By Juliet Bond
I have a confession.
I have a confession.
I didn’t read as a child. While my children’s book writer friends wax poetic about the books that shaped them – Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Ramona – I smile and nod as if I can relate. I’m not totally full of crap. I have read those books. But I read them as an adult.
As a child, we didn’t have many children’s books in the house and this never bothered me because I was a singer, a music listener and a dance-around-the-room-in-anything-pink-and-frilly kind of girl. I also loved old black and white movies, especially those where the heroine lifts the back of her hand to her forehead in despair.
I still love those.
The only real books I remember reading as a child was the Beatrix Potter series and I read those not so much for the stories but for the triumph of finishing a whole book (also, there was something about those Two Bad Mice and their make believe lives within dollhouses that really appealed to me – I’m going to have to explore that one in therapy…)
But falling in love with children’s books didn’t really happen for me until I had my own children. The morning I fist brought my tiny son over to our brand new, blue-cushioned rocking chair, sat down and cracked open Goodnight Moon, was a revelation. The cadence of the words, the lovely pictures, the sound of my voice as I mimicked the old lady whispering hush, was magical!
I joked about roping my young taste in reading into my therapy sessions but there is some truth to the folly. As my children grew up, I learned to use children’s books to prepare my kids for every new experience:
· Going to the dentist
· Staying the night at grandma’s
· The first day of kindergarten
I also used them as a voice to respond to incidents I hadn’t planned for.
· A pet dies
· A friend moves away
· Navigating a bully at school
In 2003, when a friend of mine went into a coma leaving her three children behind, I looked for a book to help her children cope with and make sense of their unusual situation. There were no, “parent is in a coma and the outcome is unclear” books so I tried my hand at creating a children’s book just for them.
It worked. The story I gave them was a (light) balm for their confusion and grief. And the stories I brought home for my own kids helped them to, if not triumph over difficult situations, feel like they were less alone in them. After all, Molly Lou Melon had a bully (Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon!), Mean Jean eventually learned to play nice with other kids (Mean Jean the Recess Queen), and Lilly Mouse discovered friends in her new neighborhood (Chester’s Way.)
Reading a book can be a subtle form of therapeutic support. It can prepare you for life’s challenges or soothe you when the world seems determined to get in just one more ugly punch.
So use books for yourself or for your children. Use them to learn, to glean pleasure, to bear up and to heal. Because when you read a book it becomes a part of your identity. The stories or information sandwiched between soft pages can shape who you are and who you will become, no matter what your age.