Growing up, books were how you made sense of the world. Some books stood the test of time and made a lasting impression, along with the ‘life lessons’ they conveyed. Here is a retro list of some of the books you enjoyed as a child and the lessons they taught us:
Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines….”
The first few lines of Madeleine always seem to spring from your memory easily. The series of Madeleine books contain rich, intricate artwork and beautiful rhyming prose. In a world where precision and order was admired and encouraged, Madeleine was feisty, brave and always up for an adventure.
Life lesson: Be courageous
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
“Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.” The Giving Tree has been a popular childhood book for the last 50 years. 50 years! The boy and the giving tree have a relationship where they can communicate. At various stages throughout the boy’s life, they boy comes to the tree asking for something to solve a problem, which the tree gives, selflessly, until there is nothing left to give. The relationship between the tree and the boy has been described as modelling the parent-child relationship.
Life lesson: Give without keeping score
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
This was our class novel in Grade 7 with one of my favourite teachers. It’s a firm favourite and had the class in floods of tears. Written in 1978 and now made into a film, it’s the story of 2 lonely children who are able to see the magic in each other that many cannot. 5th graders Jesse Aarons befriends a newcomer to the town, Leslie Burke. Both social outcasts, they create the mythical kingdom of Terabithia where they both can truly be themselves. When tragedy strikes, Jesse learns to overcome it.
Life lesson: Friendship conquers all
The Lorax by Dr Seuss
The Lorax was Dr Seuss’ personal favourite among all his books. It’s most commonly thought of as a modern fable: the threat of greed to nature. The idea for the Lorax came from the anger of the author (Ted Geisel). “In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.” The Lorax has been lauded as a brilliant teaching aid when discussing environmental issues with children.
Life lesson: We must speak for the trees (and all other living things).
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden celebrated it’s 100th birthday in 2011. A beloved classic, The Secret Garden is about a young girl called Mary who loses her parents and is sent to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion in England. Lonely and with no-one to play with, she learns of a secret garden on the grounds. A chance meeting introduces her to her cousin Colin who has an unidentified illness which prevents him from walking. Both the garden and Colin thrive from the new friendship.
Life lesson: The only way to have experiences is to leave your comfort zone.
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
Winnie the Pooh is yet another cult classic and essential part of any child’s library. The tales of Pooh and his friends are gently told and illustrated beautifully (I love this one due to the simple and elegant drawings by E.H. Shepherd). Each Pooh tale expresses a range of life lessons, most due, in part, to the bear’s positivity. The values of empathy, gratitude and creative problem-solving are featured in just about every tale, making these books easily digestible values-based stories for children.
Life lesson: Cherish your friends