growth and innovation. In fact, what is unfolding is increased competition for migrants in aging developed countries. Since a majority of characters in children’s books are white, adding diversity is a positive way to introduce children to the diversity they will experience as adults.
Children’s Books Do Not Reflect Growing Diversity of America
A study of diversity in children’s books published in 2015 revealed that more than 73 percent of the characters are white, although that is no longer the ratio in the general population in America. Non-Hispanic whites were actually 64 percent of the population according to the 2010 Census. A snapshot of the U.S. census in 2012 revealed that at the present rate the white majority will no longer be so by 2043.
Books as a Vehicle for Understanding the World
Teachers have said that a good story helps children get the message about respecting differences. From “Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss to Queen Rania, different writers have tackled this subject in our time. Writers have plenty of room to add to the growing genre of diversity books for children.
Story of Civilization is Migration
In ancient times, people and animals moved freely because of climate change or search for opportunities from one region to another. It was recently discovered that cheetahs migrated from North America across land bridges all the way to Africa. Geneticists have revealed that we are all descendants of people who left Africa in one migration.
Carl Zimmer’s article, “A Single Migration From Africa Populated the World, Studies Find,” published in the New York Times on September 21, 2016 discusses this revealing research originally published in the journal Nature.
Diversity Books for Children
The “We Need Diverse Books” movement, started in 2014, calls for more diverse children’s books to be created and made available to young readers. At school and at home, young readers can be exposed to books that help them learn about respecting differences in people. Children’s books can be windows and reflectors for their young readers.
Research about prejudice reveals that direct contact lessens stereotyping. Books introduce children to the outside world. Bringing young readers into contact with diversity via books is an entertaining and educational opportunity that children’s book and short story authors can offer their young reading public.
Writers can create stories from their imagination. However, the unfolding history of how we came to be also offers writers many opportunities to write reality-based stories for children.
Literature can stoke the feelings that lead to civil war, express what writers think about the conflict, and help heal the wounds of war. When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he told the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that she sparked the Civil War. By dramatizing slavery’s horrors, her book moved the conscience of Northerners and energized the cause of abolitionists.
Understanding Sri Lanka’s Civil War through Ethnic Literature
In our time, the literature of Sri Lanka reveals to outsiders the trauma of civil war, and how important it is to heal its wounds to bind a nation afterwards. The protracted civil war in Sri Lanka that lasted almost 25 years until its conclusion in 2009 still haunts its people.
Colleen Lutz Clemens, associate professor of non-Western literatures at Kutztown University, published a blog article recently entitled, “Sri Lankan History and Literature Deserve a Place in Our Classrooms.” Published on October 12, 2016 for “World Literature Today,” her piece explained why literature provides a window into the process of healing a nation through the remembrance of a traumatizing period in history.
The literature and poetry reflecting feelings from both sides of the conflict reveals the different viewpoints of people before the war, during the war, and in its aftermath.
Literature Revealing Rising Tensions
Democracy paved the way for civil war in Sri Lanka when political parties mobilized voters along ethnic lines. Government led by politicians representing the majority-Buddhist Sinhala population introduced policies that discriminated against the (mostly Hindu) Tamils and fueled the tensions.
The first signs of conflict were ethnic riots that sprang up in 1958 after the polarizing Sinhala Only Official Language Bill was approved by Parliament soon after the 1956 general election. This law paved the way for the rise of militancy that culminated in civil war. Writers on either side of the ethnic divide reflected the passions of each faction.
Literature Promoting National Unity
However, among writers from the majority ethnic population were also those who expressed their support for reconciliation and respect for minority rights. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Sri Lanka Progressive Writers’ Association promoted socialism in Tamil literature and expressed support for ethnic integration, national unity, and social equity.
During this period, progressive writers highlighted social issues such as caste oppression, class conflict, and economic exploitation. During the civil war, writers on both sides in favor of unity expressed their feelings through their writing. The post-war literature has revealed what is needed to bring a nation together after a war in which each side viewed the other as its bitter enemy.
2016 marked the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes. His great novel, “Don Quixote,” was published in 1605 and was partly written while the author was in prison. Since then, it has earned admiration from other great writers. The Bokklubben World Library, a poll of writers in 54 countries conducted by the Norwegian Book Club in 2002, selected “Don Quixote” as the greatest literary work.
Cervantes had an eventful life. He was injured in the battle of Lepanto in 1571, captured by Barbary pirates, and enslaved for five years in Algiers by the Ottomans. After he was freed, Cervantes became a playwright and a tax collector and was briefly imprisoned because of irregularities in his work as the latter. It was during this stint in prison that he began to write “Don Quixote.”
A Revolutionary Work of Literature
Not only was this book one of the first fictional works, it contained many special features. As the story was seen through the viewpoints of different characters, the writer’s vision can be seen for the first time in this book. This revolutionary literary structure for its time also depicted chivalry in a sardonic manner—another unusual aspect of the novel.
Harold Bloom, the literary critic, and others consider this 17th century novel to be the first modern novel. According to Bloom, the arcs of change mark the novel’s separation from the past; while for Carlos Fuentes, it is the characterization and dialogue that distinguish the novel from earlier works.
The title character, as described in a letter Feodor Dostoevsky wrote to his niece, was the “most perfect” literary hero. Both the author and his protagonist were idealists who had a tough time in their lives. Fighting windmills was symbolic of fighting for ideals even though loss was expected. Cervantes believed that standing up for ideals mattered more than achieving success.
Other Notable Facts
Parts of the story were taken from the author’s own life, such as the incident where the nobleman and his sidekick Sancho Panza free some galley slaves. During his period of enslavement, Cervantes tried to escape several times. His wife’s great uncle was the source for the nobleman’s characterization and the protagonist’s revealed real name, Alonso Quixano.
The book was written in a modern variant of Spanish, and its popularity mainstreamed this new development.
“Don Quixote” still earns praise, even from a business professor! In his film, “Passion and Discipline: Don Quixote’s Lessons for Leadership,” former Stanford professor and poet James G. March uses the hero to distill parts of his famous “Organizational Leadership” course.