Sunday, September 24, 2023

Spring Begins in March by Jean Little


To discover a book that reaches into one's soul to instruct and inspire is a rarity. Jean Little's book, Spring Begins in March offers a realistic glimpse into the growing pains of a young girl. Reading about Meg's bossy friend, her left-out feelings within her family, her challenges at school, and her resentment when her grandmother moves in, bring back similar memories of trials that (at the time) seemed to loom so large, and yet looking back now are very inconsequential. While my struggles as a child may not have been exactly the same as Meg's, the state of having feelings "too big" to understand or work through on my own was all too familiar. There is something comforting in being on the other side of those struggles and having the benefit of perspective. And yet it is also good to be reminded of how influential difficult childhood events can be; revisiting them can help elicit greater kindness and patience toward young people in our lives. 

Children's literature is a powerful force that I continue to enjoy even past my own mid-century milestone. There are several reasons that I will never outgrow juvenile fiction. First of all, it offers an opportunity to inhabit a place of innocence. There are very few areas of life that have not been tarnished by vulgarity and crude sensuality. And yet authors like Jean Little offer an authentic, wholesome voice in the midst of so much literary "noise." Many older books offer lovely stories without the added garbage. (Note: There are some contemporary authors that are still writing wholesome books but you often have to do some pre-reading as the thrust of today's literature is often at odds with Biblical truths.)

A second reason I enjoy children's literature is what I can learn from the adults in the story. While Little's protagonists are young, the adult supporting characters offer wise examples to follow. Such a book can reinforce a reader's own positive experiences at home and perhaps help them appreciate the adults in their life who are actively helping them learn and grow. On the flip side, for children who do not have a positive example in the home, Little's books can help them imagine a different future for themselves when they reach adulthood. It has been instructive for me as an adult to see how problems are handled with grace and patience and makes me want to create a similar atmosphere in my home.

The magnitude of a problem in juvenile fiction may vary in size or intensity from my own, but the root cause may be very similar to my own. Adults still have to navigate challenging friendships, discord at home and work, and disappointments in the course of one's life. Sometimes a character's parent or mentor offers wisdom that can help reframe past hurts or help one see how to endure present ones. Yet another reason kiddy lit has relevance for all ages.

Yet another reason to love children's books is because they typically have a happy ending, and--let's be honest--some days you just need a story wrapped up and tied with a beautiful bow. And although Little's books brought tears to my eyes, they were the happy kind!  (If you'd like to read the first book about Meg and her siblings, check out my review of Mine for Keeps.) So many areas of life have disappointing or tragic endings but in the world of a children's book, all can be right with the world.

One final reason I enjoy children's literature is because it offers a meaningful way to connect with my own children. Some books were read multiple times in our home (once to the older set, again to the younger; looking forward to revisiting with future grandchildren!). I have often suggested a book to one of my kids, only to have them be ambivalent about the recommendation. But when I decided to read it aloud to them instead, they have been drawn into the story and often love the book. It's such a privilege to introduce my kids to the books I loved as a child and also experience new stories together. Because of my children, I was introduced to the Bastables (E. Nesbit), the Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall), the Vanderbeekers (Karina Yan Glaser), and the Melendy family (Elizabeth Enright). All exceptional series for any age.

I will add a word about audiobooks; some do not count listening to books as reading. I vehemently disagree with that opinion. There are some books that have been pure magic solely because of the narrator. One example (not a children's book) would be Boys in the Boat read by Edward Herrmann. I am not sure I would have made it through reading a print copy but the audio had me utterly captivated from the first paragraph (and if you have not heard it, I highly recommend it!). Some audiobooks have been enjoyed dozens of times and helped while away miles in the car, rainy days, or lazy days of summer. In our house Elizabeth's Enright's Gone Away Lake and The Saturdays have been the most listened to--probably a dozen times each. We even listened to all of Pilgrim's Progress on cassette--made the book much less daunting. And audiobooks allow the reader to engage their hands while listening: crocheting, coloring, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Audiobooks have also provided motivation for me to get out for walks (saving listening to only those times). And they have made mundane tasks like cleaning, folding laundry, or cooking much more enjoyable. 

I hope you'll include some children's books in your literary diet regardless of your age. There is much magic, adventure, and wisdom to be found there!

I found this particular book treasure at The Talcott Mercantile, a beautiful coffee and ice cream emporium located in central Iowa. If you find yourself in the neighborhood on a Friday or Saturday, stop in and tell the proprietress, Carrie, where you heard about her shop. You can follow them on Instagram to find out about menu and store offerings.


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