Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crack the Frozen Sea

I love reading. I love books. I think that reading, like Kafka said, can be a way to "crack the frozen sea within us." As an elementary educator, I read a lot of children's books. There isn't a medium quite like children's literature. It's visual, but not exclusively so. It isn't really a genre; what genre includes Cinderella and Pokemon? It's a way to show children what art can be. I absolutely love children's literature, from simple picture books to young adult novels. They are amazing and underrated. I've decided, in my random and confusing jumble of things I write about, to include some examples of the medium. Unsurprisingly, I am a snob in this area of my life as well.

Cinderella is a classic folk tale. It's been Disneyed and distorted, but the heart of the story is interesting. The version I like, Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant and Mary Blair, strips away a lot of the nonsense and gets at the simple story of a person who is looking for something special. Unlike the other versions, this Cinderella isn't a passive person, but acts to help herself. She knows that Love is out there, if she is willing to find it. It's sweet and simple and beautifully illustrated.

Idries Shah was known to me as a Sufi scholar. He has also written many children's books, and the favorite of my kids is one called The Silly Chicken. It's a morality tale, essentially pointing out that the ability to talk does not necessarily translate into meaningful conversation. It's goofy and fun, and the kids are remarkably astute at discovering the moral. Even before the story ended, my son asked "Why are they listening to a chicken?" Another one of Shah's books that I like is called Fatima the Spinner and the Tent. It's more serious, essentially another story to explain a moral. Natasha Delmar does the amazing illustrations for this one.

Neil Gaiman has always been an interesting writer. He combines pop culture and myth in a clever way, but he has a deeper well than I realized. One of his children's books, Instructions, is a recent discovery of mine. It is already one of my favorites. It's typical of Gaiman in many ways, simple and meaningful... but there is a depth to it that isn't in his other books for children or young adults. It frightened my kids. But in a good way.

I'm not an anti-TV person. I like TV. But I can't deny that when the television is off for a day, and the kids just read and play games, everything at my house is better. There is never a day when we don't read to our kids; I'll skip dinner before I skip our nightly story time. But just as important is choosing great books, books that move you and inspire you to read. Finding those books encourages you to explore the world, and you in turn encourage your kids or students.

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