children’s books for the adult heart

Contribution by Briana Davey.

Briana lives in Cleveland, MS with her husband Jonathan and four (soon to be five) boys. You can find her loosening her grip on expectations and clinging to grace while stepping on legos or headed to a grocery pick up in her mini van.

“We never outgrow a good story.”

Since my first job babysitting, to teaching fourth grade and pre-school, to being a mother of four (soon to be five) boys, children’s literature has always been special to me.  The children’s section of a library and a bookstore are always my favorite to browse and get lost in, and my very favorite sound will always be the pages of a book turning during the read aloud of a book.

Below some of my favorite books which are marketed for children, but are equally as wonderful for adults.  If I’m in a reading rut, I will often browse the children’s chapter books with my oldest and get a quick read in just to remind myself I can still finish a book. 

There is something special about re-reading a book that you previously read in elementary school and seeing the beauty in a new and different way as an adult.  The simplicity and complexity found in reading children’s literature as an adult continues to amaze and humble me.  We never outgrow a good story.

Narrowing down some of my favorites was a hard task. Though I include some chapter books,  picture books are an untapped resource for adults.  Illustrators help us escape to other worlds and still appreciate the beauty in our own world, so I included some unconventional picks for that reason.

These pieces of literature helped me see this truth from Tim Keller come to life:

“Every story echoes the ultimate story. Jesus is the underling reality to which all stories point, breaking into our world.”  

I hope these stories point you to the ultimate story.

Windows 
Julia Denos, illustrated by E.B. Goodale

 “Some windows will have dinner, or TV.  Others are empty to leave you to fill them up with stories.  Then you arrive home again and you look at your window from the outside.  Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go in.  So you do.” 

I found this book about a year ago at a local bookstore and fell in love. The concept of taking a neighborhood walk through the lens of the windows you pass is such a tangible and delightful way to explore your neighborhood, invoke imagination, and appreciate coming home for the young and old alike. 

Charlotte’s Web
E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams

“A miracle has happened and a sign has occurred here on earth, right on our farm, and we have no ordinary pig.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”
“Oh, no,” said Zuckerman. “It’s the pig that’s unusual. It says so, right there in the middle of the web.”

Bible teacher Paige Brown mentions this scene in one of her studies of 1 Samuel in reference to our tendency to say “some Samuel” when really it is “some God.”

“Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”

My seven-year old’s experience with this book is a testament to this quote.  He cried about Charlotte for a few weeks.  I think this is a wonderful insight for parents and adults alike and maybe an encouragement to look more closely at the things children cling to tightly.

““Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

It’s hard to not just quote the whole book.  Do yourself a favor—- make plans today to go check this one out, and enjoy it.  It will bring out every emotion leave ing you giggling and wiping tears.

A Nest is Noisy 
Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

“A nest is noisy… buzzing, swishing, rustling, flapping, and humming with babies… but only until they are ready to fly, swim or crawl away.  Then a nest is quiet.” 

As an adult, I’ve found that exploring quality nonfiction children’s literature is a fun and accessible way to explore topics you might not otherwise have the bandwidth to research or delve into. This is one in a series of books by Aston that all explore aspects of nature and have beautiful illustrations. 

Rain
Peter Spier

Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves: Rain

Spier illustrated over 30 children’s books, and Rain is one of the wordless books he illustrated.  The pictures are enchanting and relatable and tell a lovely story about rain all on their own.  Wordless books are a wonderful opportunity for children and adults to write and imagine their own stories.

A Long Way from Chicago
Richard Peck, illustrated by yang hee

“The years went by, and Mary Alice and I grew up, slower than we wanted to, faster than we realized.”

“She was so big and the town was so small. She was old too, or so we thought—old as the hills. And tough! She was tough as an old boot, or so we thought. As the years went by though, Mary Alice and I grew up, and though Grandma never changed, we’d seem to see a different woman every summer.”

Two siblings visit their grandmother every summer. Hilarious and full of nostalgia and wit.  A treasure.

The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia - Wikipedia

“One day, you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again.”

I’ll be the first to admit that some of C.S. Lewis’ writings, while brilliant, are hard for my mind to comprehend without reading them over and over and wondering if I really did pass all my years of school.  The Chronicles of Narnia is the best of both worlds.  It brings to my level the theological insights of Lewis. I did not grow up with the Chronicles of Narnia and did not start reading them until college.  So, whether these stories are familiar and it is your umpteenth read-through or if they are brand new, there is always novel beauty to be foundfind in Narnia.  May our hearts be willing to read fairytales again.

“I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” – Book Four, The Horse and His Boy 

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.” – Book Five, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” – Book Seven, The Last Battle

Harry Potter series
JK Rowling

J.K. Rowling launches Harry Potter at Home hub for families during the  COVID-19 crisis | PhillyVoice

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.”
—Sirius Black,  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“JAMES POTTER
BORN 27 MARCH 1960
DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981

LILY POTTER
BORN 30 JANUARY 1960
DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them aloud.
“‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’…” A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic. “Isn’t that a Death Eater idea? Why is that there?”
“It doesn’t mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,” said Hermione, her voice gentle. “It means…you know…living beyond death. Living after death.”
… And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off or pretending? He let them fall, his lips pressed hard together, looking down at the thick snow hiding from his eyes the place where the last of Lily and James lay, bones now, surely, or dust, not knowing or caring that their living son stood so near, his heart still beating, alive because of their sacrifice and close to wishing, at this moment, that he was sleeping under the snow with them.” -The Deathly Hallows

I do not know JK Rowling’s heart, and I will never know if she wrote these books with the intention of readers making a spiritual connection, but the truth and beauty throughout this series is undeniable.  What a gift to see the greater story run its thread throughout these adventures.  The writing and character development is incredible and the enjoyment of the adventure through seven years at Hogwarts is remarkable.

From Mary Mad: 

Briana has shared her literary child-like heart with us, and I am deeply thankful.  In the same line, I am grateful for a God who calls us to become not more experienced or adult-like, but to instead to be like children, with all their innocence and enthusiasm.

Here’s to literature which evokes more adventurous imaginations for the reality of our stories with the Author of it all.

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