I sat in bed, my tiny fingers clinging to the soft blanket that comforted me. I was just four years old. My mom sat beside me, a square shaped hardcover book in her hand. This was routine; every night I waited for the words to pop up and catch my attention, for my mind to fill with new ideas and concepts. Tonight, she held a new book in her hands- Leo the Late Bloomer. My Aunt Lisa had given it to me as a present, and even had it signed by the author himself, Robert Kraus. I distinctly remember the images of the tiger fretting over not being able to do what the other animals did, and his parents being worried about him. As the book concluded though, I learned that it sometimes takes more time for people to grow up and mature, and that was okay. This book taught me not only to be patient with other people, but to be patient with myself, because someday I too would get to the place where I wanted to be.
Learning how to read is one of the most essential things that we associate with growing up and developing. Our lives center around the fact that we can read. Reading helps us to understand the world around us, and view things from multiple perspectives. For many of us, it all starts with children’s books. Many of our first intellectual concepts of the world came from us learning how to read children’s books. The ideas prevalent in them helps for a young mind to develop thoughts and ideas about the world. Without children’s books, we would not have the same ability to communicate with others in a thoughtful, genuine, empathetic, and open-minded manner. It is the responsibility of the authors of children’s books to create books with meaningful lessons about life and human interaction, lessons that our parents can’t always teach us; it is additionally the responsibility of parents to be there to answer questions as they read to their child and pass knowledge onto them through books.
As a child, it was important for me to understand that people developed at different times; after all, no one is the same, and when the concepts of “right” and “wrong” are shoved into our faces by the world at young ages, it is important to know that they do not just apply to everything. Not everything is clean-cut or concise. Had I not learned this lesson from a children’s book, I might have been held back in the way I viewed the world, and in turn may a different person than I know myself to be today. Of course our parents can teach us all of the lessons that they want to, but lessons like this one can sometimes get lost more easily than we may expect them to. The least parents can do is just sit down and read with their child, allowing them to answer questions and further understand the material being presented to them. It is an important experience for children when their parents read them life lessons that were specifically engineered for them to hear.
Similarly, in an article titled How Changing Your Reading Habits Can Transform Your Health, Michael Grothaus, the author, quotes Dr. Josie Billington, who works at the University of Liverpool as the deputy director of the Centre for Research into Reading. She says, "Reading can offer richer, broader, and more complex models of experience, which enable people to view their own lives from a refreshed perspective and with renewed understanding...This renewed understanding gives readers a greater ability to cope with difficult situations by expanding their ‘repertoires and sense of possible avenues of action or attitude.’" It is imperative that this logic is applied as early as possible, because the sooner we can give kids “refreshed perspectives,” the sooner they will learn to think open-mindedly. Of course kids are going to disagree with each other and get into arguments, but the more accepting they can be towards each other at that young age, the more accepting they will be towards their peers as they grow older, going into their teens and even adulthood.
Christopher Myers wrote The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, an article in The New York Times. In this article, Myers wrote about the representation of black people in children’s books. Speaking about children as a whole, he says, “They see books less as mirrors and more as maps. They are indeed searching for their place in the world, but they are also deciding where they want to go. They create, through the stories they’re given, an atlas of their world, of their relationships to others, of their possible destinations.” As this states, when children read books they see them as ways to go about their life, with new thoughts and ideas about their existence emerging as they read them. Not providing children with as many maps as they can get their hands on would be an injustice to them. Depriving them of new roads and paths to travel down, and not helping them understand the world and how to interact with it would prove to be a failure of society, with us being responsible for it.
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Pursuing a Degree in Children's Literature
Many students choose to pursue a degree at a college or university without a formal program in children's literature and go on to become academics and scholars of in the field. Here are the stories of two professors who teach and study children's literature without having earned a degree from a specialized program: