Friday, May 7, 2010

Children's books and life lessons

One of my friends shared her copy of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book with our writing group this week. I'd heard about the book, but hadn't seen it. Anita Silvey, a former editor who has written and spoken widely about children's literature, asked more than 100 famous or accomplished people to write about a children's book that taught them something.

It was great fun to see which books people chose and why. There were some selections that made perfect sense to me and some that surprised me. And there were a few books I'd never heard of.

Katherine Paterson said that she learned a sense of wonder from The Secret Garden. Actress Julianne Moore said Little Women taught her that a woman can choose. Maurice Sendak and Chris van Allsburg both picked Harold and the Purple Crayon (perfect, right?).

I could go on and on about the delicious connections. Mordicai  Gerstein, of the Caldecott-winning The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, learned to change the world by making fun of it from The Bad Child's Book of Beasts. Steve Wozniak read Tom Swift and went on to help found Apple. Pediatrician and author Perri Klass learned about the power of observation from Harriet the Spy.

The book has descriptions and excerpts from each of the favorite books, so it's also a trip down memory lane for anyone who loves children's literature, and a reminder to read or re-read many great books.

What I like most, though, is that it captures what a huge impact a beloved book can have on a child -- no matter how powerful or creative or well-read the person goes on to become.

What book would you name as one that influenced you? I would never be able to pick just one.