Your Second Childhood in Books
Even Better the Second Time Around.
I loved to read as soon as I learned how to read. I remember the pride and excitement I felt after reading a book all by myself for the first time. It was Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. I was so thrilled, I ran downstairs to share the news with my mom.
I fondly remember reading in my room, pulling book after book from the shelves my parents had made for me out of four plastic, yellow milk crates stacked on their sides in a 2 by 2 grid. I remember how happy I felt when I got a new book at the bookstore. I would risk the nausea of motion sickness to start reading in the car on the way home.
I soon amassed a list of favorites. I adored The Berenstain Bears in all of their adventures. I considered myself a "silent partner" in The Babysitter's Club. I was an occasional student at Sweet Valley High. I walked the island with Anne of Green Gables and climbed the mountain heights with Heidi. I held the dark secret that Jo was not my favorite of the Little Women.
Books were, and are, my favorite pastime. I couldn't wait to share my love of books with my own children, and it's been such a fulfilling experience to introduce them to the books I loved.
However, I've found an even more rewarding surprise tucked on the bookshelf. Newer books! It turns out authors kept writing books for children even after I was no longer a child! My family cherished the lovable characters in the Toys Go Out trilogy by Emily Jenkins. We saw the world, and learned a little on the way, with the Race the Wild series by Kristin Earhart. We sprinted through the Track series by Jason Reynolds. We made new friends in Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.
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Reading alongside my children and finding new books for them also led me to turn a more critical eye to my own childhood collection. Some of the books I adored back then have not aged well. Some contain truly troublesome depictions or outright racist language (I’m looking at you Little House on the Prairie.)
For the most part, the books I read and loved featured characters who looked like me, a white, cisgender child. Through high school, assigned reading mostly centered on works by white, male authors of European descent. I have a vivid memory of being astonished the first time I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor when I checked it out from my elementary school library. This book stands out to me not just for its powerful and moving story, but because it’s one of few books I read as a child about Black families.
Today, the literary landscape is a bit more diverse. We are all better for it. Certainly more work needs to be done. A recent study reported by School Library Journal found that characters in award-winning children's books still skew male and light-skinned. All children deserve to see themselves in the books they read and find available in stores, classrooms, and libraries. Representation matters in the pages of books, just as it does everywhere else.
My children need to find friends and heroes in characters who don’t look like them. They can read about experiences they’ve never had while seeking out the commonalities of growing up which connect us all. We’ve met George by Alex Gino (the number one most frequently challenged book of 2020). We dealt with Drama by Raina Telgemeier and befriended the New Kid by Jerry Craft. I’m looking forward to their first time reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.
The lessons learned from these wider reading encounters don’t just benefit my kids. As I’ve read aloud to them, sought out books for them, and talked about plots and characters with them, my perspective has broadened as well.
I recently came across an age-old proverb. “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” To that I would add, do not confine your children to your own books and stories, for better ones are being written all the time.
In the end, my plan to share my childhood favorites was at best incomplete. There's a world of books, old and new, to discover alongside my children. My son read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. When he finished, he told me, "Hey, Mom. It was really good. You should read it."
You can't pass up a recommendation like that! So I didn’t. Thanks to my children, my second childhood in books is even better and richer than the first.
What are some of your childhood favorites? Have you shared them with you children? What new children's books have you discovered? Let me know in the comments, and best wishes for further reading!
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