By Autumn Hutson
We’ve all heard the quote about “the time to put away childish things”, some of us perhaps more than others. As we get older, the growing up part becomes the most important thing in our lives. When will I finally move out? What kind of career should I strive for? Who will I eventually marry?
The wave of adulthood comes over us in a rush, and it subsequently washes away the blind hope and wonder we once had in childhood. But it’s important not to abandon the inner child inside us all. After all, they are wise in their own way.
Many children learn the lessons of the world through stories—you probably have some favorites of your own—and those lessons don’t just go away, even when we forget about them. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from children’s literature you might recognize:
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Lessons from Children’s Literature
1. The importance of expressing gratitude
Our first lesson comes from the beloved bedtime story, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. In the book, a little bunny says “goodnight” to everything around it (his room, the moon, the cow jumping over said moon, and more).
Taking a moment to be present and look around you, noting everything you have and all the people you hold dear, is a way to express gratitude. It can be the small things like the warm bed you’re able to sleep in or the clothes in your closet. It can be the big things, like the friend who’s been by your side all this time.
You don’t have to say goodnight to the moon like the little bunny…but I’m sure she would appreciate it very much.
2. Finding a place to call home
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak tells a story of a boy named Max who, after being sent to bed without dinner, enters a mysterious imaginary world where scary beasts reside. After becoming their king and having free reign to play and explore, Max starts to feel lonely and longs to return home.
Max does leave that island and ends up back home. Like Max, it can be tempting to go from place to place in search of adventure. But there is something to be said about having a place to call home, a place that feels most like you.
Home doesn’t always have to be a physical place, either. It can be a group of people that you feel safe with. Wherever you don’t feel lonely is home. Fret not! The world is filled with wild things. And they’re not going anywhere.
3. How to stand up for yourself (even when it’s scary)
Most of us have read more than one book by Dr. Seuss, and those stories have a unique way of staying with you forever. One in particular we can learn from is The Lorax, which is about the Lorax confronting the Once-ler, who is destroying the forest in which he lives.
The Lorax “speaks for the trees” even though the Once-ler is much more powerful than he is. As we get older, it becomes a little harder to openly speak out against those in higher positions than we are, for fear that we will face real life consequences.
But despite this fear, it is important that we stand up for what is right; stand up for those whose voices are being ignored. And if it wasn’t obvious, The Lorax also teaches us the importance of protecting the environment from Once-lers all over the world!
4. Accepting yourself first
Shel Silverstein was a poet who inspired me immensely as a child. His poetry books always made me smile. And while many of his poems were full of wit and humor, others held moments of wisdom that lay just beneath the rhyme scheme.
One such poem is “Masks” which goes: “She had blue skin, / And so did he. / He kept it hidden, / And so did she. / They searched for blue / Their whole life through / Then passed right by, / And never knew.”
The lesson of this poem is that you can’t hide your authentic self and expect to find others like you. If you always hide behind a mask, then you’ll just end up passing by those people who would genuinely love the real you.
Taking off the mask can be scary. But your blue skin is beautiful and should be seen by the world no matter what anyone says.
5. Don’t close off your heart to love
An absolute favorite children’s book of mine is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Despite the children’s story format, this book has deep insight into themes of love, loss, friendship, and more.
One character that stands out is the fox that the Little Prince meets on Earth. At first, the fox is adamant about not wanting to be tamed by the Little Prince because that will cause the fox to be dependent on him forever.
But in no time, the fox gives in and enjoys a rich friendship with the Little Prince, even though it is short lived. Many people think like the fox, staying away from the vulnerability that comes with making a new friend or falling in love.
But if we keep our hearts locked up forever, we may never experience the depth of love in all its unique forms. Accepting love from others doesn’t mean you have to give up your wild nature. It only makes life that much more beautiful.
What children’s literature teaches us
Putting childish things away has become too easy for us, especially because most of those things were books. All the simple stories are stored in a box that in turn gets stored in an attic and are never seen again.
But all lessons from children’s literature we learned are still there, alive and waiting to be remembered by us. Even if it takes reading those books again, we should all try to stick by those timeless principles in our adult lives.
Reintroducing a little childlike magic into your heart couldn’t hurt.
What are some lessons from children’s literature that stayed with you forever? Share your thoughts in the comments.